MEDYKA, POLAND — Bothered by daily reports of more bombing and bloodshed in Ukraine, 29-year-old resident physician Dr. Chaitanya Rojulpote of Scranton, PA, did more than simply feel sorrow for …
MEDYKA, POLAND — Bothered by daily reports of more bombing and bloodshed in Ukraine, 29-year-old resident physician Dr. Chaitanya Rojulpote of Scranton, PA, did more than simply feel sorrow for the people caught in the war’s path.
He did what his heart demanded.
He bought a plane ticket and made a solo trip to Europe, devoting one week of his vacation time to helping refugees displaced by the brutal Russian invasion.
Rojulpote, a second-year internal medicine resident at the Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education in northeast Pennsylvania, teamed with a non-governmental medical relief organization that is dedicated to helping people in distress.
He worked in its first aid field unit, tending to people as they fled danger and finally crossed the border from chaotic Ukraine into the relative safety of Poland. The refugees typically arrive there in waves, he said. They cross by foot through the guarded gate at all hours of the day and night. They are hungry, cold, frightened, sometimes dehydrated, usually exhausted and always uncertain. Most are women and children.
“What you’re giving these people more than anything else—more than medical help, more than food, more than water—is hope,” said Rojulpote. “You’re giving them hope that, after finally reaching this destination, it’s going to get better.”
More than 12 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russian troops invaded the nation on February 24, creating what is considered one of the fastest-growing displacement and humanitarian crises in history. An estimated 6.5 million people had been uprooted but remained within the country as of early May. More than 5.7 million Ukrainians had escaped to neighboring nations, with Poland receiving the largest influx: 3.1 million individuals and counting, according to United Nations estimates.
News of the situation—combined with horrific images of civilians killed and injured—is compelling millions of people around the globe to feel personally responsible for the victims, as reflected in the ongoing outpouring of financial donations and material goods. Only a fraction of observers, however, will go to the scene as Rojulpote did in mid-April, and those who consider making the trip are respectfully asked to follow through only if they have the needed skills.
Rojulpote knew that health care workers were in high demand by aid agencies at the Ukrainian border. Before joining the effort, however, he brushed up on techniques he hadn’t used since his days in medical school in India, including how to close wounds. He visited the emergency department of Commonwealth Health Regional Hospital of Scranton, where two physicians graciously gave him refreshers on properly placing an intravenous line and on suturing. (He practiced by putting stitches in a Styrofoam cup.) He also watched YouTube videos about applying simple field dressings.
Rojulpote’s skills would be tested during his brief stint at the border. He practiced on-the-fly medicine, offering the best care he could in the limited time that patients would stay. Most of the travelers were in a hurry to move on within hours, even minutes. In one case, he could only plead with, and then dispense blood pressure-lowering medication to, a man whose reading was dangerously high. The man took the pills but immediately continued on his journey, to connect with his waiting wife, when he rightly should have gone straight to a hospital.
Several of the refugees whom Rojulpote encountered only briefly will remain with him in spirit for the rest of his life. He was summoned one night, for instance, to treat Nina, an 86-year-old grandmother who had traveled for two days straight before entering the camp; she was on the verge of collapse. From her, the young physician learned the power of resilience.
Similarly, a man known as Sasha, who each day waits and waits at the border gate, greeting every arriving traveler and hoping to get news about his missing family, demonstrates the enduring power of love—and kindness.
Rojulpote decided to publicly share these and other stories of his experiences in Medyka, Poland—where he volunteered inside a woodstove-heated tent that serves around the clock as both a sort of urgent care clinic and a healer of souls—as a way of motivating others to lend aid when hearing about the Ukrainians’ plight or any other calamity.
“I want people to ask themselves what they can do to help,” he said. “And then the next question is, ‘OK, how do I go about doing that?’ Not everyone can get on a plane and go, but, whatever gesture, whether it’s donating or volunteering locally to fundraise for a cause, is going to help.
“If you have the intention to do good,” he added, “I think you should just act on it.”
The physician is quick to point out that his journey was supported by many others, including members of his Wright Center family. Three fellow resident physicians—Drs. Kashyap Kela, Princy Shaw and Richard Bronnenkant—adjusted their plans to provide clinical coverage in his absence. “They couldn’t come with me,” he says, “but they helped me to make the trip.”
Dr. Douglas Klamp, associate program director of internal medicine residency in the graduate medical program at the Wright Center, initially thought the younger physician’s planned international mission might get derailed for any number of practical reasons. Yet Klamp chipped in medical supplies, including surgical instruments and orthopedic support devices, then marveled as the plan was executed.
“Chaitanya stuck with the idea and made it happen,” says Klamp. “It was an extraordinary and meaningful act that elevated all of us, especially when he returned and shared his experience with us during a presentation at our teaching conference.”
Rojulpote acknowledges that the same impulses that led him to Ukraine probably brought him to the Wright Center, where an emphasis is placed on delivering health care to the underserved and those most in need. “I think I was drawn to this place at some level because of its mission to serve,” says Rojulpote. “With all the noise and prestige that can come from going to bigger institutions, you can lose sight of why you chose a career in medicine.”
Find Part II “Doing good in the world” in next week’s edition of the River Reporter.
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