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A 'MOVING' MARVEL OF HOLISTIC MEDICARE

…THE STORY OF SRI SATHYA SAI MOBILE HOSPITAL


The Puzzling Excitement

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Be it village Locherla or Chandrayunipalli...
their joy says it all!
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It was a sight to behold. The air was thick with excitement. Though the earth was red, rocky and dry, and looked disenchanting – its drought-ridden history very evident – there was only delight everywhere. It was as if they had all gotten connected to their source of happiness, hope and energy. The kids were ecstatic; spring in their steps, smiles on their lips, they were screaming at the top of their voices, and waving their hands vigorously.

And only a few meters away, all the village ladies and gentlemen stood in a most disciplined fashion. The whole pathway was washed and decorated. From among the beautiful designs (created out of rice powder) that adorned the road brightly in white, one of them proclaimed “Welcome”. Yes, everyone was ready and revved up in the village of Locherla. Little girls waited with Poorna Kumbham, turmeric, kumkum, flowers, etc. – everything that is traditionally used in South India to welcome a special guest.

The men, in this small hamlet about 25 kms from Puttaparthi, had hung big banners and cleaned up the entire premises; now, in fresh clothes, serene in disposition and joy on their faces, their eyes were searching for any sign of the arriving moment.

For the entire hamlet and for folk even from neighboring settlements, it surely was an event of much cheer and much significance too. Was any special guest, a minister or a VIP, visiting the village? Or, were they heralding a festive occasion for the whole community? Or, was it that Swami was arriving at this hamlet physically?

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The innocent folk decorate their hamlet in their own way and await their 'special guest'
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It arrives like a gentle breeze of happiness and blessing
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Well, actually it was just a bus – a spotlessly white and big 15 feet long carrier, not with people, but machines inside, arriving at the rural milieu. For the villagers, nevertheless, it was no less than God. “But for this, by now, I would be dead,” says Rangappa. “The pain in the chest that morning, on December 30, 2006, was the worst I had ever suffered in my life. It was unbearable.” Rangappa had been playing the nadaswaram (a classical wind instrument) for a rural Muslim festival for the last three days, and in the process had blown his throat out.

The Metamorphosis of Rangappa

It was not the first time, Rangappa, originally a barber, had done this. In fact, nadaswaram has been his valuable supplementary source of earnings for years now. But never had he suffered so much for taking up the instrument taught by his father. Eight years ago, he had endured a similar predicament but it was not so severe. “This time, there was a burning sensation. It was too much to tolerate. The pain actually started on December 28 and a local health inspector I went to, gave me some pills. I swallowed them and performed again on the next day. This was it. The pain now was dreadful. My brother then immediately took me to Buggapalli, a nearby village where there was a RMP (Registered Medical Practitioner). ‘Oh, it is only gastric trouble,’ the doctor said and gave two shots. The pain subsided, but only temporarily. It returned the next day and I tried injections, which again gave only momentary relief. But by January 3, nothing worked – no pills, no shots. I was clueless. I had never been through so much before. My chest was hurting too much and I thought I was not going to live.”

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Rangappa was on the verge of complete collapse...
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It was Rangappa’s darkest hour. Tensed and terrified, he wondered who would take care of his wife and only son. Like a drowning man desperate for a straw, his heart was crying for help. There was no way he could help himself. He was illiterate, and poor. He had never ever been to a city, did not know where else to go and whom to approach. He had no clue what he suffered from, and was there a cure, if any.

“It was in this time of devastating depression that we heard of the Sai doctors who had come to the neighboring village, Kotlapalli,” says Rangappa’s brother Nidimamidappa. “They had come along with the bus just like they have come here to Locherla. We wanted relief, no matter who or what. In the next ten minutes we were there. The doctors were so kind and concerned. The white bus had all the facilities. On the spot, without any delay they did an electronic test on the chest (ECG) and gave a tablet to swallow right then and there. And then, with an air of urgency in their voice, told me, ‘You go and get your brother admitted at once in the Super Specialty Hospital in Puttaparthi’.

I dashed to Puttaparthi with my brother on a motor bike, and when I showed the slip they had sent us with in the Puttaparthi Hospital, we were taken into the ICU instantly. Once admitted and medicines administered, my brother’s pain gradually began to subside. In four days, he was fine. I could not believe my eyes when my brother walked out of the hospital on that Saturday. He was a changed man.”

