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India 2018 – The Gallstone Scam

The healer placed her lips on Parwati’s bare stomach and sucked. Parwati, a 60-year-old seamstress, was suffering from a painful gallstone, and she had traveled from Bhopal to a rural village for the unconventional treatment. She lay on her back as the healer sucked, sucked, sucked to remove the stone. The healer then raised her head and pulled the stone from her mouth (you can see the supposed treatment here). Parwati was “cured” and left a donation. But the stone was still there, and six years later, she continues to suffer.


Tammy Neblock-Beirne, MD, removed Parwati’s gallstone.

Parwati is one of two patients during this week’s mission who have received stone-sucking treatments from the healer. The other patient paid five kilos of grain for his supposed cure, a significant payment for a rural resident. He felt better for about six months from the psychosomatic response, but the pain returned.


Healers like this go by many names—scammer, flimflammer, con artist, crook—but the supernatural still plays an unfortunate role in health care for many Indians. Some people, for example, believe that epilepsy is caused by ghosts, which must be beaten out of the sufferer. These traditions and superstitions persist not only from lack of education in rural areas but from the medical desperation that exists in a nation where most citizens live on less than $2 a day.


Parwati has now received a more positive outcome: She underwent a successful surgery on the mission’s final day to remove the stone. The day before, Abigail Hayo, mission coordinator for Medical Missions Foundation, visited her in the pre-op ward. “We’re going to take good care of you,” Abigail told her through a translator. “This time we’re going to do it right.”