Motorcycle Rides with Strangers and Other Indian Adventures: Rachael Ely Martinez

Motorcycle Rides with Strangers and Other Indian Adventures


Wow, this has been a surreal week! Three weeks ago, I was making quiet plans to stay home for Thanksgiving. I never would have guessed I would be spending Thanksgiving on the roof of a small rural school in India shining an otoscope in kids’ ears.


Being back in Chamba has been so wild. Eight years ago, I came her as a teenager on the health team in hopes of someday becoming a nurse. Now I’m back again as the team medic and nursing school graduation is right around the corner. I love sharing this experience with my parents. YMAD runs deep in our veins, and it’s been so fun to see my mom experience Chamba for the first time.


Coming here for me has had its ups and down, but I almost feel too busy to think about it. I accepted this position a week and a half before leaving for India because the original team medic had to drop out suddenly. I was really nervous about stepping into this little family that has been forming for nine months. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to bond with the teenagers and that I’d always feel like the new kid, but everyone has been so welcoming and nice to me. I love the teenagers and feel sad when they’re sad and want to make the feel better when they’re sick.


My time has been split between performing medical assessments on the school kids and helping our teenagers when they’re sick. I even spent a day with a local surgeon and family doctor in the hospital and let me tell you, it was NOTHING like I am used to in America, but so much fun. I kept thinking all day, “This is not happening to me.”


I walked into Dr. Singh’s operating room and thought, “Oh my gosh, I’ve just stepped into a war movie.” Rusty beds, no machines, IV fluids hanging on a gravity drip; it was almost comically unlike the hospitals I work in. Dr. Singh makes up for the lack of resources with a sharp mind. He is SO smart and with over 100 patients that he sees every day, he is efficient, too. I was sitting in his office while he was examining a woman with stomach pain, and he hopped up and said, “Let’s go” to me and all three of us walked down the hall and into a small room with a tiny bed and TV screen. I asked what we were doing and he said we were performing an endoscopy on this woman, which is where you stick a scope with a little camera down a patient’s throat to see their stomach. If you’ve ever had one, you know it’s an ordeal. You have to schedule weeks in advance, there’s loads of paperwork, you’re put under full anesthesia, and then after, it sometimes takes hours to come out of sedation. All in all, it takes several unpleasant hours.


I asked Dr. Singh if we were going to sedate her, and he said, “No. It will hurt regardless.” He had several nurses hold her down, he pried her mouth open, and stuck the scope down her throat. She was heaving and coughing while I stood there with my jaw on the floor. After maybe 30 seconds, he pulled the scope out, handed it to someone to sanitize in a bowl of yellow fluid, and the woman got up and walked out with us back to his office. I was flabbergasted. He told her that she didn’t have any ulcers, prescribed her a medication, and she walked out the door. Literally all within five minutes. I asked him why she didn’t have to sign anything and he said, “No one sues anyone here. There’s no need.”


After several hours of seeing patients, watching operations, and talking about medicine and American politics, I was so sad to leave. I was told my driver would come pick me up at Dr. Singh’s office. Some random man who was NOT my driver came and told me my ride was outside. I walked out and he hopped on a motorcycle and told me to get on. I kind of froze, speechless, weighing my options, and thought, ‘There is NO way I’m getting on that.” Dr. Singh came out and told me it was OK and that he would get me where I needed to go. I asked him where my helmet was and he laughed and said, “No helmet. India is not scientific.” (Keep in mind that India is the last place that you should drive a motorcycle without a helmet.) I hesitantly got on and legitimately wondered if I would ever see anyone I knew again. It ended up being fine, albeit terrifying, but one of those experiences that you think, “Only in India” and can laugh about later.


I love medicine, I love exploring new cultures, so this has been a dream experience and great practice for my nursing career. I love the teenagers and other adult leaders so much. Chamba has such a special place in my heart and it feels like things have come full circle to be back here doing what I’ve always wanted to.


BIG shoutout to my sweet husband, Eric, for practically pushing me out the door and being so supportive of this last minute adventure, even when I was so nervous. Thanks honey! This means the world to me.