Notes on India

-I noticed in the different areas that the dogs had different statures. In Guwahati they were shorter and more compact with short coats. In Delhi they were taller, leaner and had longer coats. In Agra they were right in between. The common thread is that there were stray dogs EVERYWHERE. Sleeping in the street (this is what I tell myself), digging through trash, fighting in the dark, begging for food. 

-I saw a few animals out and about. Peacocks in fields. Camels pulling carts as well as camels in fields. Elephants walking down the street. Monkeys hanging out on walkways. Cows wherever cows wanted to be. Goats walking around, eating the good luck palms and veggies that people tie to the front of their cars. Cats in the hospital. The only horses I rally saw were for pulling wedding parties.

-The trash burning is almost unbearable. There were times while I was working in the PACU that smoke filled the room from the trash burning behind the hospital. It was not pleasant to say the least. 

-Also about trash. The state of Assam does not have any actual trash collecting/disposing system. Trash cans are non-existent. Trash just piles up on the street, there are only a few dumpsters here and there. I think I saw someone one time who appeared to be emptying the dumpsters. If I didn’t know that a vast majority of Indians cremate the dead I’d even venture to say that I smelled a decomposing body in one of the dumpsters as I passed. 

-The fabrics, spices and teas are like no other. I bought 2.5 kilos of tea for less than 10 dollars. I have been drinking it every day! Also, after having chai here Starbucks chai will never satisfy me!

-I didn’t eat a morsel of meat or uncooked vegetables while there. I was also very vigilant with drinking/brushing with bottled water. I’m pretty sure that’s why I had no stomach issues. 

-I can’t get over the driving here. I felt safer in the car with the driver in Delhi but being on a bus was scary. It is rare to see people driving in the actual lane. On a four lane road you’d often see 6 or more lanes of cars. All of them swerving or driving down the middle of a lane. Red and green lights mean nothing. I saw one stop sign and we didn’t stop at it. A four person car can easily carry 12 or more people. 6-8 on the inside. The rest hanging out or sitting on top. At one point I saw a small van packed brim to brim with 15 or so additional people riding around on top. No care ever. It is not uncommon to see babies and small children packed in between their parents on a motorcycle. I saw many just snoozing away, zipping down the street. It is also not uncommon to see small children driving the motorcycles and scooters with a parent on the back. I guess you have start driving sometime. 

-There is near constant honking. That was the most over stimulating for me I think. It is just a form of communication on the road here. They honk if they want to pass, as they pass and after they pass. They honk at you even if it’s clear you’re running across the road. It’s a lot of noise a lot of the time. 

-I could never have taken in everything visually. Every day we took the same route to the hospital and the same route back. Every day I noticed something new. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes both. There are beautiful alters and statues of Gods/Goddesses and to the right and left there are shacks, falling apart with mounds of trash surrounding them. There is just so much beauty enveloped in so much poverty. It is a lot to wrap my mind around.

- I have been home for a week and still feel out of place


I survived!

Hi there faithful friends! I have gone and come back and it was a whirlwind! I survived India and it changed me to the core. As a Abby would say, India is in my heart. Feel free to continue checking up on that blog as I continue a life of service abroad (hopefully). I am adjusting back to my little American life which I strangely didn't miss while I was gone. In fact, the only thing I missed was fresh salad!

go here for all my faves from my Diana Mini

I got super touristy at the end and had to get mendhi when it was offered

Also couldn't resist this pose

I made my fb album of pictures open to all (I think) so click here and here to enjoy those as you please!

When I got home after 20 hours of airtime I was a useless glob. I got lunch with my parents and asked the waiter for water when I basically already had water in my hand. I wanted to stay up all day but laid down for a nap at 2pm. I woke up at 10pm. Oops. The next day Ryan and I ran some errands then I slept a whole bunch again. Yesterday Nathalie and I ate at The Wheel, walked around the mall and came home and watched a really disturbing movie. It's a Joseph Gordon Levitt film called Mysterious Skin. It was hard to watch, so hard that I fell asleep. When I woke up Nathalie had left and I slept clear until 6am. Today I feel really good, like my body is finally adjusted! Woohoo! Victorrrrry! 

I will now spend the next week catching up on blogs, hope I didn't miss too much! 


