WHERE LOVE GREETS YOU AND GRACE CURES…
The Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Prasanthi Nilayam - VOL II
Divine Dentistry Delivers World Class Care to Rural Population
It is 2.15 in the afternoon. Armed with our cameras, we are in front of a room on the door of which is marked in bold “Dentistry”. Soon, the door opens and we see a patient come out, probably after his treatment. An elderly, bespectacled lady comes out then, clad in white, and requests another patient sitting right next to the door on the black chair to move into the room. We try to grab the attention of this petite, senior lady and say, “Sairam, we are from Radio Sai. Is it possible for us to speak to Dr. Mahalakshmi?”
“OK, please wait. Dr. Mahalakshmi is at work. I will find out and let you know.”
She goes inside and within ten seconds returns, and opens the door wide open for us. We are ushered inside the dental examination room, where we see at least three doctors completely occupied with their patients on the dental chairs.
“In that corner is Dr. Mahalakshmi,” the elderly lady guides us, and immediately we see the doctor stop her machine, lower her face guard, and then flash a welcome smile.
“Please come,” she says, and continues, “I was expecting you; Dr. Verma had informed me. If you do not mind, can I complete the procedure on this patient? After this, we can talk.”
“Oh, sure. No problem. We will be glad to stand and watch you work.”
This is a good opportunity to take a few snaps, we say to ourselves. So, in the few minutes we are clicking away from various angles. We even ask her if we could close the windows to avoid the backlight, which she kindly obliges. We do a lot of video taping as well. Five minutes go by, and then, the doctor says, “Yes, I am through. Tell me, how can I help you?”
Disadvantaged Villagers from Far Off Areas Avail of Free Dental Care
“Well, there is so much going on here, so silently. Can you please tell us about this patient on whom you were working just now? What is the treatment being given?”
“Well, he is Naresh. He has just completed his XII grade. He comes from a village called Chandrayanupalli. He came a few months ago, for the first time, with complaints of severe pain. There was a serious infection and one of his teeth was damaged. We did root canal correction for him a few weeks ago, and today we are filling it with silver. This is a permanent treatment. He should be fine now.”
“Why did he come all the way to this Hospital? Aren’t there government hospitals nearby his village?”
“Right. Why don’t you ask Naresh himself?” the doctor suggests.
“I can say emphatically that these doctors alone live up to the nobility of this holy profession” – Naresh, a young patient
So we ask the same question to Naresh who is now sitting on the dental chair. The spirited youngster, in his deep blue and red stripes shirt, bursts out spontaneously, “Now Everyone from my village travels 18 kilometres to come only to this Hospital .
"Yes, there are public hospitals, but most often there is no doctor there. You find only a medical assistant who is very incompetent. Besides, they are free only on paper. Nobody treats you unless you pay handsomely. And corporate hospitals are worse; they fleece you.
“I know because I have been to Bangalore too, and worked there part time in an AIG (an American company) call centre. Actually, it was then that I developed this terrible ache in my tooth. It was absolutely unbearable. I would suffer night and day in solitude. There was no one who could help.
"To add to my misery, my brother at that time, suffered an accident. He is a taxi driver. So, all my hard earned savings of Rs. 25,000 were utilized for his treatment. In fact, we had to borrow an equal amount for his surgery. My father is very old now. He used to grow a few crops a couple of years ago. But today, I cannot expect any support from him.
“Therefore, I lived with my tooth pain for as long as I could. But when every moment became a nightmare, I went to a hospital in Bangalore. They asked me Rs. 5000 only for consultation. I was shocked, devastated. I somehow borrowed the amount and got myself checked. There was no way I could afford their treatment. It was then that my brother suggested that I do not waste any more time and come to Puttaparthi.”
“So, how was the treatment here? What did the doctor say?”
“Actually, within a few minutes of taking the first tablet prescribed here, I was so much relieved of that excruciating pain. The doctors here told me that I have to undergo root canal treatment after which everything will be fine.
"But in the corporate hospital in Bangalore, they told me that I have a severe bone infection, which I now know is not true. The doctors here have assured me that I have no such problem… Everywhere else, people are driven by money, nothing else. But here, I find love. The doctors treat you as a fellow human being. With no hesitation, I can say again and again that these doctors alone live up to the nobility of this holy profession.”
