When we first met Indrakhala, we thought she was in her late 50’s, perhaps even 60. In fact, she’s 32. She is emaciated and undernourished; and this, despite that fact that the Lalgadh staff have been feeding her for 3 weeks, in order to strengthen her body for the foot-drop surgery she must undergo.
Presently, both of Indrakhala’s feet suffer from “foot drop.” The nerves that lift the foot are dead in both legs. This time, Indrakhala is at Lalgadh Leprosy Hospital in Nepal, to have corrective surgery performed on both feet. Once completed, she will begin the long road to learning how to use different muscles to move each foot, and to reduce the risk of dragging the balls of her feet along the ground. The surgeons may, however, have to do a partial amputation on one of her feet.
To complicate matters, her hands are clearly deformed; and her face, also partly paralyzed, reveals signs that she is unable to blink properly. At night, she covers her eyes to protect them; but more must be done to restore her blinking reflex, so that her sight will be preserved.
It is two years ago that some of Lalgadh’s field workers were in Indrakhala’s village and someone drew her situation to their attention.
When they arrived at the mud homes where her family lived, the field staff found Indrakhala huddled in a 3-foot by 6-foot mud and bamboo lean-to, nestled against the outer wall of the animal shed. That was her home.
Indrakhala has a huge problem at home. Her extended family hits her if she strays too close to them, or to the pathways that they regularly use. As for food, only one member of her family, her mother, gives her any: and it consists of the remnants of the daily family meal. When her mother tosses the food to her, she must scramble for it with the local dogs and the other animals.
Indrakhala feels loved at Lalgadh. The staff embrace her, laugh with her, and treat her with love and dignity. Paradoxically, this breaks her heart, and she often cries, for she misses her home, and the love that she ought to receive from her family.
Indrakhala’s circumstances remind me afresh of the fact that, in her rural village culture, there is no room for the individual. Each person must be a part of a family, and each family, part of a community. That is how the community survives. To date, Indrakhala has died a social death, but not a physical one. Ramesh, the staff member from Lalgadh, is highly respected in the villages around Lalgadh, and he will work to persuade the people in Indrakhala’s village that she has been healed, and no longer poses a threat to them. Beyond this, he will work to link her with others affected by leprosy, so that she may have the support group she needs to survive, and thrive.