Life and Medical Lessons Learned at the Lotus Feet of the Divine Doctor
Serving on the medical camps organised by the Sathya Sai International Organisation is indeed a privilege. The exposure to different spectrums of disease, different people, working in diverse teams and learning from each other helps in making a volunteer grow at the inner level and learn the most important lessons, both in medicine and in life.
Here are some of the experiences of medical service which made a great impact on me:
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world and was plagued with the epidemic of HIV which practically wiped out the middle generation. Now the only survivors are the grandparents and the orphans of the HIV epidemic and many of them are also affected.
I was deeply moved and saddened by the lines of malnourished and ill patients, having the same story and waiting to see a paediatrician. Suddenly, a patient appeared, with three young children, smiling the most radiant, beautiful smile I have seen. I ask her “You seem very happy?”
She answered “Yes - so, so, happy doctor. I have HIV, my husband is dead but the lord has saved my children. They have been checked and don’t have AIDS! I will try and keep healthy and keep taking my medicines but I am so happy!!”
Lesson learned: “Be happy!” One does not have to be happy to be grateful but when one is grateful one is happy.
Mother Teresa often said to treat every patient you see like your parent, sibling, child.... only then can you be a true doctor.
Another experience occurred on the last day of the camp in a remote area. We had already packed and were ready to leave. A patient came in with his relative - a young boy who had suffered a stroke and was paralysed on his left side. He also had a complex cardiac valvular disease.
Swami prompted me to stay. I examined this last patient as it was getting dark. I then sat down and took my time and explained to the uncle of the boy, drawing small pictures to show the underlying condition, the complications and why he had been ill.
After almost an hour I took leave and I felt a hesitant tap my shoulder. The uncle stood with folded hands and said, “I don’t know if this boy will get better or survive. I don’t know if I will see you again, but thank you so much for taking so much time and explaining with love.” My eyes welled up, I clasped his hands and thanked him to have given me this opportunity.
Lesson learned: As a treating doctor/professional, don’t rush, take your time to explain patiently and with love, which may be more potent than the treatment itself. I now always remember to take that extra time to explain and ensure that patients have an understanding of their illness.
It was the end of a long day, the medical camp work was almost completed, and all of us were tired, wanting to return to the waiting bus. The last seven of my patients had the same symptoms of a viral cold and cough. A quick examination and treatment were advised for each of them. Just as I finally got up and packed my stethoscope, a lady came in dragging a five-year old girl. When asked, she said the very same symptoms, cough, cold, fever.... seemed familiar. I asked her if she was the mother and she replied she was a friend.
Swami prompted me...Just as I was going to give this child the same treatment as the other seven patients, I unpacked and decided to examine this girl more thoroughly. I was shocked and surprised to realise that she had pneumonia. I silently thanked the lord for saving this young child that day. I dread to think what would have happened if I did not get the prompt from Swami. The most common cause of child deaths is pneumonia.....Our loving lord took care of the little one and taught me one of my most important lessons in medicine.
Lesson learned: The very last patient may be the most challenging case. Be alert always. No matter how tired you are, have the same enthusiasm with your last as with your first patient. I now teach this to my junior colleagues and trainees.
One of the camp pharmacists was celebrating her 21st birthday during the camp. Spending it with Swami is clearly the best way to celebrate. The joke at breakfast that morning was having a virtual cake blowing imaginary candles... as it seemed impossible that we could have a cake to cut or celebrate.
All conversations are heard by our lord. Late that evening a lady came up to me and said, “Thank you for treating my child yesterday - I have baked a banana cake for all of you.” I was choked with emotion as I opened a cloth-covered cake freshly baked and warm from the make-shift oven. Swami had once more confirmed He is a witness to all conversations. He provided the birthday girl with a real cake rather than a virtual one and taught me an important lesson in selfless giving.
Lesson learned: Giving when you have a lot is not such a great sacrifice but sharing and giving others when you have so little (like the poor lady) is a great sacrifice. The young lady was so poor but she found so much joy in giving the little she had. To experience this cosmic joy of giving is to discover that it is most important to give, give, give!
Dr Nikila Pandya