Thursday, December 25, 2008

Post 1. My Encounter with Death - 1/ Dr. V P Gangadharan

This is my story, the story of my encounter with cancer. It’s a story with many characters, for I was not alone in this dreadful encounter. My small world gathered around me faithfully to join in the exchange of fire. But there was one who became part of this operation only because the enemy was a very dangerous one, and could be vanquished only if we had on our side a marksman of the highest calibre, who had tireless energy to track down the foe, any time of day or night, till either the dreaded foe got me, or we got him.

When I first met Dr. Gangadharan to ask him about the course of treatment for my brother who was in the terminal stage of cancer, the doctor struck me as a reserved but pleasant man of few words, a person with infinite patience - but also as one who was still uncomfortable in the presence of pain and suffering. I say “still” ‘cos he had been a practicing oncologist for more than two decades, and one would expect a doctor with that kind of experience to have developed a defenisve protection for himself against the impact of human suffering, both physical and mental.

Two weeks after I first met him, I called him from the hospital where my brother was admitted. I was agitated ‘cos I felt (like all relatives of patients feel) that my brother was not getting the attention he needed. The doctor listened to me without any comments and then said, “OK, I’ll take care of it”. No swaggering “you relax’, or a condescending ‘take it easy” or the stiff “Madam, we’re doing our best”. But in less than five minutes after I had spoken to him, the doctor on duty came to the room and gave instructions to ensure that greater nursing attention was given to the patient.

We siblings took turns to perform the role of the bystander. Whenever it was my turn, I used to see Dr. Gangadharan when he came for the daily rounds. He greeted us with a pleasant smile but again, never wasted words giving false promises and hope. Something about the quiet way he conducted himself gave us the confidence that our brother was in the best possible hands.

And then, one day, my brother developed severe breathing trouble. My son rushed to the nursing station. In a matter of minutes, I saw Dr. Gangadharan and his team, hurrying down the corridor and literally run into the patient’s room. Never for a moment did he behave as though he was dealing with a patient whose days were numbered. Never once did we see that written-off look in his eyes or in his language or body language. What a difference this attitude makes to the loved ones of the patients!

And what a difference it makes to the patient, I discovered when I became his patient two years later.