It is nearly 20 years ago. Kondiba Dhondiba, a man aged 40 years, farmer by occupation, was brought to me by his relatives from his hometown Wai, for treatment of his back ache. He was suffering from tuberculosis of the spine and I advised him both medical and surgical treatment. The relatives wanted to know how much that would cost. I quoted some figure. Kondiba and his relatives consented both to the treatment and the cost and left promising to bring Kondiba back the next day.

Next day came, but not Kondiba. He just disappeared. I was hurt a bit. Weeks passed by and I forgot Kondiba and his case, when, three months later, he was again brought to my clinic. He had to be literally carried by his relatives. He had become very pale and weak. The disease had advanced considerably and a fresh complication had set in. Kondiba had become paraplegic. I was quite upset to see him in this shape, lost my temper, raised my voice and told off the relatives in no uncertain terms. I told Kondiba that I would not be able to treat him. He heard me out patiently and left, obviously depressed.

Toward evening, when I had done with the day's work, I became uneasy. Was I justified in refusing to treat Kondiba without finding out why he had not come for treatment earlier? That night I could not sleep a wink. The first thing I did next morning was to find his whereabouts and get him to come to see me. "Kondiba" I asked him, "why did you not come for treatment after I examined you for the first time?".

He was shy, awkward and nervous. He replied: "Doctor saab, I did not have enough money and all my efforts to raise the amount vou drew blank"!

It was now my turn to look small. I felt thoroughly ashamed at having refused to see him when he came for the second time. Without a word more, I had him admitted straightaway and treated him free of charge. Kondiba improved and in due course returned to Wai. He is so grateful that everytime he comes to Bombay, he makes it a point to call on me; and he never fails to bring me something from his farm as a token of his love. Further he sends me all those friends and acquaintances of his who need help, not necessarily orthopaedic, for guidance and treatment by me. Kondiba's case was an eye-opener for me and since then I have never turned away a patient because he could not afford to pay. My temper, the has quietened down. Medicine, I now know, is a noble profession, not just a business.

Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar.