About Matthew Greydanus

Matthew is a freshman that is pursuing a degree in Political Science and focusing his studies on a pre-medical track. After graduation, he plans to attend medical school and has an interest in reconstructive plastic surgery. Matthew will be interning with IMPACT India, an organization which acts as a catalyst to bring together the Government, the corporate sector and existing NGOs in mass health programs of national priority. He will be spending five weeks interning on one of their chief projects, the Lifeline Express, which is the world’s first hospital on a train and is celebrating 25 years of service. The train has medically served more than 100,000 people in rural India, restoring sight, movement, hearing and correction of cleft lips, and many more types of surgery completely free of cost. Matthew’s final project will explore whether mobile health care is safe, effective and efficient and how this type of care could fill a needed void in rural outreach of health care systems in developed and developing nations alike.

Exiting the Frame

June 27, Monday                                                   A new leaf

Awaking amidst the roaches and rats that plague most train stations I have visited I boarded a train around the stroke of midnight and rode in a small cabin with 5 men as we tried to sleep. Around 5 hours later we pulled into the New Delhi train station and I squinted through bleary eyes as dawn lit up India’s biggest city in front of me. I was soon picked up by a taxi and was sent on my way to a house in the Defense Colony (Defense neighborhood). It was too early for me to check in to my airBNB but the man running the small enterprise welcomed me all the same. He gave me filtered water and instructions on a mile long walk that would supply me with breakfast. As I walked for my food I marveled at the peaceful and surisingly quiet neighborhood I had found myself in. After some yummy Dosa and a cup of chai tea I meandered back to the apartment on the fourth floor of a small building in a crowded residential block. Looking out into the alley I spied people brushing their teeth, doing laundry, and eating breakfast on their balconies. As my room was readied I was delighted to find it had its own bathroom, kitchen, and windowed balcony (all for $18 a night). While I watched the traffic pass by below me I was reminded that I could only spend one night in this room as it was booked for the next 5 consecutive days. Deciding to make the most of my time in a clean, comfy bed and combat the misfortune bestowed on me by having to drink unfiltered tap water while travelling from Bhind (don’t ask) I spent most of the day drifting in and out of sleep. I only woke to pursue dinner which yielded a mutton cheeseburger (6/10 I might recommend) and a surprisingly high quality chocolate éclair. With my French pastry and American fast food urges subdued I walked home with a package of Jim Jam biscuits and decided to call it a night as rain began to patter on the roof. (I didn’t loose power once).

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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

In this segment the Lifeline Express is focusing on orthopedic, plastic, reconstructive, and ENT surgeries. These can be especially painful, tense, and chaotic as we rarely put patients “under” with general anesthesia and instead give them simple shots of lidocaine. While legal and humane, the results are brutal but due to the sheer demand for surgery we change the lives of more people by performing the operations this way.

June 17, Friday              Medic, we need a medic over here!

Today I woke up and hopped into the LLE car to find two women already waiting. Surprised, I soon learned that they were two medical students from Mumbai and were here for just three days to assist and observe surgeries with the orthopedic surgeon.

After arriving at the train I stepped inside and began to chat  with the new batch of doctors as best I could. Some spoke English and I soon had fond opinions of the two plastic surgeons and their anesthesiologists. The orthopedic surgeon was a different story.

As we scrubbed in and began operations it was clear that this part of my experience would be different. Instead of speaking calmly and leading the rural nurses through procedures they had never dreamed of assisting in, the physician seemed tense and hurried. Truly, we all were stressed out. The staff that had already been working with me for almost two weeks gave each other reassuring smiles and patted each other on the back as we did a dangerous tango with this man’s ego.

