PUTTING LIFE INTO PERSPECTIVE AND A LESSON OF HOPE AND GRATITUDE
Having returned from my first medical mission to Southern India at the end of February, I’ve had some time to process my thoughts and the many experiences I had as part of a team of medical professionals dedicated to helping people in need half way around the world. I will admit, it was not an easy trip. Our resources limited what we could do, but there was seemingly no limit to the hope and gratitude these people had for whatever medical care we could provide. Even in the worst cases, the people we cared for were simply thankful for our very presence.
Over the course of the week, we saw about 900 patients and performed some 50 surgeries as a group. The numbers sound impressive, but most days, we felt like we didn’t make much of a dent in the overwhelming amount of need that these people had. There was that much need.
Because I could speak the language, I served as translator for most of the cases we saw. I had the opportunity to speak with so many people, and while it warmed my heart to get to know them and help in what little way I could, it also broke my heart to hear their stories and experience the depth of their gratitude. As an integrative physician, I try to maintain a certain professional distance from my patients. There was no way to do that in this place. There was no way to not feel their pain, but there was also no way to not appreciate the amount of hope these people carried. Maybe because in the end, hope was all they really had.
“There was no way to not feel their pain, but there was also no way to not appreciate the amount of hope these people carried. Maybe because in the end, hope was all they really had.” Dr. Jyothi Rao
Proud and Stoic, Never Complaining
We quickly learned about the people of this region of India (Sirsi, which is in the southern part of India), how truly tough their lives were, yet how they proudly remained stoic and rarely ever complained, even in the face of the many forces that worked against them in life. Many work hard manual labor jobs, only to come home to joint families living in overcrowded situations, being forced to sleep on the floor. Many have poor diets which lead to nutritional deficiencies and many live with medical issues for years without seeing or having access to a doctor. Yet, they never complain. We encountered one man whose arm was completely burnt. He had it wrapped in an old cloth. The only pain management was an occasional Tylenol or Ibuprofen. He never complained. In the area of the country we were in, there is a good government hospital and health system. But with so many people to care for, the overwhelmed health system has to have some strict requirements for who sees a doctor, who will receive surgery, etc. There, it is too easy for people to fall through the cracks, which is where our medical group came in.
In India, our group spent many hours and days doing what we could with limited time and resources. We provided any service we could; simple prescriptions for medical issues, treated with pain or antibiotics for infection, did simple procedures such as joint injections, removal of tumors and growths, performed stress tests, and did complicated surgeries including hernias, debridement and cancer resections.
Caring for so many proud and appreciative patients truly put our own healthcare system and all that we have in America into a perspective I could not ever have imagined. Dr. Jyothi Rao
She Thanked Us
One of the cases I’ll never forget was a 22-year-old woman who had metastatic rectal cancer. This poor young woman didn’t know she had cancer but she had severe malnutrition and abdominal discomfort due to her inability to eat and our team’s surgeon operated on her. The hope was that the surgery would decrease her pain, making whatever little time she had left on this earth a little less painful. She thought the surgeon was a savior. Words of hope and gratitude from a dying woman still in pain, a woman, really a girl — who would never see her 23rd birthday, had each one of us in tears. We did what we could, it wouldn’t be enough to save her, but she thanked us.
The experience played havoc with our emotions, but was truly spiritual and eye opening at the same time. The people who sponsored us were so wonderful and the group of medical professionals I had the honor of working with on the mission were just amazing people dedicated to helping the less fortunate and those in need around the world. We all went on this mission with great hopes of making even a small difference. And while we did help many people, it certainly opened my eyes to how much need there is in the world, and just how fortunate we are here at home. As I reflect back on my time in India, I indeed have mixed and often raw emotions which are difficult to even name. What I do know for sure is that this experience taught me about the power of hope.
This experience showed me first hand what it means to be grateful for the little things.