Tuesday, September 8, 2009

My First Week at CMC

Alright, so in this post, I'm going to try to give you all a brief introduction to CMC or the Christian Medical College of Vellore, which is the institution where I will be conducting the bulk of my research, the city of Vellore, and what my first week here was like.

CMC is (copying from their website) 2234 bed, multi-specialty, tertiary care teaching hospital, which is made up of a vital, diverse, and inter-denominational community. CMC Vellore affirms a shared commitment to the 'whole person' in the spirit of Christ, to the pursuit of professional excellence and the care of those who are disadvantaged, disabled and marginalized. This university and hospital has been consistently ranked as the number one or number two medical school in all of India, so I feel greatly privileged to be working here. There is so much that I could say about this place, but I feel like the work that they do is exemplified by the teeming masses of people that I pass by each day. Exhibiting what seems to be endless reserves of patience, hundreds, if not thousands, of patients sit or stand or lie waiting to be seen by a physician. And the physicians work as hard as possible so that every patient is treated to the best of their ability. They are faced daily by a shortage of resources, frequent power cuts, and various other obstacles and still this hospital is able to provide world-class care and undertake state of the art procedures. It is amazing...

Vellore, the city in which I am now living, is (again copying) the headquarters of Vellore District in Tamil Nadu, one of the southernmost states of India. The population of the town and it environs is about 300,000 and it serves as a marketing centre for a fairly prosperous agricultural area. The streets are lined with small shops and crowded with people, cyclists, cars, buses, lorries and livestock. Literally. The people here are made up of all religions, including Hindu, Christian, and Muslim and daily live side by side. After reading from several sources that Vellore is a small city, I had a somewhat romanticized view of what I would find here. That viewed shifted within the first 30 seconds of being in Vellore. I don't know if I have the words to describe what life here is like, but it is chaotic and vibrant and loud and ever changing and basically every other adjective that you can think of.

And on my second day, I had to brave it all. I live at the CMC campus in Bagayam, which is about 7 km from the main hospital. My second morning in Vellore, I took a bus to the hospital, navigated my way to the canteen, and with a stroke of luck, found the office of Dr. Dilip Mathai, my advisor. Thankfully, I was helped along the way by a friendly Tanzanian physician, Peter, who is also here at CMC to study and work. The day was consumed by meeting with research associated, Dr. Dilip, Dr. K.R. John, several DOTS clinic nurses, and quite a few other members of the CMC community. After a few hours, it all began blurring together. But one key to getting anything done here (and everywhere) is knowing the right people, so making connections from the very beginning is very important.

After that beginning, it became clear that getting my project off the ground was going to be a lot of work and was going to take some time (I'm still working on it). My first day was a Thursday. Friday was similar, filled with lots of meetings and discussions and just some familiarization with campus and the hospital. I spent the weekend relaxing on campus and just trying to adjust to the fact that I was really in India. It was still sinking in at that point.

The next week, I began working in earnest. I collaborated with several medical students on a presentation on TB/HIV coinfection, had a tour of the microbiology department where I hope to be working, and started hammering out some details of my own research. By Friday, it was clear that I will be conducting two studies (which I'll say more about in another post). The first will be an examination of case management and the social impacts of drug resistant tuberculosis. The second will be an analysis of the accuracy of a new diagnostic tool in possible pediatric TB cases. I'm excited about both, but like I said, I'm still in the very beginning stages.

Some highlights of the week were: Going to Darling Residency, a hotel in Vellore, for dinner in the rooftop restaurant with the other international students. I've already met people from several countries...this is going to be a truly international experience. Spending time in the market, experiencing the market when the power went out, and buying an Indian cell phone, which allowed me to call home for the first time! And, moving into my new room in a building called Big Bungalow Annex. First impressions were somewhat negative, but it has definitely grown on me! Oh, and the food (most of it anyway) is wonderful here! No problems yet and I have enjoyed everything that I have tried. It is a common occurrence for me to order a meal and have absolutely no idea what it is, but that is all just part of the fun!

Well, that was my first week...

While I am sitting here, I just have to mention something that happened this afternoon. Sitting on the town bus, headed back to campus, the woman next to me started up a conversation. We chatted for some time and were actually able to learn quite a bit about each other. She was interested in where I was from, what I was doing in Vellore and how long I'd be there, my family and if I liked the food (a common question) and basically just things about me. Just before I got off the bus, she turns to me and says, "Well, I live at the next stop and you should come to my house for dinner sometime. And if you ever need anything or any help, just come by." She gave me directions and we parted ways. But this experience is something so typical of the people that I have met so far. Even if they have very little, they are completely willing to share it with you. They are interested in your life and especially in helping you become a member of the community. It is really an incredible show of kindness and one which you would not frequently encounter in the U.S. I hope that I do see her, Ipsy, again and I hope that we do have a meal together... Her kindness in this one short conversation had a huge impact on my day and again renewed my belief that I really can live and thrive here for nine months.


  1. I hope you see Ipsy again too...wow, you've come a long way from roast chicken, mashed potatoes an peas! Love you kiddo, proud of you!

  2. I have to say, definitely take people up on their offers! I didn't until right before I left Thailand and I really regretted it after that.

  3. Sounds like you're doing really well! Get signed up with Skype and hit a cheap electronics store for a web cam...your parents will thank you for it!