Free Eye Checkup for the Children of our School – 31 Aug 16

Two days ago, the children of our charity school had a special event in school: a team of doctors came from a close-by eye hospital and every single child of our school received a check-up – completely for free!

An eye check-up doesn’t seem like a big thing to a lot of people. It is however when the doctor’s fees cost you a complete day’s work and any treatment would cost you at least two days’ income on top of that! Glasses come at least at a week’s income – can you afford that?

This is the situation of our school children’s families. They use the daily earned money for their meals. If they spend money for a doctor, they do it when it is really serious, not to be cured by home remedies or simply time and thus definitely not for preventative check-ups. That’s how minor and even bigger problems with the eyesight of children often remain undetected and thus worsen over the course of time due to a lack of treatment.

That’s how the team of doctors did a great work day before yesterday, checking every child’s eye, having them test their eyesight themselves and checking on the exact number for the required glasses. Of our nearly 250 children, 32 children will now get glasses and seven of them have to go to the hospital to have further checkups. They may need bigger treatment or have such high numbers in their glasses that they need to be thoroughly checked to make sure there is nothing else that needs attention!

It is amazing that there are a few children who practically see nothing clear which is further away than three meters – but they never noticed that this was any problem! Our teachers told that they already had suspected something about a few of them.

So now we are eagerly waiting for the glasses to arrive – so that all of our kids have a clear view to the blackboard!

Click here to see pictures of this eye examination

When India’s Health System finds a quicker Solution with less Qualms – 28 Aug 16

The other day Ramona asked me to have a look at her back where something was itching her. I had a look and it was a circular area where there were rashes and it was red. The story that followed with its cultural aspects is what I would like to write about today.

Obviously, we don’t go to a doctor right away for some rashes. We know that the body reacts in this way onto something – an influence from outside or inside. So we applied some Ayurvedic ointment and Ramona tried not to scratch the area when it itched.

When it was not better after three days however, she decided to see a dermatologist for it. In India, the nice thing in comparison to doctors I have seen in Europe is that you can easily get an appointment on the same day. In fact, you don’t need an appointment – you can just go there and see the doctor! That’s what Ramona did.

It was a very quick visit: he took a look at the spot on her back, asked her a few questions and then started writing down the medicine she should take, explaining simultaneously “This tablet for seven days, after breakfast, this one for five days in morning and evening and this tube to be applied twice a day.” Ramona asked what exactly he thought it was and he replied “It is an allergic reaction”. Okay, Ramona answered – but to what that would be? The doctor’s answer was that it could be a lot of things – and especially in this humid weather, it could happen easily.

So this is the point where we once more see so clearly the difference in between India and the west: in Germany, Ramona told, the next step would most probably have been an allergy test, checking as to what it has been that she reacted. This would go to the laboratory or take a bigger amount of time. You would wait, maybe take medication in the meantime and finally you would find out: I am allergic to this material, food or ingredient.

In the end, the whole matter would have been so big, you would never again touch that material or ingredient because it is a big thing – you are allergic to it!

As it is now, Ramona is still allergic to something. However, it is not such a big matter in her mind. It will take two or three days and it will stop itching and then be over. I know and agree that allopathic medicine is generally not gentle to the body and causes harm inside. We are definitely not ones to easily pop pills and use them to make everything fine when the body needs rest of attention. However in this regard, I also feel it is unnecessary to create a huge trauma out of these few pimples when they could just be resolved easily.

If it happens more often, we will look further into it. As long as it doesn’t, it is alright to just use allopathy sometimes as well!

Another three-in-one Surgery for Monika – 14 Mar 16

I already started telling you yesterday that Monika has had her third surgery! It has been completed successfully and she is recovering at a guest house near the hospital in Gurgaon, a suburb of Delhi.

I had told you already in January that we were going to the hospital with her. We went and returned without having anything done, as she had got fever in the night and an infection in her respiratory system which made the anesthetist decide not to risk anything with a surgery.

So we had brought her back home and gave her time to recover. It was a persistent infection however and took long to fully heal. It was about the same time that my father’s surgery was decided when Monika was fully healthy again. The waiting list for plastic surgery is obviously fuller than the one for knee replacements and so Monika got an appointment later in the past week.

She was of course excited when she came to the hospital: the doctors were going to work on her mouth so that she would be able to open it fully again! And they wanted to work on her right eye once more, as she could still not close it completely, in spite of the past surgery in December 2014 for the same eye.

We were there when she went into the operation theatre and of course also when she returned – and we were surprised to see her bandage: it didn't only cover her right eye and her lower jaw but also went around her complete neck and upper chest! Had they worked on her neck again?

Yes, they had! In a discussion on short notice, the surgeons had decided that they would make another release cut, skin transplant and graft for her neck while they were already working on her mouth! She had grown a lot since her first surgery and one could see that it was pulling her chin down again!

