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Taking A Break From Calcutta Journals: Mitune Runs Away

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

I’ve just gotten off the phone with the Sisters at Daya Dan in Calcutta…I had called tonight with the intention of wishing a certain little boy, Mongol, Happy Birthday.

But before Mongol got on the phone, I spoke to one of the sisters and found out that the little boy I would like to adopt has run away. Not from the Sisters, but to them.

You see , he’s at a special school run by brothers and he’s several hours from Calcutta. There was apparently a problem with another boy, who is also deaf/mute, who is about to be adopted. He is Mitune’s age, or a bit older. He was taunting Mitune with this information and Mitune got upset.

He apparently ran away last week, but returned the same day. Now he’s done it a second time, and he’s been missing for several days.

Mitune is a smart boy, and I think he has some street smarts–or can gain them pretty quickly. Still, If he decides to stay out on the street, he’s in for a very difficult life.

The sisters think he is lost, afraid , alone.

We hope he can find his way back to his school. We hope he is safe.

Please light a candle for this boy, please say a prayer for him.

After hearing the news about Mitune, I had to switch to singing “Happy birthday to you” to Mongol, who giggled and laughed and was happy. Mongol has a form of degenerative muscular dystrophy (as does his sister) and when I left the orphanage several  months ago he was quite ill with a respiratory infection. He sounded so much better and I felt really blessed to talk with him. You never know how long these kids have.

He asked Binoy, the mischevious austistic boy I worked with to come over to the phone and Binoy did! And he giggled and said, “Amy, I love you. I miss you. ” Binoy doesn’t say stuff like that. It was a really nice moment.

I promised them I’d call back in a month. And I swore up and down that yes, I really will be there in December. Of course I will. These boys have my heart.

I would do anything for them.

Please light a candle for Mitune or send him some positive encouragement. He is a lost boy in a big world.


Journal From Calcutta, Part Two: Can You Save A Man On the Street?

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

Part two of a series, from my journals during my time in India..

It’s midnight. I’ve just come back, by taxi, to my hotel room.

I went to work this mornng, then returned to the hospital afterwards, and just spent 7 hours there.

Seven hours that absolutely nothing was accomplished in.

I am beyond frustrated. I am beyond understanding what kind of system is in place here, where a man can not get even simple care or tests.

I am wanting to leave this place. I hate it here. It makes no sense.

But I’ll start at the beginning:

I was supposed to meet a few of the Indian men that took our sick man to the hospital with me last night at the hospital.

They never showed up.

One man, the clothing designer, sent one of his workers in his place. So it was just this one guy, who spoke terrible English and excellent Hindi..and me, who spoke excellent English and little Hindi..trying to make sense of it all.

Our patient, when we arrived, was still in his spot on the floor. He looked about the same, except his hand and arm that were attached to his IV drip were extremely swollen and no one seemed to care. His bedpan was full to the brim, and some one had placed the remains of their lunch in it as well. Cockroaches ran across his legs and he had defecated in his pants.

There were still no beds. Maybe one has to wait for another person to die around here to get a bed.

It’s late afternoon when we arrive. I’ve brought gloves and masks, but the Indian man I’m with refuses them. He says it will make the other patients–and ours–feel like they are sick. They are! You can hear the tuberculosis cough here…I’m here to help, but I really feel the mask is important for me and my health(as are the gloves) so I put them on.

There are two nurses walking around with a rusty cart wth plastic cups and IV bags, wearing white just past the knee uniforms and little caps. They look out of place next to all of the women wearing saris and veils and headscarfs. They aren’t wearing gloves. I offer up mine, since it looks like they need them.

They shake their heads. They don’t want them. Suddenly, a burly fat man shows up, and says in perfect English, “I’ll take them.” Thinking he is an orderly, I hand them over. He looks like he needs them, as his gloves are worn out and full of holes.

A few minutes later, he shows up (without the gloves I’ve just given him..perhaps he has to save them? Or maybe he has sold them?) and a ladder, a can of paint, and a request..he’s apparently a painter and they are painting the hospital. Actually, they are painting the area exactly where our patient is lying on the ground in the hallway.

I protest, but it’s not heard and they dragour guy a little away from the wall, sloshing nto his bedpan and spilling it on his bloated arm. They slap some paint on the wall, white paint, getting drips and flecks onto not only our patient and his meager bedding , but on to us.

I guess they are painting the walls because they don’t clean them–the walls are covered with stains and grease marks and brownish red flecks and bodily fluids.

We try to find a bed, but there isn’t one.

We are desperate for a bed because not only is he on the floor, by our patient is either having seizures or fighting any treatment–and they have him tightly tied with bits of rag to whatever they can tie him to. It’s all above him, so his hands and legs are tied up into the air. He’s so tightly tied that it’s caused severe edema in his legs and arms. They are bloated up like little water balloons. He must be in so much pain.

