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By Dr. Sara Pavan

 Dr. Sara Pavan is an Anaesthesiologist from Australia, who came to Baba in 1980 and has been residing in Prasanthi Nilayam since 1993 serving in the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences since then. He was an active member of the Sai organization in Australia served as the editor and publisher of the quarterly Australian Sai Journal from its inception in 1983.

March 1995 happened to be the end of my second year of service at the Super Speciality Hospital in Puttaparthi. Before we left for Australia on holiday, Swami graciously called us for interview twice. I had asked Swami in the first interview if He would give us one of His Robes for our Homebush Sai Centre in Australia. Swami brought a Robe from the inner room and gave it to me saying, “This is for you.” I wondered if the Robe was for my personal keeping!

Four days later we had our second interview when Swami asked my wife, “Have I given you the Robe?” Even before she could say a word, Swami walked into the inner room and brought a Robe and gave it to her. Presuming that Swami may have intended this Robe for our Sai Centre we gave it to the Centre, placing it on Swami's chair during the Centre bhajans.  

A Teenage Friend in Trouble

Within a week of our arrival in Australia, I had a phone call from an old friend. He sounded desperate and asked me if I could help him. “I will if I can,” I said, and His response was: “I know that you can help us and we are happy that you are back from India. We are really desperate.” I told him if Baba could help us anything was possible and let us pray to Him. He told me that his son, David, has been admitted to the paediatric psychiatric wing at a major teaching hospital in Sydney for the past few weeks. Since he had attempted suicide twice during this period the authorities had decided to transfer him to a high security juvenile psychiatric unit, specially built for such cases at another hospital.


David was sixteen and came from a loving and well-to-do upper middle class family. At the time he was boarding at a private Catholic school and attending year eleven class. He excelled in his studies and extracurricular activities. His parents came from different Christian denominations and were a loving couple. For some reason he developed resentment towards his parents and, unknown to his parents, he became extremely depressed. He informed the school counsellor that he did not wish to continue with his studies any more nor go back to his family. The school counsellor failed to inform the parents, but on his own accord, took David straight to the nearest teaching hospital. He informed his parents only after David was admitted to the psychiatric wing at the hospital.

Australia had the highest juvenile suicide rate in the world at the time. Being a juvenile, David would normally have been sent straight to the High-Security Unit. The head of the psychiatric wing happened to be a friend of the family, also known to me. He decided to keep David under his care without transferring him to the ‘High-Security’ Unit, where personal safety and security were excellent, although living conditions were harsher. With a caring psychiatrist, counselling and medication David had shown some improvement within a couple of weeks. So he was granted leave to go home for weekends to spend pleasurable time with his family and friends, in the hope of speeding up his recovery. One such weekend proved disastrous when David attempted suicide by jumping through the second floor window at his home on to the concrete driveway. Luckily he fell on the sunroof of his father's car and caused extensive damage to it. He was miraculously unscathed, and ran away from home. He borrowed a mobile phone from someone at a nearby public park and phoned the hospital to take him back, saying he had no money and no place to go. His weekend leave was cancelled and when his parents visited him he was quite resentful. I was in Prasanthi Nilayam during this time.

There was already pressure from other staff at the hospital to transfer him to the High-Security Unit, but somehow, out of kindness, this was resisted by the attending psychiatrist. One day the boy stealthily tried to electrocute himself by poking something into a live power socket in the ward but the safety trip switch thwarted his attempt and caused a power cut to some appliances in the adjoining critical care ward. This was the last straw, and the authorities decided to send him off to the High-Security Unit immediately, where resources were available to cope with such acutely at risk youths.


Light Shines in a Desperate Situation

His father managed to persuade the hospital authorities to delay the transfer until I saw David. It took me some 45 minutes to drive through city traffic to reach the hospital. When I saw David he was packed and ready to go in the custody of a Welfare officer, who was unhappy about the delay, but had to comply as instructed and let me spend a brief time with David. I told the officer that I had to speak with David in private and requested him to leave us alone in the room for half an hour.