India through a lomo lense

All pictures taken on my Diana Mini 35mm in square format


A picture for every day I was in India

The very last day

Today was amazing!! Four of us stayed at Hotel Broadway in Delhi last night. I slept on a little cot and felt very lucky to even have somewhere to sleep. It is wedding season in India right now and just about every hotel was booked! We woke up this morning and hired a driver for the day. It cost 1500 rupee for 12 hours with him. That is less than 9 dollars per person for the whole day. Unreal. We started by going to a new Hindu temple in the city called Akshardham Temple. The temple has something like 20,000 deities carved in it. The place is so large that we never could have seen or done everything it had to offer. It was impressive but felt much more touristy than truly spiritual. It had food courts, gift shops, etc. It was interesting to learn the story of one of the deities though! Next we stopped by the Lotus Temple, a Bahai house of worship. This temple is BEAUTIFUL... from the outside. The line was WAY to long for us to go in. We admired it from outside for awhile though.

I want to take a break here to talk about bathrooms. The lotus temple is also where I used my favorite toilet yet. It was a squatter, which I have come to love by the way. Squatting just seems to be a natural position for doing your business. I don’t mind that aspect of toilets here, it’s the smell that gets to me. 99% of them don’t actually flush, you have to pour water down to ‘flush.’ The ground surrounding the toilet is always wet, leaving you to fear that you are stepping in urine. I think this is actually water from the dripping faucets, but who knows. This squatty potty outside the temple was different though. It had an automatic flusher. You do your usual squat then as you stand, your bum tells the sensor to flush!! What?!?! East meets West in the best way possible.

Moving on. We next visited Humayun’s Tomb. There are something like 120, maybe more, graves here. There are handfuls of large beautiful tombs. The main mausoleum looked a lot like the Taj Mahal. Turns out that it was a precurser to the Taj and was built years before! This mausoleum construction was initiated by a woman who was grieving the loss of her husband whereas the Taj is vice versa. Walking around all of these sites makes you wonder what people think of American architecture. I feel like it pales in comparison to what I’ve seen in the few countries I’ve been to. This could also be because I grew up in America so I’m used to our buildings! I almost fell off of a balcony here. I really did. One of the nurses I was with almost had a heart attack seeing me trip nearly over the edge. Eeek.

After that we went to what was my favorite site of the day and perhaps the most meaningful of the week. We visited Gandhi Smriti, the place where M.K. Gandhi was assassinated. This is where he had been living for 144 days prior to his death. The memorial takes you through the room where he slept, and then you can follow his last footsteps. The night he was killed he was walking to the his evening prayer meeting when, long story short, he was assassinated by a Hindu fundamentalist. There is a small pillar in the spot he stood. As I stood there myself, I couldn’t stop myself from welling up with tears. It was a very humbling experience to be in the very spot where Mahatma Gandhi became a true martyr. He lived an awe-inspiring life; he was a minimalist, spiritualist, humanitarian, purist, and non-violent activist who was killed point blank with a gun. Reflecting back on my feelings as I stood there still gives me chills. I have enjoyed reading his teachings for many years and I am so thankful that I was able to visit his Smriti.

Our last stop of the day was originally supposed to be at a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet that is in Connaught Place. When we arrived there was a huge crowd and according to the hours posted, lunch wasn’t being served. We decided on McDonald’s instead. Mark this in the history books folks. I ate a full meal at McDonalds for the first time in who knows how many years. Before you go call the presses let it be known that the meal was vegetarian. One thing I have come to love about India is that every single place offers a plethora (if not a majority) of veg meals. I ate a veggie sandwich and fries, so good! As we were eating the weather went from hot and sweaty to a deluge of rain. How unpredictable! This didn’t stop us from doing our last little bit of shopping though. At 530 we headed back to the hotel and dried off. At 8pm our driver picked us up again and off to the airport it was. I am typing this while sitting on the plane. I can’t believe I am already headed home, I am not ready to leave this country. I fell in love with it while I was here and I know I will find myself back here, hopefully sooner than later.



