Articles and Case Studies

Himalayan Adventure

05 Dec 2016

by David McEniery

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I had just completed my first year of medicine at the University of Queensland (UQ). Following the final exams and celebrating with my fellow quarter-doctors, my mind turned to my end-of-year elective which was a compulsory part of my course. It was to be a four-week observership at any hospital where I could get valuable clinical exposure and medical experience.

The Manali Medical Aid Project (MMAP)

Taking advantage of my university’s liberal attitude towards overseas travel, I became involved with the MMAP, a student-run charity which offers an elective opportunity of a lifetime to four first year UQ students – and I was lucky enough to be one of them. As a result, I undertook my elective at the Lady Willingdon Hospital in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.

MMAP holds fundraisers and applies for grants solely for the benefit of Lady Willingdon Hospital. The money we raised in 2015 went directly towards an electronic tourniquet to support the hospital’s Orthopaedic Surgeon, the salary of the nurse in their new HIV Integrated Counselling and Testing Centre (ICTC), and towards MMAP’s Poor Patient and TB Patient Fund.

Our personal expenses for the elective were entirely self-funded. We were privileged to witness the tourniquet in action, see the opening of the ICTC, learn from the doctors and observe the patients utilising the money in the MMAP fund.

Journey to Manali

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We began our journey with a tour of the Golden Triangle, and only a short time after disembarking the plane in Delhi we were at the Taj Mahal. As an acclimation to India before our elective proper, we visited a number of temples, forts, and cities over the next couple of days. My personal highlights included Amber Fort outside Jaipur, visiting the Jama Masjid mosque in Delhi, and pretty much every opportunity to indulge in delicious Indian cuisine.

Eventually though, we had to get ourselves to Manali. We boarded a bus in Delhi for a 12-hour night trip north into Himachal Pradesh and the Himalayas. This was an interestingly precarious journey. Navigating the traffic was a constant struggle, from the outskirts of Delhi to the singular lane on the road winding up through the mountains. A consistent stream of bulky but delightfully decorated trucks came in the opposite direction, and always seemed to appear occupying the whole road as our bus hurtled around another precipitous corner. Thankfully, our driver was adept and there was nought to do but curl up and await our destination.

Manali is beautiful. It is about 2,000 metres above sea level most of the way up the Kullu Valley. If you continue much further north into the mountains you will end up in Kashmir, China, and even across to Nepal. But to arrive in a bustling town on a river nestled between the heights and forests of the Himalayas was astonishing, and we were greeted with the charm, friendship, and stares usually awaiting a tall Australian far from the comforts of subtropical Brisbane.

At the Lady Willingdon Hospital

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We plunged straight into our elective at the hospital and lived with, learnt from, and got to know most of the extraordinary doctors, nurses and staff working there. The doctors all spoke perfect English and were trained at one of the best medical schools in India. They were more than happy to teach us and get us involved in their work. We went on ward rounds, sat in patient interviews, learnt how to do well-baby and antenatal checks, helped out in the labour room, observed and sometimes scrubbed in on surgeries, and stayed as useful as we could in the Emergency Department.

It is hard to encapsulate all the rewarding and challenging lessons from my elective, but several are worth highlighting. One of the expectant mothers could speak a little English, and it was a special moment for us to tell her she had a little daughter and to see her joy and happiness at that fact.

The power in the hospital was mostly on, but with the snow and ageing infrastructure they sometimes went without such an essential ingredient to health care. The chief Surgeon – a forthright, intelligent and formidable man – had long adopted a pragmatic solution to that problem. I vividly remember watching him calmly continue removing a gallbladder by the light of his camping head torch when the operating theatre plunged into darkness.

In all, we were privileged to see the work of this Christian Mission Hospital and to learn from its doctors and staff. The Lady Willingdon Hospital sees an extraordinary number of patients each year, and the staff use their limited resources and facilities to provide an extremely high level of care. Moreover, they welcomed us into their community and ensured our four-week experience was fruitful and unforgettable. Our fundraising, our journey there, and our momentary shift out of our cloistered comfort zone were all entirely worth it. I cannot wait for my chance to return.

himalayashimalayashimalayas

The Manali Medical Aid Project (MMAP) has been ongoing from 2007. Funds raised by MMAP benefit the Lady Willingdon Hospital which administers care to many thousands of people in the Indian Himalayas.

For more information:



David McEniery (MDA National Member)
Year 2 Medical Student
University of Queensland

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