Monday, November 29, 2010


Just got home from Jaipur/Agra... my first trip away from Delhi!

I finally took a weekend off to travel and it was lovely. A great opportunity to see some forts, temples, Jantar Mantar (home of the largest sundial in the WORLD) and of course the Taj Mahal.

Our hotel, the Jaipur Inn, was lovely (but not in walking distance to anything. thankfully we got a cab driver for the weekend). The manager is very attentive. He arranges daily runs up to the Tiger Fort, and arranges current guests give talks to one another about their travels. The courtyard is peaceful, and the beer is cheap.

Some of our group rode camels. After seeing that one of them had a bum leg I felt a bit too guilty to partake... so I took some portraits instead.
We stayed in Jaipur for two nights and hit up the Taj on the way home. I don't really need to say much about that. The photo says it all for me.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

A few fellow vollies and I went out shopping with the staff and cooked up a feast (and it was a smashing success, if I do say so).

The menu included Turkey (in a toaster oven, of all things... not one of our flats has an oven), stuffing, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, mushroom gravy for the vegetarians in the group, green bean casserole, mac-n-cheese, corn, and sweet potato casserole (complete with marshmallows, brown sugar and lots of BUTTER).

My beautful veggie plate. Please note the lovely slice of cranberry sauce. Of course I can't claim credit for it because, after all, proper cranberry sauce can only come from a can.

Gobble Gobble!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hello friends.

After a teensy bout of Delhi Belly I’m back to 100%!

This morning I got up extra early to go to yoga class with a couple of volunteers and WOAH have I grown stiff! To my credit, the beds are stiff as well, and I’ve been so busy working that tending to my own fitness has not been a priority. But to tell truth: When I departed from Baltimore I left my mat (thinking, wrongly, that I might be able to easily find one here in Delhi), and sort of left my commitment to daily stretching behind as well. I haven’t totally abandoned myself though. The air here is really yucky and I tend to find myself more sluggish and congested than usual, so I have, however, found it really helpful to keep up with the breathing/mediation of my Kundalini practice… at least I had that part down today. I’m hoping I’ll be more awake and flexible for Friday’s class, if not more focused and less giggly. I know that taking better care of myself means that I am a better care giver, so if anything I can muster up the strength to get out of bed at 6 three days a week to be better at my job.

Work was a lot of fun today. We are working on a special art project that we hope to have finished by Friday. I won’t spoil it by divulging everything now… but I promise photos are soon to come. Work also included a couple of funny miscommunications today: but then again, that’s almost every day. Today though, was something a bit different.

If you know me, you know that it’s fairly obvious that I have tattoos (all but one are visible when I’m in traditional dress) and large earlobes. This has actually been more of a bonding point between myself and some of the residents, rather than a barrier. Many of the women also have black tribal tattoos on their arms, legs, chests and faces and ears gauged many times larger than even mine. Several mornings while ringing the wash I’ve gone back and forth with a couple of ladies in particular, pointing and showing our ears and inked skin. 

Today though, I changed out my normal black or wooden earrings for something more colorful… and man, were my yellow earrings were the talk of the ashram. A couple of residents came up to me giggling, tugging on them and checking them out, but as I don’t know much Hindi outside of “hello”(namaste) and “thank you” (danyavad). I didn’t know what they were saying about me! Usually I can get the gist of what folks here are saying to me through pointing and body language, but I couldn’t figure out what “(snake, whatever they said)” was until the Sisters caught sight of me....

 “Oh, so this is what they are all talking about, it does like you have snakes coming out of your ears. We have a lot of snakes here this color”.


Monday, November 15, 2010

So much celebrating…

Saturday myself and another volunteer went to MTDD to partake in a celebration honoring Sister Stanis, aka Sister Superior. I won’t bore you with words, but I did take a lot of photos. Here's a little sample, there are more on Flickr. Enjoy!!!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nothing is as it seems...

Placement is going well... To be honest, my first week was a bit more than frustrating. I came into this trip ascribing to the rule of “no expectations”. In my travels throughout the states I’ve learned that no advertisement, review, or anecdotal bit of info from friends could truly prepare me for my endeavors.

Rare is the trip that goes as planned; like the trip home from Chapel Hill NC that somehow turned into an 11 hour long fiasco, the camping grounds in Assateague a girlfriend told me were immaculate and lush (but looked more to me like an open litrene in a pile of dirt and sand, surrounded by a small patch of dogwoods), or on the brighter side…a “primitive” camping spot with pristine bathroom facilities, wheelbarrows for luggage, and an outside sink (complete with soap and sponges) for washing dishes. In light of this, I assumed it would be prudent to not take anything I heard about India, especially Delhi, as gospel.

