WHERE LOVE GREETS YOU AND GRACE CURES…
The Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Prasanthi Nilayam - VOL II
The healthcare scenario in the world today, on one hand, is really heartening. Thanks to the superlative advancements in technology and medical research, diseases, which meant death a few decades ago, are today just another ailment. Surgeries inside the human body are being performed without even touching the patient, let alone using a knife, and at times, by a surgeon who is actually sitting thousands of miles away! While this is simply magnificent and mind-boggling, on the other hand, the majority of society has practically no access to this sophisticated care.
Like the proverbial ‘water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink’, there is amazing expertise, plethora of medicines and plenty of money, but acceptable treatment for multitudes in many countries is still a dream. In fact, many modern thinkers opine it is practically impossible. But that is probably because they are unaware or disbelieve the existence of the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Medical Sciences, in Prasanthi Nilayam and Whitefield (Bangalore). The miracle that is happening in these institutions is out of the world, but it had its genesis in a much smaller healthcare unit, inaugurated just six years after the independence of India. And that is the story of the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital.
In the October 2008 issue, we offered the first cover story on this General Hospital, in which we presented a glimpse of some of its primary departments. However, there is so much more to share, and the present story is an attempt to place before you a few more beautiful aspects of this mansion of love, which many refer to as ‘God’s Hospital’. We hope it soothes your soul, and fills your heart with peace and joy. Happy reading!
Every moment of the past two days that we have spent at the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Prasanthi Nilayam, has been a revelation. “How little we knew about this magnificent and munificent mansion of divine healing!” we think to ourselves, as we slowly climb the gentle slope behind the Subramaniam Temple to step into its sacred precincts one more time.
We cannot but think of Ram Naresh Vishwa Karma, the utterly helpless patient from Jabalpur, who could neither talk, walk, sleep, nor eat! Within two days of treatment at the Hospital, he regained his smile and avouched with emotion, “I do not know what cured me, nor am I interested…All I know is this doctor’s love; his love alone has given a new life to me.” His face flashes in our minds as we ascend along the winding concrete pathway. More scenes flood our mind. The moving tears of Mrs. Kumari, who was recovering from a terrible snake-bite, and had said,
“But for ‘Sairam’ I would not exist. This is God’s Hospital and all the people working here are God’s people...Who else will care so much for unfortunate people like us?” Then, of course, there was Sheikh Jainabi, the Muslim lady, who with folded hands had expressed, “These doctors teach us to love God and have faith…. The kind of love and concern these doctors shower on us, we may not be able to give to our own children...” More faces fill our thoughts; of Mrs. Lakshmamma who had emphatically said, “I will never go anywhere else; these doctors are like mothers”; Mr. Kadirappa who had literally touched the feet of Dr. Patel in gratitude; Mrs. Kalavathi, with her cute baby, whom she wanted to name ‘Sai Ganesh’….plenty of touching stories, each one more stirring than the other. “How much this Hospital has meant to the rural folk around!” we ponder, as we pass through the western silver gate of the Hospital.
On the left, under the trees, we see a wan looking, deeply wrinkled, fully tanned and almost bald middle-aged man with torn clothes, sitting on the concrete hedge beside the tar road; a few metres away is a petite lady with a baby on her arms and a puny toddler, who is continually imploring her to buy him something at the nearby kiosk; a little further away is a bespectacled old man. On his nose rests a pair of thick and broken-but-mended-with-a-tape glasses; he wears a soiled shirt, badly crumpled and a dhoti that comes up to the knee. As he ambles slowly towards the main door of the Hospital with the help of a stick, we remind ourselves, “Each one is a Mrs. Kumari, a Kadirappa or a Kalavathi…”
Shirdi Sai Exudes a Comforting Calm to the Premises
We are choked with compassion at the sight of these destitute people. But when, for a moment, we turn our attention to the right, we are immediately snapped out of our emotional reverie. The benevolent figure of Shirdi Sai Baba soothes our minds and fills us with a great sense of calmness.
Here is the guarding and guiding deity of this Hospital, we say to ourselves, and at this point are reminded of what Dr. Vasundhara had said about this serene statue which we had missed recording in our previous day’s diary.
We had asked, “Doctor, how did such a beautiful garden take shape here?”
