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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Book: A Doctor in Little Lhasa: One Year in Dharamsala with the Tibetans in Exile

May 28, 2009
May 26, 2009

For Immediate Release


A Doctor in Little Lhasa: One Year in Dharamsala
with the Tibetans in Exile is released by author Timothy H. Holtz, M.D.

*Required reading for students searching for a
connection between medical training and social
justice. Students and practitioners alike will find this book inspiring.”
-- Paul Farmer, Presley Professor, Harvard Medical School

After completing his adult medicine residency,
Dr. Timothy Holtz left Boston to spend a full
year practicing medicine in Dharamsala, a small
town in the northern Indian foothills of the
Himalayan Mountains. A Doctor in Little Lhasa
recounts Holtz’s experiences working in the
modest hospital that serves the Tibetan refugee
and local populations, as well as curious Western
tourists who fall ill during their pilgrimage to the region.

Since 1962, Dharamsala has been the official site
of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and home to
the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan-run, donor-supported
facility where Holtz worked has only the most
basic equipment and resources, yet it serves a
community in excess of 15,000 people. Far removed
from the state-of-the-art diagnostic tools and
cutting edge medications typical of Western
hospitals, Holtz had to go back to the basics of
clinical diagnosis and treatment, relying on his
skills of observation as well as the medical
histories gleaned from his patients. As Holtz
matures as a young physician, the excitement of
practicing medicine in a remote location is
fraught with difficult and challenging moments.
At one point, he must try to stop a dangerous
outbreak of diphtheria from spreading, with no
vaccines on hand. Sometimes he could only watch
in frustration as patients died of diseases, such
as drug-resistant tuberculosis, that could have
been treated in an economically developed
country. It was the resilience of the Tibetan
people—the difficult lives of whom he witnessed
daily—that confirmed the importance of Holtz’s
drive to care for an underserved population.

A Doctor in Little Lhasa also touches on the
contemporary history of Tibet, as well as its
people and culture. Tibetans have suffered
persecution from the Chinese Government, forcing
thousands into exile across the Himalayan
Mountains with little more than the clothes on
their back. Holtz witnessed the depression,
anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
borne of torture and mistreatment endured before
fleeing Tibet. His investigation into the mental
health scars from trauma under occupation and
exile led to a meeting with the Dalai Lama and a
discussion about how to better serve the
survivors. In several cases, Holtz’s medical
intervention and treatment of psychological distress saved his patients’ lives.

A Doctor in Little Lhasa is a fascinating book
that draws readers in from the beginning. Holtz’s
one-year experience in Dharamsala serving
Tibetans in exile changed his life
forever.  Moreover, his story highlights the
inseparable connection between health and human rights.

A Doctor in Little Lhasa: One Year in Dharamsala with the Tibetans in Exile
Timothy H. Holtz, M.D.
Dog Ear Publishing
ISBN: 978-159858-883-5
232 pages, pictures

About the Book:
A young public health doctor's year-long
experience in northern India providing medical
care for a Tibetan community living in exile
leads to life lessons in compassion, generosity,
and patience. As a young physician in training,
Timothy yearns to make a difference in the world.
While working at a U.S. community clinic, he
encounters the health problems of refugees who
had fled their countries’ human rights abuses. He
soon realizes that his passion is to live abroad
and serve a community as a physician. Following
his formal medical training, Timothy lives for a
year in Dharamsala, the “Peaceful Resting Place,”
home of the Dalai Lama in northern India. Working
alongside other volunteer colleagues, Timothy’s
journey leads to the joy and anxiety of
delivering babies by candlelight, the sorrow of
tending to dying children who have suffered
terrible falls, the frustrations of treating
drug-resistant tuberculosis, and the challenges
and rewards of delivering preventive health
messages to newly arriving refugees from Tibet.

Dharamsala is a peaceful but bustling little
town. The former British hill station is now the
home of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan
Government-in-Exile. Over 10,000 Tibetans live in
Dharamsala and the surrounding settlements, with
thousands of new refugees fleeing persecution
arriving every year. For one year, Timothy lives
and works at Delek Hospital, founded in 1971 to
serve the Tibetan refugee population. In an
environment where even electricity can’t be taken
for granted, he must learn to hone his diagnostic
skills instead of relying on high-tech tests, and
find a way not only to help but also to leave
behind something of benefit that will last beyond
his time there. He soon finds that the 35-bed
hospital is continually full of sick Tibetans and
local Indians, as well as tourists who fall prey
to the many tropical diseases that the Indian
subcontinent dishes out. The patients and stories
he encounters are inspiring, and the resilience
and tenacity of Tibetans is humbling to witness
firsthand. The Tibetan strength of spirit is most
evident in the torture survivors that he meets and whose stories he documents.

By documenting and publicizing the mental health
needs of a group of Tibetan nuns who had been
tortured in Tibet, he ensures that they will
receive adequate care in the future. And he
learns some sobering and important lessons as a
physician: that knowledge about health and
sickness is not always enough to prevent illness.
For a dutiful physician treating the sick, the
key is not to rush to conclusions or order a
battery of tests, but to take the time to listen
to patients and take into account the context of
their symptoms. Timothy also discovers that a
physician might be able to relieve the
superficial afflictions of this life, but the
deeper suffering that people carry with them
takes far longer to heal. Ultimately the struggle
of exiled Tibetans for improved health and
recognition of their fundamental human rights becomes his own.
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