So it was a three-in-one surgery and it will of course take time to recover! They released her quickly though, as they will open the bandage and change the dressing only in a few days. As before, Monika is thus staying in a guesthouse close-by together with her mother. We will go and visit on our next trip to Delhi – and I am sure we will find this brave girl eager to start the next steps of her healing process!

Click here to read more about Monika and support her treatment

A week at the Hospital – 13 Mar 16

This whole week was a ‘hospital week’ for me! Ramona, Apra and I have lived in Gurgaon for the past week and only came back to Vrindavan yesterday evening.

I actually already started daily trips to Gurgaon the week before the past one, as Purnendu and I went with my father to the hospital there to admit him: he was due for knee replacement surgery! For years already, we had known that it would have to be done one day, as he started having occasional pain. This pain had increased over the past months however and had got so bad that it was necessary to replace both of his knees.

Obviously, the timing was less than perfect with our restaurant having just opened but sometimes things just work this way!

As Purnendu had a journey booked with two of our Ashram guests towards Varanasi, Ramona, Apra and I took over the care for Babbaji and settled in Gurgaon for the past week. While Pawan stayed overnight at the hospital with Babbaji, we slept at a hotel and spent most of the day at the hospital.

As Delhi is close however, I naturally also took trips there, whenever time allowed it, to do shopping for the restaurant, sending the car back home filled with lots of stuff for Ammaji’s! And obviously Ramona and I now go to restaurants with a fully different view: we look at their interior, their menus, prices and food presentation, constantly thinking whether there is something that could inspire us for our place!

While we were already at the hospital, we called our second patient to join us: Monika came together with her mother. She, too, had her surgery – but more about that tomorrow! Today just this much: all went well and she is in the guest house now, recovering.

Now, my father is back home, we have returned as well and I am happy that these two surgeries are done. And you cannot imagine how much I am looking forward to one thing: to receive and serve guests at Ammaji’s!

How Monika’s Surgery was postponed – and we can only accept it as it is – 25 Jan 16

Today I am writing to you from a hotel room in Gurgaon. How come? We came here yesterday, after having admitted Monika to the hospital. I actually intended to send you today the message that her surgery was successfully completed. Unfortunately I cannot – but not because there were complications during the surgery but because it didn’t take place! Monika had fever in night, coughed and showed all signs of a big cold. The doctors decided that they could not operate on her today.

I told you last week that we were getting ready for the surgery, making plans with the doctors and so on. We had then placed the date of the surgery right before Ramona and my flight to Eastern India, so that we would already be in Delhi. That was cancelled first, as I told you yesterday, and now the surgery was cancelled as well. In fact, the whole journey to Delhi did actually not make sense but you know what? I don’t really mind.

I do mind those delays by people who don’t keep their word and I don’t like having to change my plans due to them being unreliable. In cases like Monika’s however, I am very flexible. When we were at the pre-surgery consultation last week, Monika had a slight cough and the doctor prescribed medicine against it. Reema, Monika’s mother had also told me that the cough was fine by now. Yesterday evening however, maybe due to her nervousness or a new virus or something, the coughing got worse and she had fever. In the late evening, I got a call by Reema that the doctors had decided to postpone the surgery.

Well, that’s how I went to the hospital this morning, not to take Monika to the Operation Theatre but to take care of the discharge papers and formalities. The anesthetist explained that he could not take the risk to go in a surgery with a chest infection and the immune system being down. He would like her to get completely and 100% fine before she goes into surgery. We thus talked about coming back in about a month, when it won’t be as cold anymore here either!

So even if we could have skipped the complete trip to Delhi, we decided to just accept things as they are and have fun as we go along with it!

The horrible Consequences of Pressuring Women to bear Children – 12 Jan 16

I yesterday told you about the expectations that Indian parents, in-laws and society members have on newlywed couples: they should get babies as soon as possible, otherwise something is wrong with them! That is a whole lot of pressure especially on the woman who is the one that is repeatedly asked and expected to report. A lot of women actually believe that this is what is supposed to happen after marriage anyway and they, too, want it to happen. They want to conceive – but that is not always up to human to decide! Sometimes, it just doesn't happen. And that is when the pressure of society can become too much for them to handle!

I have met a lot of women in the situation that they could not conceive or that the fetus in their body never grew. I talked to women all over the world about their mental, emotional and physical problems. The stress is big on all of them – but in India the pressure from the outside is by far the worst!

Obviously, if you have tried for a long time and have had several miscarriages or simply never conceived, it is emotionally draining. It is physically challenging as well. It is a mental burden. But in the west, it is usually a burden that comes from the inside of the woman herself. It is born in her own wish to have a baby and the fact that this wish has not fulfilled as well as the fear that it may never be reality.

