A few days ago, I walked into Aravind Eye Hospital’s Outpatient Clinic at 8:30 AM, half an hour before work generally begins to meet a nurse in the pediatric department. She made time out of her day serving hundreds of children to speak with me, an intern, about ideas for my project. Even at this early hour, I saw a multitude of diverse faces, all looking for the right clinic or the canteen or even their loved ones. I have learned during my first two weeks how to navigate this (sometimes overwhelming) sea of people from different walks of life. When I decided to come to Aravind, I was told about the uniqueness of the system and the huge array of people it serves. But it wasn’t until I stepped into the hospital alone on the first day of work that I truly understood what this entailed.
That very first day, I entered the hospital looking for a specific staff member. I asked a lady at the front desk about where to find her. I have now grown accustomed to speaking in one or two words when trying to find my way around to minimize confusion or miscommunication, but that first time, I was utterly embarrassed at my inability to communicate effectively. Although I got instructions that were completely clear, I ended up on the wrong floor talking with the wrong person, who just coincidentally had the same name as the person I was supposed to meet. While this is now a comical memory, anxious me on the first day of work worried that all my interactions this summer would end up that way.
Another encounter from that same day reminded me why I came to Aravind and how thankful I am for this experience. As I waited in the waiting room of the pediatric clinic to talk to a doctor, a 6 or 7-year-old girl in a bright pink, fluffy dress came and sat next to me. Her mother was with her and was talking and joking with her as parents often do to make the time pass more quickly. The girl peeked over at me with curiosity (despite the fact that I am Indian by origin and wear Indian clothing, patients in the clinics somehow always seem to know I’m not from here and stare with curiosity). Since we were waiting and she seemed bored, I decided to try my luck in talking to her. “What is your name?” I asked. In response, she smiled brightly and timidly hid behind her mother, who then continued the conversation in broken English. The little girl’s reaction and her mother’s amazing effort in talking to me captures many of the interactions I have had since I arrived at Aravind. Everyone seems curious about who I am, and they are all extremely appreciative and supportive of my work. This curiosity is mutual, and as a result, I am constantly learning new things from my many interactions with patients and staff at Aravind. Also, the patients and staff all try their best to speak with me in English despite the initial disappointment that despite my Indian origin, I know no Tamil.
Suffice it to say, my time at Aravind so far has made me even more grateful for this experience than I already was. In two weeks, I have gotten lost in the hospital and managed to find my way out. I have met so many incredible patients and staff. I climbed a mountain and hiked with LAICO (Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology) staff, which was definitely out of my comfort zone (going to a park is generally the most nature I can handle). I have seen a completely different side of medicine as I waited with an apprehensive mother as her premature baby screamed while getting tested for Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) right in front of her. I have seen so much in such little time, and I can only imagine how much more I have yet to see.