I’ve now been working in Madurai for approximately 3 weeks, and suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot. Aravind Eye Hospital is one of the largest (and in my opinion, one of the most impressive) eye care systems in the world, and it runs on a completely self-sustaining model of hyper-efficiency. Over half of the patients Aravind treats receive completely free care, and the other 45% pay barely a fraction of what would be required in the United States. The way the hospital is run is incredible; every doctor, every MLOP (mid-level ophthalmologic personnel, who, as a side note, are all young women hired from surrounding villages), and every administrator are working around the clock to provide for the 2500+ people who come in each day.
As for me, I’ve established at least a little bit of a routine. My work schedule is Monday through Saturday, 9 am to 6 pm (yes, we work Saturday, too), but that’s nothing compared to what the actual employees of Aravind are doing as they work toward the hospital’s mission of preventing needless blindness. My project here is to create a standardized system to assess and measure quality in the diagnosis and treatment of diabetic retinopathy (DR). Diabetes is India’s fastest growing disease (already over 78.5 million people have it), and the number of people losing their vision as a result of diabetes and DR is increasing at alarming rates. Aravind has already made extraordinary strides in increasing access to DR treatment, from working with Google to create an AI that can remotely diagnose DR to screening for diabetes in bi-weekly camps in villages hours outside of Madurai. My role, in essence, is to help the staff of the retina sub-speciality clinic choose relevant parameters for ensuring high quality and high efficiency care.
These past few weeks, I’ve researched in the Aravind library, surrounded by thousands of scientific articles, journals, and publications. I’ve spent hours in the retina clinic and operating theater, where I’ve seen my fair share of eyeballs, which are more than a little unnerving to see being operated on. I’ve met with doctors, residents, fellows, MLOPs, and administrators, and I’ve made a lot of new friends in the process.
I found a gym near the hostel where one of my co-interns and I are taking kick-boxing classes after work every day, so among all of the laughing and learning we’ve been doing here, exercise (which is necessary given how much we’re eating) is another part of my routine. The one thing I haven’t managed to integrate successfully into my day-to-day life is doing my laundry. Yesterday, I spent the better part of three hours hand-washing all of the clothes I’ve worn over the past few weeks because until yesterday, I had managed to get away with buying new Kurtis and palazzo pants instead of washing the ones I had. Unfortunately, my clothing budget is effectively gone, and I had to resort to the less costly option: doing laundry.
However, trying to make every day the same is a fruitless endeavor here at Aravind. My working hours might not change, but every time I go into the hospital, start work at the office, or just go exploring the city, I’m talking to someone interesting, discovering something new, and trying something different. Therefore, there is no reason why my laundry needs to be done every day. And yes, the two are definitely related.
Life at Aravind has been a true whirlwind so far, from exploring Meenakshi Temple while acting as a tour guide to my co-interns after reading about it on Wikipedia, to taking two overnight buses in 24 hours to go to Pondicherry on our day off, to having my first successful auto-rickshaw price negotiation. I’ve gotten used to the heat, learned a few words in Tamil, and finally figured out my way around the block where we live. I even found an espresso machine in the office.
In summary, I love my job.
P.S. Netflix doesn’t work for me in the hostel where we are, so please, please, comment with book recommendations.