The narration flows without a pause. We are able to feel the voice of the heart, of emotions and gratitude, as Naresh goes on,
Free and Loving Treatment, the Ultimate Refuge of Poor Patients
“I am aware that more than Rs. 70,000 has been spent on me in this Hospital…this is the only place for desperate people like us. But treating free is not the main issue, what touches me most is the concern these doctors have for you. Nowhere else will you find such genuine care and love.”
The boy is now almost in tears. We immediately break the conversation with “Naresh, would you mind if we take a snap of yours?” He agrees and quickly swaps his tears for smiles. We are happy. Well, it helps us too. Even for us, it was a fight against overwhelming emotion.
“Almost everyday we see cases like this,” Dr. Mahalakshmi now remarks. “It is impossible for such people to get treated elsewhere. Take the case of Pulaiya”. The doctor now turns to her right, and on that dental chair we see another youngster, probably the same age as Naresh.
“I know it is because of devotion to Baba that these doctors treat us with so much concern and love”
– Pulaiya, a restaurant worker
“He works in a restaurant in Puttaparthi,” she explains, and continues, “When he came here a few weeks ago, he had a huge cyst extending from the base of his gums to the eye ball. We initially tried oral medication, but it didn’t help. Then we put him on IV fluid and the swelling subsided. After that, we extracted his damaged tooth. Today, he has come for a check up. There is no pain now. He should be fine in future too.”
We now turn our camera to Pulaiya and ask, “How was your condition before you came here?”
“Oh, the pain was intense. It was piercingly agonizing if any hot or cold beverage entered my mouth. Two days ago, my tooth was removed, and now I feel so relieved. I actually hail from Rudravaram, a small village near Nandyala (about 300 kms from Puttaparthi). Because of lack of employment there, I came here. I have no education, or money, or any family support. My parents are too poor to take care of me. Besides, I have five siblings.
"When my toothache became severe, I first went to a public hospital in Nandyala. The doctors there advised that I should get all my teeth removed, and wear a complete set of artificial teeth. And to get that procedure done, the staff there demanded a bribe of Rs. 15,000! Obviously, I could not afford such a huge amount and I let my problem be.
“When the problem became acute after coming to Puttaparthi, I came to this Hospital. Now, I am so happy. Without spending a rupee, I am treated completely and my teeth are safe too. I know it is because of devotion to Baba that these doctors treat us with so much concern and love. That is why, in spite of the hectic work schedule in my restaurant, I make sure that I have Baba’s darshan every other day. I cannot imagine my condition without Him and this loving Hospital.”
Dr. Mahalakshmi next shows us another extremely poor patient, again a youngster, who has come all the way from the state of Orissa. And this young man, the doctor tells us, has been bleeding from his mouth for years. Apart from the complexity of the case, communicating with him is a major issue because he knows no other language than a local dialect of Oriya, the language of Orissa. “But we will somehow fix him,” Dr. Mahalakshmi says, patting her patient lovingly. We are moved by the passion of this emphatic doctor to go to any length to help all these forlorn patients.
“For me, to serve here is really a dream come true. I cannot ask for anything better.” – Dr. Mahalakshmi, Dentist
We are now tempted to ask Dr. Mahalakshmi a question about herself. “Is this what you wanted to do when you were studying dentistry? Did you never think of working in a corporate set up?”
“No,” replies the doctor instantly. “I always wanted to work in a rural set up because these poor folk need it more than the people in the cities who can afford the big hospitals. There is nobody to treat or educate these illiterate and simple masses. It is for this reason that immediately after my medical degree in 2000, I joined the Swami Vivekananda Movement which works for the upliftment of tribals. But on a casual visit to Puttaparthi in 2004, when I heard about a vacancy in this Hospital, I jumped at the idea and applied.
"But Dr. Alreja, the Medical Superintendent then, did not give me much hope. ‘Swami would prefer senior people here,’ he said, but I requested him to present my case to Bhagavan. And to his surprise, Swami told him to take me in! For me, it is really a dream come true. I cannot ask for anything better. It is a very rare opportunity Bhagavan has given me!”
