Once Upon A Summer – Volunteering in Palliative Care


This series is an attempt to capture the memorable experiences of students who have spent their summer doing interesting work. It has evolved from our previous series – ‘Internship Stories’ – to accommodate summer stories apart from those on conventional research or industrial internships. Find all the articles of the series here.




“I’m glad to share my experiences on my internship on Community Participation in Palliative Care at the Institute of Palliative Medicine, Calicut. Those days are the most important days of my life as they made me understand what life is all about. Society put me into the field of architecture but I was always interested in the construction of human values and this paved way for it.”

Priyanka Ulaganathan, Volunteer Trainee at the Institute of Palliative Medicine, Calicut (December 2014)


What is Palliative Care?


In formal terms, palliative care is a multidisciplinary approach to specialized medical care for people with serious illnesses but I would define it as the society’s responsibility to ensure the well-being of souls that are bedridden, incurably ill or dying – through physical, psychological, financial and moral support. In accordance with the saying, “We cannot change the direction of the wind but we can always adjust the sails.”, the society feels their pain and cannot help but be moved to help relieve it.


Dr.Anwar Hussain, who works at IPM, shared the following experience with me that made me understand what palliation is all about:




She said, “But I’m still afraid of death and the loneliness”.

She cried and I could feel her hand shivering …


“Do you sleep?”



“Does somebody sleep with you? Aren’t you alone in sleep?”

She nodded thoughtfully.


“Do you dream in sleep?”



“Isn’t it beautiful?”



“So, look dear, let’s put it this way. You are going to sleep, not die. You are going to meet your creator who loves you the most. You are not alone. You are going to see beautiful dreams in your sleep.”

“But, I’ll miss my family.”


She didn’t expect an answer from me this time. She got it. Her eyes were filled with tears but for a different reason this time.


Institute for Palliative Medicine


It was in 1993 that two physicians with a noble vision laid the foundation of the ‘Institute of Palliative Medicine’. They put their heart and soul into it and as a result of their work, palliative care projects now prosper in Kerala and some other parts of India.



The Institute of Palliative Medicine, Calicut


These people brought into reality the fact that even during the darkest moments we must focus on seeing the light. This is the basic principle of the palliative structure at IPM. “Palliation is not limited to time. It takes 24×7 involvement but we lose our pride when anything untoward happens. Anyone can die at any moment.”, says Dr. Suresh Kumar, the founder of Institute of Palliative Medicine, Calicut. At IPM, the general public is the main body that gives shade to the residents with their compassion and care.


 ‘Footprints’ – The Rehabilitation Program


The lonely either become thoughtful or empty. This is the main concern behind the rehabilitation program for the patients. It tries to drive away this emptiness by involving the participants in activities like making soft toys, jute bags, painting, clay modeling etc., the raw materials for which are provided by IPM. The profits gained from selling the products are then given to the participants. The participants come to the respective centers and make the products with the help and guidance of the volunteers and tutors.



Participants of the ‘Footprints’ program


It has been scientifically proven that even the subconscious mind can learn through repetition and from emotion. Spending time in these activities affirms new beliefs in the participants and there emerges an effective change in their life. This helps the participants forget their pasts and become the pioneers of their future. Consider the following case:


Mr. Kanaka Das is a paraplegic person living with his wife and two children on the outskirts of Calicut city. He started out as an auto-rickshaw driver and was the only earning member of his family from an early age. When he was only 28, he met with a terrible accident that confined his life to the four walls of a room.

Deeply saddened by the treatment he received from the society and his own family, he felt isolated and depressed. “There was nobody to hear me, nobody to share my emotions with. I was not even able to sit comfortably in a wheelchair”.

Mr. Das was enrolled into the ‘Footprints’ program. Initially, the shattered man was not willing to participate in any of the activities. Noticing that the volunteers had deliberately started spending time with him, he slowly started opening up and mingling with the others.

Then one fine day, he came up with a beautiful painting which became the centre of attraction of the workshop; it was the painting filled with the emotions of a man who dared to fight his fate after being confined to his bed for years, seeing only the barren roof and the empty walls of a dark room. Mr. Das is now an integral part of IPM.


Home Care Projects


Home Care projects are the main projects of IPM. As the name suggests, in a Home Care project, patients are visited and treated at their homes by doctors, nurses and volunteers. It is a boon for the patients who are not be able to visit the doctor frequently. Service is provided at the their doorsteps.

I had the opportunity of being part of a Home Care project. The young are full of passion and the aged are full of care. Hence, volunteering works for people of any age in a Home Care project. I was accompanied by 2 other volunteers above the 40 years of age in this project. Every house we went to, we were greeted with a SMILE by both the patients and their family members. This tells us successful these projects are. Those days made me understand that we can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.


Volunteer Diaries


Reading the following excerpts from the volunteers’ diaries helped me understand the depth of what I had been doing:


I imbibed a lot of life stories, attended inspirational talks and interacted with a lot of patients during my time as a palliative volunteer. William Osler once said, ”No bubble is so iridescent or floats longer than that blown by a successful teacher”. Will I be one such bubble when I explore the world as a doctor, reaching out  to those in need? Undoubtedly, I will be one such bubble because I’m taught and trained by patients themselves. They have tailor-made a doctor out of me.

– Ashwin Ramesh


Life has a meaning they say.
Alas! I never knew.
Horizon broadened with new thoughts,
I marched ahead caring and being cared!
Now I know what it is like,
To love, to live and to be remembered.

– Alakananda


IPM is where positivity defeat the darkness of death.

– Rabeeha


I started loving myself. I did not care that much about my life till then. This experience made me realize how lucky I am.

– Shaz


I feel blessed to be the harbinger of change. This is unquestionably one of the best things happened to me.

– Saif, IPM.


The Need for Palliative Care


The number of people who need palliative care is fast increasing. This affects the knitting of the society in various aspects. The participation of each one of us in this is important because these ailments cannot be cured with only a doctor’s help. Improving the quality of life of these victims can be only done by the society.

I was unaware of the importance of palliative care until I did this internship. 99% of the population still lives in ignorance. To increase awareness, everyone must be encouraged to do such an internship. My attitude towards life has changed entirely after the internship. Even if I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. This is the lesson I learnt from my internship apart from getting acquainted with a lot of interesting people. I’m so thankful to each and everyone who helped me throughout. I never felt like I was in a new place. People there threw a stone across the waters and it is now time for the ripples to spread. Let’s do this together!


“There is simply no pill that can replace human connection.

There is no pharmacy that can fill the need for compassionate interaction with others.

There is no panacea.

The answer to human suffering is both within us and between us.”

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