Geerthana Jeyakumar, a 3rd year Life Sciences major at McMaster University, shares her experience as a global volunteer at FIMRC's site in Kodaikanal, India. On May 12, 2010, I embarked on a journey to Kodaikanal, India on a medical volunteer placement with Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children (FIMRC)—a non-profit organization, dedicated to ‘improving pediatric and maternal health in the developing world.’ Kodaikanal is a city that’s located around 7000 ft. above sea level, in the state of Tamil Nadu, South India. This multidimensional experience broadened my knowledge and perspective on human culture, and ‘human condition.’ The two weeks I stayed there not only increased my understanding of the current state of world-health, but also enlightened me on the consequences of a poor health care system.
After completing my second year in the Life Science program at McMaster University, I wanted to apply the theoretical knowledge I’ve acquired in a professional setting. This global health volunteer opportunity allowed me to execute that moral desire, without any boundaries. This opportunity gave me the chance to assist with several medical procedures, such as observing live surgeries, taking vital signs, counseling patients, delivering moral support to patients' family, administering medications, completing urine and blood work at biochemistry labs, and accompanying staff on medical camps at villages. I was able to witness and help treat several illnesses and operations, such as C-sections, septicemia, appendicitis, varicose veins, sebaceous cysts, leprosy, and burns. This experience gave me an in-depth insight of dentistry, pharmacy, naturopathic medicine, traditional medicine (e.g. Ayurveda), and physiotherapy, from a global perspective.
One impactful incident that took place at the district hospital opened my eyes to how crucial it was to improve Medicare and expand adequate resources in poverty-stricken countries. I was shadowing a physician one day, and an elderly man walked in with a swollen finger, complaining of extreme pain. He was later diagnosed with a sebaceous cyst, and was ordered to have an immediate operation. Without any local anesthetics, the cyst was removed. I watched as the fluid was drained from the cyst, while the man hollered in pain. I recall that I had fainted, and it took me about half an hour to recover back to my normal state. I later questioned the doctor on why local anesthetics weren’t given. To this, he responded that it was a “minor” surgery, and the man was extremely poor, and wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Another touching moment of the trip was during a medical camp at Poombarai, Kodaikanal—a resort village about 15 kilometers away from central Kodaikanal. After a day’s work of treating patients, I was organizing the medical equipment back into the ambulance. Unexpectedly, a small girl approached me from behind, held my hands, and said, in Tamil, “Thank you for helping my mom. Can you stay here with us?” A year later, I can still remember the innocent smile that lingered on her warm face. I was fluent in Tamil, so I responded that I couldn’t, but promised to visit again. At that moment, I decided that this is what I wanted to do with my life—relive these moments. I wanted to complete my medical degree, and give back to the world in my area of specialty.
My regular encounters with the indigent population of Kodaikanal educated me on how a patient’s health is comprised of much more than merely a biological disease. Many, who were originally a patient of a curable disease, soon became patients with mental health disorders. Not only did this journey feed me the confidence to communicate across cultures, but also, provided me the chance to unearth the many facets of medicine as a discipline. A take home lesson— even the smallest bit of affection and love can go a long way in making a difference in the world.