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'Surreal' surgery impacts med student in India

  • Story Highlights
  • Medical student volunteering in India witnesses a graphic surgery
  • Differences between U.S. surgery standards and India's astound student
  • "Footwear of choice in the operating room was sandals," student says
  • Student thinks if children saw surgery they would not chew gutka
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By Tajdip Sandhu
Special to CNN
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Editor's Note: CNNU is following two student teams from the University of Southern California as they work to improve the quality of life in India. One team, Oral Cancer Awareness, is working to educate locals on the dangers of gutka. Tajdip Sandhu, a biological sciences major from USC, is part of that team. Read about the teams on the CNNU homepage. The following is a column he wrote for CNNU about his experience. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN or its affiliates.

Doctors in India perform two surgeries simultaneously.

(CNN) -- Watching a surgery in India was one of the most memorable experiences I have had to date.

We were invited to observe a fibular flap repair of a partial mandible resection due to oral cancer caused by gutka use.

In short, the surgeons sawed out half of the gentleman's jaw and replaced it with another portion of bone cut out from the leg.

In most cases, if one cannot afford this complicated surgery, the jaw is not replaced with any solid structure forming a cavity in the side of one's face. This particular individual decided that he would undergo a far more invasive surgery for the aesthetics.

Having seen surgery in the U.S., the process here in India seems surreal. The nurses and doctors did not fully cover their faces with medical masks and the footwear of choice in the operating room was sandals. Meet the Oral Cancer Awareness Team »

The power went out during the ten-hour operation multiple times and the surge protectors were fashioned from wood boxes the size of a briefcase.

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Even with all of these ostensibly dangerous factors, the chief surgeon informed us that the complication rate after surgery was not that high, including post-operative infections, and outcomes were generally positive.

Having witnessed the multiple incisions in the face, lips, mouth, neck and leg I wondered how effective would pictures and even trips to the OR be for preventing gutka use amongst the youth of Hubli.

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I would be willing to bet that if children were allowed to see a surgery that took half the day and produced innumerable blood soaked towels, they would think twice before chewing on a packet of gutka.

The logistics do not seem to pan out, but I think this experience would be more valuable to young impressionable children than any other form of education could be. It puts the benefits of chewing tobacco and the risks of surgery and death into perspective in a high impact approach.

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