Till today, neither Rangappa nor his brother know what exactly happened in the ICU in those four days. They have no idea why they had to rush to the Puttaparthi Hospital on that fateful Saturday. What they do know is that ‘the doctors sent by Swami with the white bus’ is what gave them a new life.

“If we would not have seen him that day, maybe he would have never survived,” says Dr. Narasimhan, who examined him that morning. “Rangappa, in fact, had suffered an acute heart attack, though it was in the initial phase. While we had a suspicion that, maybe he was suffering from something more serious than gastric trouble or just chest pain, we could confirm it immediately because of the instant ECG report. We, therefore, sent him right away to the Super Specialty Hospital.”

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"I will never again smoke or drink" - Rangappa
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It was a sophisticated diagnostic clinic along with expert doctors’ right there at the patient’s doorstep in the village that saved Rangappa’s life that eventful morning. But what is more heartening is this: Rangappa, a nicotine-addict for years who would easily puff two-three packets of cigarettes a day, coming out of the ICU ward on January 6, saying, “I will never smoke or drink again in my life. The doctors and nurses here have taken care of me with so much love, and advised me to be clean and take timely food. And I am going to do just that. Swami has saved me. Now that I have chanted ‘Sairam’, I will never take to any harmful practices again.” Hands folded and repentant, Rangappa’s sincerity was unquestionable. And till today, he has kept his promise.

Not only that, he has now become a sort of ‘good health ambassador’ in the village having dissuaded many from taking to unhealthy habits. “I was drinking from 1972,” he says. “I thought, drinking and smoking was normal as many people do it in the village. I never knew it was so harmful until I lost my brother only a few years ago, who drank himself to death. Even then, I could not quit the habit. But today, I have myself experienced how dangerously harmful these addictions can be. Swami has given me a new life and therefore, I want to explain to everybody in the village – teenagers and adults – to not drag themselves into destruction. I want to tell them to spend their energies and time in cultivating good habits, chanting Swami’s name and quietly doing their jobs.”

How Rangappa’s life has now become a ‘precious instrument’ bringing life-uplifting changes in many village folk is really stirring. And if we look at it closely there are many factors that have contributed to this wonderful metamorphosis in him. The doctors’ timely diagnosis saved his heart, the nurses’ care at the hospital softened it, and the Sai doctors’ love suffused it with divine love. He was revitalized physically, mentally and in the spirit. There was the aspect of curative and preventive healthcare along with spiritual well-being. And this is precisely what Swami had said when He started the Sri Sathya Sai Mobile Hospital more than a year ago in April 2006.

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The Source and Soul of all selfless service
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“The service that we offer should be holistic. It should
be a fine blend of curative and preventive healthcare
with a spiritual undercurrent.”

Swami’s directions were very clear from the beginning to the ‘Sai doctors with the white bus’ And today, more than a hundred and fifty visits to the villages later, each Sai doctor has dozens of Rangappa-like stories to share. What do the Sai doctors actually do? And what is so special about the ‘Mobile Hospital’ bus?

Excellent Diagnostic Support – a Doctor’s Delight

 “Just as the name suggests, it truly is a moving Hospital,” says Dr. Narasimhan, the Programme Director of this service project. “It has all the sophisticated diagnostic services that a doctor would generally require. Be it an ECG machine, an X-ray machine with an automatic film processor or an ultrasound imaging system for Radiology; or, an auto analyzer, a centrifuge, a microscope, or a VDRL shaker, that any blood report would need. The diagnostic support is absolutely unique.” Having been involved with rural medical service projects for more than fifteen years, Dr. Narasimhan categorically states, “In fact, it is inconceivable that a medical service activity in a remote setting can have such an excellent clinical support.”

