Atithi Devo Bhava

When I was roughly 12 years old, my parents and I took a weekend trip to Monterey Bay. As we walked around the hotel, we came across the “Hospitality” Center. I exclaimed something along the lines of, “Oh! They have a hospital!” My father has never let me live down my mistake.

Speaking of hospitals, aside from a one time food poisoning incident, we have all been very healthy, and we have all felt very fortunate to not have had any health problems while in Madurai. The worst of our health problems are the mosquitos. And too much really good Indian food!

“Atithi Devo Bhava” means the guest is God. The Sanskrit saying stems from traditional stories where Gods arrived at people’s homes disguised as normal people. (Sounds like the stories from Ancient Greece or from Christianity that I have heard). This belief has led to a strong tradition of hospitality which remains alive even in the modern day. Sam Ware and Christina Wu (Aravind 2012) warned us that people we would meet would invite us to their homes. I say “warned” because in a Western setting no one would invite you to their home 5 minutes after meeting you and if they did, you would start running in the opposite direction, suspecting some sinister intentions. Since an early age, kids are taught “not to accept candy from strangers.” India couldn’t be more different.

At the gym, a man approached me. “Hi. You were at the MeenakshiTemple on Tuesday with two friends. I was there with my wife. How long have you been in India for? Would you like to have dinner with my family sometime soon?” I was definitely surprised, but I was prepared for this event. At the beginning of our stay, Gaby had been similarly approached by someone else at the gym, but we never managed to coordinate schedules. The man introduced himself as Shanmugam, and we made arrangements for dinner. On the set evening, he picked us up from the Inspiration Hostel and drove us to his home.

I will admit I was nervous. What if the food was ridiculously spicy? What if they didn’t give me any silverware and I made a fool of myself with my limited finger food skills?

Two minutes into the meal, we all felt right at home, and I knew that this is undoubtedly the best meal I’ve had in 8 months (last time I was home!!). The nicest restaurants don’t compare to a home cooked meal. Shanmugam asked us to rate his wife’s cooking. We all said A+. While we asked questions about Indian traditions and foods, they wanted to know about colleges in America.

A few days later I had a similar experience at the Sivanada Yoga Center. I attended their Sunday evening session of Meditation and Satsanga. Again, I was surprised by the warmth of the people I met. They immediately invited me to have dinner with them. Drinking mango lassies and sharing various Indian dishes, the eight of us seemed like a group of long time friends, even though several others were newcomers. I have never felt so at ease with people I’ve just met. Based on the people I have met here, it seems that Indian people have a special ability to make you feel welcome.

This ability is exceptionally prevalent at Aravind. One of the objectives of our study is to assess the overall satisfaction of the patients of the Retina & Vitreous Clinic. The last question on our questionnaire allows for the patients to provide any additional comments they might have about their experience at Aravind. Their answers have really highlighted the importance of a strong patient-staff (doctor/nurse) interaction. Many of the older patients will say that the nurses feel just like their own children. Patients state that they do trust the diagnosis of the doctor and that they are satisfied with the explanations given to them by the counselors. It is the job of the counselor to explain in further detail the doctor’s diagnosis, to alleviate any anxiety, and to clarify any questions the patient might have. Whether it is in the operating room or in the counselor’s office, I have seen the impact that warm human interaction has on a patient’s experience. While observing Dr. Usha in the operating room, I saw a case that demonstrated the great compassion that doctors at Aravind have for their patients. The female patient lying on the bed was not an Aravind patient. She had had surgery to remove a pituitary adenoma, and her sutures needed to be removed. The hospital where she had her surgery was farther away, and she was admitted to Dr. Usha’s OR to have the sutures removed. No anesthesia was applied, and the woman howled in pain. Throughout the procedure, Dr. Usha’s soothing voice was able to relieve the stress of the patient. Afterwards, Dr. Usha continued conversing with the patient, asking her about her health. It was evident that this show of concern and care from the doctor did more to alleviate the pain of the patient than any anesthetic could. I hope that someday soon I will be providing patients with compassionate care that helps them overcome their most trying and painful moments.

In other news, look who we found in Madurai! Kim Kolor! Kim is a Southeast Asian and Religious studies major at UPenn. It was fun to meet a fellow UPenn student halfway around the world. It’s nice to know that no matter where I go, the UPenn community will be there!

Shamugam and his family

Shamugam and his family

The three of us and Kim at Andhra Curry
The three of us and Kim at Andhra Curry

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About dblidarescu

A 2014 Penn grad, I am exploring the next step in my professional development. I had the opportunity to do the CASI Aravind 2013 program.