Monday, March 15, 2010

Week 6 in Photos

The media gets a kick out of wheelies and Jon's other tricks.

Intricate Hindu woodworking crafts.

Dr. Prakash's daughter was my tour guide around Visakhapatnam.

Typical one-size-fits-all donated wheelchairs cause many problems for patients.

Taking a break from the conference.

A huge banyon tree frames a mountaintop church.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Our Last Busy Weekend

Since I last wrote, Jon, Vicky, and I have completed our travels from one side of the subcontinent to the other.  Mumbai (last weekend) was on the western coast looking over the Indian Ocean and now we have most recently spent three days in Visakhapatnam, on the east coast, touching the Bay of Bengal.

Visakhapatnam was a break from the usual routine for Jon and Vicky because all of the organizing and logistics - where to speak, what to talk about, how to get in contact with therapists, patients, doctors in the city, even meals and taxis – were taken care of by their friend Dillip.

Dillip is a quadriplegic that met Jon during one of his earlier trips to India and quickly arranged for him to come visit his home.  In Jon’s telling of this story, he was ‘held hostage’ on the top floor of Dillip’s home (with no lift to freely move between floors) until Dillip was satisfied that Jon had taught him all the rehab and independent living practices that he knew (he was ‘released’ after 10 days). 

Since that time Dillip has been one of the most motivated and proactive contacts the Sigworth’s have in the country.  He has fully embraced the ‘pay it forward’ attitude that Jon first experienced in with members of his wheelchair rugby team.  This means that the quads on Jon’s team taught him many independent living techniques, which he passed along to Dillip, who is now teaching them to other quads in the city (peer mentor rehabilitation).  Dillip has also started a disability advocacy NGO, “The Ability People”, and is planning to open his own rehabilitation center to facilitate the training that he is doing with individuals.

While in Visakhapatnam, we participated in a two-day “Active Rehabilitation Conference” put on by Dillip and the doctor whose home we stayed in.  Dr. Prakash was a surgeon who experienced a spinal cord injury and was left with similar mobility to Jon.  While he can no longer perform surgery, he has now turned part of his home into a walk-in ear-nose-throat medical clinic.  Thus, each day as we walked in and out of his living room we passed a line of patients waiting for the doctor.

The conference included different doctors, rehabilitated quads, wheelchair distributors, and Jon and Vicky as speakers.  It was targeted at therapists but also injured persons themselves.  Each day included a large portion of time where all the speakers just walked or rolled through the crowd to talk with individuals and give personal counseling and rehab advice.  Visakhapatnam faces many of the same challenges as our other stops - no rehab centers, uninformed physical therapists, poor treatment of bedsores, etc.  Despite these problems it was encouraging to participate in an organized conference, hear positive attitudes, and see effective rehab practices being taught - especially considering that people other than Jon and Vicky took the initiative (giving them a well-deserved break).

As I am writing this we are currently flying back to Delhi from Visakhapatnam.  We will arrive around 2 in the afternoon and will then have to battle Delhi traffic to cross the city for one last speaking engagement at a college at 6 in the evening.  The Yale gospel choir is completing a short tour of India and has asked Jon to share a short message during their performance.  We found out about this opportunity from a recent Yale graduate/youth pastor whom we met at church in Delhi during our time at ISIC.  We will unfortunately probably have to leave the second half of the gospel choir performance early in order to return to the international airport on the other side of the city and catch our midnight flight back to New York.

So while we’re heading home, don’t tune out from this blog just yet.  I will try to post a photo summary of this last week and write one more review post once I am settle back in the US.  Happy travels!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. 

Romans 15:13

1. The Visakhapatnam seaside.
2. Three quad conference MCs: Dr. Prakash (our host, former surgeon), Jon, and Dillip.
3. Jon's bed mobility demonstration in a very hot, humid conference hall.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Week 5 in Photos

Coming soon to a theater near you.

Each airline and airport in India is different, but this domestic flight to Mumbai had no lift.

Juhu beach and the Mumbai skyline on the far left.

Cricket with disabled students in Hubli.

Sunset in the Indian countryside.