“But don’t you think you are missing out on your career having opted to work here in the prime of your youth?”
Superior Gratification and Learning Make Serving Sai More Attractive
“Not at all!” she replies emphatically. “The kind of exposure I get here is something I had never imagined. All round the year there are senior doctors from all over the world who come for short periods according to a roster set up by the Hospital administration. And the years of experience that some of them have is equal to my age! I learn a lot from them. Even now, there is a visiting doctor from UK, Dr. Digish Patel.”
“Oh, is it?” we exclaim excitedly.
“Yes, he is busy on that last chair.”
“Great, can we speak to him?”
We move our equipment to the other corner of the room where Dr. Digish is at work. He notices us, our cameras, and then smiles. “We just need two minutes,” we submit politely.
The doctor halts his work, and with his hands still holding the tweezers, he says, “Ok, what would you like to know?”
We quickly ask, “Can you please tell us what motivates you to come all the way from the UK to work voluntarily in this Hospital?”
UK Doctor Serves Sai Hospital Every Year
“Oh, I have been doing this for years now. Under Bhagavan’s direction, I served nine months in a year in His General Hospital in Whitefield, Bangalore, for seven years. And now, I come to this Hospital. I just love being here. The recovery rate is much higher here. A procedure like wisdom tooth extraction heals much faster here, in spite of poverty and malnutrition! But the big difference is that here everything is done out of love. There are no estimate forms given to the patients, so there is no chance of disagreement between doctor and patient, which happens quite often in UK. All the patients have a lot of faith, which helps immensely.”
“How do you compare this Hospital with the ones back home in terms of infrastructure and facilities?”
“Oh, the professional standards are the same. We have here all the equipment and sterilizations, as we do in the UK. Actually, here it is even better! And the kind of cases my Indian colleagues treat here, are most infrequent back in the UK; I take years to see such cases there.”
“Ok, so what do you take back from this place every time you come?”
“Even though everyday I see double the number of patients that I would in the UK, I go back truly enriched” – Dr. Digish Patel
“Well, for me, it is a holiday! Yes, it is a very pleasant experience. I go back recharged! Even though everyday I see double the number of patients that I would in the UK, I go back truly enriched. Actually, I get more from the patients here than I can ever give them!”
Even though we would want to speak to him more, we decide not to disturb him any longer. We thank him profusely, and he returns this with a big smile and ‘Sairam’.
We are indeed glad that we were lucky to find him this afternoon. It has been nearly an hour in the Dental Department, and we now want to move on. We convey our gratitude again to Dr. Mahalakshmi. “You are welcome anytime, no problem,” she says politely.
As we walk out of the Dental department, we ask the friendly elderly lady, “Can you please tell us where the ENT section is located?”
“It is just a few steps away on the right, after the tiny staircase. You will find Dr. Sunil there,” she guides us very kindly.
SailENT Service Geared to Rural Conditions and Challenges
We follow her directions and it is easy to watch Dr. Sunil at work, as this room has no curtains. As soon as he sees us, he welcomes us very cordially. We then explain our objective and say, “Dr. Verma told us this morning that we should not miss this department.”
“Ok, he called and informed me too. That’s good. So, what would you like to know?”
“Could you please tell us about the work that happens here? We heard many new developments have taken place here recently.”
“Well, the outpatient department of ENT has been running for the past 15 years, thanks to Dr. Devi Pavan. I joined only about six months ago. We have now started surgeries, so we have an operation theatre that is busy all round the year. We have opened an endoscopy department upstairs which…”
At this point, we notice a middle-aged lady standing at the door, her left hand clutching her left ear, and her face contracted in pain. Dr. Sunil calls her in immediately.
We suspend the conversation and make space for the lady. In the local dialect of Telugu, she seems to say that something has entered her ear. Dr. Sunil first comforts her with love, and then examines her ear carefully for a few seconds with the light of the torch that is fixed on his clinical head band.
Next, he picks up a long metallic forceps-like instrument, inserts it into her ear, and effortlessly pulls out a thick ball of cotton. The lady is instantly relieved, and overjoyed. She does not know how to thank the doctor. The next second she bends down completely to touch the feet of the doctor!