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A full-fledged Pathology lab inside the bus
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...supplemented with dedicated technicians
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When the chikungunya epidemic (a rare form of debilitating viral fever spread by mosquito) was rampant in many villages around Puttaparthi in July 2006, every individual who had fever was believed to have contracted the disease. Though it was true for a number of cases, it was not the complete truth. “When we examined the blood samples of many of these villagers, we found that a good number of them were actually suffering from malaria,” say the Mobile Hospital doctors. “And it was not the ordinary form of malaria, they were actually down with ‘falciparum malaria’ (commonly known as cerebral malaria) which is the most dangerous and life-threatening variant of this disease. Thanks to the Mobile Hospital which provided blood sample results in a matter of minutes in the village itself, we could avoid unsure diagnosis (and resultant wrong prescription) and prevent many lives from sure death.”

“For the first time, we are able to diagnose at the patient’s door step” – Dr. Shyam Prasad

“For the first time, ever in the history of any Voluntary Organization, we are now able to diagnose the disease in the village, at the doorstep of a patient. This is very amazing, and it is indeed a wonderful experience!” says Dr. Shyam Prasad, a Professor of Surgery in Andhra Medical College, one of the premier medical colleges in Andhra Pradesh.

“I have seen with Ultra Sound devices, a breast cancer, a cancer in the stomach, and something in the liver; we can now tell whether it is curable or not!” he adds.

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Instant X ray films for immediate diagnosis
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This ultrasound machine too is inside the bus
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Instances like this where excellent diagnostic support has spared lives are galore. Ramakrishna came to the doctors with complaints of frequent urination. When an Ultrasound test was done inside the bus, it revealed that the middle-aged gentleman was suffering from not one but four problems. “His problem is not only with his bladder,” said the Radiologist. “He has various levels of complications in his spleen, liver and kidney too.” We asked Ramakrishna, “Why did you not get checked up in another clinic till now?”

“I did,” he says. “I went to the nearby health centre few days ago but they gave me some pills without any examination, which did not provide any relief. There is no facility there to do such tests.”

India’s Unhealthy Health Profile

This is the malady of the healthcare scenario in most of the villages in India today. Quality healthcare is the privilege of only a small percentage of the population who has access to hospitals in towns and cities, while nearly 70 percent of India lives in villages. And most of rural India (which is 25% of India’s population, about 250 million) is poor and still below the poverty line; they struggle for food, let alone healthcare. Most villagers know only agriculture as means of livelihood and the vagaries of nature have made them cross the Rubicon. Every year they become poorer and poorer. People of the district of Anantapur in the state of Andhra Pradesh are one such lot.

Poverty is endemic in this region which receives an annual rainfall which is the lowest in the state and perhaps second lowest in the country, and is, therefore, known for perennial drought. In fact, 35 per cent of the villages in Anantapur fall in the high deprivation category (income of less than Rs. 120.03 per capita per month).  Healthcare, in this scenario, is only neglected or non-existent. Perhaps, it is for this reason that Swami directed the doctors of the Mobile Hospital Project to begin their activities in this district of Andhra Pradesh. The hospital needs to go to these people simply because they need it the most, and are either unaware, or even if aware, can ill-afford to visit a decent hospital. According to Dr. Narasimhan, “The Sri Sathya Sai Mobile Hospital project is a novel medical outreach programme which aims to provide quality medicare to people living especially in the remote villages. It is, in fact, a reflection of Bhagavan’s untiring effort to provide ‘vaidya’ (healthcare) free of cost to the poorest of the poor.”

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Complete care with concern for Anantapur's poor
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...and the most deprived
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The Stirring Story of Hari

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Hari's life like his mouth was hollow...
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And the results this program has achieved are moving. Just take the case of Hari. Stricken with Polio at the tender age of six, little Hari started walking with an unsteady gait. His grandfather gave him sticks to help him straighten his legs and not loose the habit of walking.

The poor boy practiced and eventually even learnt not to depend on the stick, but still, he was as incapacitated as ever, or even more, because practically he was too weak to walk. Born with a condition, medically called edentulous, his teeth were conspicuous by their absence in his chubby face. And now Polio had taken away whatever little smiles or dreams he had.

He could never eat with even an iota of contentment. Banana was the only fruit he would mash in his hollow mouth and swallow. There was nobody to make specialized food for him. If he was alive, it was enough for his father Narayanappa, a daily wage labourer, who struggled to keep his flesh and bone together.

Little Hari’s body lost all shine, as days passed by. Severely undernourished, his colour changed. His abdomen had bloated like a football when the doctors saw him for the first time in Batalapalli village in June 2006. They were alarmed to see his hemoglobin levels at an abysmal 4 gm and immediately administered vital supplements to lessen his anemic condition. This was the first step.

