Sunday, April 26, 2009

Swimming in sweat and sunscreen, attempting to deal with heat delirium

Today it reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday it was cool at around 98 degrees. For the past week it has consistently been over 105 degrees. It is a different kind of heat then I am used to, as it is not humid but simply direct from the cloudless sky and constant all day and night. It is debilitating heat, where you have to work to get through it. Resting makes it worse so you must work to try and ignore it but it always seems to be a losing battle. It is quite amazing how much less productive the heat can make you. There are no air conditioners except in some rooms, where at times we huddle together to keep cool and find ourselves getting five times more work done.

If you walk around at one o’clock in the afternoon, you typically find one of two sights: either men lying down under a tree taking a nap or women working in the middle of a farm working. Both acts at 1pm are amazing. The farmer is amazing for being able to work in the heat in the middle of the day, wearing pants or a cotton saree. The napper is laudable for being able to simply sleep more than fifteen minutes. Some days I try to make it through a whole day without taking a nap but rarely last past three o’clock before being drained. However, taking a nap leaves me swimming in my own sweat after fifteen minutes, searching on my bed or chair for a dry spot, trying to ignore how I am more delirious now than before I slept.

A byproduct of the heat are snakes, which have been appearing in high numbers for the past couple weeks. They usually appear in the early morning, around 6am to 7am, when they search for food or a cooler area to spend the day. One morning I was sitting outside my room reading when I heard a rustling behind me. Looking back, I saw nothing. Ten seconds later I heard the rustling again with a hissing sound. Coming around the corner towards my bench was a five foot rat snake, squirming its way quickly. I jumped up and followed it as it made its way right in front of my room, bumping its head against my door. After yelling out “sapa” [snake], a staff member came out of his room with two sticks, handing one to me. On the concrete the snake had great difficulty moving and we were able to handle the snake with little problem. The next day there was another snake outside the staff housing, and three days later a king cobra was found in the evening. I only saw it after it had been badly wounded by the guard who fancies himself a snake-charmer, but the sight of it fully upright was awesome.

The hospital has thus seen an increase in snakebites, complications ranging from two little marks on the ankle from a non-poisenous snake (like a rat snake) to a hemotoxic bite (most due to vipers) causing necrosis and kidney damage to paralysis from a neurotoxic bite (most due to cobras). One patient in the hospital now has swollen hands, paralysis and kidney problems caused by the crate, the most dangerous snake in the area. In addition to snakebites, more patients with severe diarrhea have been presenting in the hospital. It is unclear exactly what has caused the increase but logic seems to say that people are drinking dirtier water since there is less of it. Finally, the heat gives a lot of trouble to pregnant women, especially if they are actively working. They lose water at a rapid pace yet need it more. The doctors are working hard to educate the pregnant women as to the risk factors of working in this heat.

Every year from April to early June, everything seems to just stop around one o’clock in the afternoon. Patients increase in the mornings and afternoons, but mid-day there is a lull, and even the doctors try to catch little naps to reenergize. Farmers have much less work in the fields and are at home more, and kids are off from school and usually running around CRHP throwing stones to knock down almonds from the tree or riding adult bikes too big for them. The women still work very hard, getting water and taking care of the house and kids, cooking and sometimes even tending to the farms. While it has been difficult to get through, understanding how Jamkhed and CRHP make it through these months each year is also an educating experience.

1 comment:

Garrrr said...

With all those snakes slithering around I'm amazed anyone can take a nap or sleep at all.