We woke up early this morning to see the Taj Mahal at ‘sunrise.’ I say ‘sunrise’ because I’m pretty sure that it has a different definition in India. We expected to be standing at the Taj as the sun rose over it but apparently ‘a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal’ actually means being there during the early morning, after it is light outside. No matter what light, it was breath taking and felt surreal. It is so strange to be standing at the foot of such a well known monument. We all gave in and allowed one of the men to take our pictures and then print and sell them to us. I definitely have one of me ‘holding’ the Taj. SO classy. The pictures turned out great so I was more than willing to pay my 300 rupees for my 3 pictures. As we got closer to the building I was even more impressed. I had no idea how ornate the building itself was. All the pictures you see only show the building itself, no details. It is made of Indian marble and has beautiful gem stone in lays, carved flowers and is all around impressive. The fact that is over 300 some years old makes it all the more special. I learned a lot more about the history of its construction, like it took 22 years and that there was supposed to a black Taj next to it that never was made. There are also two mausoleums flanking either side that are gorgeous. As with every single other place I’ve visited while here, there were stray dogs roaming the grounds. I could’ve sat there and stared at it all day. Only 6 other man made wonders of the world left to see.

We didn’t do much else in Agra after that because the drive took so long getting there and most of the group had to fly back home that night. So, we made the long drive back to Delhi. I think it actually took even longer to get back but I didn’t mind, I loved looking out the window and seeing all the little towns and people out doing whatever it is they do. That night the travel agency was supposed to book a hotel for 3 of us but when we arrived it turned out that they didn’t!! Again, it is wedding season so all four of us (Mo already had a single room booked) squeezed into two single rooms. I didn’t even care, I can sleep anywhere anytime.

Touring Delhi day 1

The morning after our unreal final dinner it was time to leave Guwahati. I have come to really admire this town and the people of this state. I HAVE to come back here.

The airport we flew out of was so tiny and hot and packed, it stressed me out a little bit. As we took off we hit some really hard turbulence, I had a minor freak out in my mind, ripped off my seatbelt and pulled my bag out for anti-anxiety medication. This was the first time I have ever had to do this when flying. It really freaked me out though. When we landed in Delhi I parted ways with most of the team. About 15 of us were staying in India to travel around. Eight of us were sticking together to do a little tour of Delhi and Agra. The hotel we stayed at that night was very nice! We walked down the street to another hotel for dinner and, yet again, the food was fantastic. I had a veggie dish and naan and munched on other people’s dal. I passed out when I got back to the hotel and woke up early to tour around Delhi.

We started at The Red Fort. This was a fort built by the Moguls, there is actually one in Agra too. It was impressive and large and detailed. Since this was my first real tourist stop in India, I experienced for the first time people trying to sell you stuff like crazy. They weren’t allowed in the fort but they were all over everywhere else. Our tour guide even allowed them in the van when we stopped to try and sell stuff. I wasn’t a huge fan of that. After the fort we took a bicycle rickshaw ride through a bazaar. Basically we lived up tourism. Although, a lot of people do use this as a means of transportation. We rode these to the largest Islamic mosque in Delhi, the Jama Masjid. Unfortunately, it was a Friday and prayer time so we weren’t allowed in. It was neat seeing people get called to prayer though. I believe next we ate a delicious lunch where I ate okra sauteed in spicy sauce called Bhindi Subzi and chana masala which is chic peas in masala sauce. As we left the restaurant there was a snake charmer on the street. Clearly, I had to sit down at his side. I held a snake as he did the charmer thing with the Cobra. The cobra was right by my little hand!! Our last stop in Delhi was the memorial where M.K. Gandhi was cremated. There is an eternal flame there honoring him.

