Humour, the great leveller – Dr John Padgett

This story comes from the 1990s, when my wife, Sally, and I, along with our three young children, were working at Amppipal Hospital – a small rural hospital in Gorkha District, Nepal.  It was a busy place, with over 40,000 outpatients annually, 2,500 admissions, 1,500 surgical procedures. We had 80 staff – about half a dozen were expatriate.

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        Expat and Nepali Medical staff

Back in those years, Nepalis were getting stuck into the idea of April Fool’s Day and they loved playing pranks, particularly on us expatriates.  Once I was called urgently to the emergency room where there was a patient on the bed having a grand mal convulsion! When I approached the bed and threw back the sheet – lo and behold, I found that it was just a dummy being shaken by a staff member who was under the bed.  Great belly laughs all round, when I discovered their joke.

However, I repaid them in kind another time, when I pretended to have a head injury – complete with bright red fake blood dripping down one side of my face.  In full sight of the local shopkeepers and all who had come to the hospital that day, I staggered across the area towards the hospital entrance, stumbled down the stairs into the emergency department and collapsed onto one of the hospital trolleys.  I completely fooled one of my expat colleagues from Finland who immediately raised the alarm. One of our senior Nepali staff realised in an instant, that I was pulling a prank and got into the act – he was fantastic! They rushed me down into the hospital proper to the resuscitation area where my Finnish friend set about assessing my condition clinically.  In the meantime, a whole crowd of spectators had gathered – most of the staff who were on duty, along with patients who could walk and any accompanying relatives. Quite a spectacle! Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that my Finnish friend suddenly realised that I was pulling his leg and he ran his hands up the sides of my chest and gave me this enormous tickle.   I sat bolt upright and roared out: “What a wonderful doctor is Dr Juha!” One of our cleaning ladies was standing at the foot of the bed, and watching her face go from grave concern to enormous relief was hilarious.

Reflecting on this event over the years, I reckon that it was a very funny way to get people laughing (and with a great deal of relief!), and, perhaps, helped to draw together the staff of the hospital.  I was hospital director at the time.

In the healthcare field we are mostly dealing with people when they are vulnerable and distressed. Day in, day out, in our working lives, we and our staff have this daily stress. Currently, I work as a medical educator with Australian General Practice Training and spend a lot of time with GP registrars, who are making the transition from hospital-based work to autonomous general practice.  In the caring professions, self-care is important. Humour from time to time can help to defuse pent-up emotions. Cross-cultural humour makes it even trickier. Nonetheless, humour is the great leveller and can help to break down barriers in our social interactions. Surely it is a God-given gift, a tell-tale sign of our humanity, and a mark of the image of God.

Sally and I will soon have the opportunity to return to work in Nepal.  We have been accepted by Interserve, and will be seconded to the United Mission to Nepal to work in one of their hospitals.  We are planning to leave for Nepal in May 2019. I’m looking forward to future April Fool’s Days!

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Nepali mothers and children
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Amppipal Hospital entrance
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X-ray Nepali-style
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Operating Theatre


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Dr John Padgett is a GP who has worked in Wagga for the past 20 years – 12 years in mainstream practice, then for 4 years in the Aboriginal Medical Service. More recently, John has returned to obstetrics in the local hospital, as well as doing medical educator work with GP training. Back in the 1990s his family worked for 9 years in a rural hospital in the central hills of Nepal.

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