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September 04, 2008 - Image 27

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2008-09-04

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Michael Jurewicz and a co-worker, a nurse, on a house call in an Indian village

The crowded streets of Vellore, India

Culture Shock


Local medical student sees heroic caregivers in India
turn simple tools into compassionate care.

othing I had read or heard
could have prepared me for the
heart-wrenching despair that
characterizes India and the immense pov-
erty of the Third World. "Culture shock" is
a term often invoked by travelers, but my
experience as a visiting medical student in
Vellore, India, evoked a "shock" to which I
could hardly adapt and that will stay with
me forever.
The general living conditions in the
majority of small towns in India (1-2 mil-
lion people is considered small) are unlike
anything I could have imagined. A country
of over a billion people with a limited
infrastructure makes for what appears on
the surface to be a constant state of chaos.
The narrow streets are packed with cars,
auto-rickshaws, ox-drawn carts and buses,
intermingled with strolling pedestrians.
There are no sidewalks and the air is
generally full of dust and honking horns
as drivers are constantly overtaking each
other just to slam on their brakes and nar-
rowly avoid catastrophe.
When you finally arrive at your des-
tination (shaking from the near-death
experience) and stop to look around, the
heartbreak sets in. The crumbling huts
and cinderblock shacks mixed among the
two- or three-room stucco houses are a
sight beyond words. The garbage littering
the streets and the primitive sewer system
lining the roads emanate a combined odor
that evokes feelings you may not have
known were possible. It is that feeling of
wanting so badly to help but knowing at

the same time that you cannot change

whole new meaning for the poor in India.
In addition to the people having so little
money, the hospitals were severely under
Life Changing
funded as well as under staffed. Lacking
Privileged and appreciative are feelings
the proper equipment and faced with an
that would be impossible for a visitor not
inordinate volume of patients, Indian doc-
to feel, but it was my medical
tors practice under conditions
experience that really had the
which are unimaginable. Most of
impact. The opportunity to
the outpatient clinics consist of
work in a hospital, a commu-
tiny exam rooms that have only
nity health clinic and make
a curtain as a door and at most
house calls was not only a
one computer shared by two to
learning experience, but also a
three physicians.
life experience.
Due to the demand to treat up
Making house calls on
to 100 patients in a day, there is
families in the slums of the
no time or space for privacy as
city and doing checkups in a
multiple patients are examined
mobile clinic in the neighbor-
in the same room and others are
ing villages immersed me into
constantly standing at the cur-
Special to the
Indian culture. It was unbe-
tain trying to get their "appoint-
Jewish News
lievable how little these people
ment" moved up. In addition,
had and yet how generous
because it is so hot in India, there
they were. As we entered a dwelling, chairs are rolling outages whereby multiple times
were brought in (our hosts sometimes
per day, the power shuts down.
having to borrow them from neighbors)
and tea or coffee was offered. The people
Life Goes On
were so appreciative that we were there to
Remarkably, things just continue as if
help them with their ailments and even to
nothing has happened. Even in the operat-
just listen to their problems.
ing rooms, the staff seems unfazed by this
It was painful to see children with
incredible distraction. They simply stop,
infected sores, to hear the stories of
take deep breaths and wait for the power
abused women and to be present as a
to come back on. I was amazed to observe
child was diagnosed with a disease in
how the physicians were able to stay calm
which a routine operation was necessary
and continue to administer a high quality
but could not be afforded. And through all of care.
this, we were always sent off with a smile
Health insurance is virtually non-exis-
and a blessing. Appreciation takes on a
tent in India. For the most part, patients

pay for medicines and surgeries out of
pocket, which leads to yet another prob-
lem that the physicians deal with. They
have to decide who deserves discounts on
their care, medication and tests. It is up to
them to be social workers as well, gather-
ing family and financial information and
counseling patients on how to proceed
with treatment that best suits them yet is
affordable. For all of these reasons, it is no
wonder that the doctors in India are con-
sidered royalty.
My Indian medical experience is one
that will remain with me forever, both
personally and professionally. As a young
Jewish Wayne State University medical
student in Detroit, having grown up in
affluent West Bloomfield, I found these
experiences truly life altering. It is inspir-
ing for a young physician-in-training to
witness how these heroic caregivers are
able to function with what few tools they
have and yet provide care to so many. I can
only hope to acquire a small increment of
their humanitarianism and resourceful-
ness for my own future endeavors.

Michael Jurewicz, 22, is a West Bloomfield

resident. He is a graduate of West Bloomfield
High School and Temple Israel Religious School

in West Bloomfield. In 2007, he graduated from

the University of Michigan. He is now a sec-
ond-year medical student in the Wayne State
University School of Medicine, Detroit. His

parents are Risa and Jay Levinson and Walter
Jurewicz, all of West Bloom field.

September 4 • 2008


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