We had to drive the rest of the day to Agra. I’m pretty sure we were told it takes 4.5 hours to get there but I think it took 7. Traffic is so bad pretty much everywhere, even though the driving is crazy it seems that no one is ever driving fast enough to have the collisions like we have in America. The drive there was awesome. We saw a lot of country side and little towns. At one point I fell asleep curled up and facing the window. When I opened my eyes I was greeted by a man in a truck just staring right at me. The cars get so close here that many times I could have opened my window, stuck one finger out and touched the car/bike/rickshaw/camel/scooter/ox/motorcycle/horse next to me. I saw many HUGE Hindu God statues as we drove along, and when they were lit up at night it was like they were just watching over everyone. It is wedding season here in India so we passed more weddings than I could ever count since it was a Friday night. We arrived in Agra fairly late and Mo and I went on a dinner adventure. We didn’t want the hotel food and definitely didn’t want pizza (a Domino’s was across the street). We asked the desk what they recommended and they sent us down a few blocks to a little spot. We started on our way but got freaked out and turned around because there was no sidewalk and lots of speeding cars! When we arrived back at the hotel one of the employees walked us half way and we safely arrived to GMP. I ate a veggie uttapam and Mo got Chana Masala. We had to top it off with our favorite dessert, Gulab Jamun. I saved Mo’s life a few times as she forgot to look both ways crossing the street and only looked the American way and nearly got hit!!!


"Peace begins with a smile"

That little quote is from Mother Teresa aka the ultimate humanitarian.

I can't believe yesterday was the last day of surgery. My week in Guwahati flew by, I feel like I am supposed to be here so much longer. Yesterday we finished operating for the mission. Our team did over 260 surgeries, bringing the total between the two teams to 509 surgeries. It didn't feel like we did that many!! I attribute that to working with such an awesome team in the recovery room. We came from all walks of life and different backgrounds but we just clicked. I never felt over worked, I always felt supported. I couldn't have asked for a better first experience. The last day of surgery we only repaired cleft lips so the patients were in and out very quickly.

One of my duties I took over this week was continuing to be the nurse the potential patients saw through the screening process. This means I would leave the recovery room and walk down to the screening area, take every kid/adults height, weight, vital signs and a few other measurements. I loved being the person being designated to do this because I then got to see many of these people receive surgery. One little baby I screened was just about the cutest thing I have ever seen. She looked more Nepalese than Indian and her mother was BEAUTIFUL. This little girl was so happy every time I saw her! Yesterday morning I got to the hospital and saw the mom sitting in the chair, waiting for her daughter to be called back to the operating room. I just had to cuddle with the baby for a minute! I held her and played with her, lifting her up in the air and tickling her meanwhile she would just laugh and smile away. I didn't want to give her back! She went back not long after and had her lip repaired then came to the recovery room. She woke up quickly, fed and was able to go down to the floor. I definitely made a trip down to see her and hold her one last time. It is such a pleasure to see these kids through the whole process.

We only did a half day and it moved by quickly. After the surgeries were all done I went one last time to the downtown area to look at some bags but I couldn't find any I liked. I did buy a kilo and a half of Assam and Darjeeling tea. Very excited about that little purchase! After that I headed back to the hotel and relaxed until... THE FINAL PARTY

Every mission ends with a nice dinner where people get semi-dressed up, eat dinner and dance. I was super bummed because yesterday it rained. The one day of rain in this region's dry season. The final party was held outside and luckily the rain ceased for about a hour while we were down there. As I was eating dinner, though, it started up again as a light shower. I just pulled my handy dandy Indian scarf over my head and kept right on eating. Then it was time to dance. I LOVE DANCING. I do it in public all the time. I wouldn't mind living in a musical, breaking out in song and dance throughout the day. Anyways, I digress. The point is, I knew I would be out there dancing my little feet off but I wasn't sure about anyone else. It turned into one large dance party with surgeons, nurses, anesthesiologists, our Indian translators, and every other medical personnel that was there. Our nearly 80 year old head of surgery even got out there. (side note: will be posting more about this awe inspiring man later)

The fact that everyone was dancing wasn't even the best part. That light sprinkle turned into a downpour. Then it became a thunder and lightening storm. The deluge didn't stop anyone though. I was dancing away and looked up just in time to see a perfect lightning bolt streak across the sky. We danced on like this for a couple of hours, everyone sopping wet and chilled to the bone by the end of the night. So there you have it, I danced my heart out in thunder, lightning and rain in INDIA. I was down there just in disbelief that this is my life. It was the perfect way to end my stay in Guwahati.

It's almost time to leave for the airport! I am headed back to Delhi now for a few jam packed days around Delhi and Agra including THE Taj Mahal!!


