When we met Givraj Sen last fall he was a 19 year-old chef/barber hoping for a new ear.
Givraj was three years old when when an accident in his home village of Kanai in Rajasthan, India, left him severely burned, his left ear entirely consumed and left side of his face and neck, and left arm burned. The fire killed one small child and injured several others. Young Givraj spent over a month in the hospital.
An industrious and cheerful young man, Givraj isn’t embarrassed about his scars but he would love to have ear. Although he has insurance, the rough equivalent of Medicaid, he had no idea where to begin. His father, a barber/servant, asked around but people in these villages are unsophisticated–the female literacy rate is only 20%–and no one knew where to begin.
At our medical clinic, in the fall, for which Givraj, prepared the food, I organized a meeting with Givraj, the physical therapist who runs the NGO we partner with, and Lokendra and Goldie Rathore.
I don’t speak Hindi. The physical therapist explained that Givraj would need to go to Jaipur, the largest city in Rajasthan–two to three hours away depending on how many cows are meandering on the road–and have a consultation with a plastic surgeon. The physical therapist wrote a name on a referral slip. The surgeon would advise on next steps.
This discussion happened in English. “Please translate this for Givraj,” I say.
“After we’re done I will,” says Goldie.
“No, now. This is important for his life and he needs to understand every step.”
The elder Mr. Rathore offered to take Givraj when they returned to their home in the city and to accompany him on medical appointments. Insurance would pay the cost of any surgery.
“Do you have any questions?” I asked Givraj.
Only how fast this could all happen. Today? Tomorrow? Next week?
It turned out there was too little flesh remaining to build Givraj and ear, but the surgeon could help him. They would take a skin graft from his right thigh and improve both the appearance and function of his neck. The contraction of the scars had given him restricted movement.
Less than three weeks later Givraj had the surgery, a family member stayed to help care for him in the hospital, which is expected. Afterwards he had to be careful for a good while to protect the graft, no cooking in heat for two months….
And now, Givraj has a whole new life. He moved to the neighboring state of Gujrat, and works for a catering company. While I was in Kanai he drove ten hours–by motorbike!–to come and thank me. He showed me dozens of photos of elaborate dishes he’d prepared for his work, tiny desserts with silver foil on top. Platters and platters in which the sweets are organized to make pictures.
You ask why I didn’t get any of those pictures? I ask myself the same thing.
He was going to cook us a celebration dinner, but traffic slowed him up. It was 10 pm when he arrived. I was a uncomfortable with all the focus on his scar. Grandma kept exclaiming and brushing her fingers. All and sundry exclaimed and inspected, but I chalked up my discomfort to cultural differences.
Before I was awake the next morning he was off to Mumbai–a 17 hour drive–where he would be working on a wedding for 1,000 people.
My discomfort over the focus on his scar was surpassed by my discomfort at the level of appreciation. I wanted to say I didn’t really DO anything. I didn’t perform surgery. I didn’t pay for surgery. I didn’t even drive him, by car or camel or motorbike, to the surgery. What I did was set up a meeting and get him on the right path.
And at first I attributed my discomfort to those pesky cultural differences. Whenever anyone tries to touch my feet I go into freak-out mode. But then I realized that for him getting put on the path was huge. Small for me; momentous for him.