“Oh, it is a long story,” she had said, and continued, “It all began in 1994. There was a tiny garden then, and Dr. Kamala used to look after it. One day, I asked her if we can clean up the rest of the area. She looked at me quizzically and asked, ‘Is that possible?’ I said, ‘We can do it’.
I had no idea how I was going to do it, but the urge in me was very strong. I felt a voice within me telling me forcefully to go ahead, and so, like a person possessed, I sought support from people who could help in this task.
"Thanks to Sai volunteers from Kerala, the entire patch was cleared in a few weeks. Then, we wanted to install a statue here and requested Mr. Shilpi Subramaniam, the gifted architect who has designed many parts of our Prasanthi Mandir, to sculpt an image of Shirdi Sai Baba."
Miracles Abound at Every Turn and Corner
“And at this point, Bhagavan blessed the project by giving His consent through Dr. Bhagavat, the then Superintendent of the Hospital, to go ahead with the construction of the idol. Just as the figure was being completed, we had this idea of creating a pond below, which would reflect Baba’s blissful form. And quite amazingly, exactly at that time, a lady who is an expert in building ponds, came to us and offered to execute the whole plan. She stayed in Puttaparthi and oversaw the entire project till it was completed. She left immediately after that, and I have never seen her ever since. After this, we waited for Swami to come and unveil this statue, and that took three prayerful years. But we waited patiently all the while.
“Actually, an interesting incident happened before this. A few weeks before the inauguration, we uncovered the statue because Swami was enquiring about this, and we wanted to keep it ready for Him. And on the day we were doing this, an old man came and stood on a rock, and was watching us at work quite benignly. We even told the person to go for darshan as it was already time, but he smiled and asked, ‘Will they allow me to sit there?’ ‘They will surely find a place for elders like you’ we said.
"So the man started walking back slowly. Meanwhile, Mr. Emilinathan, a staunch worshipper of Shirdi Sai Baba, was coming that way, and this old man patted him heartily and then continued to walk down the slope. The next moment, we couldn’t see him! I still remember the twinkle on the old man’s face; it was as if we were opening it for him! A month or two, after this incident, on March 2, 1998, Swami Himself came, now in the form we are familiar with, and cut the ribbon. It was a day of great fulfillment for me.”
Work Till Your Last Breath: Baba
A thrilling experience, but we were not done. “Doctor, we heard you have been working here for 25 years. And now, you are past your retirement age, still you work so hard. What propels you come to this Hospital every morning?” We had asked her this, deeply impressed with her tenacity to stretch herself thin working for the Hospital.
“It is Swami!” she had said without batting an eyelid. “When Swami came here in 2000, He said, ‘I am blessing you all - work till your last breath.’ And that is what I want to do. I remember, on an earlier occasion, when one of the nurses asked Swami on how to deal with patients who have complicated cases, or complex attitudes, Swami said,
"They are your relations. They are coming to your home. Treat them accordingly.’ Therefore, to me, stepping inside the Hospital everyday, is like coming to my home; there is nothing like office hours… We are a beautiful family here, even though, of late, we have become quite big.”
“How wonderfully all the doctors in this Hospital echo this same feeling!” We reflect on this thought again as we recollect Dr. Vasundhara’s story. We now walk into the western entrance of the Hospital and take the flight of steps to go to the first floor.
We are now quite familiar with the location of many departments of this Hospital, especially the office of the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Verma. We started our Hospital odyssey with him, and we now want to take further guidance from him, before talking to the other doctors and staff.
We make a beeline to his room. The lilting breeze wafts the curtain aside for a second, and we see that, fortunately, he is alone. We part the pink screen a little, and softly say, “Sairam Sir.” He immediately looks up, gives us a broad smile and says, “Sairam! Oh, you boys from Radio Sai! Please come inside.”
After we take our seats, he warmly asks, “So, how is it going? This is your third day here, right?”
“Yes, we have now collected plenty of touching stories. Actually the story of every patient is moving and each doctor’s tale is truly inspiring… We have briefly covered General Medicine, General Surgery, and yes, the huge Mother and Child section covering Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology.”
“That’s nice.” Dr. Verma gently smiles, and continues, “This Hospital has many other departments. They may not be as large as these, but they are as lively and life-giving. For example, there are about a thousand patients every month who throng to the Dental outpatient department. Similarly, there are ENT, Ophthalmology, Physiotheraphy and Gastroenterology.
