Today our first volunteer came! It's kind of an anomaly this time, because we only have one volunteer for this whole two-week session. His name is Matt. He heard about Rising Star because his mission president and wife (Becky Douglas) are the founders of Rising Star!
Anyway, this session is a medical session, meaning we are strictly doing medical projects, not education or community outreach (which are the projects Carson and I are in charge of). Today we went to a village called Chettipuniyam and set up a clinic in an empty community hall type building. It was a little cramped but met the need.
The way we do medical clinics:
- We all get in a van or two with Indian staff and doctors and tons of supplies.
- We arrive at a village that has patients with leprosy in it. The patients have been informed already that we're coming and are usually waiting for us at the appointed place when we arrive.
- We form an assembly line to unload the van--tables, chairs, stools, buckets, medical supplies.
- We set up the various stations: One for filing where we give the patients their file (they are seen once a month at this clinic), one for taking their blood pressure and blood sugar, one for removing previous bandages, one for washing the leprosy ulcers (usually always on the feet), one for putting oil on their legs and feet, and one for re-wrapping the bandages, one for counseling with a doctor, one for getting eye drops in their eyes if they need it, and one for receiving medications they can take home. Whew!
- We all take a station and get to work! Today Carson and I both did washing. We soak their ulcers in an antiseptic solution. They are taught to do this at home every day.
This is the volunteer, Matt, doing blood sugar testing. He's a phlebotomist, thankfully, In our training we had to practice doing all the stations, and when I had to do blood sugar testing I totally accidentally jabbed Carson's finger way too deep....I felt so bad. Haha. So good thing we've got Matt!
The hardest part of these clinics for me is the heat. We take our gloves off and steam comes out. Our masks get wet with sweat. There's just no relief. But I thought it would be more difficult for me to see the leprosy wounds on people. There are some wounds I washed today (with double gloves on, no worries! I won't be coming home with leprosy.) that were hard to look at. Most have lost fingers and toes. But I thought about if I had a child with a wound like that, I would never show disgust. Or if Carson had a wound like that, I would take care if with love and compassion, and not with a look of repulsion. Really, it should be the same for these people because they are our brothers and sisters most literally.
I'm really trying to get in the habit of viewing people as my brothers and sisters, and not as "poor people," or "lepers," or any other stereotype we often refer to people in India as. They are more than their economic status, more than their ethnicity, more than a disease, more than a stereotype. They have amazing personalities, talents, and strengths that I'm only beginning to see.
Just a few comments about leprosy: It is a bacterial infection, just like ear aches or pneumonia. It can be cured 100%, but if not treated quickly, it develops into open lesions, nerve damage, even loss of vision and digits. Contrary to popular belief, it isn't even that contagious. You have to breathe in droplets from someone with active leprosy--like if they cough or sneeze and you breathe in droplets.
The biggest problem with leprosy, I think, is the social stigma against it. The stigma is what cripples these people economically, socially, and psychologically. Just "leprosy colony" stirs up a terrible image that is much worse than it really is. Leprosy colonies are just areas where people with leprosy live nearby each other, often because they've been cast out to there. Really, leprosy colonies are just where a group of our brothers and sisters live who happen to have this disease. How would you feel if a few people in your household had cancer, and people started calling your house the "cancer colony?" It would hurt to be defined by the disease, not by who you are or your redeeming qualities. This is the same reason why we don't say "lepers." They are not defined by a disease, just like no one called you a "strep" when you had strep throat--you are you.
The stigma is terribly damaging. It is the reason why people are so afraid to seek treatment, which is what makes their disease get so destructive. When I think about it, leprosy wouldn't be nearly so bad if there was love instead of repulsion. Love is really what this world needs most, isn't it?