The Dispensary

Although I work at Daya Dan on a regular basis, usually 6 days a week, my schedule is still not perfectly stable. I tend to have something happen to me every day that causes disruption in my regular schedule. I wholeheartedly accept these interruptions. This morning the disruption happened to do with one of my greatest phobias. I have actually been intensely praying to get over my repuslion to blood and needles and today, I believe my prayers were answered.

I happened to be attempting to maintain order with the mentally and physically handicapped children of Daya Dan and trying to teach them at the same time, when an Australian tapped me on my shoulder. He told me Sister was trying to get my attention. She quickly said, “come, come,” in the way Indians do here and asked me very simply if I knew how to dress. I, of course, said yes because I was thinking in terms of children and dressing them. Little did I know that in the same building as this orphanage, a dispensary is run to take in impoverished people who needed desperately to receive medical attention.

I put on a smock, a face mask, latex gloves and was immediately put to work. My first patient had a wound the size of my entire hand. I was fighting back the tears as I worked with my scalpel, tweezers, syringe, scissors, bandages and antibiotics. He was in a lot of pain as I was pulling infected skin from his leg. Another man had a leg full of maggots that needed to be picked out before even beginning to clean the wound from the green and black infection that had formed. Uneducated Indians tend to believe that rubbing dirt in a wound will heal the infection. Instead, maggots grow and thrive in the wound. One man had an entire bloody leg that I had to work on. Muscle was visible, bone was visible, but I had to stay calm and put a smile on my face, so that he stayed calm as I did painful things to him without any anesthesia. A lady pulled up her sari and showed me a hole on her behind. I saw raw bone and blood, lots of it. I heard screams and I had one sister translate that he was shouting the words “you murder me.”

In the midst of this organized chaos, I saw God, I saw Jesus. I know how silly this may sound, but this experience humbled me to a level I have never been, a place where I finally started to grasp Mother Teresa’s word. Before her, these poor people were considered untouchables.

To understand the whole concept of untouchables and the poverty that belongs to India, we must integrate the basics of Hinduism and the caste system. Hindus believe that if you live a bad ife, that you will be reincarnated into a bad life. So, for example, when they see poor, they believe that those poor are only poor because they did something evil in their past lives. To Hindus, the destitute deserve the tragedy in their lives. For example, a human rickshaw driver is believed to live such a hard life, pulling rickshaws barefoot through the hot and dirty streets of Kolkata, to repay his evils in his past life. The rickshaw driver believes that if he is good in this life, and does all the things that a Hindu is required to do, such as provide a good dowry for his daughter (so that she is not married off to someone who does not need a dowry, such as a leper), that in the next life, he will be a taxi driver.

The caste system signifies their worth and the evils they committed in their past life. What I can’t understand is the major contradiction in the Hindu religion. If it is past lives and bad karma that have caused rebirth into a tragic life, isn’t it bad karma for someone to shun the poor and untouchables? Isn’t it bad karma to not life someone out of pain? Will you then be reborn into a life of a rickshaw driver because you’ve done so or is there an exception to this rule?

I know there has been some controversy about the Missionaries of Charity (MCs) working on these people without being doctors themselves. I would like to respond albeit briefly on this topic. We have to think outside the norms and standards of our lives in the western world and place ourselves in the shoes of those who have absolutely nothing. When I mean nothing, I mean, I walk through their kitchens and living rooms daily, by walking on the sidewalks. The fact that some people have plastic over their little area of the sidewalk is a blessing to them. For them, medical attention is not something within their reach. As I’ve explained in other blogs, the communist “national health care” hospital system here does not work at all. So, for them to have the means to come to a dispensary and get antibiotics, prescriptions, wound changes, stitches, shots and love is a really big deal. It is now that NGOs have come here after Mother Teresa made this place public after she won the Nobel Peace Prize. Also, the volunteers are sometimes doctors and nurses and people like me, who want to do a very thorough and good job. We are quick learners, ask a lot of questions and get the job done well.

The Sisters provide their hearts and distribute the best health care they can. I feel I got a really good amount of training and am confident this experience will help me in the future, whether it will be to conquer my own fears or deal with possible wounds in the future.


ah yes, the reverse osmosis thing was a mistake on my part. ray corrected me immediately too, but I didn't have a chance to check the email then and rewrite it. thank you for teaching me! fyi, i still was told that the method of reverse osmosis in india is filtering the water through rocks, which is why I continued to trust and use coca-cola water!


wow. don't know what to say, so i'll say something trivial. reverse osmosis for drinking water is actually pushing water through a membrane that filters out larger particles and most microbes. the water should also be UV treated before drinking, though, as viruses and some bacteria still get through.