"But I suggest that before you visit these departments, you should speak to Sister Ganga, who is the Nursing Superintendent of this Hospital. She was a Colonel in the armed forces, and took voluntary retirement to join us here a year ago.
"She is very committed and will give you the full picture of how the nursing faculty functions here. Without the dedicated service of these sisters, this Hospital would be like a body without blood.”
“Sure, thank you for this suggestion. Actually, we would love to do this because till now we have spoken to doctors, patients and a few sevadals, but not even one sister. This will make the story more wholesome,” we respond happily.
“You are welcome. Let me see if she is in her room.” The next moment, Dr. Verma picks up the phone and dials a number. He waits for half a minute and when there is no response, he smiles again, and then says, “She must have gone for her ward rounds. Maybe, you can walk up to her room, which too is on this corridor. It is next to the neonatal ICU as you walk on the right. She should be back anytime.”
“Ok, sure, no problem. Thank you Sir, and Sairam.”
The unassuming head of the Hospital lovingly reciprocates our final greetings, and we leave his room quite happy, as we now have a definite plan for the day. As we pass through the passageway adjacent to the neo-natal ICU, memories of Bhagyamma and her rescued baby, fill our minds. Soon we are in front of a curtained door. We say ‘Sairam’ and in a few seconds, a lady parts the curtain with a big smile, and says, “Oh, you are here again, please come in.”
We now recollect seeing her earlier. Yes, it was when we met Dr. Verma for the first time; she was in that room discussing a few matters with him when we had stepped in.
“Nursing is Service With a Smile” – Sister Ganga
“Madam, we had seen you earlier, but we didn’t know you are the Nursing Superintendent," we say with a smile to trigger the conversation.
Pat comes the response. “Actually, you are right! I am not the Nursing Superintendent as far as I am concerned; I am only a chosen instrument in His hands. In fact, it was not my desire to come here as the Head of Nursing; I am basically a theatre nurse, and have worked in the armed forces for 30 years as a fully commissioned officer. When I was chosen to work in this Hospital, I was told to serve as the Nursing Superintendent as per Bhagavan’s blessings.
"I accepted whatever was given as His gift. Actually, for the last 18 years, I have spent 40-45 days of my annual two-month vacation in Puttaparthi only, just to have the opportunity of seeing Him and being here. Just like all devotees, I used to stay in the shed, get up early in the morning, stand in queue for my meals and spend the rest of my day waiting for His darshan. But now, as a staff member, I have a place to sit in the Mandir for darshan; still many a times, I just sit behind as I do not want to forget my past.”
“It is this merited past, which has gifted you the ‘present’,” we add, quite pleased with our pun. She smiles too. Then, curious to know more about the uniqueness of the nursing care in this Hospital, we ask, “So, how different is it working here than in the command Hospitals?”
Sai Nursing - Driven by Spirituality
“Oh, there is a world of difference!” she replies, and then adds, “See, in the army we are bound by rules and regulations, but here the driving force is spirituality. There, your ego is constantly being boosted through ranks, positions, etc., but this place makes you egoless. There, I used to think that ‘I am a Colonel’, ‘I am an officer’, and so on, but here, everyday, I endeavour to forget the ‘I’. That is the profound change that I have seen in myself.
“And then talking of the nursing care – elsewhere nurses work with an eye on the watch; nobody wants to work beyond the scheduled time. But here, their attitude is totally different; they (the nurses) feel ‘Swami is watching me. If I neglect the patient, it is like neglecting Swami’. And it is for this reason that they address every patient as ‘Sairam’ if they do not know their name. It is never ‘that abdomen-pain patient’, or ‘fever-patient’, but ‘this Sairam’ or ‘this Amma’ here. The beautiful part of this Hospital is that even those nurses who have not been earlier exposed to Bhagavan adapt to this environment pretty soon and quite impressively.
“Can you share with us one example?” We interrupt her narration, eager to listen to an inspiring story.
“Oh, yes. Ms. Kairunisa Begum, who joined us two weeks ago, comes to my mind. She knew nothing about this Hospital, or Baba, till she applied here. But now, when I see her at work I wonder ‘Is it Kairunisa working or Sai serving through her?’ In fact, she might be around here. I just saw her in the ground floor…Would you like to speak to her directly?”
