In India, the pace and scents are different. Johanna Svensson and Jaskirt Matharu went to Hyderabad to make a difference while working on their master’s theses.
Text by: Tindra Englund Translation by: Elise Petersson
The fans in the ceiling whirr loudly and the corridors are filled with cancer patients and their families. But here in the office, a couple of doctors and nurses have gathered to listen to the Swedish students who are about to present their work. One of the women working at the hospital hands out small cups of sweet tea and cookies that look like drömmar. (t/n. drömmar is a type of Swedish shortbread)
Johanna Svensson and Jaskirt Matharu are both studying their second to last semester at the medical program at Lund University. But right now the lecture halls feel far away. Namely because they have spent the past couple of weeks at the cancer hospital MNJ in Hyderabad, India, gathering data for their master’s theses.
“To us, it’s been a way to use this time to not only receive course credit, but also to be of help. We have researched things that the hospital is interested in knowing, but doesn’t have the personnel to do”, Jaskirt says.
Jaskirt has researched how close to their deaths the patients at the hospital go through different treatments to see if they are being treated for “too long”. A task which required her to read over one hundred handwritten medical journals.
“The journal system here is very different. Among other things is that they’re handwritten, which can make it hard to interpret what is written”, Jaskirt says.
Despite this she has, through her systematic reading, managed to show that only about half of the patients receive some sort of palliative care before they die. Which means care that in some cases will shorten the patient’s life rather than prolong it, but in return makes it almost painless and more worth living. Others continue a treatment meant to cure them until the end. A number which seems to shock the audience in the room.
“This information is very useful to us and it will change how we work with these patients in the future”, states Jean Jacob, one of the doctors present.
He tells us that the Indian research involving care near the end of one’s life is very limited and that you’re often forced to rely on western research. One of the reasons why it is like that is that many people believe that palliative care is wrong from a religious point of view.
After an hour of waiting, one of the secretaries enters the room and says that the doctor who was supposed to evaluate Johanna unfortunately cannot make it. This means that Johanna’s part of the study will have to wait until the next day.
“I’m not that surprised, that’s just how it is here and we’ve spent a lot of time waiting”, Johanna says and laughs.
Despite the rough patches she does not regret coming here to do her research.
“It actually feels a bit useful to come here and encounter this relaxed attitude, where everything is allowed to take its time. Learning to accept things as they are instead of getting worked up. Furthermore, I am time and time again impressed by how effective work is here despite everything”, Johanna says.
The purpose of her study has been to research how well leukemia treatments are being done at the hospital.
“I’ve gone through medical journals and compared recommended medicine doses to actual medicine doses. The thought is that if there is a large deviation it could show why the survival percentage is lower here”, Johanna says.
Even if a large portion of their time in India has been spent at the hospital they have also seen quite a bit of the million city of Hyderabad. They have visited the Salar Jung museum, which is one of the largest museums in the world, and the large ruin city Golkonda which was built in the 1100s.
They were also invited by a family to celebrate the big Indian holiday Dussehra together.
“Being able to celebrate Dussehra was very exciting and the atmosphere was nice, with lots of neighbors who came over to visit each other. But it was a bit tough too since we stood out so much, and in the end there were a bit too many people who wanted to take selfies together”, Johanna says.
Johanna and Jaskirt still agree that it is not the large and majestic buildings or the craziest ceremonies that left the biggest impressions.
“The little things are the coolest, and the it’s the meetings with people that I will remember the most. When you meet a child that doesn’t know any English and is overjoyed when you are able to communicate”, says Johanna.
Jaskirt agrees that meeting the patients has made the biggest impression.
“In connection with visiting Hospice the other day where they had invited relatives to the deceased. The thought was that the relatives would able to meet and talk about how things had been lately”, Jaskirt says.
Jaskirt says that despite most relatives being parents of children who had died from cancer, and despite that the mourning was immense, there was also a form of gratefulness for the care and pain relief they had received at the end.
Both Jaskirt and Johanna think that the people of India are more open in showing their mourning than we are used to in Sweden. And if anyone passes away people gather and mourn together.
“It’s really amazing how families at the hospital support and help each other”, Johanna says.
The following evening it is time to say farewell, and it is with some melancholy that they put their bags in the taxi. It is noticeable that India has left a significant impression on the two medical students.
“This has been an amazing experience, and I really want to recommend others to take the opportunity if they can. Even if it requires a little extra work before you take off it’s definitely worth it”, Jaskirt says.
Night settles over Hyderabad, with all of its scents and sounds. Further down the street innumerable merchants unpack their fruits and vegetables in preparation for the weekly night market.
The night is tepid and full of smog.