Dealing with a Celebrity 2



Eminent politicians in the country are always in the limelight and get all the attention from the society and different mass media. Naturally, their health is a matter of concern not only to them but also to the political parties they belong to. In fact, a famous person gets a lot of attention from the medical profession, too. Many good doctors and, at times, not so good doctors also, clamour to offer their services to these eminent politicians.

This particular case refers to the late Mr S.A. Dange, President of the Communist Party of India. Mr Dange was a very dynamic person and was blessed with abundant energy. However, as age advanced, he suffered a couple of heart attacks. Ever since he became President of the CPI, he was flown regularly to Moscow for his medical check-up. He used to be thoroughly examined at a prestigious medical centre in Moscow and detailed health records were submitted to his personal physician. A few years prior to my meeting Mr Dange professionally, he had started getting repeated attacks of urinary tract infection. These attacks would come on unexpectedly and at times at the most inconvenient and embarrassing moments. During each such attack, he would get very high fever and severe discomfort while passing urine. This would incapacitate him and hinder his professional commitments and at times he even had to postpone or cancel some of his social and political engagements. This frustrated him no end. He promptly went to Moscow for a check-up.

Mr Dange was as usual given a thorough check-up and the Russian doctors opined that he had an enlarged prostate which needed to be removed but that was one big hurdle. Mr Dange, they felt, was rather old with a very bad heart and that a prostate operation was notoriously known to cause severe and unexpected bleeding. In the circumstances, they advised him against getting operated, putting forth a seemingly logical reason: advanced age, a bad heart condition and likely blood loss that Mr Dange may not be able to withstand.

Poor Mr Dange returned to India an unhappy and dejected man since no way his Russian medical comrades could combat his recurrent urinary problem. He consulted his usual physician and personal friend, Dr T. H Tulpule who was then the honorary professor of medicine and headed the department at the J.J. Group of hospitals, Bombay. Dr Tulpule in marked contrast to some cardiologists, who unnecessarily exaggerate are a patient about his heart ailment, looks to the brighter side and always cheers his patients. In fact, he tells the patient that whether he stays at home or goes out for a walk, if some day his heart is going to stop beating, it might stop even while he is sleeping or resting at home. This kind of pep talk instills a rare confidence in his patients recovering and getting ambulatory very early after a heart ailment. Today, the trend of early ambulation following a heart attack is an 'in' thing, but years ago, even at the slightest suspicion of myocardial ischaemia, a patient was immediately grounded and put to bed for six weeks. Besides being forced to stay away from work, the fact that he had to stay in bed for six weeks was itself very demoralising to the patient.

Dr Tulpule in his usual happy-go-lucky style asked Mr Dange why should he, at his age, when he had achieved everything he could possibly aspire for, worry about what would happen to his heart. Dr Tulpule even assured Mr Dange that as far as the blood loss was concerned, doctors here would ensure a prompt replacement of the blood during surgery.

Dr Tulpule's advice had the desired effect on his patient and Mr Dange promptly agreed to undergo a prostate operation at the hands of one of his own countrymen.

Mr Dange then underwent a successful prostate operation at my hands in Bombay Hospital; his surgery and anaesthesia were uneventful and more importantly, thanks to Dr Tulpule's pep talk, he had a very early recovery.

However, after this case, I could not help but feel that there are different sets of rules whilst dealing with a celebrity, especially eminent. Politicians and the medical advice given them also varies. A feeling shared by many of Mr Dange’s friends and Dr Tulpule was that the Russian doctors were unwilling to operate on Mr Dange as they feared the acute embarrassment it would cause to their government and the Communist Party if a disastrous outcome followed an operation. So the found a nice way of getting out of a ticklish situation by highly exag ing the risk factor and scaring Mr Dange out of his wits.

But the credit goes to the eminent Indian physician Dr Tulpule who instilled the right spirit in his friend and patient who then, in a positive frame of mind, underwent the surgery in Bombay and had a positive result.

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