I have put off writing this blog post for so long. I think the main reason is because words alone aren’t enough to sum up everything this trip was to me. How can a string of words do this mission, the human connection, and the memories justice? It was so much more than a medical mission and every passing day since this trip I have thought about India. So here goes nothing…Does anyone have a hanky?
Through FIGS’ Threads For Threads program, six healthcare providers and myself traveled to Manipur, India to deliver medical care. I knew nothing about Manipur before our arrival and was surprised to see it covered in gorgeous rice fields because it is on India’s eastern border, close to Burma! The language spoken is Meiteilon which has many dialects so the use of translators was imperative to our success. The weather is extremely humid and our temperatures were 80’s-90’s. We slept four to a room and used buckets to shower.
THREE DAYS, OVER 3,000 PATIENTS
Upon arrival to the hospital for our first day, a line of patients went out the hospital gates and all the way up the hill, without an end in sight. Come to find out our patients began lining up for our clinic at 4AM with an 8AM start time. Our patients waited so patiently in the humidity, under the sun, and some with multiple children. I had a few children seeking medical attention all alone because their parents had to work. We soon found out that the majority of the children we saw were seeing a healthcare provider for the first time in their lives!
As a nurse I was placed in triage. Our setup was simple; a tent with a few desks was where we triaged over 1,000 patients per day. We worked outside in intense humidity only focused on one thing, our patients. As the only pediatric nurse, I got to see the majority of the kiddos! We got a brief past medical history (with the help of our translators), vitals, and a height and weight. Based on the information we gathered, we would then send our patients to the necessary providers: Dental, Ophthalmology, Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine or OBGYN. If necessary, the patients could collect prescriptions at our pharmacy. We worked from sunrise until sundown utilizing some of the most incredible team work imaginable.
We found that some of our patients came to us after already seeking medical attention within Manipur. When asked why they replied that they felt more heard and seen by us. If this isn’t motivation what is?
On our third and last day a few of us went to the mobile clinic. The mobile clinic traveled into the mountain villages. Once again, the patients began waiting in line as early as 4AM to see us. Knowing this, we were driven to be the best we could be for all of our patients.
In a total of three days we were able to treat over three thousand patients! This was only possible because of our behind the scenes FIGS crew. Without their motivation, snacks, and jokes we may not have been able to accomplish everything we did. This team made such an impact and it was an honor being part of it.
After debriefing with the team of healthcare providers, we realized we were all seeing recurring issues. With some digging, we realized the majority of the healthcare problems stemmed from the Betel Nut.
The Betel Nut is a nut that is chewed for an energy high. Similar to tobacco, it is highly addictive because of the euphoria it provides. However, this little nut is carcinogenic and is highly linked with oral cancer and cancer of the esophagus. It is no wonder gastritis is so common when chewing the Betel Nut. More so, if chewed when pregnant it is associated with low birth weights and resulting failure to thrive in the child.
Given the aforementioned, can you guess what we saw a lot of? Dental decay, gastritis, and failure to thrive were some of our most common diagnoses!
We also found another cause to the ever-present gastritis trend. I can’t begin to tell you how many patients we saw with burning eyes and intense stomach pain. After using our translators to ask about home life for our patients, we found that it is common practice to cook meals indoors over burning trash.
This shook me to the core. Something so simple and so preventable is causing so much pain. This goes to show the power of patient education and I will never undermine the power of education again.
Brittany Odom, MD
People can’t believe that I met Britt for the first time in India. Our connection was immediate and palpable. It was as though we had known each other for years. Britt was our Pediatrician in India. Packed in her FIGS fanny pack were bouncy balls for all our kiddos (yes, she brought bouncy balls all the way from the US for her patients because she is an angel). This goes to show how thoughtful this human is. I don’t think there was a second she didn’t have a smile on her face. This beautiful soul was put on this earth to take care of her babies and I have every intention of flying my future children all the way to Florida to get the best medical care they can from her.
Laura Gluck, RN
Laura was my nursing right-hand-man in triage. Laura is a post-op recovery RN that has such a hunger for learning and pushing herself. I was lucky enough to share a room with her both in Manipur and Delhi. Our time together consisted of her dropping SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE about nursing, love, and life. She took the reins as charge nurse and organized all of the patients and triage nurses so well. I will never forget the lessons she taught me about loving myself in such a selfless profession and I still text her to this day if I need advice.
Michelle Maneevese, MD
Easily one of the most fascinating people I have ever met! Michelle is an Interventional Radiologist fellow at Yale. She studied theater undergrad and it shows in her bubbly, optimistic, and contagious happiness. She may be small but she doesn’t get pushed around. She always advocates for her patients and will strive for nothing less. Watching her in action was nothing short of inspiring. I hope to one day be as strong of an advocate for my patients as she.
Xochitl Renteln, PA-C
Xochitl is a Physician Assistant that currently practices Cosmetic Dermatology. Xochitl made some of the hardest diagnoses in India. Not only did she help treat multiple patients, but she also had a way of reassuring everyone she treated. Everyone who left her room felt heard and validated. Her smile beamed beyond the hospital doors. That smile alone made her patients and all of us feel better.
Jeff Toll, MD
Jeff is an Internal Medicine doctor. El Jefe is the life of the party, and if there is no party he will make one. He provided endless witty banter with the crew which kept us laughing nonstop. After some time, Jeff opened up and revealed an even deeper layer. We started off as seven strangers and are now bound by vulnerability and our medical work in India.
Levi Powell, DDS
Levi is one of the hardest working people I know. I don’t think I heard Levi complain once, instead he was focused on making sure his patients and all of us were okay. It’s no wonder all of his patients came out smiling, even if they had teeth pulled. He is one of the good ones. No scratch that, he is one of the best ones.
Human connection changes lives.
-Six strangers turned into six of the deepest relationships of my life.
-We impacted thousands of lives in Manipur.
-Never EVER underestimate the power of education.
-Sometimes the biggest impact you can make is making someone feel seen or heard.