Dr. Sunil instantly holds back her arms, reassures the lady lovingly and invites her to come anytime she has a problem again. The lady now leaves the room with her hands folded conveying gratitude to the doctor, and also to the photo of Swami above his table.
It was very simple procedure and there was nothing spectacular about it. Still, we are touched watching the poor lady, first in pain, and later her relief and expressions of gratitude. We ask Dr. Sunil, “Is this typical of the cases you generally see?”
“Yes,” he replies and goes on to explain. “Most of the villagers here sleep on the floor in the night, because of which they are always vulnerable to the danger of insects and other foreign bodies entering into their ears and noses. Many times, I have come in the night to the Hospital to help remove a live insect from someone’s ear. When something alive is inside your ear, you know, it can be hell.”
“And then there are these uncared for small children who accidentally insert sand, pulses, vegetable matter, and the like into their noses and ears. In fact, within a span of one week after I joined the Hospital in April this year, I had three children who had swallowed coins. They all had repeated episodes of vomiting. At that time, with Swami’s prompting, I used a particular procedure using a foley’s catheter and easily managed to remove all of them. So, these cases are common. Their treatment may not be complicated, but the relief that it gives to the patients is immense.”
“Exactly, and that is what is ultimately important. Earlier, you were talking of the new initiatives like endoscopy…”
Sophisticated Endoscopy Aids ENT Efforts
“Yes, since the last seven months, we have started ear operations and micro-ear surgeries. We are also doing endoscope nasal diagnostics and surgeries. In simple terms, we insert a sophisticated and rigid instrument 8 centimetres long and 4 millimetres in diameter inside the nasal cavity to see and correct anatomical abnormalities within the nose. This equipment has an embedded camera, so everything can be viewed directly on the monitor.”
“Ok, that’s encouraging. Now, how do you rate patient recovery in this Hospital?”
“Well, that reminds me of one boy I operated upon a few weeks ago. He had chronic obstruction in his nose, and his nasal bone was severely deviated. Actually he is a local youngster, maybe you can speak to him directly sometime. In any case, after the correction, within two days, I saw him actively going about doing his duties in the ashram. This was quite unlike what I had seen in 13 years of my experience in Delhi; anywhere else the patient should have rested for a week.”
“That’s interesting. Doctor, can you please tell us how you happened to join the Hospital here, leaving your job in Delhi?”
Birthday Gift from God: Appointment as ENT Specialist at His Hospital
“Well, it is Swami’s will! After my MBBS and MS in Delhi, I served for nine years as a specialist with the Government of Delhi. I was an active sevadal and was also the convenor of the Sai Centre of my area. I always longed to serve in this Hospital. And in the last five years, I came for two weeks every year, to offer my services in the Cardiac Screening Block of the Super Specialty Hospital.
"In December 2007, one of the doctors here suggested that I could serve in this Hospital as an ENT specialist. So, I requested for this chance, and in January 2008 I was called by the Hospital for an interview. After that many things fell in place quite mysteriously, and to my delight, I received the appointment letter to join this Hospital on March 31, which is my birthday!”
“Amazing. So, what inspires you every morning to come to this Hospital?”
Most Potent Medication – Capsule of Love: Dr. Sunil
“The one and only motivation for me is to share Swami’s love with the patients and my colleagues in every way. The most important thing that is to be given to the patient is the capsule of love. If you hold the patient’s hand and with love say ‘It is all fine, no worries’ half of their ailment is gone. When you smile and the patient responds similarly, the treatment has already begun. This dissemination of love is what inspires me everyday.”
“What you mentioned is really profound, and that is what Swami has been saying for decades now,” we say to him, and then ask a final question.
“Doctor, how has working here helped you as a person?”
“Oh, it has served me tremendously. It has helped me to grow spiritually. I constantly check myself if I am living up to the principle of love. Whenever there is even a trace of anger or irritation, I ensure that love takes over in that situation. Well, that is my ultimate aim – to just pour out love in all actions, and everyday here is a step forward towards that sublime goal.”
