"Why Did You Save Me?" - 3

 "Why Did You Save Me?" - 3

Dr.Shantu J.Vaidya

 Mohammad was hardly 12 when he was brought to the Out-Patients Department of St George's Hospital, Bombay for treatment. He was accompanied by some one who looked like a farm-hand. I was informed they came from a village in Madhya Pradesh but were not related.

When Mohammad folded his hands in an attempt to salute me. I realised what was wrong. Several fingers were gangrenous and could fall off any time. They needed instant attention.

On inquiry, I pieced together the following story. Mohammad was an orphan. Like most children of his age, he was an inveterate prankster and mischief maker. One of his pranks was to accompany a gang of older boys to steal mangoes from a fruit orchard. Invariably the boys would manage to escape. One day, however, luck deserted Mohammad. He was caught by the watchman. The orchard-owner decided to punish Mohammad severely and make an object lesson of him.

Mohammad was told to hug a mango tree and his hands were tied up front so that he could hardly move. The rope bit into his fingers but the orchard owner took no pity. Mohammad was left in that helpless state from morning till sundown. When he was finally released, his fingers had swollen and he was in agony. The next morning they started turning blue and in another three days they had turned black. The village compounder-there was no doctor for miles around-could do nothing. He suggested that Mohammad should be taken to a city hospital. This was more easily said than done. Mohammad was an orphan and who would pay for his trip to Bombay?

Finally, on the 8th day, a poor farm-hand offered help. He himself was on his way to Bombay and willingly agreed that Mohammad could accompany him. That's how Mohammad landed at St George's Hospital.

I listened to Mohammad recount his story in his colloquial Hindi. He was a guileless child on whom a cruel orchard-owner had visited beastly punishment. There was a long waiting list in the OPD but at that point in time I did not have the heart to tell the boy that he has to wait for his turn to be admitted to the general ward. He just had nowhere to go in Bombay. Even the man who had brought him to Bombay could do nothing.

There was one thing I could do, on my authority. I placed Mohammad on my top priority list and had him admitted rightaway. And then the slow, arduous process of rehabilitating the fingers started. Mohammad was a brave boy. He was very cooperative. He was also willing to help the regular staff. He would do anything including holding the hands of patients who were half-conscious after operations. He would run errands. He was innocent, energetic and active and soon endeared himself to patients, nurses and ward boys alike.

Mohammad was subjected to a number of operations. In ordinary circumstances, patients would be sent home for some weeks and then re-admitted. But Mohammad had become such an indispensable part of my ward that nurses found ready excuses not to discharge him.

Mohammad stayed on for two incredible years in the hospital, living on hospital food which was more than what he would have got in his village. Where once his fingers were about to fall off, now they were healed, not wholly, but partly; at least they were serviceable to a small extent. He could not hold on to things but he could manage to push a trolley. In two years Mohammad grew into a strapping lad. He had learnt many things along the way but all his world was in Bombay and in my ward.

One of the patients ready for discharge from my ward, was a sugarcane vendor. Mohammad had grown pally with him and the two decided they could hit it off well together. The vendor felt he could use Mohammad's services and since the latter's departure from hospital was long overdue, we let him go. He was discharged with our good wishes

Mohammad never forgot us. He would visit the hospital regularly every week and regale us with his experiences of living off the streets He had tried his hand at shining shoes, selling toys and ball pens hawking random items around Victoria Terminus and so on, but without any rancour against God and Destiny. He was a cheerful soul.

One day he came to me with a request. He wanted my signature on a form which was an application for allotment of a footpath stall to a handicapped person. He explained that on the basis of my recommendation he would get a bank loan and a fruit juice stall near V.T. I readily signed the papers.

Mohammad disappeared for over a year. One day I was passing with children along the footpath by the side of Azad Maidan when I heard somebody shouting: "Doctor saheb, doctor saheb!" I turned round to be accosted by Mohammad's smiling face. He dragged me and my children to his fruit stall and gave us our fill of drinks. "Have some more" he kept saying and would not take 'No' for an answer.

Mohammad had become a prosperous owner of a fruit-juice centre and was doing roaring business. He had four employees under him! In Mohammad's words, had he not been caught in his village stealing mangoes, had he not been cruelly punished, he would never have come to Bombay. He would have remained an unskilled labourer, eking a miserable existence in his remote village in Madhya Pradesh. To him, I was the man who was the sole cause of his prosperity. He could not thank me enough. What was there for me to say?

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