India was not a free expedition without purpose. Of course, I had a mighty mission in India. Unfortunately, I was not there to cure cancer, as my title may have alluded. Instead, I was there as a rookie medical intern to roam the wards and ORs and see clinical oncology at its finest. Well, not finest; the worst. Cancer is an enigmatic monster yet to be tamed. Lucky for me, I had my first clinical exposure abroad in tropical India. Everything I learned from first year textbooks and lectures has new meaning, something more tangible and practical. It’s one thing to digest mere medical terms and enunciate convoluted anatomical vocabulary. However, it’s a whole new world when I see the melon-sized single lymph node in the neck, the white and warty oral verrucous carcinoma, the blood and gore of surgical dissections, and the hideously painful process behind tumor excision. I had a pumping good time at the medical institution, whether it was watching surgery shows at the head of the table with the anesthesiologists, palpating neck nodes, or simply listening to the doctors teach me. I learn best by hands-on experience, and thanks to my first medical mission abroad, I have returned home with two journals filled with colorful diagrams, clinical notes, and many candid vacation pictures.
The RCC was located less than 3 km from the apartment. Every day, my friend and I took an auto-rickshaw to work. These little taxis are what the Chinese translate to “turtle cars.” They are small, popular, convenient, and cheap gas guzzlers. Each trip was a mere 30 rupees, or less than $1!!! Compared to the NYC metro subway, which is an astonishing $2.25 a trip, it was close to nothing, a mere dent to my wallet. The rickshaw ride took less than 10 minutes, for the roads were rocky, bumpy, and dusty. I had to hang on tightly for the rickety rickshaw ride because driving and riding in India was plain chaotic. It was like China, but worse. Vehicles and motorcycles veered all over the roads, crossed lines without signaling, or cut off other drivers. The streets were sites of cacophonous, obnoxious honking. Sudden braking and lurching forward were constant occurrences, much to my heart and stomach’s dissatisfaction.
Nonetheless, I safely arrived to work and back home in one piece every day. I managed to get a couple of shots of the nearby campus and facilities. Prepare for a grand tour through the RCC and the Medical College in Trivandrum, India:
En route to the RCC: Very beautifully distracting!
Destination arrived: Regional Cancer Centre. The RCC is a specialty hospital dedicated to comprehensive cancer care and clinical research. Since its inception in 1981, the RCC has provided cutting-edge facilities for cancer diagnosis, treatment, palliation, and rehabilitation through surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
A typical day around the hospital facilities… from the wards to radiation planning to food.
The entrance and hallways were crowded with patients and families. Long assembly lines and crowds of people infiltrated the units. There was very little privacy and personal space.
In India, there is a greater emphasis on radiation therapy to treat cancer. Due to the high influx of patients every day, new and follow-up ones, oncologists there offset the load with quick, rigorous treatment. High-dose radiation in a short period of time is employed, for example, an intense 50 Grays for 3 weeks targeted to a very localized area. There, it is more economical and practical for doctors to deal with patients’ acute symptoms (ex. mucositis, hair loss, skin irritation) and help them manage their complications.
Tea break in India as compared to the luxury of Starbucks at the famed Stony Brook Medical Center. Check out the differences in the coffee shops and portion size. I actually prefer the tiny cups of lemon milk tea over astronomical grande frappaccinos. I love my milk tea, better with bubbles =)
The positive messages that are posted around the hospital, in English… Though South India boasts of high literacy rates, people coming in with advanced diseases are poor common people.