SO much surgery

The last two days have been jam packed with action. Yesterday I was, again, way too tired to write anything when I got back to the hotel. I hate doing that because then I forget the little things. The third day of surgery was slower than the first two. We had to shut down one whole operating table because so many team members were sick! I have STILL managed to evade it. I think in total we have had 20 people ill, that is 20%!!! I can't believe my stomach has held up through all of this.

I have continued to screen patients throughout the week, some have managed to be added on to this week's surgery schedule and others will hopefully be done at the new cleft center. It breaks my heart when we screen a patient and they are hypertensive or we discover some underlying condition that will keep them from having surgery. Not only will their cleft not be repaired, but in all likelihood their underlying condition will never be treated. I feel so helpless and limited sometimes.

In the same vein, I have unexpectedly been more emotional over the adults who get repaired. I think it is because I know they have lived their whole life with this condition. They have put up with the ridicule, they are probably uneducated because they weren't allowed to go to school. The adult women have become accustomed to covering their mouth with their scarves.
Today a man who I screened the first day got his new smile. He is not much older than me and had a bilateral cleft. I happened to see him in the waiting room in the OR today before going back to surgery. He looked so anxious sitting in that chair, gowned up and with foreigners all around him. I went up and spoke my few Assamese words to him. I could see in his eyes that he was unsure but so excited. His eyes were just darting around, taking it all in. The thought of him traveling hours for this, him wanting this enough to come so far away just brought me to tears. His life changed today. He came back to me in the recovery room with such a perfect lip. I mean seriously, the surgeons did an excellent job. I woke him up and gave him a mirror right away so he could see for himself. He looked for a good 30 seconds then looked straight at me and smiled the tiniest smile, it was all his tender lips could allow but it made the trip for me. I fed him sweet tea, cleaned the dry blood from his face and laid him back down. I just feel so content, it's probably a little selfish to take so much from this but I can't help it.

I struggled emotionally in other ways today also. A few of the other nurses and I decided to walk down the road to try and find some scarves. Sounds easy enough, right? Not so much. As we were walking down the very crowded side walk I started to feel claustrophobic. People were burning their trash so the air was thick, lots of honking, and tons of people. I walked ahead a bit to get to the main part of the road where it was a little more open. I reached the street and there on the side of the street was a man with no arms and no legs, just a torso and head. He was laying on his chest on some sort of board with wheels. He had a pan for begging in his mouth and was moving his jaw to make the pan bang up and down, asking for change. It was so unexpected that my stomach just dropped. It is something I will never forget. Some family member drops him off daily to pan handle on the street, probably his only way to contribute to the family finances. I immediately turned around and re-joined my group, my head was reeling. Then we walked further down and there were two young children no older than 7 each with an even younger child strapped to their backs. The babies were no older than 1. They kept hitting me with their metal pans begging for money. They had no pants and the babies had no diapers. Again, I was feeling sick to my stomach with guilt and sadness. The whole situation was extremely overwhelming.

We ended up not buying anything and going back to the hospital, we didn't even find the scarf man! I was glad to end the day on a happy note with my favorite patient completing his surgery but now I'm laying in bed unable to shut off my brain. Only 1 1/2 days left of surgery. Is that really possible?!


Day ? & ?- Surgery

Today was day 2! I was definitely too tired yesterday to blog about how surgeries went on the first day. I am even more tired tonight BUT there is a wedding or huge party of some sort going on at the hotel. The dance floor with blaring music is right outside my window and the drunken guests are outside my door. Not as creepy as it sounds but so not what I was wanting to experience right now. I want to experience sleep.

Enough about me. Yesterday we started operating! Something like 46 or 48 surgeries were done. My first patient I was responsible for was a wild one. He kicked me in my yoni right away. Refer to previous entry if you find yourself wondering what a yoni is. I am still bruised. Recovering these kids (and adults) from surgery is, for the most part, a breeze. Making sure the bleeding is under control and getting them to drink the red tea is what I’m all about. I have been giving breathing treatments, the occasional medication to help with nausea, fluids and hanging out with the patients mostly. The first day went really well I thought! I’ve loved giving the patients a look in the mirror after their lips have been repaired! We only had one patient that had to go back in to surgery due to uncontrolled bleeding.