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Filled with sweet ambitions and dreams,
Hari now smiles!
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The second action the doctors started with quickened earnest, which was absolutely essential to sustain whatever they did to improve his vital health parameters, was to provide him with that which he had unfortunately lost due to his family’s helplessness and the society’s callousness. They took all the measurements required for dentures and soon Hari was cheery. After the ‘new teeth’ were fixed, in a few weeks, he regained all that he had lost – his colour, his enthusiasm, his energy, his innocent smile. The doctor today is moved to tears when he sees the little Hari, ever charged and ebullient, hopping towards him, folding his hands and saying an excited “Sairam”.

You ask Hari anything today and the first thing he does is flash a bright smile. His joy fills you with a rare feeling of serenity and happiness. Hari is back to school these days, thanks to the generosity of a Sai worker who has given him food and shelter in his own school. “What do you wish to be?” we ask Hari as he looks at us warmly. “I want to join Swami’s school. Can you help me get admitted here?” he queries excitedly. “Why do you want to study?” we ask again. “I want to be become a doctor.” His face lights up. “I want to help all who are suffering.” Whether he is going to become a doctor or not, we are sure he is going to gladden hearts and enliven lives, which he is already doing in his own tiny way. On the day we met him, he had come to the medical camp to help in any small way he can as it was a Sunday. Hari, today, is an inspiration for others because of his mild manners and dedication to duty. Can there be anything more fulfilling than this?

Reaching Out - On Wheels With Love

Such is the change the philosophy of ‘reaching out to the villagers’ of the Mobile Hospital program has brought about in the lives of many innocent folks. And everybody is included – men, women, children and the elderly. All kinds of diseases are covered – whether it is common ailments like fever, gastroenteritis, etc.; emergency situations; or chronic ailments like epilepsy, diabetes, hypertension, and the like.

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"I feel much better now" - Lakshminarayana
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Laxminarayana of Locherla village was a person in his forties but his energy levels were like that of man in his late sixties. A daily wage labourer, his life became a burden when a few months ago, his energy levels dropped precipitously. A strong man who used to easily put in eight hours of hard labour was for some reason unable to work even for two hours with ease. Afternoons, it would be impossible for him to persuade his body to do any job.

And added to this was another discomforting problem - frequent urination. “I was unable to sleep. Every hour I would get up to attend to my body’s call. Extremely weak and fatigued because of sleeplessness, my life suddenly had become not worth living. I was unable to earn even fifty rupees a day. There was no way I could maintain my family,” he says recollecting those terrible weeks.

The mystery was solved when the doctors performed a blood test during their routine visit. At 410 sugar level, Laxminarayana was highly diabetic. He had no clue what the disease was all about and what precautions he should take. But now after the doctors had counseled and started his treatment, he is a happy man. “I am much better now,” he says. “No more hourly urinations. I take medicines regularly and follow all the instructions of the doctors diligently. My life is slowly getting back to normalcy. I am eternally grateful to the Sai doctors.”

“Follow Up Care” – The Program’s Powerful Feature

But for Laxminarayana to return to his original energy levels, he has to be monitored at frequent intervals, either the dosage or the medicine changed, depending on his body’s response, and be constantly guided to a new life style. In fact, this “follow up care” has been one of the most important features of the Sri Sathya Sai Mobile Hospital Project, apart from the excellent diagnostic support that it provides. And this is inherent in its design because the modus operandi of the program is to visit the same village on a particular day of every month.

The doctors, who come from various parts of Andhra Pradesh, travel with the bus on the first twelve days of every month. If it was the village Locherla on the April 5, it will be the same village again on June 5. This way, the treatment that is offered is not a ‘one-off’ prescription or solution to the patient’s problem. “It gives an excellent opportunity to ensure complete treatment for the patient,” says Dr. Ravikanth, a young ENT specialist. “Most of the cases need recurring visits to the doctor and these patients never go to the doctor in the city even if we offer to treat them free because often they cannot afford the journey. In this scenario, doctors’ making repeated visits to the villages is the best solution. This way we are able to do full justice to the patient. It gives immense satisfaction to us as well as the villagers.”