Truly…No travel guide, blog, or bit of advice could have prepared me for the smell, sights or sounds of Delhi. Some amazing… some appalling.

But, for some reason, I had allowed myself to create an image of what I’d expected Mother Teresa’s to be. I’d expected to find the dying and destitute, yes… But I’d also expected to see modern, but maybe expired, medical supplies, actual nurses doing actual nursing care, and (most foolish of all) documentation on the residents at MTDD. After all, Mother Teresa’s homes are a “beacon of light”, providing not only shelter but wholesome food and medical care for all their residents (according to website details), right?

Well… yes and no. What I saw upon arrival was shocking to me, As one who has been fortunate enough to have worked in a variety of well managed care homes as well as one of the US’s top private psychiatric hospital, I was shocked by several things I saw upon my arrival: 90 residents to 1 nurse/Sister. Residents delivering medications from the Sister to other residents… sometimes correctly, but often incorrectly. Meds being given without water at times. No concern being given to med interactions or indications. For example the fact that the majority of residents are on meds that should not mix, or very high doses of medication, finding that many residents who should avoid direct sun due to med. interactions are lying on the concrete floor of the outside patio for several hours a day. Residents who are lower functioning, limbs contracted and sitting in their own urine, missing the noon meal because the other residents and workers missed that she had not received a plate of rice and dhal. Wound care that could hardly pass as clean, let alone sterile. Maggots in wounds (yes, I’ve overcome that aversion... after picking several out of a new admissions wound that was festering with what smelled like pseudomonas).

But apparently much better than most facilities for the elderly and indigent in the area. I have to remind myself I’m not in Maryland, where modern medical supplies are readily available, patient ratios (while ofter still absurd) or nowhere close to 1-to-90, and so on. Most reassuring of all is the way the sisters have slowly but surely warmed up to we strangers, and integrating some of our concerns in a revised version of their practice.

The residents on the women’s hall are mostly destitute psychiatric patients, women who have been abandoned following a divorce or serious medical illness, and a handful of young women who were placed at MT’s orphanages due to physical disabilities. Very few seem to be elderly, but they are certainly destitute. Some of the women heal from their illnesses, such as TB or acute mental breakdown, and become helpers to the less functional residents. There are sisters, on both the men’sand women’s wards who are trained nurses. They provide general supervision of the goings ons of the hall, oversee med administration, provide infusions and other medical treatments when needed, and (of course!) pray. A lot. This is important because someone’s gotta pray for all these folks. And pray they do. If you know me, you know I can be a bit critical of religious zealotry, and personally choose to seek out non-religiously affiliated charities to support with my money and time. At times I get irked that no Sister is on the hall to look after the residents…but I will also try very hard to respect the dedication it takes to become a nun, a nurse, and a caregiver of 90 patients, and understand that those meditative moments of prayer are just as important as anything else in their care routine.

Over the last few days, I must point out, you have to hand it to the Sisters and their helpers. They have heard our concerns for the most part, and are responding to them in their own good time. Extra care has been given to be sure that everyone gets a meal. Meds have been given with the oversight of one to three sisters at a time; with attention being given to make sure “pani” (water) is conveniently available with med administration. The wounds we dress are looking amazingly good now. That one wound I mentioned with the maggots and stinky infection? No longer rank, and no longer infested… but even better: the tissue is even granulating now and the wound edges are inching their way inward!

It’s not in my official duties at MTDD to complete assessments on the residents or report off to Sister if I see anything concerning. Instead I am to play with the residents, get them involved in physical activity, and encourage them to participate in group activities. That does not mean that I am not using my nursing skills during every minute of my day.

Take painting the ladies’ nails and applying lotion to their skin, a favorite activity of most everyone on the ward, for example. As I paint their nails I’m assessing the whole time: are the nail beds pale or pink, how’s capillary refill? Are they verbal or non verbal? If they are verbal: do they speak English or Hindi (or something else? In which case I ask to find out if those are real words or gibberish). How does their breath smell, how do their teeth and tongue look? If they don’t talk: are they social or withdrawn (or possibly not yet trusting of me)? How do their eyes look: are they red with irritation, clouded with cataracts, or bright and responsive? As I apply lotion to their scaly dry legs (which a lot of women have due to their chores of washing floors, laundry and subsequent naps in the blasting sun of the open yard): how’s skin turgor, hydration status, pedal and radial pulses? Are their limbs cool or warm? Do they have any sores? Are the limber or contracted? The list goes on and on and on...