I wanted to mention that cats wander in and out of the hospital. Throughout the day I have to chase cats our of the recovery room. The hospital hangs open all the time so anything could come in if it wanted. Every morning we find cats curled up on the beds. I try not to cringe. One wanders around every night when we eat. The dogs roam the streets and I’ve heard that at night they form pretty intimidating packs. Maybe that’s why so many of my neighbors from India are scared of Bruiser?

Today felt much busier in the recovery room. More emesis, more breathing treatments, more pain medications, more crying wee ones. Other nurses and Op Smile volunteers started getting sick today. I think there were 4 today at least, a few requiring IV fluid for hydration. I am getting nervous that my doom day is coming. I spent a few hours today screening patients from different cities who may get added on for surgery in the next few days.

That brings me to the next topic. The hospital we are running out of is the site of the cleft center in Assam. The center should be opening soon and I got to go tour it today. This is a floor that has been built and dedicated to repairing cleft lips and palates on a daily basis. The surgery center is so nice and will serve the people in this area well. It will continue to be staffed by Operation Smile ‘volunteers.” Right now a few doctors and nurses are already living here helping to get it running. I was talking to Gary the peds intensivist about the center today (he is a PICU doc from washington that now lives in Assam); he said they hope volunteers will come for extended periods of time as to keep a nice smooth flow. I got a twinge in my heart as we talked, got that feeling in my stomach like I need to come back. Could you see me here for one month, six months, one year? I don’t know! I will see how life plays out I guess and go from there.

Okay, so my mom’s class has a few questions! One is about how the surgeries are done and I will post an answer to that when I have more energy! The second is: what has been my favorite food. I have loved the samosas which are a savory pastry stuffed with curried potatoes. As for drinks, I can’t get enough of the white tea aka chai from my favorite chai man right outside the hospital. I drink multiple per day!


Day 4- Team Bonding

Today was an awesome team bonding aka hanging out day. We didn’t have a wake up call so we could sleep in. This was, of course, the first night I had trouble sleeping! I woke up multiple times and then at 0430 I finally decided just to stay up. I was able to use the internet for the first time (hence the prior posts) and even e-mailed the fam bam. I ate oatmeal that I brought from home then went back to sleep for a little. After yet another yummy breakfast we headed to a Hindu temple in Guwahati.

*Not appropriate for 5th graders*
This temple is very special. The story is that a Goddess was cut into many pieces and her body parts were spread all over India. Sounds like a sacrificial ceremony probably. Her fingers (I think) were in Darjeeling (I think). In Guwahati lies her Yoni, aka her lady bits aka her privates. It is also said that there is a stream that runs through the temple but that for 5 days a month it is dry :) This was the first area that I saw a lot of beggars. They lined the small walkways and it was very hard to not give to them. However, I was warned by multiple not to give to the beggars especially in that situation because you will get surrounded in seconds. In the temple you can not wear shoes so right now I feel a bit dirty. There are alters every where in the city but especially beautiful ones within the temple. I was blessed a few times and watched a pigeon and goat sacrifice. I wasn’t sure how I might feel about watching a sacrifice but I knew I wanted to experience it. The sacrifice was very spiritual and as respectful as I think you could be when killing an animal. So there, I put it out there. I watched it, and I am glad I did. Cows here are holy so there are cows that walk freely through the temple and people bless and pray to them. The temple was such a good experience.

After that we headed to the Brahmaputra river and had a beautiful cruise around the river for lunch. This was probably my favorite meal so far. I have still been sticking to all veggies/carbs and avoiding meats and dairy. I have had some dairy in the teas (white tea) but that stuff is so boiling hot I’m pretty sure the parasites are dead. Still no upset stomach! Go me! The river ride was nice and relaxing and definitely a great way to get to talk to a lot of the team members. I ate at a table with two of the plastic surgeons, one from New Delhi and one from Boston, one anesthesiologist from South England and two other men from India. I realized about half way through the meal that I was eating my naan bread with my left hand. I was embarrassed until I noticed that the plastic surgeon from New Delhi also had his bread in his left hand. Oh well.