We manage to pay someone to empty the bedpan. I don’t even know where to empty it, anyway. Someone comes with hot water and I give him another sponge bath. He seems to delight in the simple task and he attempts to communicate with me but it’s all a jumble of words.

I’ve got the problem of taking off his pants, to clean him. Women–even foriegners, visiting a sick patient, in the hospital, well… they don’t do that here.

I’ve got an audience as well–this time, more than 25 people surround me as I try to delicately bathe him and talk to him, trying to sooth him. He’s very agitated at times and is upset to be tied up, so we untie him. Poor man.

It’s finally decided that the Indian man with me will change his pants. People continueto stare at this process, like it’s a circus sideshow, until my friend gets so upset that they scurry away. They still peer over to survey the scene, but they do manage to give the man enough time to change his pants before returning to their old spots, only a fe wfeet away from us.

It seems everything we are doing is fascinating. People have left the bedsides of their family memebers to come over and gawk, although mostly they are pretty nice. Alot of the “namaste” greeting is going back and forth  between me and all of them. As soon as one person leaves the crowd, they return with another at their side, pointing, looking, whispering. But most are smiling, the women in particular.

We are waiting for the doctor. They say he will be here in a few more hours. We’ve got three hours to go. Meanwhile, all our patient has had are two aspirin and a drip IV.

We try to pay for a bed–a little bakeesh, but no one’s buying it. He may be stuck on the floor for another night.

There’s hardly any room to even sit and crouch, Indian-style, on the floor. Someone finds a dirty white plastic chair for me and I sit in that, waiting.

A man comes out of one of the large rooms, speaking perfect English, walking with a tank of oxygen. He knows me, he says. From Sudder street. (That’s where I live.)

He sells bamboo flutes on the street to the tourists.

I remember him , now..he walks around with a tall tree like tower of flutes, playing different ones.

“Why are you here? ” , I ask him, pointing to the oxygen tank.

It’s the pollution, he says. Plus he has TB, he says, coughing.

Note to self: Do not buy bamboo flutes from street vendors as souvenirs.

But he’s got something else to tell me. “Your friend needs a bed.”, he says, gesturing at the sick man on the floor next to me. And he proceeds to tell me a strange solution to our problem…

First, I find someone who is doing badly, in a bed, maybe with family.

I offer money to them. To help pay for expenses, I should say.

Then, when the patient dies, our man gets the bed. The family will come over and tell us and we quickly switch the patients. The other family is happy, because funerals are very expensive, he says. You are happy because your man is in a bed and he’s comfortable.

The man leaves, and with an interpreter I talk it over with my Indian friend. We agree to do it. His boss has given him plenty of money for bakeesh paying–why not give it to a family instead of a bunch of corrupt doctors, orderlies, and officials? Makes sense.

He comes back, smiling. Errand accomplished. It’s only a matter of time, he says.

I feel strange, waiting for one man to die so we can take his bed. But India is like that, it’s always strange. Whatever ethical code I have at home doesn’t really apply here. It doesn’t work.

About a half hour or hour goes by…we’re just sitting there, with our man. He stares at us, we put a cool rag on his forehead. He’s still delirious.

I’m struggling with this when a young girl comes out. She talks to my friend. Apparently, it’s her father in that other bed. (Her father? How can that be? She looks to be no more than 10 years old, and that man in the bad looks 80.) He’s gone, she says.

We do a quick switch, placing the dead man on the floor and putting our man in his bed. There’s no sheet changing here.

The bed is dirty and the rickety side table has little brown roaches all over it. A cat is under the bed, eating something brownish.

Our man seems happier, lying on a bed.

We sit and wait for the doctor. And wait. And wait. One never comes.

Meanwhile, I survey the scene around us.

Directly to the right is a young man with a lump on his head and very thin. Someone says he’s had a head injury. He never speaks and hardly moves. His father lies on the bed with him, lying the opposite direction, occasionally trying to get the man to sit up and use the bedpan.

On the other side is a very old man. He looks greyish yellow. They say he’s got malaria andgoodness knows what else. He looks at least 70 but I discover that he is 31. His pregnant wife and small children sit on the bed for hours, doing nothing, just sitting there. The smallest boy has  a bloated stomach and plays with scraps of a potato chip package and bits of other trash on the floor. They look hungry and all the kids have enormous head for their bodies. The tiniest one, a young baby..has baby fat but it’s not the good kind, it’s the kind very poor people’s children have from a bad diet. The mother looks absolutely exhausted.

Across from us, a woman lies on a bed, staring dully towards us but seeing nothing. I’ve no idea what’s wrong with her, except that occasionally she shrieks and yells, and they’ve tied her to the bed. I think she’s gone mad. I don’t blame her.