Bit of a longer story: Amir Khan is Bollywood's Johnny Depp, Jon's favorite actor (he's not as full of himself as other Indian megastars), has made many statements recently declaring disability advocacy to be his 'cause', and is reportedly going to make his next film addressing this issue in Indian society.  This photo shows Jon giving a letter of introduction, offer of support and a copy of "More Than Walking" to Amir Khan's personal assistant at the gate to his apartment complex.  We were told, "When Mr. Depp... er, Khan, returns from the US, he will give you a call," (now who knows if anything will actually come from this, but it was already cool enough to wander up to his gate).


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

New Places, New Faces

With so much traveling in the last week I have not been able to sit down and type much.  Usually I am able to write after a couple days of getting settled in at a location, however, we have been two days in Ahmedabad, a day of traveling, two days in Mumbai, a day of traveling and now one day in Hubli.  So by the time we meet whoever we’re supposed to meet or go to whichever hospital or school, it is already time to pack up and get moving again.

So the quick summary is the following:

In Ahmedabad Jon, Vicky, and Jyoti (our friend from ISIC) presented at the city’s government hospital and medical school and at another private physical therapist training center.  Jon did bed mobility demonstrations and Vicky got to practice her new found motivational speaking skills.  We’ve found that it might be more effective to talk with student physical therapists (to change the mindset and rehab practices for quadriplegics), rather than with medical professionals (who are less interested in new ideas and more set in their ways).  Jon is already planning his next trip to India as a nationwide tour of these medical schools, teaching the techniques he learned in Connecticut but are not valued or known in India.

In Mumbai we met with two quadriplegic individuals and also visited a paraplegic live-in rehab center.  The first quad was from a very wealthy family who had taken him to the Shepard Center in Atlanta (the best spinal cord rehab facility in the world) after his injury.  This young man, Vaibadh, (who went to College at Northeastern in Boston) seemed interested in connecting with other hidden quads in Mumbai and perhaps starting his own rehab center. 

The paraplegic rehab center was a simple operation, 25 beds, 2 full-time physical therapists, and some rehabilitated paras helping with therapy.  However, apart from ISIC, they had the best set up and seemingly the best results (all the paras were transferring themselves, on their way to independence) in all of India.  Here we met with another young man, Oliver, who was a Catholic from south India, spoke perfect English, and had been living in Mississauga, Canada.  His accident took place while visiting home in Mumbai, and while his family returned to help with his rehab they lost their permanent resident status in Canada and were not allowed to return.  Despite these difficulties Oliver is living independently now and even working for a friend in the city.

 In Mumbai Jon was also able to reconnect with some friends and the church he attended while he lived here for two months on his own last year.  In my own free time in the city I made some new friends and had a couple challenging experiences that I won’t share here.  Unfortunately, I fell sick again on our last night in the city (food poisoning from street fruit) and have been slowly recovering ever since.  This has been made more difficult because all the travel has left me particularly exhausted (heat, bumpy train rides, don’t always fit in beds, etc).

Now we have reconnected with Joy and Karen in Hubli.  They have been working here for the past couple weeks with an organization called Equip India (the Indian partner to the major disability organization Joni and Friends in the US).  We are staying in EI’s complex out in the countryside where they provide therapy and vocational training for disabled persons (mostly polio) and run a hostel for 40 local disabled Christian college students.  These short trips are a bit frustrating because we are introduced to so many new people yet have little time to get to know them.  I am having trouble understanding how much effort I should put into developing so many new friendships when I will probably only be able to keep in touch with a few once I return home.

We were supposed to get a grand tour of the complex today, however, most of the staff had to leave for their homes in the city early because of a 6 pm curfew that has been enforced for the last week.  The curfew and heightened police presence in the city is to due to increased Hindu-Muslim tensions since a mosque was vandalized during Holi last week.  All the troublemakers have been arrested though and the curfew should be lifted soon.

In spite of all of this, we are enjoying the laid back atmosphere at the EI complex and happy to be with Joy and Karen again.  I will try to post once more (plus photos) before our flight back to the US this coming Sunday night!

"Come," he said, "and you will see."

John 1:39 

1. Vicky speaking to a room of physical therapist students.
2. Paraplegic rehab center (with wheelchair-level training beds! very important, almost no one has them though)
3. Reconnected with Karen and Joy (and their two new assistants, American students from a bible college in Chicago) in Hubli 

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Week 4 in Photos

Lost kites from an annual kite-flying festival fill the trees and power lines throughout Ahmedabad.

 "Brains... brains!"

Typical Gujarati meal (don't ask me what any of it is). 

