A Matter of Faith (2)




On March 13, 1958, I took the bold step of starting surgery at the Kondhwa Leprosy Hospital, seven miles from Pune. Naturally no one was willing to be the first guinea pig for this young doctor who wished to operate in a small room without the benefit of electricity, running water, a steriliser or an anaesthetist. I myself was scared not only of working under these conditions but also of contracting leprosy. But there was no other alternative, as my famous Chief, Sir Harold Gillies, had left Rs 100 at this Leprosarium for Dr Antia to start a Plastic Surgery Unit! A few months later came a letter from England to enquire as to what I was planning to do with his money! And so, start I must, and start I did. The first operation was for closing a hole in the nose of an old woman, Aminabai. (Read her story here:
 Nabi, the next patient, was a classical depressed nose of leprosy which corrected without any of the complicated dental splints used for this operation in the U.K. I took some wire from the chicken run of the hospital and used it to remarkably good effect. Today it is a standard technique throughout the world, though stainless steel is used in place of chick wire. Since then hundreds if not thousands of such operations have been carried out all over India as well as in other countries. We had no anaesthetist, no running water, no electricity as I said earlier. I would go early in the morning before sunrise, lay the trolley and wait for the sun to shine through the windows before we operated. When Sir Harold Gillies, the eminent surgeon visited Kondhwa, he too operated under similar conditions. To him it was not very different from what he had encountered the trenches in France during World War I. This only goes to show that even with modest or poor facilities, a lot can be achieved will!

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