Posts Tagged ‘Medicine’

Something to make you smile

January 29, 2011

Thanks to a team of doctors from England, 100 small children are now able to do something they couldn’t before.


With the assistance of a Nagpur Rotary club, a group of English doctors flew to Nagpur for the week to repair cleft-lips and -palates of infants and small children. For upwards of 12 hours a day, the team rarely left the hospital, working around the clock to improve as many lives as possible. For free.

And we got to watch.

After Hindi class on Monday, Michelle and I went to Memorial Hospital with Franziska, eager to see this act of charity firsthand. Michelle and Franzi had already been inside, but this was my maiden visit. In fact, it was my first visit to any hospital in India, and it was unlike any I’d seen in the U.S.

I grew up accompanying my M.D. mom to work, so I know what hospitals are supposed to look like. Large, modern, sterile structures impenetrable except through a pair of automatic glass sliding doors. Patients sitting two or three in each well-ventilated room, guests only allowed with a prominently-placed visitors pass. An anthill of activity: bustling with white coats and blue scrubs, teeming with clipboards, stethoscopes and blood-pressure cuffs.

This hospital was nothing like any of those I’d visited before, although given the relative wealth of its patients, it could have been worse. It was like a well-polished black-and-white TV – carefully maintained, but outdated and limited in scope. The three-story main building looked like it was constructed sometime between the first and second World Wars. The recovery room wasn’t quite overcrowded – especially by India’s standards – but it was still just one room all the same. Without ventilators available for the patients, an assistant had to do the breathing quite literally by hand.

That said, I never would have been allowed to see such an operation in America, so for me this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I put on some of those pale blue scrubs and – careful not to touch anything – joined the others in the operating room.

The Englishmen actually referred to the operating room as the “theatre”, which seems appropriate given the spectacle we saw. We had to be careful not to trip over any trailing wires, but other than that the room was an oasis of modernity in an otherwise aging hospital. Four or five doctors were crowded around the patient, as was most of the high-tech equipment you’d expect in such a situation. One of the off-duty doctors was kind enough to give us an overview of the operations, talking to us about the room’s cords, clamps and clefts. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than I’d expected, but the aura of concentration remained a constant ubiquity.

But the most remarkable thing about these operations was why they were performed. Comparable surgeons were available throughout India, but at a price the families of the patients couldn’t afford. Three of England’s 25 doctors specializing in this field were in Nagpur for the project, and they stood in three neighboring rooms, implanting smiles surgically into their patients, and indirectly on the faces of the parents waiting outside.

This time, the smiley face at the end of my post has an added meaning. Because thanks to this program, that’s what 100 children will now be able to do.




Hinglish, soccer in the streets, and Indian video games: Answering your questions about India

July 25, 2010

August 12, 2010: UPDATE: Marathi is also commonly spoken on the streets in Maharashtra. Hindi is a secondary language for most people. See this post for more updated information about language in India.

Ask and you shall receive.

How many host families will you have?

I have only one host family the whole year. So I’m very happy that I got placed with a good one! Everyone in the family has been supportive and helped me learn all the new facets of the culture. One of the students I met at the conference had five though, if I remember correctly, so the number of families varies from student to student and country to country.

Are you going to go through an intensive language week or two through Rotary during your first few weeks? I know they do that in some of the European countries.

No, but I actually wish I did. Almost everyone I’ve met speaks English, and most speak it well. When someone wants to talk to me in English, I’m usually able to understand what they’re saying without any difficulties. I have become self-conscious of my American accent, since it’s quite distinctive.

But almost everyone here speaks three languages fluently: English, Hindi and Marathi, the latter two of which are quite similar. I find it remarkable how so many people are so fluent in all three languages. In the house, Marathi is commonly spoken. On the streets, everyone understands Hindi. Friends often talk amongst themselves in Hindi and Marathi, so I wish I had learned more of each before I came. They’ll interchange between Hindi and English a lot, so I guess you could say everyone speaks Hinglish.

Are you taller than anyone you see?

Yea… In fact I haven’t seen a single other person with blond or brown hair since I left the Nagpur airport. But I haven’t gotten as much attention for my difference in appearance as I thought I would. A small child noticeably pointed at me a couple days ago, and a baby girl stared at me as I rode by in the car, but if adults have been looking at me, they have been discrete. No one has come up to me and tousled my hair or anything like that.