“Yes, of course. That will be great.”
Sister Ganga picks up the phone and has a quick word with someone. We overhear her request, “Can you send her for just five minutes?” She keeps the receiver down and says, “Yes, she is coming,” and then continues, “You know, this lady loves the patients just like her own relatives. That is what impresses me the most. Besides, I have seen her often overshooting the time; she is never bothered about her lunch break or evening closure time.” Sister Ganga now pauses for a while, as if to consider an important thought that has just occurred in her mind, and then says, “You see, observing such an attitude in devotee-volunteers is understandable. But to see this in paid staff, who were non-devotees when they joined, is something very special.”
Just then a lady enters:
“Yes, come Kairunisa”. Sister Ganga welcomes her with a big smile, but the young lady is perturbed. The video and still cameras in our hands disturb her. But then Sister Ganga comforts her immediately, “There is nothing to worry; they are from Radio Sai. They have come to know more about the Hospital.”
Kairunisa relaxes a bit although her bewilderment has not left her completely. Sister Ganga now asks her to sit next to her, and then explains, “They want to know about how you joined this Hospital and how you feel working here.” The camera-shy Kairunisa is still very hesitant. So we let her be for sometime, and continue to talk with Sister Ganga.
“When Kairunisa came she was completely unaware of Swami,” Sister Ganga explains and then looking at her, asks, “Isn’t it so?”
“Yes,” now Kairunisa replies, and then slowly adds, “Actually, I didn’t know anything about Swami. A friend of mine had applied to this Hospital, so I too filled up the form and had it sent. After attending the interview here, I wasn’t sure if I would be selected. I had many reservations in my mind since I am a Muslim. So I was very happy when I was selected. Later, I learnt that selection was done purely on merit. And now, as every day goes by, I like this experience more and more.”
“What impresses you the most?” We ask her.
Positive Work Environment and Loving Team Spirit Draws Staff
“The work environment here is really good. The doctors and other seniors treat you so well; they never harshly reprimand you for mistakes, and teach you very patiently. Nobody orders anyone here they only explain. I like this very much. Earlier, I worked for a year in a hospital in Hyderabad (India); that too was some kind of a charitable institution. But the spontaneous urge to serve that is present in everyone in this Hospital is something very unique.
"Unlike in other Hospitals, here, nobody looks at the patient as a ‘disease’, but as a human being. That is why, there is so much empathy and everyone goes all out to help the patient…It is 15 days since I have joined here, and not even for a moment have I felt out of place here. The moment I step in, I forget the time, my house, and everything else. I love being here and serving the patients.”
“This is wonderful. Thank you very much Kairunisa.”
The young lady then seeks the permission of Sister Ganga and leaves the room. We now return to Sister Ganga.
“The Hospital is blessed to have such dedicated and pure souls,” we say, extremely delighted and impressed after speaking to Kairunisa.
Each Instrument of Sai Personally Chiseled by Him
“Actually, you know what?” Sister Ganga now excitedly explains, “In the early years of the Hospital, all the people working here were virtually hand-picked by Bhagavan. Even now, even though formal job interviews are held for a few vacant positions, ultimately the list is approved by Bhagavan. On one odd occasion, however, we hired a nurse on our own, because of an urgent need. But then we found that, even though she was very qualified on paper, she did not fit into our system at all.
"We had no option but to terminate her employment. Therefore, Swami is the only Doer here; He selects, shapes and runs the Hospital. He makes every heart blossom. Nursing is ‘service with a smile’ and it is Swami who adds the special fragrance of spirituality into this, which spreads all over.”
“That’s a beautiful way to describe this noble profession.” We like her poetic way of describing this age-old and important vocation.
Injecting Hope and Love to Patients
“Actually, in our Hospital, we have a few devotee-nurses from other countries too,” Sister Ganga adds and goes on to say, “We have Maria from Holland, Evelyne from Switzerland, and yes, and Gloria from Jamaica/US. The first two will be very busy, but Gloria might be available in the Injection Room if you want to speak to her.”
“OK…yes, we would like to speak to whosoever is available.”
“The Injection Room is right at the entrance of the Male Outpatient Department,” Sister Ganga gives us further clues.
