Two years at CMC

Two years at CMC

In November of 2004, I celebrated two years at CMC in Vellore. A lot has happened in those two years, but what I am most proud of is the team we have put together in the Palliative Care Unit. The grace of God put the right people in the right place at the right time and the result was this current team.

Dr. Reena George heads the team. She is a radiation oncologist and has a diploma in palliative medicine from the UK. She began our current clinic a week before I arrived in November 2002. In the early days, there were just three of us – Dr. Reena, one postgraduate in Radiation Oncology on a one-month rotation in our program, and me. As a chaplain, I wasn’t of much use. I had no local language skills, so patients and families that spoke English were the only ones that I could work with directly. In February of 2003, we were granted an MBBS doctor on one-year rotation. Dr. Jamuna was our first full-time employee and provided continuity in care for our patients. Chaplaincy rotated several chaplains through our clinic – but their time was limited due to other clinical assignments and duties.

In April of 2003, a retired Roman Catholic Sister who is a nurse approached us to become a full-time volunteer in our program. She added a wonderful new dimension to the program with her nursing skills, patient teaching skills, and experience working with the poor. We received funding from an outside source and decided to use that to hire a social worker to help us with financial assessment and rehabilitation – critical needs for most of our families. Mr. Ramu joined us in June of 2002. Dr. Jacob Alexander, a psychiatrist from CMC’s Mental Health Unit, visits our clinic our Friday afternoons to see patients and teach staff. He has also made himself available whenever needed.

Dr. Shanthi joined us in February of 2003 and has subsequently decided that she wants to become a palliative care physician. We hope to sponsor her in future studies, first in Radiation Oncology and then in Palliative Care.

We had been looking for a chaplain for a long time, but nothing seemed to work out until we met Grace. She had been recommended by several faculty members from her seminary, and when she came to Vellore for an interview, her husband Hamilton accompanied her. We decided to hire them both and they started in July of 2004. We were able to stretch some external funding, and soon CMC will pick up one of their salaries. We hope that some overseas partner will want to add the other chaplain to their pastoral staff as a missionary chaplain to CMC. This would only cost about $200 per month. What a difference to have Grace and Hamilton on our team. They both speak Tamil, Malayalam, and English and Grace speaks some Hindi as well. They reach our patients in a way that none of the other team members can. They help them identify their strengths and find footing in their religious beliefs so that they can address and confront the fears and concerns that they have.

Our final team members joined us in August of 2004, when we added another nurse and a full-time secretary. Shakila, our nurse, had been the head nurse of the oncology unit for the past 8 years and has a real passion for palliative care and hospice. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience, and is becoming an excellent teacher and resource person in Palliative Nursing for the CMC staff. Roja is our secretary, and her ability to speak Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English makes her a wonderful first contact to our program for patients and their families.

We have partnered with a local Roman Catholic organization that will build and run a 25-bed hospice.

We will provide them with the oversight of our team and run a palliative care educational center, which will be housed, on the second floor of the new hospice building. Our staff will act as the faculty for that center. We start building soon despite the fact that not all of the funding has been secured. We’re trusting that further funding will come for the completion of the hospice building and the ongoing expenses of this project. We broke ground in January and hope to see the new building in July 2005.

Global Ministries has funded my three-year ministry in Vellore to work with Christian Medical College in the development of a Palliative Care Service. Today – patients and families are receiving excellent holistic care by a team of caring professionals. Tomorrow – doctors, nurses, social workers and chaplains from around India will have an educational center they can attend at a very low cost to learn palliative care from a holistic team of people who work in palliative care on a daily basis. I believe that we are the only center in India to intentionally address the spiritual needs of patients and families from their own faith perspective. We have an important contribution to make to the future of palliative care in India.

Thanks for helping to make this possible.

John Lunn

John Lunn assists in the development of a palliative care program, and with the chaplaincy department of Christian Medical College in Vellore, India.