I volunteered for a non-profit organization called Arthritis Foundation of Asia for the first
time on 19 February 2017. Trust me, it was one of the best decisions I've made and the
memories of which I will cherish for a long time to come.
An arthritis camp was conducted in a remote village Chanrayapatna, India. I was one of the leading volunteers in this camp. I’m the kind of person who notices and takes pleasure in every small thing, so for me, this camp was a wonderful experience. I'm very excited to share all the details about the camp and in the end, I hope to convince you to volunteer for such noble causes.
So, my day started like this- it was four in the morning when I heard the dreaded alarm clock ringing, but I surprised myself when I woke up instantly without pressing the snooze button. By five I was ready and waiting at BDA complex, where I was supposed to catch a bus to the venue. I met many other young volunteers who were also waiting for the bus, and we got to chatting. I made some of my closest friends on that very day. The bus ride was so much fun and the air was filled with energy and excitement. The drive to do something selfless had gotten over me and all I could think about was the satisfactory feeling I would experience after spending a day so fruitfully.
It took approximately 2 hours to reach the government hospital at Chanrayapatna. We first took a tour of the hospital so we would get to know where the different screening, consultation and treatment rooms were. I hate to admit this, but the hospital was extremely primitive with hardly any advanced technology. However, the doctors who were working for the NGO had made sure to bring along with them the essential materials to make up for this short coming. After the hospital tour, we gulped down a wholesome breakfast and set off to begin a very busy day.
As soon as the clock ticked 8, I had my hands full. All the rural patients had already been registered through an app. This made it very easy to keep count of the number of patients and to document their details. I was overwhelmed on seeing so many poor people suffering from a dreaded but ignored disease. For some reason, arthritis has not got much attention in India the way cancer or tuberculosis does. Most of the time the patients themselves are not aware of the disease they have. For example, if a 50-year- old, uneducated woman suddenly felt a stinging pain in her knees, she wouldn’t bother to go see a doctor immediately. Instead, she would try out some home remedies for a long time until the condition of her knees worsens. Obviously, the home remedies cannot cure arthritis, so she could end up with a life-threatening condition such as rheumatoid arthritis which has to be treated at the early stages. This was the story of most of the people who attended the camp. Many of them could not even walk. I was extremely disheartened to hear about the plight of the poor patients. Due to lack of proper infrastructure and money, they had not received the required treatment .The goal of the NGO is to provide free treatment for all rural patients suffering from any form of arthritis.
One of the best things about this camp was that I could communicate with the patients in my mother tongue because of which I was able to understand them better. As we shared a common language, it brought me closer to the people and it enhanced my experience. The process which was followed for treating the patients was very well organized and systematic. As most of the patients were uneducated, I had to guide them through every step. The first step was to take the patient to a screening room where I had to check their BP, pulse rate and note down their medical history. The rest of the investigations were carried out by a doctor. Each patient had a file of their own with all the necessary details which an orthopedic doctor would need for carrying out further investigations. I circulated coupons to the patients and their numbers were called for consultation one by one.
The doctor examined the patient and wrote down the details of the tests that had to be performed. Almost all the patients had to be taken for an X-Ray. The NGO had made good use of technology and a soft copy of all the X-rays were created and sent to the doctor. The patients had to be taken to the laboratory for various blood tests too. After getting the results of their tests, they had to be taken back to the consultation room. The doctor would then discus the diagnosis and treatment options. Right after this, the patients came to me with a clueless look on their face because they hardly understood what was written in the file and the names of the medicines that they had to buy confused them. So I had to make everything that the doctor had written very clear to them and then take them to the pharmacy so that they could get all the prescribed medicines.
