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India, Part 2

In three days, we leave on our third medical mission trip with Chapel Missions India. As we make our preparations, I’m excited and nervous. Some things I’m really looking forward to (seeing our sponsor son P. Ram Kumar – shown here with Bette & I), and others (all the curry)…well, not so much.

Our first trip to India was definitely a culture shock – the food, the noise, the smells, the black river (without going into great detail, each town’s entire sewer system generally consists of a black “river” that runs down the center of the main street). But what shocked us most were the people. Crowds walked for days to come to our medical camps and waited in line for up to 48 hours just to receive treatment. There were no fights or rioting like you might expect here in America, just patience and respect.

Organizers at the intake desk directed patients to the correct doctor based on their complaints. As a physical and occupational therapist, I saw patients with neck and back pain from their occupations, people who’d experienced strokes, and even a few with simple acute injures. Most, however, were suffering the effects of an easily preventable condition (such as polio or malnutrition) or an equally preventable accident (such as a toddler who steps into the home’s cooking pit – which is always on the floor – and loses their foot). It was heartbreaking. There were malformed children, hunchbacked women, and even one man who had lost a leg and made his own prosthetic. The nails he used stuck out and cut into the stump of his leg, causing infection and scarring, but without access to a proper prosthetic, what else was he going to do?

Because I have only a few minutes with each person (in order to see as many people as possible), I have to quickly diagnose each patient and then essentially try to teach them self-rehabilitation and pain management, whether it’s stretching exercises for a stiff shoulder or proper lifting techniques for a mother who must constantly bend over to pick up a baby. When possible, we provide crutches, simple prostheses, and wheelchairs; because of the extreme poverty, there is a good chance these items will be sold for food money. Of course, I’d prefer the people use them to make getting around easier, but either way, I supposed some good was accomplished.

Each time I travel to India, I become humbled and grateful all over again – humbled and grateful for all the wonders in my life that are often taken for granted (such as a house to live in, food to eat, and the basic education to keep myself and my family safe and healthy). Your thoughts and prayers are welcome as we embark on this journey. When I return in three weeks, I’ll post about my trip. Until then, I’ll turn the blog over to my staff. Stay safe and keep moving, my friends!

– Alan