In the meantime, the two operating theatres were more different than night and day. I enjoyed my time in the reconstructive plastic surgery unit (as I am leaning towards this medical focus) and was fascinated for several hours. With soft music playing in the background the physicians carefully repaired cleft lips and treated severe burns. Although this was painful, only the infants were put under general anesthesia to keep them from squirming. While the soft moans that patients had were sad, the smiles on their faces when they saw how their faces, arms, and skin had been repaired was priceless. No matter the salary, the satisfaction I got from being a part of these operations was priceless. Continue reading

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Taste and See

Due to limited wi-fi access these next three posts will be very long and will comprise an entire week aboard the Lifeline Express. Each week will focus on the theme of the operations that are currently being performed. So grab some caffeine and tackle this beast of a blog post.

A word, let me state that I love this country. The students and I that blog on this site are merely travelers and the crazy, exciting, and awkward stories we have may not be indicative of real Indian culture and often may be a disservice to it. Indians are disciplined, brilliant, and a truly vibrant people. While our cultural differences may separate us, I hope that no one reading my blog is offended by any of the stories or content I present. I wish only to convey my respect and fascination for a culture very different from my own.

 Day 1 – Wednesday, June 8     Sight to the blind

It’s hot. It’s hot, it’s hot it’s hot. So hot, in fact, that even Indian people are surprised by the 115-degree heat. I know there is one of you reading this who sees 115 degrees and thinks “yeah but it’s a DRY heat, he’s a wimp”. To you I say, “Get off your couch and sit in a Sauna with your clothes on, tell me 12 hours later whether you care if the heat is dry or wet.”

To make things worse, today I was doing screening all day. To prepare for cataract surgery patients who have been informed about the program several weeks ahead of time are brought to a District hospital that unites all of the 6 regional hospitals within Bhind. Then, one by one, they walked in front of a physician and myself as they were evaluated for surgery. If deemed operable, they would be given a full blood panel, pathology, and physical before operations began the next morning.

As we pulled up to the hospital I realized that it was a single story compound of buildings, this surprised me as American hospitals are traditionally massive structures. I was even more surprised to see pigs feeding, a boy peeing, and a man defecating amidst buildings that performed surgery 7 days a week.

If you’ve read some of the posts from anyone in this fellowship you might think that we talk about bowel movements and gastric distress more than a third grader who just discovered the word, “poop”. But as one of my fellow travelers put it, “I’ve never been more worried and aware of where I might suddenly soil myself than while in India.” Honestly, she’s right. The food, heat, and travel make for a deadly combo. Being so accustomed to this, public defecation shouldn’t bother me. Yet somehow, every time I see two men talking about cricket while crop dusting their own sugar cane fields I can’t help but lose my grasp for words. This awkwardness is even more distinct when the metaphoric sugar cane field is a very concrete hospital.

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Move over Bear Gryllis, there’s a new survivalist in town.

Journal # 4   (Make sure to read #3 first!)

*originally written June 7*

The last three days have been periods of incredible boredom interspersed with moments of sheer adrenaline. My two day train ride was blissfully uneventful as I slept alone in a small cabin. This allowed me to relax, catch up on sleep, and spend some time in thought. The only disturbance I had was a Malaria pill induced hallucination that two men had entered my cabin in the middle of the night. Getting up early the second day at around 3 AM I hopped off of my spacious and classy (yet not clean, c’mon this is India people) First class AC car and sat down for a 8 hour layover at Gwalior junction. It was hot. Nothing much exciting occurred while I drifted in and out of sleep on the floor of the railway station but I was jolted into awareness when I started taking notice of the train class I was riding next. In India, “Sleeper” is the lowest class of train. Think of it like a budget commuter that you can take to and from work. Only without AC and with over 70 people crammed into a spot that fits 12 on a First AC car. They really aren’t that bad unless they are overbooked, long distance, or have people trying to board without tickets. All three of these things applied to my train.

