Reflection from the Men’s Clinic

The first of our blogs from Chaparda 2023 volunteers. this one is written by Fleur Clackson-Foney

I heard about the charity World Medicine when I was doing my Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture training. A friend, who was two years above me in college, applied for, and went with, them to India. I was impressed with their project and their work. I determined to contact them when I graduated.

Fast forward two years and I did graduate… in the midst of the Covid pandemic. When things opened up a bit, I went to Wapping where World Medicine take over a room once a week and offer acupuncture for refugees.

There I met Barbara and Najma, two of the Trustees. I did a bit of acupuncture with them that afternoon and mentioned, “Should you ever return to India I’d love to interview for the team.” (They hadn’t been able to travel to India during the pandemic.)

In July 2022 I got an email from Barbara asking if I’d still like to interview to go to India. Yes, I’d like! And so interview I did. I was subsequently offered a place on the January 2023 Acupuncture Camp to Chaparda, Gujarat.

Flights were booked pretty sharpish and then in the ensuing months, there were various updates on things such as what visa we needed, what insurance, a list of general things to take, how many needles to take, and so on.

We had a ‘hello’ zoom meeting with the team (six acupuncturists and eight translators) and then an in-person all-dayer in London around October. On that day we all met face-to-face for the first time and Barbara went through everything in detail.

When you travel to India with World Medicine your accommodation and food are taken care of through the charity. World Medicine will also reimburse you for your acupuncture needles, moxa and another. What you need to do is raise your own travel costs. I created a Crowdfund page, with information about the Charity, the Project, and what I’d be doing. Friends and family kindly came together and pledged enough money to cover not only my travel costs, but my acupuncture kit costs too. So rather than charge that cost back to  World Medicine I was able to offer this expense in kind to the Charity as a donation.

Crowdfunding also became a platform to share the details of the charity and the experience. I wrote a weekly email to the 36 people who donated, describing where we were, the work we were doing, and the friendships we were making. 

Christmas came and was a whirlwind. And then, on Jan 5th, I met up with eight of the team (some had traveled at different times) at Heathrow Airport. We left the UK on Thursday afternoon. We arrived at the ashram that would be home for three weeks, on Saturday lunchtime. That sounds arduous, and yes it was two days…But there was a whistle-stop tour around Delhi during our stopover and a night in a hotel in between.

A couple of us acupuncturists were quite newly qualified and were feeling some trepidation. The clinic, we were told, could get very busy. To put that into context, that means you can find yourself, in a multi-bed setting, treating circa 22 patients a day! On Sunday we went to the local hospital, where the clinic is based (we had two small wards to work from – one for men and one for women) and set up. It helped greatly to calm the nerves, seeing the location and getting all our gear ready.

On Monday the clinic began. It was sort of quiet at the start. I think for the Trustees it’s always slightly guesswork on how efficiently the clinic has been advertised to the local villages. There was no need to worry by the afternoon we were busy and the Tuesday and Wednesday we were very busy!

Obviously, we were working in a very different way from at home. We were not taking a detailed case history. We were asking a few pertinent questions about the main complaint. We learned quickly that questions should be simple and straightforward, both for the translator to understand, what they were asking the patient and for the patient to be able to clearly answer.  

I worked in the men’s clinic with Barbara, two male translators, and two male assistants (nurses) from the hospital. I worked mostly with the same translator for three weeks. By day two or three we’d started to get into our rhythm of working together. He’d know when to bring in the next patient, whilst I was still treating the last, and he could ask the basic preliminary questions.

The two assistants were great, doing copious amounts of moxa and some massage too. Barbara and I worked each of us on one side of the ward treating between the five beds we each had. 

Although the clinic is busy, it is paced very kindly for us. We work 8.30 to 12.30, walk ten minutes back to the ashram for lunch and return for a 2pm start until 5.30 pm. It never felt too much and, if for a moment it felt a lot, I’d look at the farmer who’d been toiling all his life and think, “Fleur you think this is too much? Really? Come on?

The patients were mainly farmers and their families, diamond polishers, or OAPs. They were for the most part poor or very poor. We treated a lot of knee and shoulders and local pain but there were digestive issues, headaches, and even spirit-related issues too. The results we got, especially given the limited intake info were pretty amazing. Much better than those I’d have got for the same complaints in the UK I reckon… why that is I don’t know.

It is humbling and gratifying work. I was moved by the patients and their dignity. This made it effortless to approach each man with the utmost respect.

In addition to the work, Saturday afternoons and Sundays are free. There’s generally a trip to a local town arranged for a bit of shopping, or to go see a temple. And Sunday (of which you only have two once you’ve started) is a good day to chill and rest and make sure you’re ready for Monday.

Our team was great,  warm, friendly, funny, encouraging, and capable. I have made friends with whom I’ll stay in touch. The team makes it fun – which is needed after a full-on day. You may have heard stories that break the heart but there’s often a sweet moment after work when we stop at the café outside the hospital gates and have a chai or coconut water. There’s no hierarchy or judgment from the longer-standing acupuncturist about what points you did/didn’t use or why. They are solely helpful and encouraging. 

Life is put into a new perspective by doing this work. I felt pretty lucky and pretty grateful. Also, there’s a kind of ease in not having to think about what you are doing tomorrow. You are being fed three times a day and you have a place to sleep. Your job is to keep up your energy even and do the work and create as much value and benefit as you can with your skills. That feels pretty special.

It was an incredible opportunity and I feel fortunate I got to work with World Medicine on this project. It’s true, I was knackered at the end, but in no way broken, in fact, quite the reverse.