Next came my first shopping experience. We overwhelmed one little fabric store but I did find a few very nice things that I’m excited to give people! The women in the store just had to have their picture with us. So it turned into about 15 minutes of picture taking with the women of the fabric store. Now I am sitting waiting for the team meeting and dinner. Tomorrow we start 5 1/2 straight days of surgery. Waking up at 0530 and I’m sure not getting back to the hotel until 2000 at least. Sounds a lot like home! I can’t express how excited and honored I am to be a part of the surgeries. It is going to be long, crazy days but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I have been bitten by the mission bug officially. Speaking of bugs, no mosquito bites yet but there are TONS. I have no clue how I’ve evaded them!


Day 3- Screening

Today was our day of screening. My mission is tacked on to the end of another week long mission to make a ‘Mega Mission.’ Our goal is to complete around 500 surgeries in the 2 or so weeks OS is here. The previous group did a lot of our screening so today was relatively slow for a screening day. We arrived at the mission hospital around 7am. Our whole team was finally there and we are 100 strong. I helped at the very last station today. We reviewed the chart, made sure everything was signed and filled out then completed the surgery cards. The cards are amazingly organized and the OCD person in me was jumping with joy. The patients are color categorized by priority, with five different levels. The 1st priorities always get done as long as they are healthy (and show up the day of surgery) and it trickles down to the priority fives who may only get done if time allows. After I filled out the cards they got put in a book and at some point transferred onto the sugery day schedule then after the surgery takes place they will go back in the binder for archiving. We screened about 130 kids and adults. There were actually way more adults than I expected. So many cute kids, I just about died multiple times. I was overjoyed playing with these children. How happy and giggly they become playing with bubbles or blow up balls.

I was working with the coordinator to learn how to make the schedule and we also started deciding who not to operate on. To Mrs. Lay's class: I have learned a lot more about why some do not get chosen for surgery. SOme times the blood lev el are too low, sometimes they are sick (so we give them antibiotics to take), they may be too small or too complicated. They may not be high enough of a priority. It is heartbreaking turning people away, but as I said previously the goal is safe surgery for all.

The recovery room where I'll be working is awesome. I think I am being spoiled on this mission compared to other. It is huge, we will be doing about 10 surgeries at a time! So anyways, the screening day was a success and I worked over 12 hours. I was so delirious by the time we got back. At dinner my table was just laughing and making nurse (crude) jokes. It was definitely bedtime!

Oh, the bathrooms! OH man. I need to get a picture. They are squatting toilets at the hospitals. The smell is overwhelming. I actually only went once in the 12 hours because I couldn't stomach it again. I am just going to have to get used to it I guess!!

India is mind blowing so far. I truly wish I could describe my experiences better but the mix of exhaustion and feeling like I'm in a time warp is turing my memory to mush. Tomorrow is our 'team bonding' day. I believe we're going to a temple and then to the big river here. Then shopping! I am definitely buying a sari (or two). The women are always looking beautiful it seems. The fabrics are unreal.

I will hopefully be able to update more regularly in the future!

Day 2- Getting to Guwahati

This morning we went back the airport and flew to Guwahati. I noticed on the first flight (to Delhi) that we flew at the highest altitude over Pakistan and on the second flight it looked like we didn’t fly over Bangladesh. Just a little observation, interesting right? This was all based off of the flight trajectory screen. Guwahati airport was more like what I was expecting but didn’t really differ too much from other very small airports I’ve been to. Getting off the plane here is when I started to realize where I was and what people had warned/talked to me about regarding India. Stray dogs everywhere, goats and cows walking in the middle of the road. The driving is extremely scary. I mean like people nearly getting hit, constant horn honking, swerving, being centimeters away from the cars next to or in front of you. Pedestrians definitely do not have the right of way. The first group of children I ever saw were naked, picking grasses on the side of the road. It hit me hard. Most homes are shanties. I haven’t seen many beggars or homeless yet but I wish I could convey the level of poverty. Most everything appears to be crumbling. There are no ‘nice’ or modern buildings here. A few places look like they started to build more advanced infrastructures but it all appears to have been abandoned. I have honestly never experienced anything like this. There’s no real way to describe it and pictures do not do it justice.

So, the smell. At some points the smell is so bad I get nauseous and my eyes burn then down the road it’s not as bad, and then comes the nausea again. The air is really thick and when I blow my nose at the end of the night there’s just layers of blackness. Kind of like after camping, but not dirt, just air pollution.