I began noticing that as the Sleeper class trains left they had people hanging on to the sides and riding solely on arm holds due to lack of space. My solitary yet large backpack was going to be a problem. In what must be an effort to reduce overcrowding attempts, the Indian government has taken the liberty of barring all windows on Sleeper cars except for the emergency hatch. The Idea being, I guess, that in the event of a crash all 70 people will calmly and orderly file out of one window and evade complete harm. This results in people trying to hold onto the sides of trains but falling back onto the station platform and not making their train. I realized I was going to have to fight to make it to Bhind and began to learn the timing of the leap of faith that would be required. Taking a tip from my Uncle Jim who traveled to India at around the same age when he was a young man, as my train I arrived I used my lanky elbows as weedwackers to propel me and my single backpack to the front of the comparatively short crowd where I threw my bag through the emergency window of the train car and dove through headfirst after it. I looked, I assume, like a dog with its upper body stuck in a cone-of-shame leaving only my shockingly white legs to kick wildly outside the carriage.

Like something out of a movie, the crowd of people rushed the sides of the train and guided my noodle-ly appendages through the window until I was perfectly sandwiched between my bag and 3 other men claiming my seat was theirs. Puffing out my chest and barking what must have been nonsense interspersed by curses in Hindi, (Thanks Aaruran) I secured my seat and began the long sweat towards Bhind.

As I stepped off of the train in Bhind my eyes glimpsed the Lifeline express and I couldn’t help but smile. Here she was, the world’s first hospital train. Continue reading

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We’ll always have India

The long awaited, journal entry #3 (make sure you are caught up!)

*Originally written June 5, 2016*

May 30 – June 5

A word before I begin,

I set out to keep these journal entries lighthearted and informal so that those of you back home could see my honest reactions and emotions throughout my trip. However, a trade-off of this is that sometimes people misinterpret my, albeit slightly sarcastic, sense of humor. So to clarify, while I did misjudge my relationship with Deeksha and the Yadav’s the idea that if I had spent another hour with them I would be a married man is ridiculous in any culture, including India’s. My situation was likely much more akin to a “crush” than a literal verbal marriage proposal and I apologize for this misconception as one or two of my friends messaged me firmly believing I was almost engaged. Deeksha will forever be a close friend and I owe her family a debt that I do not currently have the ability to repay. Truly, trusting Deeksha was a stupid move. She could easily have been a scout, looking for the most handsome, dashing, and suave American that she could rob once she got to Delhi. But seriously, things could have gone downhill soooo quickly considering Deeksha’s advice, “If a person in India wants to talk to you, they are trying to get your money”. But this act of complete trust in a time of need is an experience that will forever hold a place in my heart. An act that took guts, faith, and a healthy dose swag. (If you’re over 30 you can think of Swag as similar to Game, or Style. If none of that rings a bell you’re over the hill and you should stop commenting on your child’s facebook wall. Enjoy the silver years.)

Now that we have that cleared up,

The last time I wrote we were en route to Jaipur the “Pink City” of jewels. Famous also as a source of the marble used in the Taj Mahal. Upon arriving we were absolutely delighted to be greeted by another 110-degree day. We set about exploring and soon located the famed Amber Fort. Not only a regional treasure, but the jewel of an ancient dynasty and a certified UNESCO World Heritage site. This place is a fort, but it also houses a monastery, temple, and palace within its mountain-top structure. The inner walls are filled with beautiful frescos of civilizations past and the sprawling mountain range encircling the compound is lined by a wall resembling the great wall of China. A garden, watered by spring water, sits at the center of the elaborate and sprawling mountain compound with two nearby rooms that are covered completely in mirrors and gold. This immense beauty, elaborate architecture, and stunning placement is all possible because of slave labor. Marble, granite, jewels, carried and chiseled by slaves to be part of a magnificent dynasty that eventually fell. A dynasty that left only its shiny façade and not its seedy underbelly in the minds of of those who visit the Amber Fort.

