Early Days at Makunda

12 May

Medical work at Makunda was restarted on 3rd March 1993 (after about 10 years of closure). Ann and me had arrived in Silchar several days earlier but our suitcase containing all certificates and money had been lost – we recovered it 3 days later when a passenger (who had taken it with him to Aizawl) returned it to Indian Airlines. Hospital staff had created local awareness and publicity and the OP consultation room had been cleaned. One patient (a girl with diarrhoea) was admitted but very few patients turned up. The first day’s collection was Rs. 20/-. Over the next few days, some people turned up asking for home visits and I went with them (pillion riding on their bikes) to see sick people at home.

 

The slow start changed quickly when a patient was brought in labor from a forest village – she had obstructed labor and was quickly referred to the Government Hospital in Karimganj for a Caesarean section. However, when we went to the ward on our night rounds she was still there – they could not take her to Karimganj. The uterus was now tense with a Bandl’s ring signifying impending rupture. We did not want her to stay at the hospital when we were not confident of treating her with the facilities available but the relatives said that if we sent them out of the hospital, they would take her home to die. The operation room was quickly searched – linen autoclaved many years ago was found (still in its wrappings), instruments were boiled and a Caesarean section done (with two nurses holding kerosene lanterns for light) under local anaesthesia – infiltration with xylocaine. Blood was scooped out of the wound and the final stitches put in. The baby was sick (died a few days later) but the mother was alive – I remember her name, Sumvankhup. The news quickly spread – major surgeries could be done at Makunda – and we started getting large numbers of patients. Soon the next LSCS was done, this time with a live healthy baby – her name was Hoia Chorei. Elective surgeries followed – all done without the help of electricity or running water! – only those that could be done under local or spinal anesthesia. We had a Schimmelbusch mask for open drop ether as well as ethyl chloride but after a few procedures, were not very keen to use this technique.

 

We quickly did a complete inventory of the hospital. Many of the equipment (including gensets) had been sold in the past years to pay salaries. We were left with one working blood pressure apparatus, a large amount of assorted surgical instruments and old suture material. The pharmacy contained a large amount of chaulmoogra oil as well as dapsone and some other drugs for the leprosy patients, there were many barrels of “Sanimaster” – universal disinfectant. There was an ancient Picker 15 mA X-ray machine and a Bovie “Spark-Gap” cautery machine as well as a drum dermatome. The laboratory had a colorimeter and a microscope. There was ‘electricity’ from the government – a few hours of electricity with voltage so low that only the red filament of the bulb could be seen. We had been in correspondence with Emmanuel Hospital Association (EHA) in New Delhi and had received Rs. 10,000/- to start off the work. I thought that this was to purchase something that could not be locally bought and had invested it in a BPL Cardiart 108 ECG machine (I was very interested in medicine and cardiology although I had trained as a surgeon). Now, it looked like a foolish decision – there was not even enough current to charge the batteries in the machine! I sent a long list of the equipment that was urgently needed at Makunda to EHA and received a reply several days later – Makunda was an independent society that had to rely on its own income. EHA could try to raise some funds but there were needs elsewhere too. We did receive small amounts but soon realized that we were on our own…

 

When we first arrived, the local staff held a welcome for us at the local Church with paper garlands and told us that we were an answer to their many years of prayer. The leader of the church pointed us out during his messages in Bengali with murmurs of assent from the congregation. However, after the first few weeks, we realized that their hopes were to first get benefits for themselves – gifts, jobs, even land. We disagreed – all the staff (including us) lived in difficult conditions but we had come primarily to serve the poor people of the area and making our lives better was not the priority. Soon he was pointing us out to tell God that we were not being very helpful – we had to stop going to church and spent Sundays at home, waiting for the days when more like-minded staff would join.

 

The staff at the hospital had been receiving their salaries for years without any work. Now they rebelled at the expectation of work. There were a few nurses and aides – one was nearly blind, another deaf, another handicapped, we did not know the local language – it was going to be difficult to change this situation.

 

A lot of time was spent with the 60 leprosy patients – many of them had been in the hospital for decades. We quickly put them on modern chemotherapy and the fit ones were given, “Released From Treatment” certificates allowing them to mingle with the outside population. Many did not want to go, fearful of stigma – we slowly convinced the able-bodied ones to leave. The staff quarters were far away from the leprosy wards and many of the leprosy caretakers were themselves leprosy patients. This was with good reason – in the past leprosy was incurable. Having been taught that it was just an ordinary bacterial disease curable with drugs, we did not worry about contagion – until some years later when I developed leprosy and then went through two years of chemotherapy, severe reactions and drug induced problems. It was a painful reminder that we are not immune and cannot afford to be careless.