No stomach aches yet! I have been extremely cautious with what I eat and drink. I haven’t eaten any meat and only cooked veggies. A lot of naan and other breads, rices, beans, potatoes and even had a banana this morning! I have really been enjoying the food but I knew that wouldn’t be a problem! We get fed all the three meals! I am having to think really hard to remember not to brush my teeth with the tap water! I’m not even supposed to clean my toothbrush with it.

Update: Last night my roommate and I were sleeping and someone opened our hotel door. We had the chain lock on so they didn’t make it in but none the less opened it. We were both very freaked out! We decided to sleep with our bug spray, to be used as mace as needed. Haha.

Mission Day 1- Flyyyying

HI all! SO the internet here is only so-so. I am actually awake at 4am and using it. I couldn't sleep tonight! So here are some archives of the past few days! ALso, blogger is being very slow with photos so I apologize for the lack thereof.

I made it safely to Delhi! It is always an interesting experience traveling for me and today wasn’t any different. I started my day off by throwing up in the middle of the terminal at the LAX. Yah. I did that. I gagged on the oatmeal I was eating and luckily was able to grab an empty fast food bag and barfed right on into it. So weird because I can't even tell you the last time I gagged on food! Anyways, everything else was nice and easy after that. The flight to Chicago was a breeze. I met up with Bryant, a nurse from Los Angeles at LAX. We ate some food at Chicago O’Hare then flew straight to Delhi! That flight was tolerable. I slept for about 6 hours, watched one and a half movies and read a lot! I did manage to finish The Hunger Games on the three flights. It was really good and I can’t wait to read the other too. The man sitting next to me was not nice at all. He refused to change seats so someone I knew could sit next to me and was very drunk! The flight would have been awesome had I gotten to sit next to someone else from Operation Smile (there were about 20 of us on that flight)

We landed in Delhi around 10pm and went to the hotel for the night after a few different flights landed. I honestly didn’t experience any level of culture shock that night (maybe because it was dark). Although, I was surprised to see armed guards all over the airport with VERY large guns. The mattress that night was, hands down, the hardest mattress I’ve ever slept on. Anyone who knows me, knows this doesn’t matter. I slept like a rock.


Over and out, a vlog

Okay people here is a little video blog that I am going to leave you with. Can I start with pointing out how awesome that freeze frame is down there? I am new to vimeo so I don't even know how to change that, but I wouldn't if I could.

India v1.0 from Kristin Lay on Vimeo.


5 days...

Five days from now I will be flying over somewhere far away from here, headed for Delhi! I can't believe it is February and my trip is at my fingertips. Years ago I heard about Operation Smile, before I was even officially a nurse. I knew I needed to do this. I applied in May, I received acceptance of my application in September and here I am in February. Time flies when you have goals and dreams and are actively working towards them. Okay that's enough sappy stuff.

SO, I heard that my mom's 5th grade class will be checking in with my blog while I'm gone. I wanted to take this little paragraph to say hi to them! I want you guys to know that, yes, I did know in 5th grade that I wanted to work in the medical field! I wavered between veterinary medicine, nursing and medical school until about half way through high school when I set my heart on becoming a nurse. Making all of those decisions all the way back to about 4th grade led me to the place I am today! (Or I guess I should say, led me to the place I will be in 5 days!)

Here is a question the kids in my mom's class had: How does Operation Smile pick the kids who get the surgery? Why do some kids get turned away?

I will probably have a much better answer after I am done with my first mission and have experienced the screening process personally. However, I know there are 2 situations that will keep a child from having surgery. The first is illness. To put it simply, if a child comes to be screened but has another active illness (fever, cold symptoms, anything else) then they can not have surgery. Their bodies may not be strong enough for the anesthesia and for the recovery process. It would not be safe to move forward and have the surgery. The good news is that they are always welcome to come and be screened again the next time Operation Smile comes to their area. The second situation that might cause a child to be turned down is having a cleft that is very severe making surgery during a short mission trip risky. The goal is safe surgery for everyone; the benefits of surgery must always outweigh the risks. If you guys have any more questions tell Mrs. Lay to leave me a little comment or to e-mail me and I will try my best to answer them!

I'm going to leave you with a video from Operation Smile!