“Sure, we will go there right now. Dr. Verma had asked us to also visit the Dental Department. Perhaps, we will go there after speaking to Sister Gloria.”
“Yes, you should do that. The Dental Department is doing yeoman service to the poor villagers of this area. It is only a few steps away from the Injection Room.”
“Sure. Thank you very much for your time, Madam. Now, we better move on.”
“No problem. It was a pleasure,” Sister Ganga says with a radiant smile as we bid her a final ‘Sairam’.
We now come down the stairs and as we walk towards the male OPD entrance, Dr. Hema spots us and lovingly asks, "So, how is your work going on?” We had interacted with her on our first day in the Hospital. “Great, we are now going to speak to Sister Gloria.”
“Oh! That’s nice. You know, when Swami came here in 2004, she was among the ones whom He spoke to and even blessed her with a nice gift.”
“That’s wonderful. Then I am sure Sister Gloria will have something interesting to say.” We are brightened by the prospects.
“Yes, you won’t be disappointed. Go ahead.” Dr. Hema, as always, gives us a big smile and dashes off into a ward.
Soon we reach the room of Sister Gloria. She spots us immediately at the door, smiles and says, "Sairam".
“Sairam Madam, we are from Radio Sai, could we speak to you for a few minutes?”
“About what?” she asks inquisitively.
“About Swami, your experience in this Hospital, your feelings working here…”
“Oh, sure. No problem. But let me finish medicating this patient.”
She is done in five minutes, and then, we enter her small room filled with tiny injection bottles, syringes and so on. After we position our cameras, we ask, “Madam, how long have you been working here?”
“It has been nearly a decade now. I came here first in 1993, and again in 1995, 1996 and 1997, and during every visit I served in medical camps. And then, in 1998, I approached Dr. Bhagvat, the then Medical Superintendent of this Hospital, seeking to join the staff here. He asked me to write a letter to Swami, which I did. And Baba not only sent an emphatic 'yes' as the reply, but also three packets of Vibhuti. I was overjoyed!”
“That’s too good. So how has the experience been since then?”
“Excellent, I have no words to describe. I feel Swami is always with me here. For me, this is heaven. My only regret is that Swami did not call me to Him sooner. But, by the way, about five years ago, He Himself said to me in Sai Kulwant Hall, ‘I am the One who brought you here. I am responsible for you. So, it’s your duty to tell Me if anything is wrong.’”
“Wow! That’s a great blessing. He is your Mother!”
Maternal Resemblance Hard to Miss
“In fact, He really is!” Sister Gloria now excitedly shares, “Actually, when I saw Him for the first time, I said to myself, ‘Oh God! He looks just like my mother.’ If my mother were alive, you could put both of them just side by side; they resemble each other so much.
“Fantastic. Now tell us about your work here. You must have served in many other hospitals before. Do you find anything different here?
TLC Sets Apart Sai Healthcare from Western Systems
“Well, professionally speaking, it is much more satisfying working here than in America where I was being paid. Here, the issue is not about money; it is about love. The way the patients are taken care of with TLC (Tender Loving Care), is something I haven’t seen in The USA, Canada or in Africa. For some reason, love just pours out here. And the beautiful thing about this is, even though you love the patients a lot, you never get attached. This is something absolutely unique. I had never before experienced such intense love with detachment; it is more of Divine Love. That is why this is the best part of my life. I always feel as if I am in heaven.”
“Madam, talking to you has been truly a heavenly experience for us too. This Hospital is truly incredible. Each one here is a pillar of inspiration.”
“Well, it is His Hospital, it has to be out of the ordinary,” she says with a smile.
“Right, absolutely. Ok, thank you. We now have to move to the Dental Department.”
“Sure, just take a few steps on the right and you are there. And do not miss speaking to Dr. Mahalakshmi there. She is the young, committed and permanent dentist of this Hospital. But, wait a minute. It is already twelve (noon) now. Maybe you should come at 2 p.m., after your lunch. She will surely be there then.”
Jolted back to real time, we pack our cameras and quickly walk out of the room. In fact, until Sister Gloria uttered ‘lunch’ we had no clue that it was more than two hours since we had stepped into this holy abode of healing. Even now, we are actually not hungry. There is so much to assimilate from what we have seen and heard since morning. This Hospital not only heals your body and mind, but also fills your soul.
- Bishu Prusty