I’m interacting with the residents, giving them much needed attention and affection, building deep bonds with those who require some extra special care, and using my nursing skills, AND LOVING IT… despite any cynicism I might have about religion or (quite specifically) charities of the catholic church.

This gives me a lot of hope for the rest of my five weeks.

I hope to see more wounds heal, and more names get crossed off of my wound clinic list. I hope to find more residents who had previously been left out at meals eating full plates. I hope to see more withdrawn residents come out of their shell…

And I hope to come home to the states a better nurse: more knowledgeable about wound care, more keen at assessment, and more tolerant and understanding of other faiths and cultures.



Monday, November 8, 2010

Hello, hello!

A couple of days have passed since my last blog post, and I have to admit that not a ton has changed since... except maybe a couple more flatmates/fellow vollies have fallen ill, either from the ominous "delhi belly" or respiratory woes in the wake of Diwali. I'm happy to report that I'm still in pretty good health. The food cooked for us via CCS has been lovely, and gratefully mostly veg. I have had some cravings for a decent cup of coffee, but I have to admit that had already set in just a couple of days after drinking watered down americanos (no disrespect, of course) in the UK. No biggie tho. I'll just love my Zeke's coffee that much more when I return to Bmore. I feel I'm adjusting rather well to the change in diet though, and hope like h-e-double things stay that way.

My placement at Mother Teresa's is plugging along nicely as well. It's clear the sisters are concerned and slightly suspicious of us foreigners coming in and advising them to do certain things our way (especially when it comes to med administration and wound care). But I remain hopeful that we will be able to develop some educational materials and some documentation that will be sustainable for the staff once we leave. The campus is gorgeous, and I've got a crush on our resident pea hen (name unknown?) and a parakeet named Rupu. Rupu is cared for by one of the residents, and likes to chow on peanuts from his caregiver, and the biscuits I bring him after morning tea.

Speaking of tea... that's one thing I've had a bit of a time adjusting to. The sisters get positively batty whenever we are late for tea, no matter the excuse. I feel like there is so much to do, and I'm only there for a few hours, why waste time sitting on the porch sipping tea when there are so many patients who need help! After apologizing for the insult of being late pretty much every day last week(being late for tea is a BIG no no), I explained to one of the sisters that I'm used to often missing my dinner break during a busy shift, and breaking for 15 minutes only three hours into a shift is pretty much as foreign to me as Mars. She was shocked to hear that I don't regularly take tea, patted my shoulder, and shoved me away from the patient I was bandaging up saying "your tea is cold. GO!". I can't complain though, in fact it wouldn't hurt me to get used to being a bit less of a task master; it might even keep me from burning out later on.

Another thing that will help me healthy and going strong is SLEEP. So off I go.



Friday, November 5, 2010

Happy Diwali!!!

Greetings and much love from INDIA!!!

Today marks the conclusion of my first week here, and let me tell you... it's been so wonderful. I feel so fortunate with the way things have come together, and I look forward to 7 more weeks of the same.

I've received some emails/skypes/ims asking what I've been doing these last few days so here goes:

Upon my arrival to India I'm picked up by the CCS staff and taken to my flat. After meeting a couple of volunteers we head over to the main office, which is a flat in the apartment building kitty-corner to mine. I meet more uber friendly staff, eat some tasty indian food and and head back to my flat to rest for thenight. I'd not slept in 32 hours (maybe more) so I was happy find a pretty comfy bed in a cool room waiting for me.

The following day was Sunday (I'd lost a day in travel, leaving London on Friday and arriving in the afternoon on Saturday), and after breakfast and meeting the other new volunteers who came in over night we went sight seeing: The Bahai Lotus Temple,. Hanuman's Tomb (which is often refered to as "the mini Taj" and is onsidered the design precursor to the real deal in Agra) and other surrounding structures at the fort, Delhi Gate, Lodhi Gardens, and a drive by of Parlaiment. I took dozens of photos which can be seen on my flickr (

Monday we had a more intense orientation including receiving more information about our placements, and Tuesday through yesterday I've been working at my placement, Mother Teresa's Home for the Dying and Destitute. I've had the great fortune of being placed at MTDD alongside a CNA who'd been there for a couple of months already, and two other nurses. Despite the depressing condition of the place, I'm hopeful that together we can do some great things to elevate the standard of care.

Well, as the title of the post states, it's currently Diwali in Delhi...and that means much ceremony to be had. So I must be off! Keep in touch, email me your address if you'd like a post card, and I'll post again soon!