By Carissa Davis
Patrick Henry College
Michelle Wright quickly learned that living in India would be different than life in the states. For starters, her toilet would not flush, and the power went out multiple times a day. Her “shower” was a bucket of water and a drain, over which she carefully placed a brick to keep out poisonous snakes. And then there were the huge, biting ants.
Wright with one of her palliative care patients
“I’m not sure how I’m going to cope with that one…” Wright said. And still her bright, optimistic attitude has held steady. “Bring it on, snakes! Or don’t. Please.”
Michelle Wright, an IPP major currently fulfilling 12 internship credits while working with the Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA), has lived in in India since June. Her objective has been, in part, to help construct a policy in Lalitpur, Uttar Pradesh for EHA’s new palliative care program, an initiative that may become a “building block” for treating the desperately ill in hospitals across North India. In the past six months Wright has spent time both in the villages helping the sick and in the office writing policy recommendations for government inquiry.
“It’s impossible to write a policy, unless you understand the environment that the policy is going to affect!” Wright said.
The work required Wright to become intimately involved with the local culture, visiting and treating suffering patients with all manner of ailments, helping to clean the patients’ wounds and even administering pain relievers. She has also worked with families, teaching them the importance of cleanliness and how to care for patients under terrible conditions.
“I have seen cancer patients with enormous, maggot-filled wounds,” Wright said. “Diabetics are usually missing toes and have painful ulcers on their bodies.”
What began as a basic policy-writing internship has become a profound, life-changing experience treating the suffering in one of the most impoverished regions on earth. And it almost didn’t’ happen, she recalls. While she was still in the states, Wright second-guessed her decision to intern with a medical association, given that she had very little medical training.
“[But] my time in India has shown me that even more than specialized laborers, the world needs people who can think, lead, ask good questions, and are willing to fight for truth,” Wright said.
The Emmanuel Hospital Association is a Christian, non-government organization that aids the poor and the marginalized in North, Northeast and Central India. The palliative care program was new to the Lalitpur hospital, aiming to provide basic comfort and pain relief to patients with incurable disorders. In India, people with cancer, tuberculosis and diabetes, for instance, are often sent away to die with no pain relief.
“Beginning a new program from the ground up is certainly difficult…and we have had our struggles along the way,” Wright said. “Working with people who are dying is exhausting and mentally draining, but there have been so many little encouragements along the way. One of our patients came into the hospital to say, ‘I am so glad that there is a program for someone like me. The doctor told me that there was nothing he could do and I thought that no one cared.’”
Not surprisingly, due to the region’s bleak living standards -- strange food, unfamiliar viruses and unsanitary conditions -- Wright herself has been seriously ill many times.
Experiencing India's recent torrential flooding
“I have had malaria, three rounds of eye flu, a poisonous spider bite, and more run-ins with food poisoning than I care to remember,” Wright said. She has endured chills in 120-degree weather, vomiting for hours at a time, and high fevers. She has completed at least eight rounds of antibiotics and has had multiple hospital stays and IVs.
“Sickness has taken on a whole new level of meaning since I have been in India. I have NEVER been sick in the states like I have been sick here.”
Due to problems with her visa, Wright had to leave Lalitpur and travel to another EHA hospital in the Himalaya Mountains in Herbertpur, Uttarakhand. From there she continued to write policy for the palliative care program as well as working on policy for Herbertpur.
“Everyone here is amazed by how easy it is for me to read and summarize huge documents of information. I definitely learned that skill in Dr. Baskerville’s classes,” Wright said.
At Herbertpur, Wright became involved in a youth outreach program where, along with three students from a local college, she decided to put together a concert for the teenagers in the slums, villages and orphanages. Her fellow students, she said, displayed a passion and energy for outreach she’d never before encountered.
“They have the energy and enthusiasm that more of us in the states should have,” Wright said. “These guys really do know what it means to invest in things that will last!”
But enthusiasm does not make putting on a concert an easy feat. Seemingly simple tasks become complicated ordeals in a Third World country. For example, the group decided that they wanted the volunteers to have name badges.
“In the US, we would run to the store and get nametag stickers that say “HI MY NAME IS: MICHELLE” or lanyards with plastic covers,” Wright said. “Those don’t exist in India.” Instead, she spent an entire afternoon looking for an appropriate substitute, but to no avail.
“I don’t even need to mention the hassle of making banners, finding the right cords for projectors/guitars/sound equipment, locating chairs that will sustain human weight…and so much more.”
And yet Wright, true to character, maintained her cheery outlook and found a positive lesson.
“It’s really cool to be in a position where we HAVE to pray and trust that God will meet all of our needs. In the US, we depend on our own resources and abilities a lot more than I realized,” Wright said. “We create a backup plan if God ‘doesn’t come through’ like we we’re expecting. In India, it’s hard to have a backup plan…when you don’t even have the resources to make an original plan.”
The concert was held on September 29th. Despite the recent floods, nearly 300 kids came to the concert. Wright was the “technical expert” for the event.
“When I am your best technical expert for music equipment, sound, and projectors, you know that things are bad,” Wright said.
Wright also taught a short music drama to the kids in the youth group, and the kids performed at the event.
“They did really well! God used it like only He can.” Wright said. Over 100 kids committed or rededicated their lives to Christ.
Wright has faced many other challenges while in India. In the beginning of September, all of Northern India was hit by major floods. Rivers overflowed their banks and mudslides destroyed homes. Wright’s local hospital had 18 inches of floodwater.
“It was really exciting at first, but lost its charm when I realized that floods bring diseases from mosquitoes and poisonous snakes,” Wright said.
Taking in the local sights.
“[PHC classes taught me] how to find and analyze information and research what I don’t already know.” Wright said. “The skills that I learned in Dr. Sillars' classes and writing for the PHC Herald.com have been my biggest asset here in India. I totally and completely credit Dr. Sillars and Mr. Grano with my writing skills.”
More importantly, she thanked PHC for giving her the framework in which to view the world.
“The Christian foundation of PHC’s curriculum has enabled me to see [India]--with all of its issues--from a Biblical perspective. Without my school education, I wouldn’t know how to evaluate the things that I am experiencing.”
Through her internship she has had the experience of living in another country and the practical experience in policy writing.
“I haven't just written policies from an office, I have been privileged to see and understand the kinds of policies that the government should be pursuing,” Wright said. “I am seeing, experiencing, and becoming immersed in the issues that were previously limited to ‘book learning.’ I can honestly say that this has changed the way that I view the world.”
After graduation, Wright is interested in working abroad through international business or the Foreign Service. For now, she plans to return to the states right before Christmas. PHC is looking forward to seeing Wright’s bright smile back on campus next semester as she finishes her course work before she graduates in May.