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The doctors visit month after month...
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...to see that patient is completely cured
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In fact, this is one of the important distinguishing features of the Mobile Hospital camps when compared to other Sai medical camps. “In other medical camps,” says Dr. Sreenivas, a young MD in General Medicine from Kakinada, who serves in these camps, “We typically go and prescribe some general medicines like calcium tablets, pain killers, fever medicines, etc. and return. We never have feedback to know whether the treatment we have offered has worked, or how effective or ineffective it was. We have no idea if a particular drug had any side effects. But the environment in this camp is an excellent opportunity for follow-up.”

Citing one example, he says, “On March 11, our team visited Janakampalli. When we visit the same village next month, that patient will have the slip that describes his BP and the medicine prescribed.  So the doctor would get his BP checked and know if his BP is controlled or not, and provide appropriate prescription. In doing this small act of follow-up, we are, in fact, preventing many conditions. We detect high blood pressure and reduce it, and thereby reduce the possibility of strokes. We are saving a patient who otherwise would have been paralyzed in the next three or four months. 

“This is a scientific wonder of sorts. We are reaching out to the patient!  That is satisfying for the doctor and works best for the patient. It is principally a small step – giving a small examination and diagnosis – but you have saved a life.  It is more of prevention.” 

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Doing it with love incessantly
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The patient is very precious
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Prevention, Prevention, Prevention – The Project’s Primary Focus

Truly, this is being pro-active, that is, to preempt the occurrence of the disease rather than cure it after onset. And it is this concerted focus on ‘Preventive Healthcare’ what has made the Mobile Hospital Project so special. “In our service program, we have finely integrated the curative and preventive healthcare aspects and always deliver it as a common capsule unlike the work of the governmental agencies,” explains Dr. Narasimhan. “In the programs of the state, the curative care is delivered by the ‘Primary Health Centers’ at the mandal headquarters (small administrative units comprising few villages) level while the preventive health education is done by what we call ANMs (Auxiliary Nurse Midwives) and Health Workers who visit the villages, at times perhaps not convenient for the villagers. It is for this and various other issues starting from functional discrepancies to motivational deficiencies that these governmental efforts have been successful only partially in some areas and completely ineffective in others.”

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Four mandals where service is currently offered
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In the villages where the Mobile Hospital doctors visit, the love with which the doctors treat the villagers and look after the complete cure of their patients, has moved the villagers beyond measure. It has generated tremendous trust in them in what the doctors say, for each one feels: “Here is somebody genuinely interested in my welfare. This doctor has no ulterior motive; he does not expect anything from me. I must adhere to what he says. It will do me good.” This spring of inner motivation in the hearts of the villagers propelled by the doctors’ selfless service is what has made the Preventive Healthcare a success in most of the villages that are under the umbrella of the Mobile Hospital. Incidentally, there are 35 villages and small settlements from four mandals around Puttaparthi, [namely, Kothacheruvu, Bukkapatnam, C K Palli and finally Puttaparthi] that this project caters to. It is this universe of 50,000 people in these four regions that is now reaping the benefits of effective preventive health measures.

“I used to have pains all over my body. Sometimes, my limbs would become numb. I could not even sit for few minutes in one particular posture. If I got down working with the sewing machine, it would be a Herculean effort to get up. The pain so was intense that walking, even for fifteen minutes, had become practically impossible.” This was Akkamma’s condition when she first came to the Mobile Hospital Camp in Chandrayunipalli. She had not met with any accident or born with any organ malfunction or contracted any infection. Her bane was she was born and lived in the district of Anantapur which was infamous for high levels of fluoride in the ground water.

[Below 1 mg/l fluoride content in water is what is considered safe for drinking, but in this district the average range is 1.5 to 2.5 mg/l which goes up to as high as 4 mg/l in some of the food products. This ingestion of large amounts of fluoride via water and food is what has caused serious problems from discolored teeth (dental fluorosis) to aching joints, brittle bones, stunted growth and deformed limbs (skeletal fluorosis)]

When the doctors explained to Akkamma the harmful effects of drinking fluoride-high water and offered detailed instructions as to how to make the water safe for drinking (using alum and lime), she diligently undertook to follow the doctors instructions. Additionally, the doctors also advised her to take Sai Protein (a grounded mix of wheat, pulses, sugar and groundnut which can be easily made at home) to improve her resilience. And today Akkamma says, “Five months ago, I was just 36 kilos but now in a space of few weeks I have gained more than 10 kilos! I feel so energetic these days. I do all my household work and have even started going to the fields. My husband is so happy. These doctors have taken such good care of us.”