I remembered to carry Swami's Robe with me. First I had to win the boy’s confidence and told David that I had just returned from India and came to know of his predicament from his father. I assured him that I had come of my own accord out of love for him, having known him from his childhood, for the love of Swami and certainly not at the behest of his parents. I highlighted all his positive qualities and told him that I was at a loss to see that such a wonderful boy like him could have ended up in this situation.

Even though they are Christians, on account of our friendship, all of them knew of our deep commitment to Swami. I gave him the Robe to hold and told him that Swami had given it to me only a few days back. David couldn't believe that such a precious gift could be in his hands and he held it dumbstruck for a moment. His parents come from different denominations and David confessed to me how disillusioned he was with all the inter-denominational conflicts that he was exposed to. He was receptive to listen to me as he held Swami’s Robe in his hands. With some reluctance he agreed to let me visit him at the High-Security Unit, while being adamant that his parents should keep away from him. At the behest of his parents the authorities at the High-Security Unit permitted me to visit David.

On my first visit to this High-Security Unit, I was accompanied by the in-charge nurse to see David. He was kept in a locked single room which was monitored 24 hours by a closed circuit television camera. There was nothing in the room that David could use to hurt himself, not even a shoelace. The entire complex was like a modern prison and David was placed on the highest level of security with one-to-one nursing and monitoring. The nurse who accompanied me explained to me how the restrictive system operated. As a result I could not speak to David freely. I had worked at the latter teaching hospital as a consultant anaesthetist before the High-Security Unit came into existence. This new wing for juveniles, the only one of its kind in Australia to tackle the unprecedented rise in juvenile suicide rate, came into existence after I had left for India. The High-Security Unit was considered to be one of the most modern of its kind in the world, with psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, psychotherapists, counsellors and social welfare workers, all working as a team. Misinterpretation of family laws had enabled some of the authorities to misuse their powers over parents’ wishes, even questioning their authority over their children! This kind of liberal attitude, compounded by broken homes and a tolerant social welfare system encouraged youngsters to succumb to negative peer pressure and antisocial behaviour.

I went to see David two days later and was happy to see the duty officer was someone whom I knew well. Unlike my previous visit, I was able to be alone with David for as long as I wanted. So I started visiting David only when this particular officer was on duty. He would leave us alone and go out for some time, knowing very well that David would be safe with me. David was somewhat lonely as days rolled by and he looked forward to my visits, especially when I started taking some delicious home cooked food for him.

With my regular visits, David showed great improvement and the staff there encouraged my visits. On one such visit I had the inner prompting to take Swami’s Robe with me. David and I had a relaxed chat, recalling many things that had happened when he was a child, like asking him if he remembered me administering him an anaesthetic for drainage of ‘glue ears’ when he was four. When I asked him if he would like to meditate with me, he reluctantly agreed. The only furniture in his tiny room was his six foot bed and we were seated on it next to each other. In front of us was a washbasin and wall mirror. I happened to sit opposite the mirror. When I saw my face in the mirror I had a flash of intuition that we should swap places. After swapping seats I asked him if he could see his face clearly in the mirror and he nodded his head.

Reflection of the True Self

I have no knowledge of hypnosis, psychotherapy or counselling. Neither do I have the ability nor experience to guide someone in meditation. I gave him Swami’s Robe to hold close to his heart. I believed that Swami would guide me, as I had no idea how to begin! I told David to look at himself in the mirror with concentration and kept repeating, "Look into your eyes, not at your face … into your eyes … into your eyes.” I prayed to Swami and felt that I was merely an instrument in His hands. As David kept his focus on his eyes I changed tack and started saying, "Breathe in … breathe out … breath in … breathe out … in … out … in … out," giving him the breathing rhythm and switching from one command to the other – “In … out … in … out … into your eyes … into your eyes …..” for over five minutes. When he seemed calmly settled in this rhythm I began saying softly some positive Christian as well as Sai affirmations, reminding him of the beauty and goodness of life, the love that exists in everyone and what precious gifts of God they are and that each one of us is so important and special. I was thus trying to boost his self esteem while he continued concentrating on his breathing and looking deep into his reflection in the mirror.