 

Supplies soon ran out and we went to Silchar to buy more – we soon realized that dues were outstanding with most shops. All of them wanted cash and we spent hours going in and out of all the wholesale drug stores looking for the best bargains. I was the pharmacist and store-keeper and had to learn quickly to maintain the right amount of stock. We went once a month, on a Saturday evening, bought our medicines, spent time with Christian medical students at the Silchar Medical College, a night with one of the officers of the Baptist compound in Silchar and returned the next day. At Makunda, we were soon engulfed in legal and land problems which we did not understand. We did not know who was a dependable person and who was not. We did not understand why documents were worded in the manner that they were. It took many months of visits and talking with many different people before some clarity appeared and we could understand what was happening within this community. We could not understand how people could be so violent and hostile just to get land and property illegally – many criminal cases would be filed against us in the years to come in an attempt to get rid of us but we did not know it at that time – it is good that each day is revealed in its time!

 

Life at home was also a different experience. When we started work, Ann and me had been married for a little over a year. She had done her MBBS and I had completed my MS. We had a combined salary of Rs. 2000/- per month in Madurai and now at Makunda this had doubled! When we arrived, we were allotted the Doctor’s Bungalow – 3rd Bungalow – connected by ‘party-line’ intercom to the hospital and other Bungalows. There was a wood-burning stove in the back in a separate kitchen. We quickly invested in a kerosene stove. It took a long time to get a gas connection – only one cylinder would be given after waiting for many anxious hours at Karimganj. There was no electricity at home but we had kerosene lanterns and hand-fans. We hoped this would change quickly – it did, 14 years later! Water was carried to our homes at Re.1/- per bar of two 15 liter cans. This was muddy water from the fishery ponds, we allowed it to settle or used alum to clear it. The weather could be quite cold – we could not afford the warm blankets in the shops or it could be really hot and humid – we just prayed to God to turn on his ‘airconditioner’ – for the rains. There were cement tanks in all the toilets and as soon as the sound of rains was heard, both of us ran out to fill these tanks with buckets – clean water which was free! There were colorful birds and butterflies as well as tarantulas and snakes – Ann found a bamboo pit viper in our hall one night when we returned from hospital. Communication was difficult – the nearest phone was in Karimganj, 50 kms away on a really bad road (often blocked completely by floods). When we reached Karimganj and placed our ‘trunk’ call, it would often not go through and we would return without talking. Talking on the phone was not very encouraging – many friends and relatives thought that we were quite mad! Telegrams arrived many days after the incidents that they described. Many small inconveniences – but temporary and trivial compared to eternal life with God in heaven – we should learn to look at them from a heavenly perspective.

 

This is just a short glimpse of life 25 years ago. It was what we had expected when we signed up with God to go as medical missionaries. At the EHA (Emmanuel Hospital Association is an Association of many independent hospital running societies created in the 1970s to support several Christian mission hospitals which were teetering on the brink of closure following the departure of expatriate missionaries) office in Delhi (in October 1992), we had given a 30-year commitment to work at Makunda till retirement and we were planning to keep our promises.

 

The early life at Makunda was full of surprises – we looked forward to the future not knowing what it would bring. Would we be able to stay on? There were threats – could we be beaten up or even killed? It was also full of promise – God’s promise that He was with us. He had given us a vision of a great work that would transform communities in the future, only visible through God-given eyes of faith! Our human eyes could only see it as an impossible dream. We do not appreciate God’s presence until we are vulnerable and helpless. Our obedience was our duty, the results were His. He had promised to take us by our hands and lead us one day at a time. Most of the early days were not pleasant, they were difficult days, but we can testify that God was with us. The vision of a flourishing work would come true in the years to come – He simply wanted us to stay on and plod on, one day at a time, simply trusting Him. He would be the source of all wisdom, strength and encouragement. That vision has become reality in the following 25 years and God has allowed us to see it with our eyes. Great is His faithfulness…

References:

  1. https://the-sparrowsnest.net/2016/02/19/short-video-of-our-work-made-by-emmanuel-hospital-association/
  2. https://the-sparrowsnest.net/2017/09/13/obeying-a-call-to-medical-missions-a-testimony/

 

2 Responses to “Early Days at Makunda”

  1. Jeyakumar May 13, 2018 at 4:07 am #

    God will bless for your unselfish works

  2. Jeyakumar May 13, 2018 at 4:11 am #

    My son Immanuel Manickaraj is also with your god’s in Makunda as a civil engineer for 3 years

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