Monday, February 6, 2012


After my abortive attempt to go on Sunday, I again cruised out there on Monday. Isn't Logan clever?

The tuk tuk driver I'd told to meet me at the fountain didn't bother to show up so I went and found a new driver.

It took quite a bit of discussion as well as a bit of yelling to get a price set. They really wanted six hundred but for that I can get a proper automobile. As I was wandering off to find different tuk tuk drivers, an old guy who did want the three hundred I was offering pulled up. So long as I was fine with him picking up other passengers (doing the fixed route thing) he was good with taking me. I told him that was great. We got a total of two other passengers going there. The trip took about an hour.

My hands were still hurting mightily from clutching what I refer to at the 'oh shit' bar in the tuk tuk when we got to the hospital. I really didn't think there was anything special about it. It had a gate, manicured grounds, clean and big. Standard hospital stuff.

I was wrong.

So, I strolled up and hung out in line for a bit. When I got to the counter, I asked how much the fee was. Thirty rupees. I began to suspect something was up. India is cheap for westerners but this was a bit cheaper than I thought it would be.

It turns out this is not a normal hospital - it is an 'ashram'.

That turned everything on it's head that I had taken for granted before. What I thought was just a normal, high tech medical hospital was actually what the poor get to use for free.

That blew my mind. What the poor get to use for free in America looks like it. It isn't super clean and modern. Usually, it is dirty with bad lighting and a surly under paid staff who are coping with 'the great unwashed masses'.

Very clean and modern facilities

I was told my blurred vision in my left eye would return to normal eventually. I'm not sure how long it will take to do so but if it hasn't in a month I'll check back with the eye doctors in whatever country I am in.

After my appointment, Dr. Dpkar (or D.P. Kar - not sure on that) kindly invited me for tea. We chatted a bit. One of the great quotes he said was "All Indians are spiritually the same. That is what has attracted you here."

After having a very nice tea (with cookies - or as the English call them 'biscuits' with Dr., Dpkar, he decided to bring me to the hospital administrator Dr. Anubha. She cleared her schedule in order to give me a tour of the hospital.

Dr. Anubha (left) pictured here with a hard working eye surgeon

Honestly, I was unused to so much attention. Their hospitality was amazing.

I got a couple figures from Dr. Anubha concerning the eye clinic I thought were very interesting. Every year, they treat 10,000 - 12,000 people for free. They send out teams of doctors to search in the poor, rural areas. Those who need surgery (normally cataract though they do many types) are brought to the clinic by bus. They are then housed and fed within the clinic for two days. There are 128 beds in the clinic - both in dorms and even a few private and semi-private rooms.

The rooms there all looked cleaner and a bit nicer than the one I'm staying in. In fact, this hospital would probably pass USA tests for cleanliness and such.

While the patients are at the hospital, any time they need to go from one area to another a person is sent to help them individually. In other words, one patient, one person helping them to get from where they are to where they need to be. Dr. Anubha feels that this helps the patient who is in a strange environment and such to cope better. When I was there, the same thing happened to me. Any time I needed to go to a different area, room or even chair - there was someone to help me find the way.

The care doesn't end there. The patients also receive two follow up visits after the surgery to make sure everything is working as it should be.

I was told this gentleman is the 'guardian' of the hospital. I have no idea what that means - I just wanted his picture because I thought he looked cool.

Something interesting is that they also put stickers on the patients. If they have high blood pressure, you can literally read this on their face. They have a sticker to show which eye is going to be operated on. Dr. Anubha told me the stickers were color coded. I asked why and she said that sometimes the patients want a different eye operated on than needs it so they will move the sticker from one side of their head to the other. The color coding keeps that from happening. I found it funny in a very inappropriate sort of way.

They have 150 people on staff and pull people in for free treatment within a 200 KM area. That is a lot of square kilometers! Sometimes, they'll even travel further - up to nine hours to get a patient.

Pretty amazing stuff.

It didn't end there.

It wasn't enough that they had a modern, clean hospital that was set up to handle a town worth of people per year for free. The ashram also had a school.

The school is grades one to nine. After grade nine, I think they go to a different school. Here, I got a tour given by both Dr. Anubha and the Principal, Mr. Ranbirsinghnegi. They showed me around the school.

Same sort of set up here. Clean, modern facilities. Lots of computers. Everything is free - including the school uniform, mid day meal, books, everything.

Left this one sideways so the text was bigger - it details what you get for the low, low cost of 'free'. A huge help to the poor folks.

Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with the school as well.

Well behaved and respectful children.

And a bit uncomfortable with all of the personal attention I was getting.

And I got offered coffee and tea again.

Although the head of the hospital and head of the school were extremely gracious in freely giving me their time, the hour of departure had come. I wish that I was a writer for a large newspaper or something in order to talk about the amazing work this ashram (both school and hospital) is doing. I honestly think I was treated just as well as had I been from a large impressive paper rather than just some guy who writes a blog.

They are able to do this purely from donations.

I enjoyed finding out more about yet another facet of the jewel of India.

Again I wish to thank Dr. Anubha, Dr. Dpkar, Principal Ranbirsinghnegi and the rest of the staff of Nirmal Eye Institute and Nirmal Ashram Gyan Daan Academy for making me feel extremely welcome and giving me an interesting tour of your amazing work.

(Note, more pictures of the hospital and school can be found here along with other pictures from Rishikesh, India.)

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