The stillness was palpable and I told David softly, “I will sit in silence next to you and let us continue with this precious moment of silence (‘Sai-Lens’).” Two minutes passed and suddenly David let out a scream and grabbed me tightly. I held him firmly to restrain him fearing he might turn violent.

He relaxed as I held him tight, still gasping away. He appeared to be terrified over something and his whole body was shaking. My firm hold around him had released some of his fear and made him feel secure. Thank goodness, there was nobody around when this happened; otherwise it might have led to a different turn of events, I suppose.

“What happened … What happened?” I asked and he replied, “Those eyes … those eyes…” gasping away. I queried, "What eyes …?” and he said, “That face …!” I quizzed him, “What face? What are you talking about? Tell me!” and he answered, “Those hairs …!” Instantly I was able to piece together something astonishing happening and wondered if he had seen Sai Baba in the mirror. Then I pulled out Sai Baba’s photo from my wallet and asked, “Is it Him that you saw?” and he replied, “Yes.” He was still in utter turmoil and breathing heavily and I persisted, “Where were you then?” and he replied, “I disappeared and Sai Baba alone was there!”

I was overjoyed and I gave him a warm hug and said, “How blessed you are! For over fifteen years I have been visiting Baba every year and never had any vision of Him. You have had this amazing vision of your true self, which even evolved souls strive to experience. Can you realise the truth of yourself that you are Divine? You have seen Sai Baba in you with your own eyes without even going to India, haven't you?”


Recovery Underway

Some of the intractable psychiatric patients are given electric shocks to the brain under anaesthesia, a gruesome procedure that results in spasms and convulsions with a lot of froth in the mouth. I have administered hundreds of anaesthetics for this procedure called Electro Convulsive Therapy – E.C.T. What had just happened to David seemed to be a different kind of shock and it made me wonder if Swami had given David a SAI-CHIATRIC shock instead!

David was confused at the time but overwhelmed by the experience. I assured him that he could never have had this vision of Sai Baba if he was himself not pure. I said, “I know you have love for God and Jesus Christ. Sai Baba is revealing to you that He is the Christ and God within you and is going to heal you.”

David looked helpless like a child and seemed to trust me more. He also became very receptive to what I told him. I felt it was better for us to discuss his experience further some other time. I noticed lying on one corner of his bed a paperback book, ‘The Life of Adolph Hitler’ with a photo of Hitler on the cover, badly handled and scribbled all over. When I asked him who had given him this book, David said, “A welfare worker.” I was utterly shocked and asked him, “Do you really think this book is worth reading?” With a smile he said, “No, I don’t like it either.” When I offered to bring a Sai Baba book for him on my next visit he was excited. 

Simultaneous Dreams

David eagerly awaited my visit the following day and I gave him a copy of the book ‘The Holy Man and the Psychiatrist’ by Samuel Sandweiss. He looked bright, cheerful and excited and wanted to tell me about his overnight dream. In the dream he was alone and Baba suddenly appeared at the door, holding a gent’s umbrella with a metal shank that had a pointed tip. David saw many cut bits and pieces of his body strewn all over the floor. Staring at David, Baba walked into the room and poked the sharp pointed end of the umbrella into a small piece of his body lying in one corner. Lifting it up and pointing it towards David, Swami said, “I am taking this piece away, you don’t need it anymore!” and disappeared.

The very same night David’s mother too had her first dream of Baba. She and David were together alone in a room with Baba. She showed her reverence by bending down and touching Swami’s feet, padanamaskar, and David followed suit and the dream ended. The two separate dreams the mother and son had that night, possibly at the same instant, was a sign of Swami's grace and divine intervention.

On my next visit David and I discussed about his amazing dream as well as what he had seen in the mirror. When David saw Swami’s face in the mirror when his own face disappeared, did it mean he saw Sai Baba as a reflection of himself? About his dream David had said, “My body was cut into pieces and strewn all over the floor and Baba came into the room and picked one piece and told me that He was taking it away and that would be alright.” I felt the need to probe him further by asking, “How can you say those pieces on the floor were pieces of your body and not of any other person?


