Discovering palliative care in Kerala by Athira Unni

Published on: Author: David Clark 2 Comments

Read this great account from a student who spent time this summer in the Institute of Palliative Medicine, Kerala.

Huge thanks to Athira Unni for allowing us to post this piece from her own blog, which can be found at: http://chocolateandink.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/monsoon-ipm-discovering-palliative-care-2/

And thanks to Suresh Kumar for making the introduction.

 

This summer I met exceptional people, spoke at colleges for the “Because I Care” campaign and met Jaanu, who didn’t know to read the name of the tablets she was supposed to take. 

The rain kept pouring on my first day at the Institute of Palliative Medicine in Calicut. The building with its airy architecture seemed to encourage flying. Many a times I wondered at the branch that invaded through the window of the Medical Library, where we sat discussing everything from fundraising to the possibility of psychological issues in Suarez. The branch swayed and thrust itself inside, as if it had a part to play in the proceedings. Maybe it did.

And through all of that, it rained. Endless, with whispered secrets, trailing a wetness of memories over the leaves, intransient, unlike the lives on the edge of oblivion – lives of the patients lying on their beds downstairs in the Inpatient Unit. The contrast was heavy. We joked; they took morphine. We worked to get money to raise their “quality of death”; they gave us invaluable smiles. All in the same building.

Institute of Palliative Medicine, Calicut.

During one of our chats in the Medical Library at IPM

Maybe the most significant was my first day of Home Care. Two old Muslim men- one was a cancer patient- were suffering from bed sores and pain. I remember feeling deep respect for the nurturing family members who smiled through it all. Their otherwise listless eyes shined with a faint gratitude for us, mixed with a steely resignation. On the same day, I met a teacher who would rather chat on phone than clean up after her old mother who had fallen down in the bathroom, wetting herself. In another family, the daughter in law made sure the Emergency Light was bright enough for the nurse to change her mother-in-law’s catheter tube. Her 12 year old daughter was suffering from eye problems. The star of that day however was Jaanu. She had diabetes and had only two toes on her right feet. Her mistake in having had the wrong tablet was discovered. We realized that she couldn’t read, even though she never admitted it. Jaanu complained about the lack of water in her house and I noted that her house was right next to the emerging Cyber Park. It stood like a dragon rising sleepily from its lair and Jaanu’s house seemed like a hermit’s hut about to be burned. The promise of “development” from the recent elections came to mind…

I was happy when a whole class (BCom Final year in MAMO College) signed up for “Because I Care” after we spoke to them. I was happy when our online campaign including my article on Baby Fathima garnered enough attention. I was happy when one of the patients invited me to eat with him during Iftar. I will miss the philosophical talks with Lakshmi, Gautam and Anwarji in our very own “Shed”.:) The promise of social service is satisfaction, an unmatched degree of it. It is as much a discovery of yourself, as it is the discovery of the society. I used to tell myself that I possibly can’t matter enough to make a change in society. Well, here’s some truth for you – if you can’t, nobody can.

This summer, I met Shaki (coolest boss ever), Saif (trainer,traveler and our very own Kajjang President),Lakshmi (Josephite power!) and Suresh sir (kind, assertive; the man behind it all). Special thanks to Gautam aka GSK aka Jon Snow, who not only responded with “Of course you can come!” when I asked him if I could volunteer, but also gave me rides to and fro through that godforsaken Thondayad – Medical College route. There are many other wonderful people and this post would not end if I talk about all of them; you know who you are 🙂.

In our very own "Shed"! :)

The Iftar dinner at IPM organized with the help of Students in Palliative Care :)

Before you shift your attention to another random article on the parasitic web called Internet, let me end this with a loaded question.

How would you like to die?

There are only three ways. You could die of old age. You could suffer from a chronic illness. You could have a sudden death. Third option? Thought so. Only 10-15% of people in the world die suddenly. Which means you and I are probably going to need palliative care too, at some point. Get it?

Athira Unni – 20 year old English Literature and Sociology double major at SUNY Buffalo, USA

Email : ammusunni@gmail.com

Categories: guest bloggers, international, palliative care

David Clark

David Clark holds a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award and leads the Global Interventions at the End of Life research project. He is Professor of Medical Sociology at the University of Glasgow and founder of the Glasgow End of Life Studies Group. Follow David on Twitter @dumfriesshire

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