HATS OFF to the one and only Gilly Burn, the palliative care sprint queen from the UK, travelling around India for the last 35 years through her beloved railways, inspiring professionals, students and masses to take up the cause of palliative care. Her big bags that the railways love to carry and her escorts dread, are actually magic boxes filled with accessories to transform her into one among the locals where she is talking. You would see her in a Kashmiri coat in J&K, in a salwar kameez in Punjab, in a saree in Tamil Nadu, and in an Assamese shawl in the North East. Her ways to connect with the locals makes her discover the most beautiful stories in the remotest part of India. Her legendary stools are lying in the wards of many hospitals symbolising the importance of communication!!! Please read what the amazing Gilly Burn writes:
This year marks 35 years since Dr Jan Stjernsward, Chief of the Cancer and Palliative Care Unit of the WHO, asked me to undertake a ‘Needs Assessment’ for Palliative care in India.
As this was a very new concept in India, I received a mixed reception, with one centre telling me, very clearly, that I had come to the wrong place and that they had no interest in Palliative Care at that time!
How times change!
Thank you so much to Pallium India, the wonderful Coordinators and Regional Facilitators, who, by all their hard work arranging and co-ordinating the very extensive and complicated logistics of my travel, have made 2023, truly amazing for me.
Planes, boats, taxis and rickshaws, but mostly trains enabled me to reach 13 States, 3 Union Territories in 34 cities, travelling nearly 25,000km and reaching over 5000 participants. I am truly indebted to the long-suffering Facilitators, especially those brave enough to travel with me!!
Anyone who has ever worked with me will know that it’s a challenge, as plans change almost an hour by hour basis, depending on what opportunities present themselves! In October, I had a scheduled programme in Guwahati which had to be cancelled.
Within hours Dr Dinesh Goswami (a pioneer of palliative care at the B Barooah Cancer Institute in Assam, whom I met in 1994 when I visited as a ‘Tea Taster’) had managed to arrange a full day of teaching involving several nursing institutes and around 60 participants, in Guwahati. It was a great honour for me to be able to teach with him.
The Pallium India Regional Facilitator for Maharashtra, by her creativity and quick thinking, arranged a wonderful visit including my travel and local hospitality at Dr Prasanna Menon’s Palliative Care Centre in Thane, on the day I landed in India! It was a great start to my Autumn tour and totally inspirational !
I also want to acknowledge all those people in all the places that I have visited, for their very warm and welcoming hospitality, including me in their families, taking me shopping and sightseeing as well as entertaining me at their homes, which is always such a special and I would say, spiritual, experience.
Because of the great relationships within the palliative care communities for which they are responsible, the Regional Facilitators have contributed hugely to the development of palliative care services throughout India.
In 2023, Pallium India has arranged clinical teaching involving patients and their families in hospitals, hospices and community as well as home care programmes in remote tribal areas.
Lecture programmes were organised in several Universities, Medical and Nursing colleges for doctors, nurses, social workers, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and pharmacy students, as well as Faculty, Volunteers, and the general public. Meetings were also arranged with the Health Ministers, Deans and Vice Chancellors of leading Universities-all keen to include palliative care in their sphere of practice.
The Indian rail network holds a special place in my heart. It was on a train in 1990, that I had a dream and woke up with the idea of setting up Cancer Relief India, which will be 34 years old this year.
Those of you that know me, will know I don’t travel light and your wonderful Indian Rail system with its beautiful trains and amazing porters is probably the only public transport system that can truly cater to my heavy demands!!
I am in indebted to the wonderful porters, and you’ll see from the picture the sort of luggage they have to transport for me!
I have so enjoyed the travel by train – I always meet such interesting people. On one of the trains in Nagaland, I met a senior railway official who is now involved with helping a man who was paralysed after falling from a ladder, doing some painting on railway property over three years ago. Having heard his story, he is looking into trying to get compensation for the man.
He also helped me with a “waitlist problem” for my subsequent train journey from Assam to West Bengal! This same train was 6 hours late arriving in Kolkata. However, this gave me enough time to get to know my companions in the carriage! One was a security guard at the airport. He had seen my bags on the train, and I had expressed anxiety about getting all my luggage on the flight to Delhi. As is my amazing good fortune, the same security guard had rearranged his shift to be on duty when I checked in at the airport 2 days later! He helped me by his charm and kindness, by persuading the check-in staff to be lenient with me – all my bags got to Delhi without further cost!
So, thank you to Pallium India for the life-enriching opportunities you have given me.
May God Bless all your work throughout India as we enter 2024.