Sunday, August 29, 2010

My two-wheeler diaries - Week 4 - No science, high science and everything in between

Now, before I begin, this one week has not just been on two-wheelers. 50% of the travels this week have been in the close confines of a car. And thank God for that! And this week covered, like the title says - high science with us having to talk to oncologists about therapies and on the other side, we had to talk no science with people in animal health. Yes animal health.

So I'll begin with animals. If last week dealt with companion animals, or pets in other words, this week dealt with man's first best friends - cattle. And while we went to meet several of the healers, that did not preclude our meeting several of the patient species either! So on the roads, in the sheds and some even in the doctors' houses. Tied to posts outside their houses obviously. And what we realized was that of these doctors, several were not, well, doctors. Their treatment credentials were, doctored! But then like one of them told me, in chaste rural Gujarati, how does degree matter when you're able to produce results? Touche Mr vet, is all I could say! And while waiting at one vet's house (well let's continue calling him that), one guy came looking really distraught, saying that his buffalo was ill. The vet asked him, how long the animal had been ill and the guy's response was 6 months. 6 MONTHS???!!!??? Later my colleague told me that typically people feel that the animals are after all, well, animals. Robust, strong as a bull, the expression wouldn't have come up had it not been true, right? So give em anything or nothing at all and the poor things would heal themselves!

Now moving to high science. Oncology is a dicey topic. But the more you see the masked patients in wards, the true impact of mortality hits you hard. Like one person mentioned to me, sometimes one wonders what the whole point is. In some really rare and terrible forms of cancer, mortality is a reality, when is the question. Also the answer to when is even more painful, since long term itself is hardly 2 years. But looking at the way the disease is and how we struggle to find a complete cure, one can clearly see what life would have been like before the discovery of penicillin, when even a flu would perhaps have been as infectious and deadly! Also, people refer to hypertension and diabetes as diseases of the rich, since they typically come about because of the degeneration of lifestyles. But in reality, looking at the financial impact of any form of cancer on a person's life, quality treatment, rather any treatment, honestly cannot be afforded by all! And more often than not, people just give up.

In many ways, a cancer patient's condition is similar to that of the animals I'd seen before. The animals have no clue about what is being stuck into them - antibiotics, placebos or plain water. Likewise, those suffering from cancer know that they are being stuck with something unpleasant, since effects like neutropenia, where a patient's natural defenses are brought to 0, thus increasing susceptibility to all possible infections perhaps leaves the patient feeling completely and totally violated! The animal feels uneasy, but cannot communicate what it feels. The person knows about the suffering but can do little about it. The similarities were stark, and appalling. On the long drive from Baroda back to Ahmedabad, I had enough time to really wonder why the disease even exists. What could possibly have been God's plan in creating such a disorder and more so, what could He possibly have had in mind while inflicting this torture on young children. And I drew a blank.

As far as traveling was concerned, 4 wheels was a dream. Especially since I had an opportunity to cover the National Expressway 1 twice this week. Once between Ahmedabad and Anand and again to Baroda. However, on the day I went to Anand, the expressway was the only smooth part of the trip, since the rest was literally on a dirt track! The real meaning would perhaps come through when I perhaps put up some pictures, but dirt track indeed. And my driver was the kind who honked on the expressway. So you can imagine the condition of my poor spine by the time I got back to terra firma. But bumpy roads, preceded by bullock carts, at times preceded by bulls and buffaloes, and sometimes simply stuck behind a cattle crossing. All these escapades in pictures shall follow soon. But till then a starkly contrasted and deeply introspective week 4.


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