Monday, July 30, 2012

Ulcers and Fingernails

Day 18 - 30Jul2012

Today was my last day of medical.  We went out with a bang!  Today was absolutely unbelievable.  We arrived in Bethel Nagar not knowing how many patients we'd treat.  We unloaded the van with an assembly line as usual.  We waited for a few minutes and all of a sudden patients started trickling in.

I was at the oiling station for the first part of the day.  Patients would have their old bandages removed, their feet washed, and then they would see me.  I rubbed paraffin oil all over their feet and up their legs to about the knee.   Some of the patients were nervous that the oil was some kind of medicine that would be painful so I tried to talk to them in a pleasant way while I applied it.  They didn't know what I was saying and I had a face mask on, but I hope they could see that my eyes were smiling and that I was friendly.  I tried to massage their tired feet and legs.  Some of them smiled at me, but I don't know what they were thinking.  I must have oiled 15-20 patients' feet today.

Two patients stood out to me.  The first was an older gentleman.  He spoke very good English.  His eyes had drooped and I don't think he could see.  He and his wife were being treated today.  He did not have any fingers or any toes.  He had lost them to this horrible disease.  When he was finished with his treatment, he sat by the entrance while his wife finished up.  I sat next to him and talked with him.  We held hands as we talked about his family.  He has a son and daughter who live not far from where we were.  I can imagine the sweet spirit that resides in his very debilitated body.  A spirit, that for whatever reason, was chosen to come to India at this be afflicted with this disease.  He was an amazing man and I feel blessed to be able to serve him, even if it was only for a brief time.

The other patient that stood out was an older gentleman as well.  He was our very last patient.  I had traded stations by this point and was now doing bandage removing.  When he lifted his foot, I could smell his ulcer through his bandage, his shoe, and my face mask.  I knew this was going to be a challenge.  I removed his shoe and noticed that the discharge from his ulcer had actually soaked the bottom of his shoe.  I started to remove the bandage.  It was stuck onto the wound and I had to cut the bandage all the way around it before I could remove the main gauze.  Right before I did, the smell overtook me and I had to turn my head away.  Unfortunately, I could not hold back the urge to gag.  I felt awful because I'm sure he knew how terrible his infection was and I didn't want to make him uncomfortable.  I readied myself and held my breath to remove the final bandage.  Once the bandage was removed, I could see that he no longer had toes and that the ulcer was to the bone.  I sent him on to washing.

He had a difficult time walking, so I helped him up.  After that, we decided to move all stations to him so he didn't have to get up too many times.  I sat with him during oiling because he was having some pain.  I held his hands on his laps and he kept looking at me and smiling.  He spoke in Tamil.  I did not understand what he said, but I did understand when he performed the sign of the cross.  He is a Christian.  He lifted his hands to the sky and continued with a prayer of gratitude.  Once again, I did not need to understand Tamil to understand his prayer.  After he was finished with all stations, I helped him put his shoe back on.  I helped him stand and walk out of our clinic.  Before he left, he took a few of us, including me, and gave us a hug on both sides and touched our heads and then raised his fingerless hands to the sky.  Such expressions of gratitude...I was emotional at that point.  What a wonderful feeling.  I didn't do much...I cut his bandage off, helped him with his shoes, and helped him stand and walk.  In the grand scheme of things, I did nothing, and yet for him, it was everything.  This just goes to show that service does not have to be grandiose to have meaning.  He continued his prayers until we drove away in the van...

Being on the bandage removing station, I also had the opportunity to cut nails.  It is a task they don't trust to just everyone...because you have to use a nail clipper for pets.  Of all the assignments I've had, that was by far the scariest.  Two men had pinkie nails that had grown so long and curved, that the nail was actually physically digging into the opposite sides of their fingers.  One man cheered when I was finally able to cut it to a normal length for him.  It took some interesting angles and I used instruments not meant for nail cutting, but I did it!  He was so happy!
After our water fight...we are soaked!  Little punks!

Overall, this was the best, most fulfilling service experience I have ever had in my entire life.  I hope I can have more experiences like it.

When we got back to the Elephant House, it was time for a water fight with the kids.  The kids are ruthless!  I learned that Jayanthi has a sister that also attends Rising Star.  She is older and is a very pretty girl.  The water fight was our play time.  Dinner was fun...can't believe we are so close to leaving.  I played cards with Ranjith and Peter again tonight during family time.  They always.  It was our last family time.  I said goodbye to them all...but I'll see them tomorrow.  The kids know we are leaving so a few of them were a little sad.  But soon, they will have new volunteers to play with.  I can't dwell too much on leaving them.

Day 18 - Complete

Firsts/Realizations:  It does no good to dwell on how deprived the lives that people have here are.  It is all they know and therefore, they do not realize how little they have.  To them, they have everything they need...and they are happy because of it.  

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