No one else cares, but these trees grow roots from their branches!

 Adventurous quads attract a larger crowd than tigers at the zoo. 

 My grandmothers have been requesting a good photo of their grandson.

 Overtime began at 4 am here but that didn't stop me from watching.  Go Canada!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Highs and Lows

I am writing this post in the same hotel room in Ahmedabad as the last post.  However, the last four days have been spent in Junagadh, a smaller city eight hours to the west, and the hometown of Jon’s friend Samir. 

Samir was injured (same level as Jon) in a car accident seven years ago on the drive from the airport to sign his insurance papers for a new job as a software engineer in Oman.  Since then he has moved back in with his elderly parents in Junagadh.  Jon met Samir three years ago at ISIC in Delhi where he was one of the few patients at the hospital who was truly on his way to learning the therapy techniques to make him independent.  However, he became sick on the train ride home and then developed a bedsore while recovering.  For the past three years he has not had proper medical attention and has thus stayed only in his home dealing with bedsore after bedsore.  This unfortunately means that all the strength and training from his successful stay at ISIC will have to be repeated.

As with Riya and Rahul, Jon’s main purpose in visiting Samir was to spend real quality time with him and develop beyond their initial friendship.  We also brought a new wheelchair, with a pressure cushion that will hopefully allow him to get out of bed.  The original plan to bring Samir back to the larger hospital in Ahmedabad was abandoned while we hope that the arrival of his new care attendant (an another old friend), Major, will provide the attention needed to help Samir finally recover from his bedsores and return to his physical therapy.

In Junagadh, between Jon and Samir, we were dealing with the two most common health problems quadriplegics face after their initial recovery: bedsores and chest infections (Jon has a small infection, not to worry).  The past four days were a crash course for me on these medical issues.  They are not light-hearted concerns and have made this week particularly pressing (many discussions and complications not fit for repeating in the impersonal forum of this blog).

Fortunately, Samir’s optimistic attitude was very infectious and our time in Junagadh was also filled with plenty of enjoyment.  Sunday morning Samir and a couple friends took us to the city’s zoo.  Despite the lions, tigers, and sloth-bears, my attention was most captured by the many unusual tree species growing throughout the zoo.  We left in the early afternoon when the sun was reaching its highest point and the heat was becoming unbearable (I had to remind myself that this was still February and was all the more thankful we were not visiting in the summer).

Sunday night I went out for my own little adventure walking through the city.  This was the eve of a popular Hindu holiday so there were many bonfires throughout the city.  At these fires, families and individuals gathered to participate in the holiday’s religious ritual (circling the fire seven times while pouring water, throwing popcorn and coconuts in the fire, and saying prayers).  I watched from afar and eventually took out my sketchbook to record the occasion.  I was quickly surrounded by a group of kids (and eventually their older siblings and parents).  After finishing my sketch I spent about an hour being led through the neighborhood being introduced to other family members.

The following morning I arranged to hike up a small mountain/hill outside the city with the Catholic priest we had met the previous day.  There is an elderly Christian woman who has been living on her own (praying, meditating, tending her garden, serving visitors, etc) in the forest of the mountainside for the past 36 years.  The priest visits her for mass every Sunday and that day was leading a group of visitors to spend the day with this sister.  The father said that when he visited her Sunday morning, two lions crossed his path on the hillside (our hike was more mundane however).  I was blessed to speak briefly with this woman living in peace and simplicity in God’s creation and then spent some time in prayer in her one-room ‘chapel’. 

The remainder of Monday was particularly exciting back in the city because of the community’s celebration of Holi (the Hindu festival of colors).  Basically the entire town, but especially the children, fill the streets throwing brightly colored powders and paints at one another.  The adolescents zoom down the streets on motorcycles, holding large sacks of pink, green, blue, red, or yellow pigments.  In a modern rendition of medieval jousting the cyclists hurl the colors at their on-coming friends as they pass each other on the road.  Jon, Samir, Major and I walked and rolled through the backstreets.  Because we were particularly noticeable (two guys in wheelchairs and me - tall, white, and red-bearded) we received special Holi greetings, which involved strangers smearing vibrant handfuls of powder right across our faces, necks, and hair.  We scavenged a couple bags of paint ourselves and thoroughly enjoyed walking across through the laughing crowds and rainbow clouds of thrown paint.  This is really a holiday we need to start celebrating back home!


