Most of those visiting Patan Hospital must have seen—if not encountered—a masked bespectacled gray-haired man, always engaging with the visitors.
He helps manage queues. He makes sure the elderly and pregnant women and others with serious conditions get seated. When he sees anybody puzzled, he rushes to the person, inquiring about the problem and their needs. He shows people the way to the X-ray department, lab, rest room or any other facility at the hospital.
He is not a hospital employee. Nor does he seek anything in return for his help.
Meet Kailash Shah, 73.
He has been volunteering at Patan Hospital for about seven years now.
“I have come across difficulties at various hospitals. A hospital visit is not easy for many, as big health facilities are like a maze. Many cannot figure out where to buy tickets, where to go for an X-ray and where the lab is,” said Shah. “There was a time when I visited hospitals for the treatment of my wife, I was perplexed and confused. There was no one to offer any assistance.”
After trying his best to save his wife, he lost her on April 3, 2015.
“I took her to various hospitals. I had to frequently ask for a lab, X-ray room, restroom, and doctor’s room as those rooms would be in various locations,” he recalled. “Going to the hospital and finding the designated rooms is like solving a puzzle.”
He would see numerous patients and caretakers like him facing the same problem in hospitals.
A professional auto mechanic, Shah used to own a garage at Satdobato. However, he had to sell it for his wife’s treatment. He doesn’t have any qualms about the expenses; he says he regrets that he could not save his wife, Leela.
After Leela’s death, Shah decided not to return to his former occupation again. He thought he would dedicate himself to helping those who don’t get assistance at hospitals, he said.
“I am a regular visitor here and I know Kailash Shah. He even pays for the ticket for those who can’t afford it,” said Shree Ram Rana Magar, 73, who had come to the hospital from Khumaltar for the check-up of his wife for hearing issues. “He is polite and always ready to help.”
According to Magar, he has not seen such assistance like the one provided by Shah at other major hospitals in Kathmandu such as Bir Hospital or the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital, Maharajgunj.
“I have known Shah for five years now,” said Magar, whom Shah suggested meeting a senior otolaryngologist in the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) department and took to room No. 24 on the ground floor where he doesn’t need to queue up.
Shah is a father of two sons and one daughter. His youngest son and daughter are abroad and he lives with his eldest son.
Knowing Shah’s passion for volunteering, his youngest son Prabhat, who is in the UK, told him to continue with his voluntary work and that he would send the money for his daily expenses.
With the burden to make a living subtracted, Shah could focus entirely on his passion. But in the beginning, when he met the high-ranking administration officers at the hospital offering his voluntary work, they didn’t believe him because of his age, Shah recalls. But he persisted and given his enthusiasm, those officers ceded to his request.
Dr Rabi Shakya, director at Patan Hospital, says Shah has shown what social service really is.
“We have six other volunteers who are also doing good work but Shah stands out,” said Shakya. “Shah is an inspiration for all health practitioners and staff of this hospital.”
Shah lives in Satdobato, about two kilometres from the hospital. He arrives at the hospital at 8am, an hour before the doctors start checking outpatients. He takes his lunch at the hospital canteen, for which he pays on his own. After working till 1pm, he leaves for his home.
“For many patients and their relatives, especially those who are visiting for the first time, it can be a really puzzling experience. Although the directions are written, there are many who can’t read or find the location,” he said.
Hospital staff are equally pleased with Shah’s work.
“We have half a dozen such volunteers, but none as regular and as dedicated as Shah,” said Shambhu KC, a security officer of Patan Hospital. “He worked at the hospital even during the pandemic. Now he has become an integral part of this hospital. He has done a great favour to us without seeking anything in return.”
Laxmi Tuladhar, 43, a nurse at the maternity ward who also oversees the beds for pregnant women, said she has never seen Shah standing idle.
“I have never seen such a dedicated person at the hospital,” said Tuladhar, who has been working at the hospital for over a decade now. “He has won everyone’s heart.”
Shah, who is originally from Hetauda, has gone through his share of trials and tribulations in life. He came to Kathmandu in 1966, when he was 14, after dropping out of school when he was a 10th grader because of his family’s poor economic condition.
“I had Rs20 when I first entered Kathmandu and got a chance to work at a garage in Chhetrapati,” recalled Shah. “There I learned to repair vehicles, mostly those damaged in accidents.”
After that he worked at various automobile workshops in the Valley before opening his own in Satdobato.
“I spent over four decades repairing vehicles,” said Shah. “Now I am committed to serving people. What I do today gives me satisfaction. I will continue doing this work as long as my feet let me. It gives me inner peace.”