I want to invite you to come with me on a couple of visits to the homes of patients. Perhaps you can try and imagine some of the sights and smells and sounds as we travel together. It is hot - more than 42 degrees today but our vehicle has AC. It was donated by the Friends of Vellore, UK. A family have called to say they are worried about their mother who is known to the team. She is very ill and in pain and they asked for help. It can be hard to know how to care for relatives at home without support. There are few comforts at the best of times and still so much fear about diseases such as cancer. Our patient was a lady in her 60's. She was clearly feeling miserable when we arrived - lying on a hard concrete floor, flies buzzing relentlessly and obviously in pain and distress. Our hearts went out to her and her family. Within a short time we were able to help her family wash her and bind her weeping sores. Advice and medication were given. Her son then helped fill a waterbed we had brought - an inexpensive but effective way to relieve pressure sores and give comfort. It was quite a challenge to find the right size of pipe and water funnel!! Meanwhile, the grandaughter had overcome her shyness of the foreign doctor and we were making friends. Soon many of the neighbours in the village had also joined. We left some time later tired and very thirsty but knowing we had been able to help. A drink of tender coconut juice on the way home was wonderful.
Let me take you down to Trivandrum now. I met this gentleman during a visit to the Pain and Palliative Care clinic jointly run by SUT Hospital and Pallium India. I was joining Prof Rajagopal and his team to help with some training programmes. this man lives in a small town 2 hours from Trivandrum. For the past week he has made a daily journey to the palliative care clinic. He has cancer of his mouth with a nasty open wound. Despite good care from his family he began to have worsening pain and swelling. The team have been treating him with analgesics, steroids and antibiotics but also spending time every day removing maggots - totalling more than 100 maggots. This is a distressing yet common complication of these wounds in a tropical climate. He is thankfully much more comfortable now and will be visited by the team at home. He spoke of his pain and his struggle with feeling 'unclean'. Like many patients, his pain is far more than just the physical.
It was great to meet Donald McNeil and Ruth Fremson from the New York Times who are researching the issue of morphine availability. It will be a fascinating story so look out for it.