Hard work

I am currently lying in bed, exhausted from a really tough day at the basic health camp. In the 110oF scorching heat outside, we set up a tent at TABA medical center where we served more than 400 patients from the surrounding basti (slum) over the past two days. Patients came in for multiple concerns and were then referred to relevant doctors who were present at the health site. These doctors diagnosed their illnesses, wrote them prescriptions and sent them to the onsite present pharmacy where they received their medicines free of cost. The point of Phase 1 of the project was to narrow down the diseases that are prevalent in the area, so that phase 2 of the project can focus on the dispensing knowledge of how to recognize those diseases and what measures can be taken to reduce the onset or the symptoms of them.

The camp was nothing short of an adventure. I never understood the strength needed to remain calm when 30 patients, with no concept of a line, made extra aggressive due to the heat, are badgering you to take their blood pressure and suddenly both the BP apparatus at the camp stop working. Must I say, it was an experience to have to tell people who had already been waiting in the heat for a while that they need to wait longer while some volunteers rushed to the pharmacy to get a new sphygmomanometer. More importantly, however, I never understood true contentment until an old lady, around 80, moved her hand over my hand, a local gesture to display love, as she recited a hundred prayers for me in her mouth, for this little medical camp. She held me close and told me that I should take a break because of the heat, but her sweet smile conveyed how grateful she was for us being there.

Throughout these 10 hours I spent at the camp, I learned a great deal about the issues that people faced, ranging mostly from communicable diseases such as hepatitis B and C to non- communicable diseases like diabetes. Almost everyone who came suffered from hypertension, and were doing absolutely nothing to solve this problem, particularly because in their list of priorities, their health was not as important, and so they often let the dizziness and irregular heart rates slide. I did feel frustrated at many points about how nonchalantly these patients took their health, but I knew it was because they did not know any better and the idea that people’s ability to practice self-care was limited by the struggle of living in poverty. For one patient, I remember the blood pressure meter showing a reading of 220/100, and when I expressed concern and informed her, she told me that its nothing to worry about, ‘hota rehta hai khudi chala jayega’ ( It happens often, it’ll go away on its own). The question then was to what extent these people would even take phase 2 seriously if for them, health was not high on their list of priorities. I did notice, however, that when we explained to the patients what could potentially happen if they let their respective diseases remain, a lot of their expressions changed from indifference to fear. I feel that the idea of their disease making them incapable of productive work scared them the most because this meant there would be no way to earn the limited income that they do. I believe that this fear would be incentive enough for them to make Phase 2 effective.

At many points in the past two days, I felt very helpless because I realized that no matter what I do, the world has too many problems to fix. If the problems in this little community in the outskirts of a small town in one country out of 195 countries felt so big and innumerable, then scaling this up to every community of people meant that there was very little hope to rid the world of global health inequality. At the same time, however, I saw the dedication and energy in the eyes of every single volunteer there and realized that even if we do our own little part to uplift a community, we may not be able to change the world, but we would be able to change someone’s world.

What I realized more than anything from this experience is how passionately I want to become a doctor. A great number of people came to me, thinking I was a doctor already, and the entire idea that one day, hopefully iA, that’ll hold true made me really happy. I’ve always wanted to serve humanity from a young age, and medicine is a definite way of doing that.

The results of this medical camp really will help in phase 2 of the project. Diabetes and hypertension are both very prevalent in this region and I’m thinking of an self-sustained educational intervention to bring both blood pressure and glucose levels into control. A lot of planning needs to be done over the next week, but this project is finally more streamlined and is going in a direction that I am pleased with.

Kinza Khan is a T’20 Undergraduate and a 2018 Kenan Summer Research Fellow.

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