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Returning from death-bed with disability

On a hot July day in 2003, Dhan Bahadur Subba and his friends were felling trees in the jungle of Gedu under Chukha Dzongkhag. They had got the contract work to supply timber. The 18-year-old Dhan Bahadur was cutting the trunk of a huge tree with a chainsaw while his friends were working on other trees nearby. However, what he did not realize at the time was that the vibration from his chainsaw was causing a half-dried branch straight above him to slowly break away. Then at the flash of a second, he heard a crashing sound as the branch snapped off and came down straight on him. The branch hit his head and knocked him unconscious.

His friends rushed to his rescue immediately and took him to Gedu hospital. But the doctors could not resuscitate him and after a few days, he was referred to Chukha hospital. There too, the doctors were helpless and he was further referred to JDW National Referral Hospital in Thimphu where he was kept in the Intensive Care Unit for fifteen days. Since he still failed to regain his consciousness, the doctors finally had to refer him to Kolkata in India for further treatment. In Kolkata hospital, the doctors performed surgery on his head and only then he woke up to his sense after being in coma for almost a month.

But he woke up to a completely different world. Everything was dark and he could not see the faces of people who were talking around him. “I thought it was still dark” he says. But even after several hours, he realized he could not see anything. He knew he had lost his sight. As he slowly began to piece together what had happened to him and make sense of where he was, tears began to roll down his eyes. When he told the doctor that he was not able to see, the doctor comforted him and said he would slowly regain his sight. But that hope the doctor gave him never materialized. After a few weeks, he was discharged from Kolkata hospital.

The news that he was now blind sent a wave of shock through the network of his family-members and friends as he struggled to cope with the environment he had been only at nights before. Although the accident had not caused any physical injury to his head, it had caused extensive damage to his internal structures that made him lose vision. But he says he is grateful that he is at least alive today. A few months after losing sight, he joined Draktsho Vocational Institute in Thimphu where he learned basket-making. Then he met Queen-mother Azhi Tshering Pem Wangchuck who referred to Muenselling Institute in Khaling. He could not continue his studies from grade 8 in Khaling due to financial constraints and underwent a 6-month training in SPA Therapy supported by the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan in collaboration with Bhutan Foundation and Amankora Resort. Today, he works as Spa Therapist in a hotel in Thimphu and leads a comparatively comfortable life with his low-vision wife to support him.

Disability is not a choice. It can happen to anybody any time. Life is completely unpredictable. But Dhan Bahadur’s story demonstrates how even a person with disability can lead a meaningful life if he or she is given the opportunity to develop skills required to cope with the mainstream society and a platform to practice them. Just showing sympathy won’t make any difference to the lives of persons with disability. Instead it deprives them of the opportunity to come out of their closet and participate meaningfully in the mainstream public life. That’s why, we don’t want sympathy. We only want empathy.

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