Week 2: A Day in the Life...
The “Typical” Day: Senza Da Capo
The melody of the day begins from the alarm of a small phone sleeping on a pillow dressed in
sheets stamped with the seal of St. John’s Hospital. It’s 7:20AM, and my eyes roll open as the sound of rickshaw horns and the bark of dogs permeate the netted window to join in on the symphony. I throw off the bed sheets to feel the onset of itching and witness the redness that paints itself on my leg from the fresh kiss of a mosquito.…Welcome to India!
I pick my shalwar for the day and slather on sunscreen, and then I hear another tune…the cheerful noise of a Skype call coming in from my family. Good morning or good evening—either greeting is appropriate given the 12.5-hour time difference between Bangalore and California. After sharing the latest occurrences and some virtual hugs, it’s time to fuel up for the day. If my suitemates and I aren’t eating oatmeal at home, you’ll find us at Sukh Sagar awaiting the arrival of two angelic rice cakes (called “idly”), which come to rest in front of me along with a hot cup of the finest masala chai I have ever tasted.
and men fixing buildings. It’s hardly what one would call a summer stroll but rather closer to an obstacle course. The tasks entail avoiding holes in the road, stray dogs, and loose slabs of cement that might teeter when you walk. People walk barefoot along the trash-lined streets, and the smell of either smoke or urine fills the air, mixed with the occasional scent of spices wafting
from a nearby restaurant. Survive the walk without any mishaps, and you’ll enter the lush paradise of St. John’s National Academy of Health Sciences. T.I.I (This is India) as my friends and I now say, where such stark contrasts are surprisingly common.
The campus calm is a façade for all the amazing, bustling work happening within the walls of its
research institute, medical college, and hospital. On my first day on the job, my mentor took me into the hospital. I felt like I had just walked into Los Angeles International Airport on the busiest day of the year. Chaos abounds, and the sheer number of people makes privacy scarce. Pools of people spread every which way, and waiting “rooms” are overflowing in the outpatient unit. One wonders how quickly sickness spreads in these environments.
But in my office, far from the hospital, it is calmer. It’s 9AM and time to start the day’s play
with a beast of a dataset that includes data from 2,000 pregnant women and their babies. I conduct test after test such as regressions and chi-squares using software called SPSS. Everyday, the team and I get a little closer to unraveling the effect of milk products on birthweight and identifying what specifically in milk (be it protein or vitamin B12) is having a larger effect.
Just as my fingers tire of clicking statistical commands, and my eyes begin to burn from
the light of my computer screen, the clock strikes 1PM. I shuffle out of the research institute, and a group of people from the medical college and hospital wards does the same. We convene over the daily lunch special (chappati, biryani, samosas, or daal) at what has become the biggest and loudest table in the small outdoor café.
Small exposures to the Indian medical system and culture fill the time between data analysis,
and make my days less routine. My visit to the hospital’s outpatient clinic was one such example. On another day, I am asked to have my body fat measured to test a small egg-shaped machine called a Bod Pod. I walk behind the café into a small truck, where the pod is located. After suiting up in a body suit and swim cap, I step into the pod and the door closes behind me. In just a few minutes, I find out my body’s fat mass. I was pleased to learn that my love for In-N-Out
burgers is sustainable (at least temporarily).
After work, it’s time to go home and prepare for an adventure of another sort. It’s Friday, which
means six other interns—from around the U.S., Canada, and even Germany—and I will be fortunate enough to explore another part of India. Via car, overnight bus (adventure stories saved for another time), or plane, we have explored Mysore, Pondicherry, Goa, Mumbai, and Bangalore itself during consecutive marathon weekends.
In addition to my research, trips like these are a vital part of my experience in India, because
they demonstrate the subcontinent’s stark contrasts on a larger scale. From the majestic views of Mysore Palace, to the French calm of Pondicherry on the Bay of Bengal, to the Portuguese history of Goa, to the slums of Mumbai, and back to bustling Bangalore, India is filled with pockets of distinct worlds waiting to be explored—even within St. John’s. They all come together to compose a symphony that sounds different to everyone who visits. Five weeks into my summer internship, mine is still being composed. This symphony isn’t always a nocturne, but despite the occasional dissonance, I like what I hear.
About the Blogger
Shaira Bhanji is a Economics major with a secondary in Global Health/Health Policy at Harvard, where she is the Scientista Foundation Harvard Chapter Director. Her science experience includes research internships at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as well as at City of Hope National Medical Center. In addition to her studies, Shaira enjoys playing soccer, taking walks along the Charles, and making frequent visits to Boston Tea Stop. This summer, she is pursuing a research fellowship in malnutrition at St. John's National Academy of Health Sciences in Bangalore, India.