The Mechi Netralaya Experience

The Mechi Netralaya Eye hospital in Nepal is not a household word yet in Nagaland, but soon will be. The reviews from Nagas who have been there are all very positive. I can now definitely attest to their verity. 

The Mechi Netralaya is located in a hamlet called Kakarvitta, a border town you arrive at directly after crossing into Nepal. We took the Rajdhani to Siliguri and hassled for a taxi to Kakarvitta, also known as Kakkarbhitta, in Eastern Nepal. Our destination was the eye hospital, Mechi Netralaya whose fame is growing by word of mouth among Nagas. Nepali contacts were full of praise for the hospital; in addition, Nagas who had been there to get treatment had glowing reports of the skills of the doctors. But it is still a well-kept secret, although not intentionally. Patients who have been successfully treated talk about their experiences only to family and friends, and it was largely via rumours that we got to hear of it. At first, we could not ascertain the name of the Eye hospital. As it happens, there are reportedly many other eye hospitals and eye clinics in Nepal. Before getting our tickets we learned through a local contact that the hospital was known as Mechi. An online search revealed more details, such as, location, photos, and a section for online registration. Armed with that information, as well as the verbal account that surgeries could be performed the same day of examination, we set off on our journey, hopeful and excited.

There are many train options. The Rajdhani stops in Dimapur Railway station for a few minutes at 2 am. Leaving aside the ungodly hour, the first class compartments are comfortable and try to maintain old world charm by serving bed tea, breakfast, lunch and dinner. The lovely thing about the Rajdhani is that it still lives up to its reputation of punctuality. It arrived at Siliguri before the estimated time, and getting a taxi to Kakkarvitta was not difficult. After the mandatory check at the border gate, we were soon driving over a dry and sandy Teesta river. Then on, it was a forty to forty-five minute ride to our destination. 

Kakkarvitta is a border town, but may not exactly qualify to be called a town. The Mechi Netralaya was on the main road of Kakkarvitta. By sheer coincidence, our hotel, the Hotel Quality, lay directly behind the hospital. Hotel Quality has very good reviews on Tripadvisor, and we were not disappointed. The pleasant, and most helpful owner, Kesang Lama, greeted us like an old friend. Our rooms were ready and lunch was a good testimony to the virtues of the hotel kitchen.

Next stop was the Eye hospital. Our first impressions remained our last. It was already past closing hours when we came to the gates of the hospital. Nevertheless, the very helpful security guard assisted us with our registration. Seeing that we were new to the place, he gave us information about the kind of help we would get the next day. His last instructions were to come the next morning at 8 am. That was our second taste of Nepali courtesy. The service we received was remarkable, and I will write about it further on.

When we returned the next morning, the hospital grounds were full of people. It reminded me of a durbar in front of a Mughal court. We were led inside a room that resembled the waiting hall at a train station. Nearly every seat was occupied. On either side of the hall, there were several examination rooms for different investigations and tests. Everything ran like clockwork. No sooner was the patient seated than his name was called out and tests run on him. Each test did not take long, and patients went from one test to the other test all in the space of an hour and a bit more. Those who needed conventional treatment were administered what they needed. Those who needed surgery were offered surgery the same day. 

As a patient, I observed that cleanliness was maintained at the highest level. Every doctor and medical officer was meticulous about sanitising their hands before each action even if they were treating the same patient. The toilets, general ward and waiting areas were spotlessly clean. Besides all these, the factor that made Mechi Netralaya stand out for us was the amazing level of courtesy which the hospital staff accorded each and every patient. Every person was treated as an individual and their needs were looked after separately. There was no high-handedness on the part of the medical staff including the doctors and specialists. No medical person, ranging from the specialist to the trainee nurses, ever spoke roughly to a patient. Nurses carefully guided the temporarily blinded patients to their wards after their respective surgeries, and periodically checked on them. Such a great lesson for us in Nagaland where ill-dressed patients are given inferior treatment.

Mechi Netralaya is an NGO. It runs on donations from individuals and organisations. It is dedicated to the welfare of the community, and this reason draws many people from low-income groups. Because of its reputation for excellence, there were people from high-income groups as well. The fees are very nominal, and easily affordable by all sections. The team is dedicated and very knowledgeable in their field. We heard many good reports. A man from Nagaland, who had deteriorating eyesight, was told that there was nothing more to be done. But when he came to Mechi, his condition was treated and he has now received his healing. There are a number of inspiring stories like that coming out of Mechi Netralaya to attest to the skills of the doctors there.

Something that stood out was how each patient, regardless of their economic background, was treated with courtesy. There was no differentiation between rich and poor, educated or uneducated. It is a lesson they can teach to our hospitals at home. The hospital was the best example of the gracious and compassionate Nepali nature. Everyone we met treated us with great courtesy.

As we left Mechi Netralaya for the last time, the security guard escorted us all the way to the gate, saluted and went back to his post. Our final image of Mechi was this moving send off by a smiling young man.

To sum up, the Mechi Netralaya is a beacon of light in an area of metaphorical darkness, not only for the local population, but for those of us across the border as well. I wish them very well indeed, and pray their influence grows beyond their shores.