A Personal Experience at Mungeli Christian Hospital
Dr. Anil Henry has asked me to send you the link to the photos I shot during my visit to the Mungeli Christian Hospital, and also tell you a little bit about the experience I had while there.
I was staying in Bombay at the apartment of a friend, Sandra Gass, daughter of Eric Gass. Sandra was helping me map out my trip around India, and put me in touch with Anil, her friend from school who was running a hospital in the rural state of Chhattisgarh. “Oh boy,” I thought, “off the beaten path, really rural. I’m gonna see the lives of everyday Indians.”
I arrived very early on a Thursday morning at the Raipur airport, where Anil had arranged for a driver to meet me and take me to the hospital. Three hours later, we pulled onto the hospital grounds, where Anil’s wife, Terry, immediately escorted me to their home. She saw to it that I got settled, showered and fed before directing me into the operating theatre to see my first surgery. I was out of the frying pan and into the fire. Over the next five days, I would see what seemed like miracles transpire right next to awful tragedies: a woman who recovered from a poisonous snake bite so that she actually walked out of intensive care and another woman who died because her husband hit her on the back of the head with an axe. There were amazing births, even cesarean ones, and heartbreaking deaths. There were patients deemed fit to be discharged and others who remained for days, undergoing treatment for serious illnesses like malaria. The whole experience was a whirlwind of patients, rounds, surgeries, emergencies at all hours and a medical staff with an endless supply of energy to deal with it all.
One thing that this experience provided me with is a context for the general state of the medical care system in India. The first stop, as I understand it is the “quack,” an untrained doctor, often a person who may or may not have finished 12th grade and is now a teacher with a government salary. The quack often runs his medical practice as a side business, having received his training from another quack who teaches how to write prescriptions for overpriced and often ineffective antibiotics. He or she will refer a patient to the hospital when the patient is at death’s door, realizing a death would be bad for business. He or she also manages to recover a referral fee- a referral, mind you, because the quack can’t fix the problem, which, in many cases, has actually gotten worse under his or her care. Learning about the “quack system” provided me with insight into how good the care actually is at Mungeli Christian Hospital. I also began to understand the quality of training that doctors are getting there as well. Instead of pumping more “quacks” into the system and exacerbating the already-bad infectious disease situation, Mungeli Christian Hospital is putting medical school graduates in the trenches, training them in modern medicine and providing such care to people who really need it, not just the elite. During my visit, a recently graduated medical student came to visit his peer who’s been at Mungeli for about a year. The visitor was invited to scrub in during a few surgeries to assist with the procedure, something he was not able to do at his current post, despite having been there for several months.
Now, there’s also the part of the experience that I can only hope is illustrated in my photos: how welcome I felt. The staff, Anil and his wife Terry, even the patients and their family members really opened themselves up to me. Everyone was not only willing to be photographed, but also wanted to talk with me, get to know me and learn about my own life, customs and upbringing which were so different from what I was seeing. It was such a warm and open environment. I’ll never forget the moment the maid, Sumitra, pulled me onto her lap before morning prayers on my last day.
Here is the link to the photos- there are nearly 100 of them so do set aside some time!