In India, the burden mostly originates from fear of disappointing others, from the wish of others to have a grandchild, from the expectation and pressure – because that is what it is – to bear children. The fear of being seen as inadequate, unable to perform the most basic of your duties as a woman and the emotional pain it gives you to not be able to fulfill the wishes of others. Along with the regret that your own feelings don't seem to count at all. Own disappointment may play a minor role, too, but it is overshadowed greatly by influences from the outside!

Of course in India, too, there are procedures to be done if you cannot seem to conceive a child. Fertility tests for both partners, devices to measure the time of ovulation, several methods to help conceiving naturally and of course IVF, in vitro fertilization. Apart from the fact that some of these treatments require young couples to take loans to be able to pay for them, are also as painful emotionally as they are physically! Upon failure – and the chances of success are often dishearteningly low – women are shattered! All their hopes for happiness, love and respect from the outside are gone with the eggs or embryos that left her body back to its non-pregnant state!

Women fall in depression. They lose the charm for living. There have even been suicides out of this very reason! Especially due to arranged marriages where it is a bargain you make for marrying and where love is not a factor in the equation. It is as though the groom got damaged good that did not function well and could not bear the produce it should!

Can you believe we lose lives due to this stupid expectation? Of course parents have a right to have hopes and dreams for grandchildren. They have no right to create pressure though and the whole society should know: by valuing the phantom of a future child more than the woman’s feelings, you make her sick. You kill her a little inside with every month’s menstruation! Is this what you want? I don't think so!

So please let couples fall in love and marry out of love. Let them decide when it is the right time for a child. Let them live their own life. Be there for them when you are needed for support – be that a helping hand in changing diapers or a shoulder to cry on when the wish for a baby remained unfulfilled!

A dental Check-up for our School Children – 24 Jul 15

Today I want to interrupt the Friday series of introducing children of our school by telling you about another event we had, this one with and for the school children, last Friday: a dental camp at our Ashram!

In the morning at 10 am, a small van entered the back gate of the Ashram. The back doors opened and one could see a whole lot of equipment that looked a bit strange to be in the back of a van: a dentist’s chair with all the small instruments needed to look into and clean younger and older people’s mouths! Along with the van, there was a team of 20 dentists from the K.D. Dental College in Mathura, who had arrived to take care of our children’s teeth!

You can imagine that our children have never been to a dentist’s praxis! A friend of ours, a dentist from Mumbai, had once looked at the teeth of our school kids and distributed toothbrushes and toothpaste, telling them how to use them. Apart from that however, these children have not been in touch with a dentist in their lives!

Most people know that they should teach children to brush their teeth. In most homes we see toothbrushes for the children. In some, we don’t. And of course, there is a certain doubt whether the parents know how to teach their children to brush their teeth thoroughly.

These 20 dentists did an amazing job, not only looking at the teeth but cleaning each of our nearly 250 children’s teeth! There were a few of them whose teeth need more attention and they were called to the dental college for further treatment. We will take them there next week.

It was a big success and we are happy that we could help these children and make them understand how important health and hygiene in the mouth is!

Here you can see pictures of the dental checkup and cleaning

Preparations for the Event ‘Life after Death’ – 23 Jul 15

We are in the middle of our preparations for an event which will take place this weekend, here at the Ashram. We have invited people to come and sign up as body donors. They will agree that after their death their bodies will be given to hospitals so that they can be used for the progress of medicine!

Every religion has its own rituals and ceremonies for the time after death. Some religions burn the bodies, other religions bury them. All of that is done for the benefit of the soul, to get to heaven and to reach similar goals. What should someone do who is not interested in all of these ‘benefits’ because he doesn’t believe in them?

I believe it would be much better to give your body to medicine instead. If any organ can be used to save another person’s life, wouldn’t that be great? It is for me not the thought that you could live on but the idea that even after death, you can help another person to live! Even if you are very old and your organs can really not be transplanted anymore however, medicine can still take benefit from it! Yes, there are so many medical students who need to learn what they will be working with – and they could learn on you!

A long time ago already, my father asked me to find out where and how it is possible to donate his body after his death. You may be surprised but my father is really a very open thinker and has appreciated this thought for a long time!

Finally, on this weekend, he will be able to fill a form confirming exactly this. I have some atheist friends whom I have met over social networks and together we are arranging this meeting on Friday and Saturday. We will get together with more atheists – as religious believers will usually not go this way – and inform them, have talks, meet, get to know each other, make some new friends and help further lives as well as science in this way!

We don’t know how many people will finally come. Over sixty have confirmed their plans but you know how it is in India – it could be a lot more as well! That’s how we are in full preparations for food and accommodation, for making the Ashram nice and ready and of course excited and looking forward!

