We would be delighted to discuss the possibility of you joining us for your medical elective. Zoe Rooke joined us in 2018, she was an inspiration — the way she threw herself wholeheartedly into life and work here, quickly becoming accustomed to the culture, loving the children and playing with them in her spare time, and encouraging us by her presence, observations and questions. Here is her story...
An elective student’s experience at St Luke’s
My stay in India was split between one week in St Luke’s, Hiranpur and a further three weeks at the community hospital ‘Prem Jyoti’ in the Sahibganj district of Jharkhand. Whilst away, the time felt like my Dorothy moment - I knew I wasn’t ‘in Kansas anymore’. Now I am two weeks back in the UK and I don’t know if it would be right to call it home sickness, but I feel there has been left a wedge in my heart, and there is so much of Jharkhand I miss. It is hard to pin these things down, memory is so often more effervescent and diffuse than the neatly organised archive we imagine it to be: so I will try instead to give a short narrative of two photos I took while in Hiranpur that hold a special significance for me.
A considerable proportion of patients seen at the clinic at St Luke’s are obstetric and gynaecology patients. Women would come to seek help during pregnancy or, often, for problems related to fertility. Looking back, I have a small fleet of women whom left a strong impression on me and have stayed in my mind. Some of these women walked miles for medical treatment; many were very young or looked older than their years from physical labour; a few had experienced multiple miscarriages; still, these women often had a certain confidence or vitality, something unique that – I thought-had perhaps come out of hardship. I photographed many of them, and wrote a small note when Dr Elisabeth recounted their stories. But this woman, who came simply for contraceptive measures, I was particularly drawn to. She was willowy, and pale from anaemia. She had that candid expression that I knew so well from the people here. But she looked strong. And that is what I really took from my time meeting these women, how strong they had to be. It is also the sad truth that maternal loss is not uncommon in this area. I had been told of at least three mothers from the village whom had been taken from their families: one thought to have been kidnapped whilst travelling for supplies, one who ran away, and one who died in childbirth. Strength, and life, were therefore two things I was so happy to have captured in this mother and child.
What is taken for granted.
Mostly I liked taking pictures of people while I was in India. I loved the faces in which I felt I could almost read the stories written behind them, the beautiful clothes of exotic colours and intricate designs, the way people knew their land, walked and laboured in it. This is one of the few photos of an object I have and it reminds me of something important. These are a pair of Dr Elisabeth’s gloves. Between examinations of patients I would watch her wash them in warm water and soap and leave them to dry, hanging over the edge of a wooden table. I can’t imagine how much plastic, how many pairs of latex gloves, masks and paper towels are thrown away every day, or every hour, in the UK for the purpose of infection control. But living in the UK, it is difficult to imagine going without resources that seem so basic. In both Hiranpur and in Prem Jyoti hospital, supplies were limited but valued, and despite hot water not always being available, cleanliness — to the best possible degree-was always strived for. Post-op infection rates were impressively low in Prem Jyoti, and I imagine this will be similarly achieved in Hiranpur once theatres open: a reminder of how purpose and need can make us more resourceful.
Zoë Rooke, 5th year medical student at the University of Glasgow.
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