As most of the patients could hardly walk, one of the biggest challenges I faced was taking them to the various rooms. I distinctly remember one old man who had a completely bent spine and it was impossible for him to even stand up straight. I was extremely busy with all the other patients when an old lady who looked perplexed caught my eye. I went over to talk to her, and she told me that she was unable to get her husband out of the rickshaw. So I grabbed a wheel chair and followed her. The old man had tried to get out of the vehicle on his own but had failed to do so. He had fallen and had got stuck between the seats. He was crying with pain, and I was afraid the position in which he was stuck would cause more injury to his already bent spine. With a lot of difficulty, I managed to place him on the wheelchair. The old lady was pouring out all her problems to me and I felt so helpless. I was wondering whether the NGO could take up an initiative to provide electric chairs or other equipments that could make the life of patients suffering from bone deformities easier. But at the moment all I could do was make him feel comfortable by conversing in a friendly and positive manner. Unfortunately, the story of this man did not have a happy ending as the orthopedic surgeon said there was nothing much that could be done to cure him. First of all he was really old, so a complicated surgery at that age would be very risky. Also, the deformity was too deep, and the doctor said he cannot give assurance about a positive result even after performing a surgery. I could feel my heart sink on hearing this and my mind was racing. I kept thinking about how this man could've been cured if only he had consulted a doctor in the early stages of the disease rather than ignoring it for so many years.
One of the most astonishing cases I came across on that day was a child who was suffering from arthritis!I was shocked on seeing a small, sweet girl with swollen joints and bone deformities. I wanted to know more about her condition, so I guided her parents and her through all the procedures and looked for an opportunity to ask the doctor a few questions. He was very patient with me and explained to me all about juvenile arthritis. Traditionally, a child complaining of occasional achy joints was dismissed as having “growing pains,” a vague phenomenon believed to be the result of the natural growth process. But what we must realize is that symptoms of joint pain, swelling, stiffness, fatigue or illness may be early signals of a serious, inflammatory rheumatic disease that requires immediate medical treatment. Several rheumatic diseases affect children, often those who are too young to speak about what’s bothering them. In such cases, it’s important not to assume these symptoms are temporary, and to get a proper diagnosis from a pediatrician. The most common type of juvenile arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis, formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Children as young as two may be affected by this. Other rheumatic diseases affecting children include juvenile dermatomyositis, juvenile psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic arthritis, or Still’s disease. To be honest, until that day I was under the impression that it's the old people who are usually affected by arthritis. This was like an eye opener for me. The little girl was more comfortable talking to me than the doctor, so I began with a friendly conversation and then made her explain all her symptoms to the doctor. Fortunately, it was not too late to treat her and the doctor told her not to lose hope.
During the course of the day, I realized that the biggest problem was that the people were not aware that a very vague, seemingly insignificant symptom such as stiff joints could lead to horrifying diseases in the long term. I decided that the next time I attend such a camp, I would also address the rural people with a goal to create awareness among them. Everyone deserves to live a long , healthy and happy life. Moreover, diseases such as arthritis can threaten the livelihood of the rural people as their principal occupation is agriculture which requires a lot of physical exertion. Since 60% of the Indian population is involved in agriculture, this disability could indirectly affect the economy of the country. So, why should ignorance prevent the poor and uneducated people from achieving their full potential? I then decided to use any opportunity to convey my message to the people, so I started conversing with the patients while I was taking them for screening, consultation and while helping them get the required medicines. I tried my best to tell them how important it is to get regular health checkups done just to be on the safe side. I also explained to them that they must prioritize health care over other things because without a healthy body it is impossible to solve any other problems. But I was always left speechless when the patients told me that they just cannot afford unnecessary heath checkups. At this point I thought that the government must provide better and free health services to these rural people. However, I did not get a very good feeling about the working of the government hospitals when I inspected the Chanrayapatna Government Hospital.
All the volunteers were sent for a lunch break at 2:00 pm. After working tirelessly for 6 hours, the food we got tasted heavenly. I did not waste more than 30 minutes eating because I really wanted to get back to work. Many patients were showing up and there were not many people available to help them out. I spent the next 5 hours working as efficiently as possible. In the end of the day, around 900 people had attended the camp and surgeries had to be arranged for 400 patients. I learnt so much from this camp and helped so many underprivileged patients. I believe that if more NGOs come forward and take up initiatives to address diseases such as arthritis and more youngsters join hands to volunteer for these NGOs, we really could make a difference in many lives.