Saturday, January 12, 2013

Christian Hospital, Bissamcuttack

My family was blessed to have the opportunity to accompany a group of 8 medical students from our medical college on a Secondary Hospital Posting from Dec 14th to 22nd. We were thrilled to be able to visit The Christian Hospital, Bissamcuttack, in Rayagada district, Orissa.

We were especially happy to be able to make this trip, because Arpita had had such a wonderful time working in this hospital for two years between 2001 and 2003. I had heard so much about this hospital from her, and it was wonderful to finally be able to visit. It was good to meet with a number of her old friends and colleagues, and to see the love and regard they have for her. I heard so many stories of the way her life and work ethic had impacted so many. The medical world lost a special doctor when Arpita decided to invest her life in her husband and children.

Arpita and our children
In many ways, the hospital at Bissamcuttack is very similar to the many other mission hospitals we have visited over the years. It was wonderful to hear a little bit of its history, about its founder, and the heroes who have worked there subsequently, and about the various innovative ways the hospital tries to help the poorest people in one of the most backward districts in the country. We were blessed to meet the committed, passionate and highly competent people who work here. We noticed that a number of staff multi-task, practising not only what they have been trained to do, but also doing an excellent job playing other roles they have trained themselves to perform because of the need.

(Here is a well written blogpost by a visitor to Bissamcuttack in August,2012, which gives a very good overview of the hospital, its history, community involvement, and residential school)

I was fortunate to be able to spend some time with Dr Sunil Jiwanmal and the surgical team (one junior doctor, a nurse anaesthetist, and a few nurses and theatre staff), and help out in some paediatric surgeries. It was refreshing to get back to the heady days of practising rural surgery! Dr Sunil and his team work at a breath-taking pace, and somehow manage to provide high quality surgical care to hundreds of patients every month. It seemed to me that on a typical day, the team performs ultrasounds, sees around 80 inpatients, operates on about 15 to 20 patients, including about 5 major operations, and sees about 50 patients in the outpatient department, apart from handling a number of major emergencies. And this was supposed to be the ‘light load’ of the winter season! They are able to pack so much action into the day because they share the load, get along well with each other, make the best use of the resources that are available, go beyond the call of duty and do more than they have been trained to do. I was inspired by watching this team at work.

It was also very enriching to be able to engage with Dr Johnny Oommen and the community health team. It was very encouraging for me to be able to bounce some of my ideas and thoughts (about mission and mission hospitals, for example) off him, and find a lot of resonance and similarity in the way he has thought through some of these very issues over the years. I look forward to carrying this conversation and exchange of ideas forward, especially as we grapple, as a family, with major decisions regarding our own future directions and plans.

Another highlight of this trip was being able to spend a couple of days with Ashita Abraham, Arpita’s sister, who stays with “Mrs K”, the Mitra Residential School, Kachapaju. Here was another eye-opener, as I listened to the story of how this school was started and the sense of community ownership and participation in its daily running.

The Road to Mrs K, the school at Kachapaju

Mrs K Kachapaju
Mrs K

Mrs K Kachapaju
Mrs K's children sing us a song

Mrs K Kachapaju
Telephone Point: The one place from where you may be able to make a phone call!

(You could read two newsletters which I could find online, to get a better understanding of Mrs K. This newsletter from Jan 2008 talks a bit about the history of the school, and the way it functions. This newsletter from 2010 talks, among other things, about how the school was protected during the infamous riots of 2008)

Which really brings me to what I perceive as this hospital's special strength: 
The Christian Hospital, Bissamcuttack is not a Christian Ghetto!

I have often written and spoken about what I thought was one of the major dysfunctions of the Mission Hospital model: the "Christian Campus" or, what Dr Johnny calls, "The Christian Ghetto" phenomenon. It seems to me that a number of mission hospitals are very closed communities. Generally, almost the entire Christian community in an area lives within its walled campus. We generally become so busy in the daily running of the hospital that we gradually become more isolated from the rest of the world. We are protected from the inconveniences of the world outside with our continuously generated electricity and water supply. As we live out our cocooned, cloistered and comfortable lifestyles, the 'outside world' becomes the dangerous place that we must periodically visit in order to go to the market. Our 'Mission' becomes merely the successful running of Morning Chapel, and the periodic 'Spiritual Renewal Week', Easter or Christmas programmes. 

Note the number of C words! The Christian Campus is often a comfortable and convenient, but also closed, cocooned, cloistered, and dis-connected Christian community!

One does not, however, get that impression from the CHB. There are a number of contributing factors, right from the open gate with no intimidating security officer, to the large open spaces, the canteen and shop right at the entrance (run by and open to 'outsiders'), staff accommodation outside the main campus, the effort to make the hospital as comfortable and welcoming as possible to the local people, the active community health department with its level of involvement with the local people and villages, and the obvious sense of ownership of the hospital that is seen not only in the hospital staff but also in the local people. Dr Johnny says every hospital begins to resemble its leader, and CHB certainly seems to have been fortunate to have had unusually far-sighted leaders who considered involvement with the local community crucial if the hospital was going to really be successful.

The Surgical Ward:  A number of small rooms.
Note the large garden space being used by patients to dry clothes! 

Patients share rooms with 2 or 3 other patients, and their relatives.
 They form a support system for each other

The entire family lives with the patient within the campus.

The hospital has provided space for the patients to cook together.

Living and Cooking together

The garden in A ward (the medical ward). Note the Christmas decorations!

Here are a few links to more Bissamcuttack related stuff on the web:

1. A presentation by Johnny Oommen made in Vellore in April 2012. It contains some autobiographical details, some great pictures of the hospital, community health work and school,  and a great slide which details some of the impact this hospital has had in terms of Health Indicators. It then talks about ways in which peripheral hospitals, the Public Health system and Medical Colleges have much to give and receive from each other.
2. How to Steal a Mountain: a look at Vedanta's illegal efforts to begin bauxite mining in this area.
3. Shikha Bhattacharji's blog on life in Bissamcuttack.

Possibly related posts from the past:
1. A Shout-out to India's Generalists
2. Developing a Christian Work Ethic
3. Why do I exist?
4. Personal Mission Statement Version 2


  1. Thank you for this blog! It s really good to hear that Christian Hospital Bissamcuttack and its staff, still amaze and inspire. We had the opportunity to visit the hospital as part of our secondary hospital posting in May 2008 and it was truly enriching.



  2. It was a great experience to visit BCH during SHP-I in Dec 2015. Thank you for your blog. It is very inspiring.