After sweating half to death atop the Amber colored wonder we drove into Jaipur and began the two-hour long search for our hotel. It was worth the wait. AC, Wi-fi, marble, tile, and a spacious room for 3 for one quarter of what a super 8 motel room would cost in America. It hasn’t ceased to amaze me how the most beautiful parts of India are nestled in some of the dirtiest and disheveled parts of the country. Later that night we made a trip to the Jaipur markets where we haggled our way into some silk and cotton clothes that we could wear for the duration of our journey. Having a travel buddy whose research project revolves around silk has been fascinating and while I may share what I have learned from him later on, I don’t want to steal his thunder so please check out Aaruran’s blog as well. Continue reading

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Inconsistency Creates Independence

The first lesson that India taught me was one that lasted 56 hours and culminated in food poisoning, getting lost, losing money, and almost getting married (more on that later).

Inconsistency Creates Independence.

After travelling for 37 hours I was just 30 minutes away from landing in Delhi when “unusual” weather patterns diverted us to a city call Ahmedabad, a few hours flight away. Then, approximately 3,00ft in altitude above Ahmedabad my plane was reassigned to Mumbai (Bombay) another hour away in air time. Upon finally landing we were held aboard the plane for 8 hours on the runway as the disorganized Indian government decided what to do with us. After disembarking, we were given a choice by United Airlines, surrender our passports to Indian officials and wait in a hotel until a free flight 36 hours later, or keep our passports and buy our own tickets to our destination. For those of you who don’t know, letting go of you passport is possibly the most dangerous thing to do when travelling abroad. In addition, I had to make a train from Delhi to Agra in order to meet my friends and see the Taj Mahal the next morning. So, I contributed to the racketeering and extortion ring that is United Airlines and with the help of a woman named Deeksha, bought a ticket to Delhi. Deeksha is a 25-year-old woman from Delhi who recently completed her Masters in Business analytics at ASU in the united states. Like a guardian angel she helped me book a flight with almost no money. You see, all three credit/debit cards I had brought to India somehow wouldn’t work even though I had taken all necessary steps with my bank before I left. With about $150 in cash on my body I forked over 2/3 of it to secure my trip to Delhi. I then set about exploring Mumbai to find a phone only to discover that most of the phone stores near the airport only sold international SIM cards, not ones that would work in India. After borrowing a stranger’s phone, I called my bank only to realize that it was memorial weekend and I wouldn’t be able to access any money for 3 days. Refusing to give in to pessimism I waited the remaining 6 hours until my flight and boarded my plane with $50, no credit card, one pair of clothes, no phone, and a passport to a city where I had been unable to contact my friends.

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The Final Frontier

6 vaccinations

5 months of waiting

4 tubes of mosquito repellent

3 family members left behind

2 hugs at the airport

1 airplane seatbelt that I look at and muster the courage to buckle.

Today is the day that my adventure begins.

I am especially excited because I believe adventure is something that we, as a culture, have forgotten in our rush to modernize, gentrify, equalize, and hurry forward. Sure, we travel, we may even go to school in a different state then we are born in. But how many people today actually go on an adventure? A real adventure, where there is exploration, danger, excitement, and a vastly uncertain conclusion. Our old heros roamed the galaxy, explored star systems, and uncovered the ark of the covenant. But the super-heros we watch today simply seem to fight. Sure they fight for their cities, their friends, and (in recent media) against each other. This isn’t necessarily bad, but I believe the drive to explore to push boundaries to forget politics, race, religion, and to look towards the stars is a quality that my current generation has in short supply.

Now more than ever, as politics grind to a halt, as violence continues to erupt around the world, and as we continue to populate our planet and use its resources it would seem than there has scare been a more opportune time to imagine and dream of solutions. To explore. To have an adventure.

My adventure to India began like every great adventure, with a twist of fate. I stumbled across the flyer for the Summer in South Asia fellowship while searching through random documents that my Political Science professor had provided for our class online. Knowing my place as a lowly freshman, I decided to go through the process in my free time and use the application as a learning process for future jobs or internships and was floored upon being accepted as a Fellow.

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