The (end of) Blog Week: Holy Cows and Criminals

This will be the last post in our week of blogging.  Thanks to those of you who have followed along.  We hope it was enjoyable and you aren’t sick of us yet.  We will do a better job in the future, keeping up on blogging our life and times here in Nepal. If you didn’t catch the not so subtle foreshadowing in yesterday’s post, today’s post is also about how the Holy Cow works here in Nepal.

The Holy Cows and Criminals

It is always tempting to ask sick prisoners, who are unfortunate enough to end up as my patients, what evil thing they did to land in jail. However, this is hardly ever an appropriate question.  It is unlikely their crime has anything to do with their ailment, and it can kind of put up a wall in the middle of the doctor/patient relationship.  But I do always wonder.  Specifically, I wonder how many people they have killed, and if they are thinking about killing me when I lean forward, with my neck exposed to listen to their heart and lungs.  Again though, not appropriate doctor/patient interaction.

One day, I had not one, but two patients in a row who were prisoners. And if that wasn’t enough of a similarity, they both had severely low blood counts, and the exact same hematocrit of 21%.  Based on the size of the blood cells, one can often get an idea of why the blood count is low. The first criminal, uhh patient, that I saw had very large red blood cells, indicating the source of anemia was likely nutritional. This is not uncommon among prisoners, since I guess the prison food isn’t anything you would want to write home about. The second patient, however, had very small red blood cells, and also had complaints of vomiting blood. This individual was bleeding from his stomach, and would need to be admitted to the hospital.

Throughout his time in the medical ward, he was handcuffed to the bed, except for bathroom breaks, and had a minimum of 5 guards, all toting large rifles and night sticks, hovering over his bed. By the size of his entourage, I figured this guy had 7+ murders under his belt, and was actively contemplating how to pull the next one off. This definitely wasn’t a case of writing bad checks.

After several days, and several blood transfusions, the bleeding slowed down. I did an endoscopy that showed 2 large healing ulcers, and soon it was time for him to go home. As we were writing his discharge paperwork, one of my residents leaned over and whispered “I know what he did!” While I would not ask the prisoner what they had done, I was not above getting the scoop from someone else. After a few deep breaths to brace myself for a tale of unspeakable carnage, the felony was revealed: he had killed a cow. That’s right, he was in year 7 of a 10 year sentence, surrounded by 5 guards with fingers on the triggers, for killing a cow. Not only that, but if you asked the man, he claimed that he was framed. And to make the situation even more unbelievable, 7 years ago when the cow killing took place, Nepal was a Hindu nation with much more strict laws, and the cow was protected by law.  Apparently these rules are still on the books.  Hannah, while studying Nepali law, found an entire section regarding “4 legged people.” After an hour or so of puzzling, she was realized all these rules pertained to the holy brother god who graces many American’s hamburger buns. While Nepal’s government is still in transition, (a constitution has yet to be approved by the interim government and new elections are still to be held)  it is unlikely that anyone would be sent to prison for killing a cow today. In fact, it is possible to buy beef at the local market, or get a good steak in Kathmandu or Pokhara.

So if you are having a bad day, please just be grateful that are not in prison for being framed for a crime that is no longer a crime. While you are reflecting on this, feel free to fire up the grill.