Journey in Dhenkanal

By Shoshanna Goldin
Wake Forest University Student
Global Impact Fellow

My New Home

The adventures begin on the flight from Newark to London. My seatmate was one of those nervous flyers you see in movies. Six and a half hours later, I was thrilled to land in the Heathrow Airport where I spent the next 13 hours perusing scones and watching frantic international passengers race through the airport with cucumber sandwiches and hot tea in hand. Barely time to taste London’s treats before the flight to Delhi boarded.

A relaxing eight hours later, we were on the ground at Delhi International Airport. A two-hour flight to Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, then a three hour drive brought me to Dhenkanal. Population of 70,000 with 75% of its residents living below the poverty line, Dhenkanal was my destination. Kalinga Eye Hospital and Research Centre is located in this small central city. My home for the next seven weeks, Kalinga Eye Hospital offers quality eye care for thousands of residents in the impoverished state of Orissa. Immediately, I met the paramedics. My limited Hindi, their English, and plenty of pantomiming broke through our language barrier and made for a memorable introduction. Jetlagged and safe, I had my first cup of chai and hit the colorful Indian sheets.

Orissa, like much of India, is very religion focused. Walking through the main street, you pass approximately fourteen temples in about 2 kilometers. Each of the temples is elaborately adorned with images of monkeys, tigers, and various god statues welcoming visitors inside. I arrived in Dhenkanal the day before the Rath Yatra Festival that's primarily celebrated in the state of Orissa. This a huge festival marks Lord Jaannath's annual visit to Gundichamata's temple. People pull a huge colorful chariot with three god statues to a different temple and return the chariot and gods to the original temple nine days later. Symbolic and beautiful, the festival was a wonderful introduction my new home.

First Outreach Camp

One of Kalinga Eye Hospital’s most significant programs is the 197 outreach camps they do each year. Awakened at 5 AM by the rooster outside the window, I started gathering my supplies for the camp. Twenty minutes later, two paramedics, several post op cataract patients, and I were on our way. A three hour drive through rural India feels like wandering through a green, brown, exotic tapestry. Finally experienced my first chai stand--all the flavor of Starbucks with so much more personality! We dropped the post-op patients off in their village and continued on. Roads filled with dirt hills, absolutely no traffic laws, and plenty of stares through the window at the foreigner ensued.

The outreach camp was filled in a rundown medical clinic. Our examining room consisted of one bench for the patients to lie down on and a chair covered in newspaper and piled with medical supplies. After watching the preliminary exams of a couple patients, I was introduced to the resident doctor. He spent the next three hours teaching me the difference between immature, mature, and hyper-mature cataracts (the key is to shine a flashlight in the eyes and watch for a cloudy orb). We packed with fourteen new cataract patients to bring to Kalinga Eye Hospital.

Working at Kalinga

After two and a half weeks, we established a routine. Several hours of interviews fill the morning. Social media updates, grant proposals, brochures, and surgeries fill up the afternoons. We visit with the paramedics during the evening. The paramedics have taught us everything from how to properly eat a guava to how to properly wear a sari (we were pleating them all wrong before).

After garnering approval from all levels of the hospital, we changed up the floor plan. The waiting room no longer looks like it’s designed to hold 40 rowdy 4th grade students. We’ve opened the space, found reading material, and added coloring pages to the new waiting room table. Crayola crayons have been a huge hit with the hospital visitors and the paramedics!

Research

IRB approval came through so I could finally start interviews. With a paramedic to translate, I surveyed my first interviewees. Plugging their responses into Excel was one of the most satisfying feelings in a long time. My other projects for the next few weeks include improving the social media platform and applying for more grants.

Researching the misconceptions of pediatric eye care was fascinating! The question “what do sunglasses do” generated particularly interesting responses. I heard everything from “they cool the eyes” to “they provide dust and insect protection”.

After 154 interviews, I analyzed the survey data. My first paper discusses the obstacles and factors involved in patients’ decision to seek treatment at Kalinga Eye Hospital (a specialized hospital) versus a local clinic, while the second paper analyzes misconceptions of pediatric eye care in rural Orissa. I will be presenting my research at the Unite For Sight Global Health & Innovation Conference.

Surgeries

In seven weeks, I witness almost 400 cataract surgeries. From seventy year old men with cheeky grins to an adorable child with misaligned eyes, I’ve chatted (in a mixture of Hindi, Orya, English, and hand gestures) with patients of every age and size from all over Orissa.

Each surgery Dr. Padna performed took just under 3 minutes because each and every action he performed was smooth and precise. His smooth, precise movements were mesmerizing. Kerry, my fellow volunteer, and I stood for four hours, awe-struck, as he replaced the cloudy cataract with a new, clear lens. Watching the surgery felt similar to watching dirty windows being swiftly wiped clean and sparkling—after all, the eyes are the windows to the soul.

Reflections

Volunteering at Kalinga Eye Hospital was eye opening (pun intended)! What other summer experience grants you the opportunity to delve into independent research while gaining a comprehensive understanding of systematic hospital care and contributing to the success of incredible ophthalmologic care?

Unite For Sight offers undergraduate students interested in global health, ophthalmology, pediatrics, or sustainable care an incredibly unique opportunity. Thank you, Unite For Sight and Kalinga Eye Hospital & Research Centre, for making this fellowship possible!