There’s another man, he’s the worst off of any person in the room. He’s near the top half of his bed, small, dark brown, his skin stretched over his bones..You can see every bone. It’s like he’s been dried or something and he’s in the fetal position. Every once in awhile he makes a small cry. No one is with him –he is alone, brought in here to die. He has no IV, it’s gone past that. It is difficult for me to see him as a human being, because he doesn’t look like any human being I have ever seen. Yet he is.

I feel my humanity so much right now. I feel overwhelmed by it. I feel the effect of what our actions have on one another. My God. It is almost too much to feel, to see, to know this.

I consider what responsibility I have in the situation all these people find themselves in. Are we not all connected? Are we not all brothers?

I want to help every single person in this room. There are hundreds of them. Every single person looks at me with dull eyes and I feel for all of them. I feel broken into a million pieces.

But there is little I can do. ..if I walk around, holding hands or showing care, they will think I am a doctor or a nurse. And I am not. And they will not understand. They will think since I am from America that I have special skills, special knowledge. Besides, if I leave my patient, and the doctor comes, we miss our chance for him to get help.

I end up helping a few patients near our man’s bed. They have edema so badly and they are in terrible pain, so I suggest they elevate their limbs. Their families know nothing of basic medical care, and are surprised when awhile later,  their patients edema improves.

A food cart comes around, with two big pots and some tin plates. They look like pie tins, they are the kind of plates that the orphanage uses and people on the street. A dirty, unkempt man with hennaed reddish hair and a greasy beard slops some rice and dal onto a plate, hands to the person sitting next to the patient…the family members don’t use spoons, they just feed them with their hands.

Our man isn’t hungry. In fact, he’s worse than he was awhile ago.

There’s a woman who is on a bed alone, and the man serving the food has set it down next to her. Her plate sits untouched.

She’s so weak, she can’t move. She plaintively asks for help. She uses her eyes. No one helps her. She seems to have TB.

Finally, after about 15 minutes go by, a woman feeding a man near her reaches over and gives her a few handfuls of food. The woman alternates between the man shes feeding and the woman, using the same hand, pushing the food into their mouths with her fingers. She takes a few bits  for herself, stuffing them intoher mouth in between feeding the other two. She’s not wearing gloves.

It’s 11 pm. The doctor isn’t coming. They say try tomorrow. Meanwhile, they won’t order a test or give us anything to help him–not even aspirin.

I go home by taxi, having to argue with the taxi man because he won’t use a meter.

What’s wrong with people here? If everyone is only thinking about themselves, no one gets anything.

But I guess it’s no different than at home. There is just alot more on the line here. At home every one is only thinking of themselves, too. It’s unusual to meet someone who isn’t.

I’m so tired. I feel so bleak.

I’ve got to get some sleep. If I can sleep that is. The images of that place are all that is in my mind.


Journal From Calcutta: Part One: Can You Save A Man On The Street?

Friday, April 24th, 2009
Journal entry from India. This one about trying to save a life. PART ONE This entry, and the ones that will directly follow it may not be appropriate for kids. I've been walking by this guy now for everyday over a week. ... [Continue reading this entry]

3 Days Later

Friday, April 24th, 2009
It's been three days since I finally set some boundaries with the ex, and I'm proud and happy to say, I've still got them. It's  not my style to get angry. But, I can see that is something that I needed ... [Continue reading this entry]

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Alot of Lemonade. Gallons, If Neccessary!

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009
A lemon revolution.........  Oh boy. Where to begin. Well, I'll tell you all something. Of late, my life has had alot of lemons. There were so many that I was trying to put on a happy face, be industrious, and make as much ... [Continue reading this entry]

How I Spent My Easter With Mahalia Jackson, A Swarm of Bees, and A Chamberpot.

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009
And ended up coming to some mighty big life decisions because of it! But, first things first...  Life back in the States is at it's most colorful and interesting. Just when you think it's getting dull and predictable, it changes it's mind. I spent ... [Continue reading this entry]

I’m So Tired, I’ll Choose Nothing, Thanks.

Friday, April 10th, 2009
I've been back in the States, back at "home" for over a month, now--and I think the exhaustion of both the trip and dealing with being here has finally taken hold of me. In fact, it's taken over. Yesterday, I managed to ... [Continue reading this entry]

Will the Real Writer of This Blog Please Stand Up?

Sunday, April 5th, 2009
" I read and walked for miles at  night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. I never imagined that that person could be ... [Continue reading this entry]

Pack, Unpack. Pack, Unpack. Repeat.

Friday, April 3rd, 2009
Well, I've been living out of a backpack for such a long time now, that it feels a little weird to finally be making the big change of setting up housekeeping. But that's exactly what I'll be doing for the next week ... [Continue reading this entry]

Notes From A Train Journey to Bihar

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009
This is from a journal entry. I took two trips to the state of Bihar in India--both served as "breaks" from the hustle and bustle of living and working in the city of Calcuta(or Kolkata, depending on who you talk to!). The ... [Continue reading this entry]