I will give you a full report on the event on Sunday!

Monika and her Roommate in Hospital – different Perspectives on Happiness – 27 May 15

When we were in hospital with Monika, we got to know her bed neighbor a bit, a 15-year-old girl from Malawi who came to India with her mother for altogether two months in order to have two of her heart’s valves replaced. While the two girls were talking with each other, I had to think of their different reasons for being in hospital and what they might feel for themselves when considering the other one’s medical problems. And what we, ‘healthy’ people should feel when seeing them.

Both girls have suffered from their issue for quite a while, causing their families grief. Both have had their surgery in the same hospital, one having flown across countries for the good service and medical experience, the other one having crossed the border of what was financially possible for herself. Both surgeries were successful but both girls will take time to recover completely.

Who is worse off? Who is better off?

I can only imagine what goes through the young African girl’s mind when seeing Monika, lying there with her big bandages, the visible part of her face in scars. Compassion, maybe pity? She might think ‘I may have two big scars but at least nobody can see them!’ I am quite sure that she is glad to be in her own, unburnt skin.

Monika on the other hand looks at this girl standing at the side of her bed and then sees her suddenly raise a hand to her chest. Pain is visible in the girl’s face for just a second, then it subsides. It is only the wound that hurts but one can imagine the fear that such a pain brings, knowing that the heart is not in its original and healthy state! Anytime it can stop beating and the artificial parts that are now in there may fail. ‘At least my injuries are just on the outside!’ Monika may think. Not beautiful to look at but no danger for life!

Both girls will be alright, playing soon again and enjoying life – because that’s what children do, no matter what. Both are beautiful, in spite of the scars, big and small. They look at each other and compare their injuries. What do we see, think and feel when we look at them?

Compassion is good. It can help someone like Monika who would never have got this treatment were it not for the support of compassionate people around her and around the globe!

With this compassion, you will most certainly feel something like relief and thankfulness. Happiness that you are unscarred and the realization that your own problems are actually tiny, unimportant, compared to what these two teenagers are going through!

I think we should focus on this feeling from time to time: it doesn't matter what situation you are in, what you are used to complain about, there is someone who has it worse than you but copes better! Yes, someone who is happier because he knows how to appreciate life! You are down because you don't have your dream figure, you feel ugly because you are losing hair, your breasts are too small or too big or your muscles not in shape. You are unhappy because of small things in life. See the big picture and realize that you can be happy for what you have and who you are!

Monika’s second Surgery: her left Eye, right Arm and right Breast – 26 May 15

I already told you yesterday that we had spent the weekend in Gurgaon, near Delhi, together with Monika whom we had brought to the hospital for her second surgery. Let me tell you more about the surgery and how Monika is now.

After the checkup with the doctor, we decided to have her surgery relatively soon and fixed last Saturday, the 23rd May as the date for the next operation. Of course, Ramona and I, and with us Apra, were going to accompany Monika and her mother again. We started from the Ashram on Friday and admitted Monika to the hospital in the afternoon, so that she could have dinner there and then stop eating and drinking overnight for surgery in the morning.

After two hours of surgery and about the same time for waking up from anesthesia, Monika was transferred back to her room, big bandages around her head, her arm and from the arm around the entire chest. Of course her left eye is covered and the right arm is in a tight, firm bandage which holds the arm up, 90 degrees from her body.

In a talk with the doctor, we got to know that they did not only work on Monika’s eye and arm though: there was an area with an inflammation above her right breast and they decided, during the surgery, to take off the affected skin and patch it with skin from her thigh. For this and the grafting below her arm, the again used skin of her left thigh, where they had also previously taken skin from. The surgeon told us they had discussed and decided to use the same leg – not to scar the other one and also have the possibility in future to use skin from it, as Monika will have many surgeries in future, too.

On Sunday, there was a little shock: we discovered that the dressing of Monika’s leg and with it her pants and the bedsheet were drenched in blood! After a change of dressing however, we were told it was normal and would be alright. Until Monday, no fresh blood had appeared on the dressing.

Monika will have to be in the hospital for at least one week. The dressing will be changed for the first time on Thursday and then we will see until when she will be discharged. Of course, she will have to be in a guesthouse close to the hospital for some time again, so that the doctor can see her every other day. Other than last time, when she had been operated on her neck, Monika won’t have to lie for as long in bed. She will probably be able to get up and walk already on Friday.

She is quite fine already, asking her mother to massage once her feet, then her hand and then her neck. When the doctor came, she asked whether she could not start eating solid food now, as she was not at all fond of the soups she had got until then – and she was granted her request! So according to the circumstances, Monika is well and recovering in good spirits!

You can read my previous entries on Monika here and can help us supporting her here!