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India 2011: Part 1

Sometimes at my house we joke that it’s “that time of year again.” This Friday, Nov. 4th, Bette and I will leave with Chapel Missions India for our fourth medical mission trip to India. It’s a wonderful cap to what has been a pretty epic month at Idaho Physical Therapy (October is National Physical Therapy Month, but it was also our company’s 20th anniversary). The familiar pre-travel emotions have arrived, but the more times we make this journey, the more excitement replaces the worries. We look forward to seeing our friends, the Indian pastors, and our sponsored Indian son, P. Ram Kumar. This year, however, things will be different, and I feel a little like a newbie all over again.

Typically these missions are centered around medical camps provided for orphans, HIV/AIDS patients, and those in the slums. I approach them with the knowledge that I’m going to see relatively the same conditions I treat here at home (back and neck pain, arthritis, carpel tunnel syndrome, etc.) mixed with a few more unusual cases (complications from polio, malformations due to nutritional deficiencies, etc.). I arrive armed with exercises and stretches to teach to patients, as well as canes, walkers, and crutches, so they can manage their condition after the medical team has gone.

But the focus of this year’s trip is leprosy communities. We’ll be spending 3-5 days at the Christian Medical College & Hospital in Vellore (where Dr. Paul Brand did his world-famous research on hand, foot, and facial reconstruction). We’ll stay another two days in a leper community itself, then stay in a monastery the rest of the time. We have 75 wheelchairs to give out (courtesy of Free Wheelchair Mission), and for those patients who’ve lost fingers to their disease, we have 600 leather straps (handmade by members of Calvary Chapel Boise) that can be fitted with a utensil and looped around hands or wrists to aid in eating and personal hygiene.

And that’s all I know.

Leprosy is a condition that affects, among other things, peripheral nerves, such as those in the hands, feet, and face. As sensation is lost, it becomes harder to realize when you have hurt yourself, and once injury does occur, the healing process is difficult and complicated. Contrary to myth, body parts don’t rot off if you have leprosy, but they may become damaged beyond repair and then amputation is often necessary.

I know God sometimes places us in situations where we feel inadequate so that we will learn to rely on Him. I am definitely feeling that here. If I knew I could visit the patients regularly over the course of weeks or months, I would use treatments such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound to help maintain existing nerve function and delay the spread of the disease. But in India, there will be no equipment to do this, and we’ll only get one chance to see each patient – just one chance to share some sort of medical wisdom that could improve their quality of life or even help them live longer. What will I say?

Right now, I don’t know, but I have faith that when the moment comes, God will give me the words. Your thoughts and prayers for Bette, myself, and our entire team are much appreciated, and if you’re able, every donation allows us to make an impact in the life of another impoverished person in India (you can even choose how you’d like the funds to be used!). We return home just before Thanksgiving, and I’ll let everyone know how our trip went. Until then, God bless you, and keep moving, my friends!

– Alan

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