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Chennakeshava feels more energetic now
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"I have put on atleast 10 kgs" - Akkamma
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“All my pain is gone,” says Chennakeshava Reddy, another resident of the same village. One look at his teeth and you know how terribly concentrated fluoride is in the drinking water of their village. Though his teeth are still discoloured, he is a happy man. “I have been following all the steps of the procedure to free my drinking water of fluoride. It is three months since I am taking this water and I can see marked improvement in my energy levels. These doctors have done immense help to us by coming to our village,” he says.

Ultimately, it is Only Love That Works!

We can go on and on narrating instances of how preventive healthcare when offered by the same doctors who provide treatment to their villagers has brought about encouraging results. But this has been successful not because of the infrastructure available for curative care or right guidance provided on preventive healthcare. While these two have their own place, the most important and often ignored aspect, which is abundant in these camps, as mentioned earlier, is – the love of the doctors. Here the relationship between the doctor and the patient is beyond the ordinary, it is much more intimate. The doctor is their friend, guide and philosopher, for each patient knows for sure that - ‘The doctor here is my genuine well-wisher.” He is God-sent, verily ‘Swami’, come for them. And perhaps it is for this reason that, apart from effective implementation of programs, cures have effected in these villages bordering on the miraculous.

Sriramulu’s Mysterious Inner Transformation

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Sriramulu's predicament was serious
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A few months ago, for some inexplicable reason, Sriramulu suddenly went into severe depression. Once a very soft-spoken and courteous handloom weaver, now he would not allow anybody to step into his house! Let alone taking orders and weaving clothes, if anybody even came near the door, he just went berserk. He would not calm until he had chased the other person out completely, and on occasions even man-handled him, even if it was his next door neighbour of many years.

“He used to beat even me,” says his wife, Saraswati. She had to send their only daughter away to another house because he did not spare even her. To convince him to eat had also become an impossible task. Some days he would cooperate but on other days he was absolutely unmanageable. What was worse, he never slept in the nights. “And on occasions, he would just get up and walk away somewhere early in the morning. I had to go and find him,” says Saraswati recalling those horrific days.

“Did you not take him then to any doctor?” we ask. “Yes, we did. We took him to the Neuro department of a hospital in Anantapur (the nearest city). Apart from few pills, the doctors there gave him electric shock too (Electro convulsive therapy - which can reduce suicidal tendencies in mentally imbalanced patients but at times could also lead to permanent damage of the brain). We spent Rs. 700 there but there was no improvement at all. Moreover, he never took the medicines regularly. He would take the pills according to his whims and fancies. And if I offered the pills on time, he would jostle me away. Then I tried clandestinely mixing the tablet in his coffee but he soon realized this, and one day in a fit of rage threw the coffee down. Thereafter he never accepted any drink in the house; he would go to an outside tea shop if he wanted to sip something.”

Such was the pitiable plight of Saraswati. With the help of her brother, she even took him to NIMHANS, a reputed hospital for the mentally ill in Bangalore, but all efforts proved futile because the problem was never with the medicines or the doctors, but with Sriramulu. He simply never allowed any drug to work; it was impossible to administer anything to him. It was during this time of utter helplessness, that she heard about the Mobile Hospital doctors coming to her village. With great deal of persuasion, she succeeded in getting him near the site of the Medical Camp, but Sriramulu, who was nice until a few minutes, suddenly went wild and ran away from the place to their home. It was then that the thoroughly dejected Saraswati came and presented her predicament to the Mobile Hospital doctors. It was January 7, 2007 in the village Cherlopalli, about six kms from Puttaparthi.

“We desperately wanted to help after hearing her sad story,” says Dr. Narasimhan. “But were apprehensive of what ‘treatment’ we would get if we visited her house. Nevertheless, we decided to go, chanting His name and invoking His blessings.” And when Dr. Narasimhan and his team finally stepped into Sriramulu’s house – it was 9 pm in the night - , they were in for a big surprise.