“Doctor, speaking to you has really been an enlightening experience. Thank you very much for your time.” We now look at our watches. As we pack our cameras, we ask, “Doctor, it is already past 4 o'clock now; isn’t time for you to go for darshan?”
“Yes, I am going now. What about you boys?” He asks us as he stands up to get ready to close his room.
“Well, we would want to, but our work is not done yet. We still have to meet a few more people. By the way, can you please tell us who looks after the maintenance of all this new equipment of this Hospital? It just occurs to us that there should be many working behind the scenes to make this beautiful institution run so smoothly.”
Man Behind the Machines – Hospital Maintenance Expert
“You are absolutely right,” Dr. Sunil says, as he locks his room. He now starts to walk along the corridor and adds, “You know what? You should speak to Mr. Sharma. He is the one-man army who looks after the entire maintenance of this Hospital. Elsewhere, you will find big departments set up especially for this purpose, but here with the help of a few assistants, Mr. Sharma is doing a fantastic job.”
“Oh, we have never heard about him; he must be a silent worker. Can we talk to him now?”
“Actually, it is very difficult to find him in one place, as he is always on the move. But he has a make-shift room in the middle of the other staircase where he keeps his files. If you’re lucky, you will find him there.”
“Oh, thank you very much for this information. We will somehow locate him. He is as important to our story as the doctors and patients.”
“All the best then, Sairam”.
Dr. Sunil leaves the Hospital, and from the entrance we now walk into the Hospital again in search of Mr. Sharma. We find a person in khaki dress in the corridor. Maybe he is the Hospital watchman, we surmise, and ask him for the exact location of Mr. Sharma’s table. Soon, we are in the middle of a staircase where there is a little corner as the steps turn 360 degrees, and we find a tiny enclosure with a gate created in this small area.
It is absolutely spartan; there is an aluminum rack and a table, that’s it. But we do not see Mr. Sharma. The person in khaki says that he has not left the Hospital yet, so we decide to wait. Luckily for us, he appears in about ten minutes and is pleasantly surprised to see us with cameras et al.
“What do you want to do? Why are the cameras here?” He asks inquisitively. We then explain him patiently the objective behind our story, and he readily agrees to share his thoughts.
“You are now taking care of the maintenance of this entire Hospital. Did you have any earlier experience in doing this kind of a job? How do you manage this?” We want to know more about him first and then his work.
Pouring a Lifetime of Learning into the Temple of Healing
“Well, I worked for 35 years in the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) division in Orissa where I mainly had administrative responsibilities. For seven years, I was in the Production Control Department, and I had a keen eye on every kind of activity in the shop floor.
"I was checking different parts of big aircraft engines, so it was a job to be done very carefully. I always had many mechanical and technical ideas to improve processes. However, in HAL my role was more on the administrative side, but here I am able to implement new concepts. I learn everyday, and it has been a very fulfilling experience.”
“How many hours do you work here everyday?” we asked.
Hospital Handyman its Unsung Hero
“Well, I have no idea. Most often a phone call from the Hospital is my alarm clock! There is always someone or the other trying to reach me, either to fix a leaking tap, to rectify an oxygen cylinder, to repair a broken chair, or replace a tubelight, or organize plumbers to construct something, and so on. Yes, sometimes I do struggle, but I enjoy it. I feel very satisfied that I am able to contribute constructively to this Hospital.”
“It may also happen that you might have to miss darshan on some days because of the workload. Does it bother you?” We ask .
“Never,” he says without a second thought. “In fact, I feel guilty sitting for darshan if there is work pending here. I can never be at peace seeing Him in Mandir if I am needed in the Hospital. I have come here voluntarily to do His work, and I feel sincerity is very vital in Swami’s institution.
"I have to live up to the opportunity that I am blessed with. If not me, somebody else will get this chance. I know it is a rare opportunity, therefore, I put my heart and soul into it.”
“You are in charge of maintenance of this Hospital, but don’t even have a decent room; only this make-shift corner is your place of work. Does it frustrate you sometimes?”
“Oh, I never think about it at all,” Mr. Sharma smiles. “Actually I never asked even for this STD facility in my phone too. This area in the Hospital is being used for more important things. I completely understand. My motto is only to serve, and to do this, the first thing I need to do is to curb my ego. So, I never think of myself. For me, my work is my worship. And this is what I would like to do as long as there is energy in this body.”
