Today was a pretty uneventful day. Before we can do any data analysis, we need to have a solid data set. And as any good biostatistician will tell you, the larger your sample size, the better your data. Sivananda is a well established institution, its been here in Hyderabad serving the poor and the destitute for 50 years.

But its true when they say “old habits die hard” and I’m not about to hand out any gold stars for the data management happening over the last several years in this HIV clinic (but wading through this mess is, after all, mostly why I’m here). All of the records are handwritten into books. There is a book for inpatient data (name, age, sex etc). There is a different book for CD4 count. There is another book for other lab results (hemoglobin, lymphocyte count etc). So if ONE patient comes to for a check-up, his or her relevant numbers get scattered among any number of books. Seriously you guys? So right now I am entering this data book by book into the database (glamorous, I know). Then, hopefully, I (and everyone) will be able to relate the data by patient registration numbers and have a nice clean set.

Yeah, sorry. That was boring.

Sunita is still gone, she is visiting her son and husband in their village in northern Andhra. When I came in to breakfast this morning, Mary was curled up in a little ball on the floor. I ran to her, “Mary, Mary? Are you okay?” In a society where women have almost no rights, there is alot to be potentially concerned about. I worry about these friends on a daily basis. Mary gestured to her head, and I realized she wasn’t feeling well. I put my hand on her head mom-style and she was warm with a fever. “Oh Mary, this place is full of doctors–why don’t you go see one?” She wouldn’t though. So I walked back to my room and brought her some tylenol. I watched her take one on the spot (DOTS, anyone?) and gave her one to take in 5 hours or so. Then I went to the office to page through my books.

Mary came in an hour later, brighter than sunshine. She very animatedly told everyone that I gave her medicine which made her feel completely better. She took my hand, pressed it to her cool forehead and beamed. Rubina (who speaks English) came to me, and asked me what I gave Mary. I produced the bottle of tylenol, and explained. Rubina, Mary, Sunita, and all the nurses had never even heard of acetaminophen. I mean, they’re nurses! what?  “You guys don’t have this?” I asked. “only asprin.” Shobba answered. I’m sure they have acetaminophen somewhere around this hospital, but I guess over-the-counter pharmaceuticals are not widely available to your average working class person?

Mary is now my most fiercely loyal friend. She hugs me, affectionately pinches my cheeks, and tries as many times as it is necessary to help me understand what’s happening around me (which sometimes really takes a lot of effort). Rubina explained to me that Mary was really touched by how kind a stranger could be. It seems that even though it was a simple act for me, it meant the world to Mary.

I laughed and told Rubina that I’ve been having the same feelings about all of them for two weeks now.