Irakli Khvedaguridze sees some interesting injuries and ailments on his rounds: a local shepherd with crippling back pain, a hiker who took a tumble into a gorge, someone mauled by an animal. He doesn’t have the modern tools that city doctors have, and even if he did, he probably couldn’t bring them along since he travels on horseback to see his patients.
According to National Geographic, “Khvedaguridze, the only licensed doctor across nearly 386 square miles of mountainous land in this historic region in northeast Georgia, serves as a lifeline for the dwindling community of Tush people who remain in this remote area throughout the eight months of winter.”
His white horse, Bichola, can’t always walk through the snow in winter. And that’s when he makes the trek on foot, turning his shoes into skis using birchwood planks.
The small number of medical supplies the 80-year-old can carry is always accompanied by a hunting knife, matches, and two days’ worth of food. After all, you never know what might happen in the Caucasus mountains – it’s wild territory with very few people to help a doctor in need.
After graduating from the Medical Institute of Georgia (now called the Tbilisi State Medical University) in 1970, Khvedaguridze worked at an urban hospital. But after finding out the Tusheti mountain doctor left the area in 1979, Khvedaguridze decided someone needed to take his place. He’s from that area, so he felt the responsibility to return. After all, who else would take such a job? For decades he would do one-month rotations in the mountains a few times a year, but in 2009 he made the permanent move. His other option was to retire.
He described doctoring as a “mediation between God and the sick” to National Geographic.
“For me, there’s no night or day,” he said. “If they call me to help someone, no matter the circumstances, no matter the rain, snow, day or night, I have to go. Even if I’m as old as 90, should there be people who need me, I will go to help them. It’s my duty.” – WTF fun fact