Leader of the Team - 4

Leader of the Team - 4

Dr V.N. SHrikhande

In my early student days, I was never considered a brilliant student. Our examination system depends mostly on memorizing information which is taught to us. Now I know that memory is highly selective and that there are other facets that go into the growth of individuals and their performance. I still remember one of my teachers in a medical college telling me that I had chosen the wrong profession and would never become a doctor. He even suggested that my father was wasting his money on me. Fortunately, this view was shared neither by me nor by my father. Thirty years later, the same teacher called me and expressed a desire to watch me do a major operation. He complimented me profusely. But the comments he made in the past still haunted me. He may not have meant them but casual comments can hurt. I surpassed even my own expectations in the examinations held in England. I still remember that cold evening in February 1959 when I was walking from the Surgeons Hall in Edinburgh to my digs the day I passed the F.R.C.S at my very first attempt. All that I experienced then was a sense of relief but neither of excitement nor of achievement. Three months later, I was to pass my F.R.C.S in England. The whole performance was so unexpected that for a long time thereafter, I would dream that I had actually failed and had been declared successful by mistake! All this was because of constant indoctrination during our college days that F.R.C.S required academic brilliance and that only a few deserved those honours. I learnt a very important lesson in my life, namely that one should never judge an average student unfairly or look down on him if he had not made the grade set by an orthodox set of examination standards. Examinations are not necessarily good guides to talent.

Aspects of Doctor-patient Relationship

A quarter century ago, I had done a major operation in a Private Hospital on an old man. One day he suddenly disappeared from the hospital without paying my fees and he never came for a follow-up. Some years later, his nephew came to meet me and both (of us) were surprised that I could remember his name. Memory is a funny thing because at times I forget the name of a patient whom I have recently operated. I asked him about his uncle—the old man I had operated on. He apologised profusely to me for not contacting me ever since the patient left the hospital. The family had lost everything in business when the patient was recovering in hospital and their plight was so miserable that they had been forced to borrow money. They expected to hear from me everyday complaining about non-payment of my dues. There would be general trepidation every time the postman knocked at their door. But the family never forgot that it owed me money and the man said he had come to make good a small part of it even if it was less than the interest on the fees that were my due. I explained to this man that whatever was willingly paid was good enough for me. The man told me that the family would never be at peace until the last penny owed to me was fully paid. The man's honesty and gratitude were eye-openers to me.

I was sent by World Health Organization to organize a conference in Bangla Desh in 1974. I told in one of the lectures that I gave in the University, that I belong to a sub-continent where even now, if a doctor treats patients like human beings, they will revere him like a God. Even in affluent countries like the United States, people respect doctors who are not money-minded. I was told during one of my visits to the States that the biggest funeral witnessed in a town was for an Indian surgeon who was kind and considerate and who never seemed to be bothered about his fees.

As a medical student in 1950, I had heard of a surgeon who was considered as the Father of Orthopaedic Surgery who had died in Liverpool. Poor people, in the streets of Liverpool had wept as his dead body was being taken to its final resting place. He was an extraordinarily good surgeon but had died penniless.

In my practice, I never demand deposits and patients have not been turned away because they could not pay in full. This does not mean that a private clinic can do free work. One should not be financially bankrupt but acquisition of wealth should not be the aim of a doctor. Some time back, I read in a newspaper that no doctor figured among the top richest persons in England. I make it a point to stress this observation to all my students. Not everyone accepts my advice. Many feel that in this practical world, it is essential to make a quick buck. I have no quarrel with this view. My only point is that a physician who wants to make a quick buck must say goodbye to ethics. Every profession has a dharma. The fire must burn, the river must flow, judges must provide justice and doctors must serve. No service-oriented profession like medicine can bring wealth to an individual when a large number of people are below the poverty line.

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