I'm trying to keep a little more up to date with the blogs, so I've written this one about the tribal hospital visit whilst I'm still out on the road.
Thursday, 3rd September, 2230pm
After having a late night on Wednesday night, trying to finish off the online application form for LoveTheOne, we had an early start, getting up at 6am on Thursday morning. Our driver was due to arrive to take us to the tribal hospital at 7am, despite not being scheduled for arrival until after four. To kill some time, it was suggested we visit a Dam on the way.
It was a pretty cool dam, with beautiful gardens at the bottom which showed some of their former glory. There was a disused minature railway line, plenty of slides and swings, a flying dutchman (not seen one of them in a playground for a while), and even some stepping stones! There was plenty to do, but the piece de la resistance was a cable-car. Touted as the 'only one in Southern India,' this took you across the park, at about 15 meters over the ground. It was brilliant, aside from the fact that rather than just have a metal bar across (like ski-lifts), these came with their own personalised green house - a covering of 1cm thick 'scratched' prevent an idyllic view of the lee side of the dam.
After the dam visit, we went 5 minutes down the road to a 'snake sanctuary.' It was very much like a snake zoo, with each snake having its own personalised name-plate, providing important information such as 'venomous','adult size', and the fact that the anti-venom for this particular snake is only available in Thailand. There was also a crocodile in the middle of the zoo, which didn't look too pleased with life. The telltale slops of mud on its back showed that many of the visitors attepted to make it a bit more active - but to little effect.
We then carried on our journey through the 'Silent Valley,' ending up just on the border of Kerala and Tamil Nadu at the tribal hospital. We stopped at the house of Doctor M who is the lead doctor, and who originally set up the hospital back in 1988. When he started it, he had to create a written language for the tribal people he was treating, as they only had an oral one. They live in isolation up in the mountains, and the dense forest. We're hoping to go and see them tomorrow.
We took a trip down to the local school that he'd also helped fund - which now is being extended up to three floors (picture above). After taking in students from both the local community and tribal areas, they found that the tribal students were doing fairly poorly, not due to their perceived aptitude in class, but another contributing factor. The school then set up a hostel, so that the tribal children were able to rest at school and be mentored by the teachers of the school. This led to a massive increase in their attainment, with the tribal children now surpassing the local children in academic achievement. The most enviable part of the project is that now 8 of the original tribal children taken into the school in 2002 have attained their 10th Standard (Indian equivalent of GCSEs) and have gone on to be trained up as nurses to work in the tribal hospitals and peripheral clinics.
We then visited the hospital and took a tour of all the wards, ICU, CCU and theatre. It was a bit strange for me, as not being medical there weren't many places in a hospital that I've been (when not either unconscious or seriously sick) where it's normally 'Doctors only.' I was pretty comfortable through all of it until we got into the operating theatre and saw the tray of 'implements' laid out on the sterile table. I've got a sneaking suspicion that I'm going to be in theatre tomorrow for a little bit, as we're doing the ward rounds at 8.30am and then have two hours to kill before leaving after lunch. I hope I won't embarrass myself.
After heading back to Dr M''s house, we had a gorgeous tea of Tamil-style Rice, Chicken Curry and Curd - followed by a soft sponge cake. I'm a little worried that I'm going to be getting pretty fat eating all this south indian food. It's so sumptuous and morish. Ben and I then attempted a game of Caram, and after disdainful looks from Dr. M and his daughter, Rebecca, we had a second two games with Ben and Dr. M against me and Rebecca. It was pretty exciting stuff, as our incompetence balanced with their skill to make it a pretty even match. It went down to the last counter on each occasion, and despite complaints from both teams about the quality of the 'striker' - me and Rebecca were just too stern a test.
So that's pretty much the way today went. The aim of our trip is to discern whether we can help setup an post-natal unit as part of the hospital, and through ongoing discussions between the Doctors, it appears as though we're going to end up with a small paediatric unit, with ongoing training for the nurses at Dr. M''s centre on campus. It's pretty exciting times, and we've got guys in the UK that we're going to link up with to help with the training, but the resulting unit will hopefully be operated by a fully indigenous team.
Friday, 4th September, 2230pm
I didn't think that today would be such an inspirational day when I woke up. The beds that we'd had were pretty comfortable, and it was a bit of a struggle to get up early for the ward rounds. We first headed across to the Dr. M''s house and had a brilliant idli breakfast, which went down a treat with the spicey sauce. After that was finished we headed over to the hospital to do the ward rounds.
Having only ever seen ward rounds on ER, and more recently Scrubs.. I wasn't particularly 'au fait' with what we'd be doing. However, despite the lack of clipboard for making notes, I found the rounds particularly enjoyable. The range of illnesses on display was pretty typical of the local area, with mainly cardiac problems for the elder people, a case of Typhoid and a couple of paediatric respiratory problems. There were also a couple of new mothers, and a stroke victim in the Intensive Care Unit. It's quite daunting to see how much these guys do with just the four doctors, but it's thanks to their efforts - providing this service for a nominal amount to those who cannot really afford it - that people's lives are saved.
Once we completed the ward round, we got taken out in a Jeep up to visit a couple of trival villages, about 15km from the village where the hospital was based. We took a Mahindra jeep up, driven by a capable guide, and our first port of call was the remote village of Moolakada. It was a pretty simple village, where life stops at sundown due to the lack of electricity, however, there is one solar panel for providing lights to the house. Around the village is also an 8 foot electric fence, for keeping out the wild elephants. Although I didn't see any elephants myself, I saw evidence of their presence through their destruction. A water pipe had burst and was wasting water down the road due to an elephant trampling on it a few weeks back.
The irony of the village's lack of electricity was that erected at the head of the village, and providing a constant background of noise is a brand new wind turbine Although much needed by the area as a whole, there was a clear injustice in the fact that despite being burdened with the noise and visual pollution, the government had failed to allow the village access to that electricity - instead it was wired a few miles away to a massive substation. I understand the
fact that there are stages to go through therefore wiring the farm up to the village mains isn't an option, but adding a secondary smaller turbine next to the massive on might have been a sensible idea.
The next village we visited was called Keeripathy (little rock). One of the most amusing things about this place was that since moving down from the tree tops, the villagers had many issues with the roofs blowing off their houses. The 'final solution' was to have concrete roofs, rather than tiled. This looked quite 'art deco' against the picturesque background, but provided a safe shelter for the people. Coupled with improved sanitation, the medical care, and the ongoing education project at the tribal school in Vattalakki, real progress is being made here.
So the trip ended with a lovely lunch at Dr. M''s house, and a pretty reluctant farewell from our group. There's massive potential for us to help out with the new paediatric unit here, and hopefully will be back for training the nurses and providing more warm cots and other equipment that the hospital required. It's an inspiring project, and seeing the difference that it's made to the people that it's serving, one cannot argue that the project is not worthwhile. Hopefully more visitors will be attracted, and many other people will be treated and cured of diseases that would otherwise have killed them.