Traditional Medicine in India and Back:
A Student’s Study Abroad Perspective
Getting off the train from Delhi to Dehradun was much like a skydiving experience. If you have never tried it before, stepping off of a somewhat familiar mode of transportation into absolutely unparalleled surroundings can be the best or worst decision of your life. The smells were heavy and moist– a mixture of sweat wafting from the crowded station and the stench of sewage draining from the train’s plumbing. Along the way out towards the chaotic maze termed ‘street’, the dense, humid air greets me with the new and unfamiliar scent of rice, caged foul, and emissions from the darting mopeds and motorbikes. There was more honking than New Year’s Eve in New York City. Rickshaws, taxis, bikes, and pedestrians were all participating in the most uncoordinated yet functional traffic dance, weaving in and out of the five sleepless and culture shocked students. It was the beginning of the adventure of a lifetime; one that I hope emboldens others to step out into the confusing and chaotic street of life with a bit more clarity to seize their dreams.
We arrived on that day from all over the globe, with a common interest of gaining an understanding in cross cultural competency and integrative medicine. This was not the best place for contemplation, but there I stood in the crowded street, hungry for the knowledge that would best prepare me for a professional career as Nurse Practitioner—diagnosing patients who may be receiving a combination of modern and traditional treatments. And what better place to study Traditional Medicine systems than where they originated over 5000 years ago? This desire had been growing in me from a young age, watered by every experience up until that present moment, and somehow I had made it here. It was my first day in India.
Personal challenges growing up had progressively cultivated my drive to make a difference in health care. The homeschooled years lasting until the seventh grade were filled with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, ranking me in the 99th academic percentile of the national homeschooled population. Perhaps this was to distract from the dismal, isolated home life my mother, brother, and I experienced. My father demanded that my mother stay home to teach my brother Austin and I, and that we were only to leave the house out of pure necessity—for fear that someone would suspect his abuse. It was this same fear that kept him from taking seven year-old Austin to the emergency room following a baseball accident that rendered him nearly lifeless. This pivotal event immediately influenced my decision to pursue a career in health care after experiencing the compassion provided by one nurse practitioner—from the time she informed my mother and I that Austin may not make it, to later when she shared in our joyous relief that he miraculously was going to be okay! My mother and I have since labored to defer the weight of those medical expenses. Consequently, due to limited access to health care all of these years, she nearly passed away from complications surrounding a twelve-pound tumor, recently found to have been growing for over four years. In retrospect, I am left with a profound conviction of the importance of access to primary care. Moving forward, the purpose in fulfilling my academic and professional goals to become an Adult Nurse Practitioner and Scientist becomes more clear: that I may afford the necessary follow up care for my mom while providing integrative primary care that will interrupt the development of similar preventable conditions in the underserved global community.
The compassion and hope I so strongly desire to share with others was fostered on a mission trip myself and eight other students undertook, providing hygienic supplies to an isolated mountain village in the Dominican Republic with no transportation or advanced health care. A small girl’s grateful smile as I passed her a toothbrush still highlights my memory of that trip, and I often reminisce the undeniable fulfillment felt in that moment from meeting a child’s need. There, I made it my mission to continue making a global impact, after being exposed to this society lacking basic resources (such as a toothbrush) so often taken for granted yet necessary to prevent future untreatable complications.
So why share such tremendously personal experiences? From this seed of desire planted by the nurse practitioner and the limited access to health care through the years, grew my overwhelming interest in affordable, preventative modalities that drew me to India. Ayurveda, Naturopathy, Homeopathy, Reiki are utilized by 80% of underserved populations living in developing countries (Agarwal, Fatima, & Singh, 1996). What better modality to study if I plan on making an impact in this community, where there are approximately 100,000 individuals per physician, and what better place to study traditional medicine than where it originated?
Check back next week for the continuation of this series!
Until next time,
Agarwal, P., Fatima, A., & Singh, P. (1996). Herbal Medicine Scenario in India and European Countries. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry, 1(4). Retrieved from http://www.phytojournal.com/vol1Issue4/Issue_nov_2012/12.1.pdf