Picture the scene. I was in a hotel in Lhasa, Tibet. I had gone to Tibet and China to teach a class on the history and philosophy of those Asian nations. The group was visiting Jokhang Temple, but I wasn't with them. It was but pitch-black inside my room. I was in bed where I had been for about 12-hours-excluding the many trips to the bathroom. I could hardly move due to altitude sickness. Fortunately for me, our Tibetan tour guide had sent for a doctor who specialized in altitude sickness.

It wasn't long before I heard a knock at the door; it was the doctor. He greeted me warmly, and I replied appropriately with a feeble hello. I inquired if he were here for a sky burial. They say that the last thing that goes in my family is one's sense of humor.

For those who aren't familiar with sky burials, I need to explain what sky burials are so that you can see the humor in my response. Tibetan Buddhist observe a funeral practice that is strange to many Western minds. Instead of burying or cremating the dead, they often employ sky burial. After three days, the dead person is taken up into the mountains and is cut up into small pieces. The flesh is cut from the bones while the bones are smashed into small bits so that vultures can devour the entire body. For the Tibetan, the vultures are Dakinis ("sky dancers") or what we call angels. The Dakinis will devour the dead person and carry the soul of the person to heaven there to await reincarnation.

Back in my hotel/hospital room, the doctor ignored my poor attempt at gallows humor and went about bringing me back from the edge of the abyss thus making a sky burial unnecessary. I was so sick that I only opened my eyes to see whether he thought my morbid joke was funny. Since I didn't get a rise out of him, I merely closed my eyes since I was so weak to watch what he was doing-taking my temperature, looking at my tonsils, poking me, etc.

It wasn't long before the doctor announced in clearly understood English, "You sick!" I was relieved that he was able to see that reality. I had completely dehydrated from the numerous trips to the bathroom. Fortunately, even though I still felt sick, there wasn't any extra fluid left in my system.

As I laid there with my eyes closed, I heard the doctor working at my bed side. It wasn't long before I heard glass clanking. It was then that he inquired, "You understand IV?" I nodded affirmatively. However, he had me turn over so that he could give me a shot in my bottom. As he administered the shot, I tried to recall the last time that a doctor had given me a shot to my backside; it had to have been more than a 1/2 century.

Over the next nine hours, the doctor returned three more times to check on me. On his last visit, he gave me several boxes of meds and his bill for his all day treatment. For his nine hours of intensive care, the bill was $100. Thanks to his medical attention, I was able to continue my scheduled activities without much difficulty the following morning.

What did I learn from this prelude to my sky burial? I realized that I had possibly made an error in my trip planning. My wife and I had traveled to Tibet four years prior. During that trip's preparation, I became aware of the deadly effects of altitude sickness, which is very common in Lhasa since the elevation of the city is approximately 12,000 feet above sea level. The horror stories concerned me enough to take medication to ward off the symptoms of altitude sickness (vomiting, diarrhea, rapid weight loss, and migraine-like headaches. Because we didn't get sick on our first visit, I concluded that this prophylaxis wasn't necessary this time. In hindsight, I can now see the error of my logic.

One additional learning: I realized that life is precious and will sooner or later end for all of us including me. While I bit the bullet this time, some time in the future, I won't. Therefore, I make every effort to appreciate my time here on earth, because I came too close to having sky burial in Tibet.


This was the doctor's diagnosis and his treatment that he rendered me.
I told you that I was sick.

This was his bill, and the best $100 that I ever spent.