We have now returned to Ahmedabad, where Jon, Vicky, and one director from ISIC will be training physical therapists and working with spinal cord patients at the civic hospital.  It will be an interesting transition once again after spending time in such close community with Samir and Major and now returning to the big picture hospital/advocacy work.

From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.  God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

Acts 17:26-27

1. Jon and Samir help capture an escaped tiger.
2. Resting in the shade at the zoo.
3. The holy mountain seen from the streets of Junagadh.
4-6. Happy Holi!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On the Road Again

Our final days in Delhi were quite busy as we all tried to spend as much time with our new friends at ISIC as possible.  Jon spent most of his time in the physical therapy gym working one-on-one with three young quadriplegics. 

The basic bed mobility rehabilitation techniques (learning how to sit up from lying down, move your legs to the edge of the bed, shuffle and balance while sitting, etc) that set the stage for quadriplegic independence are not being taught at the hospital.  Thus, Jon spent hours with those couple patients and young physical therapists in the hope that they will be able to continue this training and teach it to others in the hospital.  This becomes more difficult with the realization that most all the therapists in the hospital were still in training and many do not stick with the profession for very long because of the low pay.

Two highlights from the week both involve our good friends Riya and Rahul.  First, on Sunday afternoon Jon, Raman, and I arranged to take the two (plus their families) to a big new Bollywood film in a local theater (“My Name is Khan”, featuring Bollywood mega-star Shah Rukh Khan).  Because Riya and Rahul live on opposite sides of the city it took a bit of coordinating but all ten of us arrived with plenty of time to spare.

Unfortunately the theater we chose was not accessible (something nearly unheard of, and illegal in the US or Canada), so Rahul’s brother, Riya’s father and I carried each of our three friends up three flights of stairs, one after the other.  The theater itself (which mostly looked like any multiplex at home) did not have aisle seats reserved for wheelchairs and the theater staff made no effort to accommodate or help us. 

Jon and I (who know what this experience would have been like at home) were very frustrated and angry with the hassle.  However, our Indian friends seemed not to notice and were mostly just excited to see the film.  Although we were glad that the lack of respect and help did not hamper our friends’ spirits, it was a telling sign that here in Delhi, quadriplegics do not hold much hope for being accommodated in society.  So while it was wonderful that we were able to do this (it was the first time Rahul had been to a theater since his accident), I sadly doubt that either family will try attempt it again given the amount of work it required.

Anyways, big picture was that the movie trip was still a highlight.  It was great to hang out with Raman, Riya, Rahul, and their families now that we’ve developed more significant friendships. (oh, and the movie itself was pretty good, no singing and dancing though like a typical Indian film)

The second highlight occurred Wednesday afternoon just before leaving ISIC.  With some of the funds raised by the International Humanitarian Foundation we were able to purchase two active wheelchairs for Riya and Rahul.  These will replace their bulky, heavy, and old passive chairs and enable them to pursue more aggressive rehabilitation (if they and their families put in the effort).  The new chairs arrived at the hospital and are waiting to be modified whenever their new owners can come in for a fitting.

I’m now writing from a hotel in Ahmedabad in the western province of Gujarot.  We arrived by train this morning and will be heading out tomorrow to fetch another quadriplegic friend, Samir, in a smaller city.  Ahmedabad seems very friendly and relaxed compared to the business-minded capital city of New Delhi.  In my wanderings around the neighborhood I was quickly swarmed by a group of curious teenage boys, asking questions in broken English and shaking my hand.  From this crowd, a couple brothers invited me into their home to meet their family.  In addition to the 15-20 family members I was also able to meet the wild monkeys that scurry between roofs and trees in their courtyard. 

Besides just being a fun afternoon for me, I was able to connect the oldest brother in this family (who works as a physical therapist with spinal cord patients) with one of the directors of ISIC who is here in Ahmedabad with us.  These are the kinds of interactions I enjoyed so much in rural Morocco last year and have missed in my first weeks in India.  Hopefully our remaining time in Gujarot will allow us the opportunity to meet others in such a manner. 

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24

1. one of the several local paper articles published after the press conference on Friday (Jon, our quad friend Harsh, and myself)
2. Jon looks up at the stairs that must be conquered before the movie
3. happy movie goers (and tired, after all that lifting)
4. the posing is not quite right but I'll name them George, Thomas, Theodore, and Abe (anyone?)