If your body was cut into several pieces you must have been dead. Then how could you have seen anything?”He replied “I had no doubt that they were pieces of my own body.” I prodded him further: “Who is that who saw your body cut into pieces?” Realising this was beyond the boy’s scope to comprehend, further discussion at a higher level of awareness seemed inappropriate. However, this phenomenal experience certainly had a tremendous impact on him.

Due to my work commitments I could not visit David for the next few days but kept my contact with him over the phone. One day when I phoned, the sister-in-charge of the unit told me that David had made tremendous improvement in recent days. However, she said that they were concerned about him reading an unauthorised book. When I asked her what that book was, she replied, "Oh some rubbish, some book about some psychiatrist and some holy man.” Believing that I had a good standing among them, I told her that it was I who had given him that book. On hindsight it was foolish on my part to have made this admission. I guess this matter must have gone to the high-ups. When I visited the hospital the next time a young psychiatrist along with a welfare worker told me that my visits would no longer serve any purpose because the boy was getting closer to me and distancing himself from his parents. They said that it would be in everyone’s interest that I stopped visiting him. David’s parents were clearly unhappy about this decision because their son was very much on the mend with my visits.


Downward Spiral

Within a week since I stopped my visits David became depressed and the doctors increased the dose of his medication. They called his parents to discuss matters further and disclosed their plans to give him E.C.T as medications alone were ineffective. The parents were shocked and refused to give permission for such a procedure because they were frightened. They asked me how safe ECT was because they had heard from others that there were some risks associated with this procedure.

Without the parental consent the hospital cannot proceed with ECT. However, provisions were there in law where the hospital authorities could get a magisterial order to carry out this treatment. A magistrate would hear evidence from all sides and can overrule parental objections. The parents were asked to appear for the magisterial enquiry. I found out from David’s father the name and phone number of the attorney representing the family from Legal Aid.

When I phoned him and introduced myself he greeted me with excitement and asked me when I had returned from India! He reminded me that his name was Joe and he happened to be the chairperson of a Sai Centre in the western suburbs of Sydney where I had given a spiritual talk many years ago. How mysterious are Swami’s ways I wondered, but wasn’t surprised!

I told Joe that David was recovering well with Swami’s grace, especially after his ‘Sai-chiatric shock’ and how I felt that ECT might be unnecessary. With more love and prayer I was confident that David would recover completely and asked the attorney how the magisterial inquiry worked and if we had any chance of stopping them from giving ECT to David. While accepting my point of view Joe reminded me that my opinion was inadmissible because I had no formal professional standing in the psychiatric field. He said the magistrate would rarely disagree with professional opinion and acts merely as a rubberstamp. When I asked him if an independent psychiatrist’s opinion was admissible at the inquiry, he said that was possible with due notification. He managed to get the inquiry postponed and we got a reputed psychiatrist to examine David and submit a fresh medical report, which cleared David from having to undergo ECT or even continue to remain incarcerated in such a setup. This angered those who could not have their way.

David’s Future Turns Out Bright

Unexpectedly, for reasons we do not know, David was discharged from the High-Security Unit on condition that he reported with his parents every fortnight at the clinic for follow-up. He was asked to take a reduced dose of all medications and return to his family. David made such good progress that even the follow-up visits became unnecessary within a few months and he was asked to stop taking all medications. This is an incredible instance of Swami’s grace at work, which overturned the decisions of ‘institutionalised psychiatry’ where the professionals believed that David could not be cured without the ECT.

His parents were happy to accede to David’s wish and got him admitted to another school. He did well in the university entrance examination, completed a four year course at the University of Sydney with honours and even did a postgraduate degree. He is now doing well in his career and the family are happy. Twelve years have gone by since then.

This extraordinary story shows us that we are reflections of God, and He has revealed Himself to humanity in the form of Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. The dream David had reveals the existence of a conscious ‘subtler person’ within each one of us, who can see, hear, feel and interpret, even when the physical body is in pieces or dead, confirming that this physical body is merely an instrument, a psychosomatic apparatus!

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Vol 5 Issue 09 - SEPTEMBER 2007
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