Thursday, July 17, 2014

India Week 2

I have now been in India for over two weeks and still feeling so happy to be here. Our group now has 8 people, all from different backgrounds, religions, and cities but our quirky little group somehow works pretty well. Riding in a van with 11 (soon to be 12) people can get pretty interesting though. 

Our days still consist of going to the hospitals in the mornings and the crèches in the afternoons. The crèches are still my favorite for obvious reasons:


The difference in healthcare is astounding mainly because most of the people here can not afford much care. One thing that is particularly interesting is that Indians have a notion that an injection, or "oozie", will make them better, so I've seen several patients who ask for an injection even if they don't need it. The doctor may then give them a vitamin injection so that they don't go looking for treatment from someone who is not qualified (also common here). However, parents use the threat of an "oozie" to discipline children so kids are often terrified of seeing the doctor or getting a shot, no difference there I suppose though.


Pasam is the charity hospital here that was started by a doctor, Dr. Maskarenez who is now 85, still practicing, and probably the most incredible person I ever met. He got his medical degree in Germany and then came back to India to practice. He traveled in a van from village to village seeing and treating people who had no local doctor. People would line up by the hundreds to come see him as he practiced in a hut or out the back of his van. He then started the Pasam hospital in Kodaikanal, where patients are not charged (although they have had to start charging a little due to limited funding) but even now still goes out to the more rural villages to see people who would otherwise have to travel long distances on the mountain roads. Since he has medical ties in Germany, every spring a team of German plastic surgeons comes to Pasam to evaluate and operate on 100-200 people who would never be able to afford such surgeries otherwise. The majority of the patients are burn victims, many who had attempted suicide after believing they brought dishonor on their family or women who disappointed their mother-in-law or future husband ("dowry death"). As a result, people who had previously been debilitated and needed care can once again lead normal lives. 

Dr. Maskarenez is traveling to Delaware soon to visit his son and he said he would give me a call if he goes to Philadelphia! In between visiting terminally ill patients of course as he does whenever he is in the US.

Last week at Pasam I got to debrie and dress a diabetic foot that was so bad you could see many of the muscles in her foot (I'll spare you guys the picture). Diabetes is very common here and difficult to control due to the local diet (lots of rice) and medication. This poor little old lady probably cut her foot at some point but didn't realize it. She then got a staph infection that spread resulting in cellulitis and necrosis over most of her foot and part of her leg. It was the first time I ever had to "treat" someone who had something really wrong with them. I hated causing her more pain even though I knew that it was helping her, but it was still difficult. Afterward, she was so incredibly grateful, as she is every single day when we redress the wound and clear off the slough (those of us who aren't helping, hold her hand and sing her songs to make her feel better).

All of the patients here are always so grateful to their doctors, no one gets mad about having to wait or complains about their treatment. They are just glad that someone is trying to help make hem feel better. And I'm grateful too that I can be a part of it.


Switching gears: this past weekend we took a trip to Kanyakumari, a beach town at the tip of India where the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal meet.


It was so nice to be around warm weather (it seriously has not been warmer than 70 degrees here) and relax a litte. We had a great time seeing the Gandhi Memorial, Vivekananda Rock Memorial (to the left in picture below) and one of the biggest statues in Asia of Tamil poet-saint, Thiruvallular (to the right), and just walking around the colorful town and sitting on the beach (we couldn't go in the water since a local had disappeared while swimming two days before). Because it is on the tip of the continent you can see both the sun set and rise over the water. However, despite getting up at 5 am, we were unable to see either due to the clouds on the horizon. We were lucky enough to watch the Super Moon rise over the ocean while we sat on a rock pier that extended out into the ocean.

Overall, it's been another week of eye-opening experiences and fun silly times. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014


So. I'm in Kodaikanal (Tamil Nadu region in southern India) for the next three weeks (I've been here for a full week) volunteering with the Foundation for the International Medical Relief of Children ( 

In my first week here I've already seen so many things that are entirely different from what I'm used to seeing in the US. One question I got asked a lot this week was: Why India (FIMRC also has sites in Peru, El Salvadro, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Uganda)? My answer: It's something different.

The Indian culture is beautiful and unique, something that I become more convinced of each day I am here. But I think that many people forget that India is a third world country. In a culture with women who are dressed in beautiful colors and gold jewelry, large weddings, and Bollywood, it's easy to overlook the villages where people work 7 days a week doing hard labor to provide for their families and children are often malnourished. 

Kodaikanal is one such place, but you may not realize it at first glance. High up in the mountains of Tamil Nadu, many people come to Kodaikanal for vacations to escape the scorching temperatures of the plains (even in summer it doesn't get much hotter than 75 degrees) and take in the sweeping views. As a result, there are many large and beautiful summer homes and hotels here that may only be occupied for a few weeks throughout the whole year. In sharp contrast to these empty mansions are homes made of pieces of tin, mud and sticks where entire families live in a single room. In these households both parents must work all the time in order to provide for their families but it oftentimes is not enough. 

Due to these conditions, in addition to the fact that the only way to get to the town is a several hour drive on narrow roads that wind up the mountain, many of the people who live here, especially the kids, do not have access to adequate healthcare. Malnourishment and respiratory infections are extremely common in the child population while osteoarthritis, diabetes, and muscle strains are a part of life for many of the adults here. 

My first three days here were spent in the crèches (similar to preschools, for children age 2-5 whose families can't afford to send their kids to other schools) measuring the kids' heights, weights, and arm circumferences. The majority of them were underweight for their age. In the afternoon, the doctor came to examine the children who were sick that week. Out of 40 or so kids, about 15 were sick. Many of the kids had handkerchiefs pinned to their clothes because runny noses and coughs are everyday occurrences for children who live in houses with several people and little ventilation. It broke my heart, but they were still just normal kids playing and trying to get our attention, completely oblivious to their missing buttons, inside out sweaters, and runny noses.

Hopefully in the coming weeks I'll write more about the differences in healthcare, life here in India, and my experiences in the hospitals and crèches and all that I've learned, but for now I just wanted to say that I'm here in Kodaikanal and I'm here because there are people and kids who need help even though it's sometimes easy to overlook. 

P.S. Sorry for the lack of time!!