“I could not believe myself,” says the doctor. “Contrary to what I had been told, he was so nice. As soon as we entered, he proffered us chairs and even served us with water! I do not know what did the magic. Was it the loving and humble manner we approached him or the divine working within him?” The doctors then spent nearly half an hour with Sriramulu who was very gentle all the while and responded positively to the warm feelings they showered on him. Before leaving, they handed him pills which Sriramulu promised to take. And he did diligently, to the utter astonishment and joy of Saraswati. Week after week, he took the medicines meticulously, and in one month itself there was noticeable improvement in his mental condition. Another four weeks and he was getting closer to normalcy. At the end of three months, Sriramulu was smiling. The joy of Saraswati knew no bounds. “It is like I got a new life. I had actually given up all hopes,” says a cheery Saraswati calling up those days.

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Saraswati never had imagined she will smile again...now the couple's joy knows no bounds
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“It was ‘sairam’ who prompted me”- Sriramulu
 
The same Sriramulu who couldn’t care less about his medications earlier, how did he suddenly change? We wondered. “How is it that you took these medicines seriously?” we asked him. He just smiled heartily and said, “It was ‘Sairam’ who sent these doctors. It was He who prompted me to take.”

Whether it was a mysterious inner transformation or divine intervention or the power of the pure love showered by the doctors, Sriramulu, who has started weaving again, is a living miracle for all the villagers. Though there are huge loans to be paid running into tens and thousands, borrowed for their daughter’s marriage recently and earlier to buy the handloom set, Saraswati is still not too much worried because she knows with her better-half back, together they will be able to survive any severity.

Truly, what love can do even the best of medicines cannot.

“We are propagating good qualities, not medicines” – Dr. Sreenivas

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Love is the key and the therapy
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“Today I saw tears in one patient’s eyes,” said Dr. Sreenivas when we met him after the camp on April 11, 2007. “She said she has headache, but I did not give her a paracetamol tablet, which I would have probably done in any hospital. 

“I merely asked, ‘Are you tensed up? Are you getting enough sleep? Are you worried about something?’ She nodded. I told her, ‘Don’t worry about anything, leave everything for ten minutes and pray to God. Pray to Him in whichever Form you like, not only Swami. Chant His name. Just think you have no worries for ten minutes, you will experience great bliss and peace of mind. And God will work wonders from your heart.’ 

“I do not know what this did to her; I just said these few words and she started weeping.  Probably no one had talked to her like that before!

“This is an experience you can see only in these camps, only in spiritually oriented organizations where love is the backbone. This is the highlight of this program. What we are trying to propagate is good qualities, not only medicines!”

The Program’s Vital Core - Value Education

This, indeed, sums up very simply the central focus of the Mobile Hospital project. Trying to infuse healthy habits and hygienic practices, apart from instilling human values in the hearts and minds of the villagers, has been the constant endeavour of the Mobile Hospital team right from its inception. In fact, every day of the camp begins with Dr. Narasimhan explaining to all the villagers in their local language the broad objective, inherent significance and Swami’s vision for the whole exercise with great love and concern. He addresses:

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Sharing the glorious vision of Sai...
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“Dear brothers and sisters, you are all indeed lucky. Swami has initiated this service project especially for you so that you can avail quality healthcare right at your doorstep. Many of you are farmers working in the fields who have no time to consult a doctor and get yourself examined. More often than not you are not aware of the origin and the immensity of the disease. Several among you do not have money even to meet the travel expenses to visit any hospital in the city or even come to Puttaparthi. If a few have money, there is nobody to accompany and guide them to the right place. It is for all these reasons that Swami has directed distinguished doctors to visit your village and take care of the health needs of you, your family, children and community.

“While on one side we have nearly 500 doctors from various corners of Andhra Pradesh who have made themselves available at your service; on the other side are you, dear villagers. With your cooperation, believe me; we can prevent 80 percent of the diseases. “In fact, we can eliminate many of them once and for all from this environment and save lot of money and hardships. It is for this reason that we have been emphasizing cleanliness of the house, your surroundings, personal hygiene, ensuring pure air, water and food, and finally, abstaining from unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking.

