Sunday, 14 June 2015

Visit to Chittadhama - an ongoing health camp

They say everything happens for a reason.  So it seems with my visit to Chittadhama - the rustic haven in Heggadadevanakote (H D Kote, about 50 km from the centre of Mysore).  It is a residential unit set up by a few benevolent doctors for the rehabilitation of homeless people with mental illness.
The name board on the main building
I had met one of the senior psychiatrists who visits the place while I was discussing another case with him.  He casually happened to mention about this place and the work that his organisation, Chittaprakasha Charitable Trust, was carrying out.  I was immediately interested in it.  I asked him if I could visit the place with the team.  He kindly agreed.

The visits are usually planned for the fourth Sunday of every month.  I had to wait on Mysore Road at about 6:30 am, as the hired Toyota Innova picked up visitors from various points in Bangalore.  I was the last to be picked up.  The senior doctor I had met earlier introduced me to the other members of the team; there was another senior psychiatrist and an ENT doctor - both worked in a prominent private hospital in Bangalore - and a software engineer who was the Trust's treasurer.  

We were in a hurry to reach the place in time, as it would take up to 4 hours or more to reach H D Kote.  Apart from seeing the residents, outpatients would also have to be assessed.  But we needn't have worried.  Because the driver seemed to be in a greater hurry than any of us.  He expertly tailgated several vehicles, overtook other vehicles by avoiding them by the skin of the teeth, and generally upset the already frayed equilibrium of other road users.  

To make matters worse, it was a very busy Bangalore-Mysore highway that Sunday, and it seemed as though the four lanes were woefully inadequate in accommodating all the buses, cars, two-wheelers, tractors, jaywalkers and animals plying the road.  The driver seemed to be immune to all requests and remonstrances from us to take it easy.  In the end we were just happy that we got to the place and back, all in one piece!

We stopped near Maddur along the way for breakfast.  After a quick bite of idli-vada, washed down with tea, we set off again, and reached the place at about 11 am.  The road in between Mysore and H D Kote was surprisingly well laid out.
The road to H D Kote

A crowd had gathered near the entrance - outpatients who had arrived from nearby villages and tribal areas.  Two members of the ream generously offered to take me around the place before we got down to business.
The entrance to the residential unit
Chittadhama - literally, Haven of Mind - is set in the rural part of H D Kote is a 4 acre plot of land full of greenery.  In the centre is the single-storey building which houses the inmates.  The keys to the building were handed over by Sudha Murthy of the Infosys Foundation.
Sudha Murthy handing over the keys

The staff have tended the land and managed to grow a host of useful plants and trees: coconuts, bananas, turmeric, guavas, mangoes and other fruits and vegetables.  The place also has sheds for donated cows and rabbits.  We were offered fresh tender coconut water while we went around.
Sheds for livestock
Banana plantation
More livestock
A bore-well to draw ground water
The main entrance to the place

H D Kote itself is a stone's throw away from Nagarahole National Park, and is known for its elephant training camps.  This is also the reason why I found electric fence all around the Chittadhama periphery - to keep out rogue elephants.
The electric fence
Later, while we were heading back to Bangalore, one of the doctors also said that a snake - most probably a krait - slid past barely a feet away from him.  That is when I realised that I had been lucky not to have run into a snake or an elephant when I had ventured out on my own to take a few pictures later!

I mostly assessed the outpatients.  The residents were seen by one of the senior psychiatrists, to ensure continuity of care.  I was surprised that even among the visiting patients, I got to diagnose a variety of conditions - dementia, anxiety, psychosomatic illnesses and depression - apart from the usual psychosis and schizophrenia that one gets to encounter in these settings.  It was also easy to prescribe medication, since the Trust has also provided for basic supply of essential drugs.  We had the same lunch prepared for the residents - ragi balls, rice, lentils and an egg side-dish - all cooked by the staff from local produce.
The Trusts's vision statement
The Trust's mission statement
Rehabilitative equipments
The onsite pharmacy dispensing free drugs
There are about 25 residents in the residential unit.  These are people who have been absconding from their homes due to various reasons, but mostly due to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.  One of the enthusiastic staff members, fetched a photo album for me to see.  In it were photographs of residents when they were initially found on the streets in a disheveled state, and later looking very presentable after being properly groomed by the staff.  There were also touching photos of residents reuniting with family members when they were sound enough to tell the staff where they came from, who could then arrange their reunion.
In a country where mental health services are underdeveloped and under-resourced, and stigma towards those with mental illness is rife, the pioneering activities of this Trust are truly awe inspiring.

Overall, it was an uplifting experience, and I felt as though I had contributed, however insignificantly, to a noble cause.  I am just grateful to the the founders of the Trust for allowing me to help the homeless mentally ill patients.  I hope I will be able to continue my visits to this ongoing health camp every month in the future.

(PS: I have not included pictures of residents and outpatients to preserve confidentiality) 

Details about the Trust and its activities can be found from their Facebook page:

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