Sai University Alumnus Behind Major Modernisation
Undoubtedly, we are impressed with the dedication of this man who is almost 65 years now, but works as if he were 40. “What are the recent major developments in the Hospital?” we venture to ask again.
“Well, in the last 20 months, thanks to a former student of Swami’s University, the Hospital has seen many new changes. From cubicles in the Out Patient department to bio-medical equipments in the Operation theatres, to the new neo-natal ICU, to the creation of new wards, to the installation of ENT endoscopy, the Hospital has moved to a new level of patient care and administration. The laboratory too is well-equipped now.”
“All this means more work for you!” we joke.
“I enjoy it, I am here for that!”
“You are incredible.” We admire Mr. Sharma and then say, “Yes, this morning Dr. Verma mentioned to us about the laboratory, and even told us to speak to Dr. Uma and Mrs. Sadhya there.”
“Yes, they are the key persons there,” Mr. Sharma agrees, and then says, “You must go there quickly. It is already 5 p.m.”
“Right, we will rush there. Thank you very much.”
Laboratory of Love and Life
We lift our bags and in the next moment are in front of the laboratory. We find Dr. Uma there, and she needs no introduction. We had interacted with her a lot on our first day. She welcomes us and then explains, “About ten years ago, we used to do only basic investigations like hemoglobin count, ESI, and the like here, and depend on the Super Specialty Hospital for other tests. But now, we have acquired so many new instruments. Presently we do bio-chemistry, renal function tests, all blood sugars, etc.”
Dr. Uma now points to a machine on her right and says, “We have this new machine which is a fully automated haematology analyser, because of which we are able to do extensive blood investigations.” Then, she moves forward and shows us another small machine. “This is the electro light analyzer.” Next, she points to another equipment and says, “This one is the ABG (Arterial Blood Gases) machine. Now, we also have the apparatus to test for HIV, HBSAG and HCV, and we do them routinely for expectant mothers as these infections can be transferred to the foetus.”
We figure out that the lady standing beside Dr. Uma is Mrs. Sandhya, and we now ask her, “Madam, can you please tell us how it feels working here?”
We notice that she is very camera-shy and reticent. But we persist and she says, “The satisfaction that I derive here is something that cannot be explained. I am just happy working for Swami.”
“Now, the workload must have increased with new equipments and more tests,” we comment.
“Yes, but that makes me happier. We are doing more work to help the patients and be of use to Swami.”
We now move on to another lady technician, and ask her to share her feelings about working in the Hospital. She responds enthusiastically, saying, “I am Sai Leela. Thirty years ago, Swami had promised my father that He would give a job to one of His children. My father asked Swami to bless my brother with that opportunity, but He gifted that to me. I am very happy working here.”
At this point, a young lady working on a microscope turns, and we see that she is eager to share her thoughts. We lend the microphone to her, and she says, “I am Gauri. Before coming here I had worked for a year and a half in a hospital in Tirupathi.
"But I am extremely glad to be here because there is so much cooperation from everyone around; it is like a family. Everybody is so devoted and there are no differences. I really like it here.”
Similarly, one more lady now joins in and says, “My father first came here in 1975. He currently works in the Gokulam….”
Happy to hear all of them, we finally thank them all and say, “It is wonderful how Swami has chosen and brought all of us together.” They all agree and smile. We now quietly walk out of the laboratory after a taking a few pictures of the equipment there.
SSSGH – Healing with God’s Love
It is already past 5 p.m. now. As we walk along the corridor to reach the door, our eyes fall on the Out Patient department cubicles. The scene there is now an anti-thesis of what we had seen in the morning; it’s deserted. But the activity inside is the same, and there are nurses coming in and out of the wards. We see them go about their work in such a focused manner. Yet, whenever they confront a patient, they flash a smile.
We cannot but recollect the words of Sister Ganga – ‘Nursing is service with a smile’. And stepping into this Hospital, we say to ourselves, is like stepping into a mansion of love. And it is no wonder because the Force behind the Hospital is, verily, the Source of all Love in this Universe.
- Bishu Prusty