Some of what we heard was not surprising: virtually everyone cited malaria as a major illness. Ultimately, 75 percent of the people we interviewed said that they personally had had malaria.
Some of what we heard was not surprising, but sad. Most people we interviewed knew a child who had died of illness in their village; in the case of several, it was their own child.
A few things were surprising, or at least not totally expected: most people reported using mosquito netting. Virtually all adults had had their children vaccinated. (It seems the government is capable of at least arranging for that much.)
We interviewed local doctors and learned how many patients they saw each day and who had which illnesses and when. We visited the hospital run by the coal mining company near the mines, vast open pits fringed with tire ruts, and learned even they don’t carry snake anti-venom. We went to Sushil’s school and I surveyed the students there, and then they had me sing for them (I went with the Star Spangled Banner again). We met men who claimed to have never been ill, women with back pains and stomach pains and leg pains, teens who had no idea if they’d ever received vaccinations.
With Sushil, I gathered medical data. With Dadu, I talked budget. We sat for hours making lists of needed items and discussing ways to sustainably fund the hospital.
After visits to some 10 villages, a dozen healthcare providers, and a handful of trips back and forth to Ranchi, I crunched the numbers and began writing my report. When I started writing, the transformer had blown 2 weeks prior. So the computer was out of the question. I drafted the report in the back of my notebook, usually by candlelight—easier and nicer to use than my dim flashlights—carefully underneath the safety of my mosquito netting, crunching numbers on my cellphone’s calculator.
And in the middle of all this, something else wonderful happened: Daduji hired a doctor. Six days after I was scheduled to leave Ranchi, a real, actually-certified doctor would be coming to JV and the hospital would at last begin running.
I arrived in Ranchi five days before my train to Mumbai, grabbing hold of the electricity and my computer with both hands and typing away whenever I could. The day before my train, I handed Rajesh two typed copies of my report: one for him, and one for the doctor. I had a third for Daduji in my backpack and an electronic copy would soon be in the inboxes of everyone involved, Indian and American.
Rajesh thumbed through the 30-page report as we sipped our overpriced lattes at Cafe Coffee Day. “You have done much work,” he said. “And you have saved me a lot of time. This is very helpful. Thank you.”
Honestly, I have no idea exactly how helpful the report will truly be: if the hours spent on interviews and budget projections will ultimately translate into improved efficiency and sustainability for the hospital.
But in that moment, hearing Rajesh say those words, there was nothing that could have made me happier.