Every Tuesday morning, instead of walking to the Bempu office for work, I catch a ride to a children’s hospital in the Southern part of the city. The hospital is a well-known, government-run facility where children who need special attention are often referred. As I make my way to the hospital entrance, I pass by clusters of families that are speckled across the garden. Here, family members sit on the ground, converse, nap, share food out of containers brought from home; mostly, they wait. When a child needs medical attention, it is not unusual for the entire extended family to make the journey from the village to the hospital, prepared to wait until the child is safe to go home.
Inside the hospital, I walk past a long line of families trying to get their forms checked and vaccines taken care of. In another hallway, I pass a string of children sitting in their parents’ laps on the floor. Finally, I walk up the stairs to my destination: the OPD (outpatient department) room. I take my position in a chair in the back corner of the room, where I can stay out of the way and simply collect some information, help any parents who are using our device, and of course, observe.
Families with babies who were born preterm, low birth weight, or who suffer from a health problem come here for weekly follow-up visits. They get an individual consultation with one of the two doctors in the room, and their baby is measured for vitals, weight gain and head circumference growth. At the start of the day there is an orderly line of 60+ families trailing out the door, but within an hour, the room is chaotic with no space to move; babies wail as they are undressed on one side; mothers hold their babies tightly while hovering by the doctors, waiting patiently but making their presence known so they can be seen next; fathers carry small bags of medicines and folders of important forms; everyone eagerly seeks the doctors’ attention. In all honesty, the room sometimes gives me anxiety. Nonetheless, I have come to genuinely appreciate my Tuesdays in the OPD.
It is in this room that I’m consistently reminded of the oneness of the human spirit– of the emotions that connect us despite vast differences in experience, language, and perspective. Even when I don’t understand the conversations between the parents and doctors, I never feel out of the loop; I can always feel what the parents are feeling in the moments their child is being examined. I feel their fear when there may be a concern; I feel their sense of inadequacy when the baby hasn’t grown enough in the past week; and alternatively, I feel their pure joy and pride when the doctor approvingly comments on their baby’s development. Most of all, I am touched by the combination of complete exhaustion and unconditional, boundless love coming from these parents–the source of the exhaustion and the recipient of the love both being this little baby who is so unaware of what is even happening in the moment. Despite the fact that sometimes these mornings in the OPD can be draining, I feel extremely privileged to be a witness to these intimate moments between families, and they make me even more passionate about the work Bempu is doing to protect vulnerable babies from preterm birth complications.
November was World Prematurity Month. It’s a month to mobilize as a global community around the issue of prematurity–when babies are born too soon. Premature birth is the leading cause of death amongst children under 5 in the world. Specifically, India has the highest number of deaths from prematurity in the world. What’s striking though is that almost 3/4 of these deaths could be prevented with access to quality care, knowledge of simple healthy behaviors, and interventions like the Bempu Bracelet. This is why, this month, part of my project at Bempu was to run a Donation Initiative. We have a donation drive up on our website, and every 1000 INR ($15) donated will protect a baby in a rural or government facility for its entire critical neonatal period. The drive, which will be up and running through the holidays, is another way in which we are hoping to protect more babies across India.
This month I started to feel more settled into life in India, and had some amazing times in different parts of the country!
Visiting Jaipur for the AIIS Hindi course and spending a week with AIF Fellows Nisha, Ben, and Olivia.
When my parents visited Bangalore <3
Probably my favorite weekend so far in India — I got to celebrate Diwali with my entire family in Ahmedabad, as well as seven of the AIF Fellows. It was an incredible couple days of food, great energy, and fireworks.
I got to Skype into a conference in Washington D.C. to serve as a panelist! I spoke about the Bempu Hypothermia Alert Device, and challenges with monitoring and maintaining thermal stability.
I’m feeling very lucky to be here and have had such an awesome month. Thanks for reading!