Are there kids playing soccer in the streets?

Cricket is the big sport here in India, but it’s definitely not the only popular sport. Basketball and football (I’m just going to call soccer football, so hang with me) are very popular. Field hockey, badminton and volleyball are also played a lot. But these are all played on well-maintained courts and fields for the most part.

So no, I haven’t seen kids playing soccer in the streets. 🙂

As for football, I was going to go play this morning with my host brother, cousin and friends, but it was raining too hard.

Have you got a phone yet that works?

No, not yet. Everyone I talked to beforehand said I shouldn’t bring a phone, so that’s why I remained one of those weird people without a cell phone in the months before the trip. One of my friends here recommended I just change the SIM card on a phone from the US, but I really didn’t know enough to do anything.

I don’t know if I’ll be getting a phone eventually, but seeing as I survived 15 of my 17 years without one, I’ll think I’ll be able to survive one more. 😛

Watching tv??? What about… video games ?

TV is to India what the internet is to the US. Actually that’s an overgeneralization. But TV seems more influential here than in the US. My host brother, cousin, and friends watch a lot of movies in their free time, clicking between HBO, Cinemax, Showtime, and the Indian Disney Channel. We’ve also watched the WWE.

Yes, I know. I didn’t come to India just to watch TV…

As for video games, some people play video games on their PCs. Internet cafés, I’ve heard, are filled with teenagers on World of Warcraft and Age of Empires. I haven’t had the chance to play anything yet.

I did, however, sing YMCA and We Are The Champions on the family karaoke machine…

Did you take your malaria pill?

Only you would ask that, mom. Yes, of course! No worries.


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Shots! (Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots!)

June 25, 2010

From Japanese encephalitis to hepatitis, typhoid to tetanus, dengue fever to yellow fever, I’ve learned more about diseases and vaccinations in preparing for my trip to India than I thought I’d ever have to know.

It’s been a hassle getting everything I need for my trip. In the past month, the vaccines I’ve gotten and the medications I’m supposed to take have blended together in a blur of travel clinics, referrals and prescriptions. If my mom didn’t have an M.D., I don’t know how I’d be getting through.

I feel lucky to have lived as healthy a life as I have. I did break my wrist two years ago when I was viciously mauled by a 12-foot grizzly bear (by which I mean I fell off my bike). And every year I get stricken by the seasonal flu once or twice. But I’ve never suffered any major injuries, been sick for more than a week, or taken medicine for more than a couple days. And for an American kid, I’m about par for the course when it comes to health.

But my health has very little to do with luck.

One number tells a story far better than any anecdote I could give you: 78.4. That’s the life expectancy for an American baby born today. With a rank of 38, that number puts the US akin to countries like Luxembourg, South Korea, Chile, Denmark and Portugal.

India’s life expectancy, on the other hand, is 63.7. That puts them at 115th in the world, just behind Iraq, and just ahead of Kyrgyzstan.

Those two numbers say more about how good we have it in the US than how “bad” it is in India. The rest of the world hasn’t caught up either, with the mean just shy of 69.

India’s also come a long way in recent years. The life expectancy there has risen 21.3 years since 1960. Compare that to the world’s increase of 16.4 in that same time period, and the 8.6 year increase by the US.

In short, we have a lot to be thankful for in the US.

Life expectancy can’t tell the whole story, of course. It’s just a crude estimator of the health of a country. But the fact is, the health of Americans is relatively stellar. For all the deficiencies the US has, the infrastructure for healthcare is outstanding.

We have ambulances that get to emergencies quickly in every city. Our streets are paved, sweeped, and shoveled of snow. Our water is not only pure, it has added fluoride. There are countless problems that never concern us and likely never will, because the infrastructure is in place. We can afford to walk outside without bug spray and ignore our mosquito bites.

These are luxuries afforded us in the US that won’t be there in India. These shots I’m getting are a testament to how nice it is in America, just because we never need them in day-to-day life.

If only there were just some way for me to go to India without getting all these shots…

Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Shots! Everybody!


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