Our lives are full of memorable moments and experiences. I, for one, will never forget the things I saw, the people I met, the sounds I heard, and even the various scents I smelled during my experience in India this past summer. It was a trip filled with exciting firsts, comical cultural misunderstandings, and plenty of incredible opportunities. I was blessed with the opportunity to not only visit and spend time with my extended family, but also to venture into an entirely new and alien world - surgery.
The moment we landed in New Delhi, I was immediately taken aback by the intense heat. We got into a taxi and as we slowly drove along in the unending traffic, the heat consumed and bit through my mother’s and my skin. Once we reached my paternal grandmother’s house, it was around 12:30 am. Not expecting to see anyone awake, I was delightfully surprised to see my frail old grandmother outside eagerly awaiting our arrival. We were directed into her apartment and the second we sat down, my grandmother asked if we were hungry. I quickly responded, “Oh no, we ate so much on the plane.” She, however, insisted that we eat something as it is the “Indian way” to feed your guests even if their bellies are plenty full already. We obliged and soon went off to bed. The next ten days flew by with incredible speed. We visited various temples, malls, schools, shops, roadside food stops, among many other places.
When it was time to leave New Delhi and head on over to Kanpur (a day’s train-ride away), I must say I was rather sad. I was leaving not only my paternal grandmother, but also my two cousins and my aunt. But nonetheless, my mother and I packed our bags and headed off to my maternal grandparents’ home. It was a lengthy trip and by the time we reached Kanpur it was evening. We were greeted by my grandfather, whom I affectionately call Nana. Once we reached home, I was so excited to finally see my grandmother (Nani) after so long. We chatted, caught up, ate, and had a grand time.
After a few days, it was time for me to start my internship, if you will, at the Cardiology Institute. The Cardiology Institute of Kanpur had graciously allowed me to watch heart surgery in their operating theaters. I was incredibly nervous as this would be my first time in a new environment in which I could only speak in Hindi and no English. The first bit of the first day was spent sitting in on my Nana’s class. My heart was beating rapidly moments before we entered the class. What would the students be like? What will they think of me? The moment I entered, I was cheerfully greeted by a group of bright-eyed students. Nana asked me to introduce myself. As I awkwardly delivered an incoherent and garbled up introduction in Hindi, I quickly sat in the back of the classroom. It was fascinating to see the way these college students interacted. I mean, I know that they’re students just as I am, but there was this certain image I had imagined of them being very studious and prudent. But seeing them goofing off and engaging in camaraderie made me feel closer - culturally and personally - to all of the students in the class; they too were just like me. Over time, I grew closer to the kids in the class and started calling them by name. Pragati was the headstrong gal who liked to yell her points across the room. Priyanka was the quiet and introverted girl who knew all the answers to my Nana’s questions. Neelam was the girl who always asked me questions about my life back home in the States. I enjoyed my time in the class and hope that one day I shall be able to meet the students again.
Now, the main part of my internship was the surgery watching. The first day was most unfamiliar. I wasn’t sure what the protocol was or what was expected of me or what was okay and not okay to say. It was also really hard to find scrubs that fit me as I’m 5’9”. The only pants that fit me were men’s.
The days I spent at the Institute were absolutely incredible. Throughout my journey, I managed to maintain a diary. Out of all of the procedures I watched, the most fascinating and complex was written about in my journal as follows:
“They began prepping the patient by putting him on anesthesia and then injecting all of the various tubing necessary to sustain him. The doctors then started cutting open the chest after cleaning it and laying a sterile sheet around the patient. After they had cut open the sternum and the pericardium, Dr. Verma entered the room to do the procedure. Clear and thick tubes were placed into the aorta and the pulmonary artery in order to remove all of the oxygenated blood from the body. Then spiraled tubes were placed into the inferior and superior vena cava to remove all of the deoxygenated blood. The blood was being sucked out and was going through a bypass machine. Instead of going through the heart, the blood and oxygen would be taken to all of the various organs via the machine. Once the blood was being drained, the heart was slowly stopped. After a few minutes it was at a complete standstill. Dr. Verma then began his official procedure. He first made an incision in the right atrium. The patient had a ventricular septal defect or VSD. This VSD was causing the central venous lining to not properly separate the different heart chambers, ultimately mixing the deoxygenated and oxygenated blood. This can cause bluing of the skin, shortness of breath, and low oxygen levels. In order to fix the problem the doctor used a particular type of cloth to cover up the problem area. He expertly stitched up the ventricular septum and then moved on to the next problem at hand. He made a large incision in the aorta. Once he had reached far enough, he sutured a mechanic valve into the aortic wall. Dr. Verma then moved onto his final issue. The patient had an infundibular pulmonary stenosis or IPS. In other words part of the path from the right ventricle was blocked. Once that section was cut open, he expanded the path by using a dilator. After this was finished, he quickly sutured all of the openings and the asked the anesthesiologist to ventilate the patient and the perfusionist to start the heart again. The patient was closed up and the operation was a success.”
Every now and then Dr. Verma would strike up a conversation with me. This would always be very interesting. I had a very thick American accent so the conversations we had were usually intermittently interjected by various grunts and “huh’s?” as we both barely understood each other. The few times I did understand him, I recall him giving me a wild analogy of how the human heart is like a little monkey or “bandar” as it’s said in Hindi. I had so much fun talking with Dr. Verma and Anandini the anesthesiologist and all of the other fantastic staff members. Every day when I went back home, I would share all of the juicy details of my day at the institute with my grandparents and my mother.
When it was time to go back to The States, my heart was heavy, but my mind was full with all of the enriching new things I was taking back with me. From all of the funny moments to all of the serious ones, I had an amazing experience in India. I learned, I laughed, and I loved all that the beautiful country had to offer me. I hope to go back soon.