Sitting here in Istanbul, it's surreal to reminisce on the oscillations of my last few days in Mathpally. It always amazes (and disappoints) me how dreadfully easy it is to forget and transition into a new frame of existence. But as usual, it's my fault for dropping the ball here, and I want to cap off this blog with a thorough account of what I did, what I thought, what I felt, and all the questions that remain unanswered (as usual, those rascals).
Dr. Rajendar, our newest team member, has been faithfully (though less and less punctually) coming to the clinic every Wednesday afternoon. The first week, after we made public announcements in both Mathpally and Medinapur, he saw a bamboozling 76 patients in 5 hours- assisted by me furiously scribbling patient records and quite possibly misspelling every single name. Swami, the Junior RMP ran around giving injections and doing other nurse-y tasks. I had mixed emotions at the end of the flurry (it was a rather slow moving, elderly, joint pains and headache type of flurry, but a flurry nonetheless). The patients came in droves, but Dr. Rajendar had to bite the bullet and prescribe essentially the same three meds to 75% of them. Overwhelming, our patrons aren't seriously sick; they just show up because it’s free and they feel like crap (which any 60-year-old who devotes eight hours a day to pulling weeds would). It makes sense to visit the clinic near weekly to get pain killers and vitamin injections, but it also makes us something of a charity pharmacy throwing band-aids at deeper issues.
Since our prodigious day numbo uno, business has slowed down to a solid 40 patients per day, though with a similar demographic. On the other six days of the week, the local RMP continues to treat his village mates as he has been since March. Our operations are certainly debatable, because we're pretty much stuffing medication into people who aren't getting better in any significant way. The issues here are lifestyle based, which is something we have no power or right to change.
But we’re trying anyways, in our tribbling way. The planned approach has transformed completely, but as I’ve said before: we should be worried if it hadn’t. Our child health education programs were surprisingly successful. In true Brown style, I pulled a near all-nighter frantically googling handouts and coloring sheets for the elementary school students. It didn’t help that Dr. Rajendar, who sub-manages the project, chose a quaintly romantic topic for our pilot: diarrhea. Please don’t image search it like I did. After deliriously coaxing my internet to function, I raced to town at unheard of am hours to use the only printer in 30 km to make 100 copies. I hoped the sheets would prop up the totally unrehearsed presentation, since I had no idea how Nagalaxmi, the nurse we’ve hired, would handle it. But my neurosis was, as usual, unwarranted. She was AMAZING. I sat back in awe as she babbled on in Telugu to a room of rapt under 12’s.
We encountered a few (a LOT) more snags with the adults. After a series of reschedulings, we decided on a Saturday morning for Mathpally, and evening for Medinapur. But when we arrived with projector and slideshow, the villagers told us 9 am was too late, everyone had left for work. Come back in the evening, they told us. Everyone will definitely come. Ha. Of course this turned out to be all lies; we again encountered a deserted room when we tried at 5 pm. I had to use every ounce of my newly learned rural easy-goingness to stay calm. The culmination of my three months, I was flying in four days, and all the people I saw sitting around their homes were ‘too busy’?
Of course, because I was in India, the answer came to us through chai. While drinking some as consolation at a friend’s home in Medinapur, I found out she was the head of the local women’s group which meets once a month. Brilliant. So I extended my stay in the villages, and we came back two days later (the calendar gods were smiling upon us) for the gathering. Unfortunately, the electricity gods were less giving, and we spent two hours waiting for power before doing the presentation sans actual presentation. As soon as we left, of course, power came back and we promptly 180-ed the motorbike to do the program a second time with the projector.
So in the end, I somehow managed to get everything we’d planned done. But just barely. A lot of research, a new doctor, a system to keep track of pharmaceuticals, and two education programs that will hopefully continue without me around. I’m wholly satisfied in terms of deliverables. Nik, Susan, and I got shit done. But I’m not leaving without questions and doubts, because of course there’s more to this than to-do lists.
You could argue that we’re wasting money, that these villagers are taking advantage of the clinic for placebos and aspirin, that, as Dr. Rajendar commented, they’re ungrateful and mostly suffering from psycho-somatic issues. And you could also argue that a once monthly program in each village is futile, that people are rooted in their way of life or kept there by much more serious financial barriers.
But I have a couple thoughts here. First off, we use pain killers and band-aids all the time in the US. What’s wrong with pain killers and band-aids? People deserve comfort while more the more slow moving mammoth issues make progress. While these villages subsist on farming, its inhabitants should have access to medicine, whether its care is life saving or mundane.
And change, like the change any NGO espouses, or that Obama championed, or that all the whitening creams in India advertise, is usually slow moving and incredibly reluctant. I don’t know if I really believe in it, at least not drastically. I’ve realized this summer I’m something of a socialist, but I doubt either the west or the global south are ever going to cast off capitalism. I also think, however, that it’d be pretty lame to just sit around and twiddle my thumbs because I can afford to, being white and wealthy. I think the world is unjust and random, and that certainly won’t change either. But I see no reason not to fight it in whatever way I can. If I were guaranteed not to make a difference, if I was ensured that no lives would improve for my efforts, then I think I’d do it anyways, for purely self centered reasons. But considering I’m still naïve and idealistic, and I can continue to believe in my power to better this world, I see nothing silly in doing that. I encourage you all to do the same, and while you’re at it to stay naïve and idealistic for as long as you can. Making mistakes and asking lots of questions, admitting that you don’t know much, but being open to conversation, new ideas, and lots of lessons, are where its at for now. Don’t get discouraged by the jaded or apathetic, but talk to them to find out why they believe what they do.
We’re all just people, and we all deserve to be happy. And even if that’s unrealistic, I think it’s worth trying.
And with that, goodbye. I'd like to thank the many parentheses and hyphens who have helped me along this summer to express my blatherings and musings. And of course, you guys (do you exist?) who have been stopping by to say hello and read about Milana. Lots of love. I would truly enjoy any emails or comments J