Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lending a hand and testing the waters

Welcome everyone to what I hope will be an entertaining, informative, interesting and otherwise strange blog of an adventure abroad to a most exotic land...India. To call India exotic may be an understatement. Here's a sampling of just a few of the extremes gracing this wondrous land. India is the worlds second most populous nation, but only seventh largest; home to worlds largest mountain range (the Himalayas) and seventh largest desert (The Thar); contains the worlds largest film industry (Bollywood) and is where 23 different constitutionally recognised languages can be heard in more than 1600 dialects. Names that have become indelibly synonomous with India include Shiva, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Siddartha Gautama (Buddha) and Gandhi, all representing the astounding array of religions, lifestyles and beliefs that have been found in India throughout history and still present today. Diverse? I'd say so...

What has drawn me to such a place as this? Well, as some of you who know me well, I have been sort of infatuated with the idea of India. Some of it doesn't really make sense, seeing that I become quite uncomfortable in hot, muggy weather (India has many areas regularly over 100 degrees with high humidity) and around large groups of people. Yes, this is true, however these do not come close to comparing to the countless other factors that I find incredibly intruiginging such as the lofty Himalayas, an extraordinary ecology (elephants, monkeys, tigers, etc.), complete and utter strangeness of a bizarre culture and of course, the chai and curry...yum-o!

On top of these curiosities and really most importantly are two other compelling reasons, first of which includes the support of a dear friend whom I met in my short stint in Denver, CO last year. It was through a mutual friend that I met Ryan McLean, a very special person and inspiration to all! Almost 12 years ago now Ryan was in a horrible car accident leaving a high school dance and her life instantly changed forever. Some in the accident did not make it, but Ryan was fortunate enough to come away from the accident alive, albeit not without sustaining a spinal chord injury that would leave her paralyzed from her chest to her toes.

While she continues to amaze with her ability to do more than most who are not restricted to a wheel chair, she has decided to seek a radicial and controversial medical therapy using embryonic stem India. The U.S. is unfortunately just a little to conservative to lead this progressive front. She and the rest of those receiving this groundbreaking treatment have encountered much resistence from the doubters, but in the research that I've done, people HAVE walked away from the treatment (pardon the pun) who were once considered to have incurable spinal chord injuries. This will be Ryan's second round of treatments, with the first having greatly increased blood flow through hips and legs, expanded her trunk movement (which she had very little prior) as well as the exciting development of "sweating, goosebumps and deep-touch sensations" in areas once devoid of these reactions. Going in without any expectations, but with the highest hopes, it will be an incredible experience for the both of us and I am proud to be there for her. We leave for India on the 17th of December!

Ryan's treatment will span a month, at which point she will leave to return to the U.S. and I will stay to take on the second phase of my trip. This second phase will be dedicated to getting my feet wet and taking a glimpse into my hopeful future career in international public health. With all of the wonderful images a nation like India can conjure, it can also expose the lesser aspects of the culture, many of which include a sad caste system of discrimination of those groups of the forgotten (i.e. the Untouchables). This unfortunate circumstance, in conjunction with general poor health practices that accompany such densely populated areas, breed a straggling and unequal health system that is in desperate need assistance. Ideally, I would become involved in some organisation (governmental or non-governmental agency) to get a peak at how this health system works, what's being done to improve it, how a person gets involved, etc., and otherwise contribute my brawn and brains to a greater cause.

Please feel free to check out Ryan's blog (right-hand navigation). There's lots up in the air at this point so keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned...