oil and the sun.
With direction from friends and family, my parents found another doctor in Hyderabad, just an hour drive from my grandparent’s home in India. A few weeks later, my mom and I flew to India to stay with my grandparents for a week. My grandpa scheduled an appointment at the clinic and hired a driver to take us there. Despite our eagerness to meet the doctor, we ended up leaving late and we drove against the freeway traffic to arrive at the clinic on time! After the nauseating journey, I happily stepped out of the little gray car and searched for a sign for the clinic. After exploring the block for a few moments, we finally saw a vitiligo patient step out of a rusting gated fence from across the street. We found it!
We walked over the fence and peered around, following through into a brown door. The clinic was small, with low ceilings and dark lighting. It was scorching hot and bright outside, so I was more than happy to wait in the dim room. We were greeted into the doctor’s office by a tall, grimming doctor. He began to discuss a topical oil, made from bagchi. Handing me a small container of a smelly, yellow liquid, he explained that we would apply to the white skin and sit in the sun for 45 minutes. He also gave us a less-concentrated version of the oil to apply at home everyday and sit in the sun. The hopes of this treatment was to target the sunlight to certain parts of skin to regenerate pigmentation. Essentially, the strategy was to mildly burn the skin. This was the first – and certainly not the last- approach we had taken that targeted the pigment from external sources, rather than manipulating the internal chemicals and fluids within the body. My mom gave rupees to the nurse sitting outside to pay for the clinic visit and bagchi oil, and then we applied the oil, crossed the street to visit the gurdwara next door and sat there for 45 minutes. This was one of the most aggravating parts of the treatment for me, because I would get so flustered and hot sitting on the ground in temperatures around 100 degrees. To pass time, we would walk around the road and buy snacks and stickers at the nearby markets.
My mom and I flew back and forth to India several times a year so that we could continue the treatment with strong sunlight as opposed to the muggy rain in Seattle. At the time, I was only in elementary school, so missing school for the doctor visits was not such a big deal. The journey was exhausting, time-consuming, and expensive, but we saw some sort of progress as my skin turned bright pink with the sun treatment. I was super optimistic and cheerful to see some sort of material difference in my skin, even if it was just turning various shades of dark pink.
However, in hindsight, there was nothing substantial in the progress. After a few years, we came across a local Bellevue dermatologist who also practiced UV-light therapy, which we actually coupled with the bagchi oil. I’ll discuss the Bellevue treatment in my next blog!