“Through various means we have been trying to educate you in all these aspects. You have seen these charts displayed which clearly explain how not to throw the rice water which is very nutritious; how to prepare ‘Sai Protein’, the valuable nutritional supplement; how to defluoride  your drinking water through a simple and inexpensive process which can prevent you from serious illnesses. Last night we sat in the homes of many families and discussed how to maintain a hygienic household. Please consider all these aspects very essential. Else, we cannot make this village disease-free. We, doctors, come and go but during difficult times, ultimately you will have to bear the brunt.

“Finally, another important aspect is – devotion to God. And devotion does not mean breaking coconut, offering incense or camphor, etc. at the altar, but filling our minds with good thoughts – thoughts of love, tolerance, unity and cooperation – and performing good deeds which includes speaking softly and sweetly, and chanting the name of the lord. We do not have to satisfy everybody, just like the story in Mahabharata where one grain of offering to Lord Krishna by Draupadi filled the bellies of hundreds of disciples of Sage Durvasa, if we please Swami, who is our inner conscience, it is enough. This village will prosper and this country will regain her lost glory. This is the glorious vision of this service project.”

Next Dr. Narasimhan gets down to the details of the particular camp informing all the people assembled about the specialist doctors who are part of the team for the particular camp. Typically, there are twelve doctors in every visit belonging to five specialties, namely, Medicine, Orthopedics, Surgery, Radiology, and Gynecology. While doctors of these disciplines are mandatorily present in every camp, additional specialists in ENT, Dentistry and Ophthalmology visit these villages once in every three months.   

Once the doctors are introduced, Dr. Narasimhan then gives precise instructions about the locations of various clinics and the pharmacy, the procedure for consultation, the location of the Mobile Hospital bus where patients need to go for the diagnostic tests, the volunteers serving as ‘guides’ to help anybody who needs more clarification, etc. And in perfect order the patients queue up in front of the respective clinics. After that, of course, is the one-to-one interaction of every patient with their doctor, where the doctor listens to their problems with immense patience which ensures effective diagnosis and enduring cure.

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"I will name my child 'Sairam'" - Shyamala
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Shyamala’s Sai Story

Shyamala, mother of six year old Dinesh, was once a shattered woman. Sporadic and severe attacks of fits had converted her existence into an inexorable hell. If she was going somewhere, she would not know if in the next minute she would be walking or suddenly fallen on the road. Every moment passed was a blessing and a curse. But the comforting factor was her considerate and cooperative husband. Though a daily wage earner doing masonry work, he tried everything in his capacity to help Shyamala. Most of the times, he did all of the household work.

They did consult local doctors but their medicines only made her situation worse. “Those medicines never worked. It only made me weaker, and whenever I took them I had severe burning sensation in my throat,” recalls Shyamala.

“But after visiting the doctors at the Mobile Hospital Camp and taking their prescriptions, I am very happy. My fits have stopped! I feel so healthy and full of confidence.” A hearty smile dances on her lips and then with more delight, she says, “You know, I am pregnant again. It is two months now. My husband is overjoyed. He has asked me to consult the doctors and follow all that the doctors advise for the safe growth and delivery of our baby. And do you know what am I going to name our new child? ‘Sairam’. Yes, it is all His grace. I am so grateful to Him. My life is so beautifully back on track.”      

Having got a complete cure for her chronic ailment, Shyamala is now all-out to abide by whatever instructions the doctors give for the healthy development of her baby in the womb. This is how implementing preventive healthcare becomes relatively easy in these camps. Moreover, the doctors never loose an opportunity to reiterate the different points of cautionary health and hygiene factors during their consultation with every patient. And this has worked wonders.

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Little Lavanaya has become rosy again...
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Lavanya Shines with ‘Sai Protein’

The little Lavanya, when born, was very cute. With big bright eyes and shiny chocolate skin, she looked pretty. But that was not why she caught everybody’s attention; it was because she was born grossly under-weight. When her grandmother brought her to the Mobile Hospital doctors, she was a few months old, but no more a beautiful girl.

Her colour had changed. One look at her and you knew she was sick. Her body had bloated. She was terribly anemic. Inadequate nutritional supplements had worsened her born-deficient body. Apart from few medications, the doctors advised her grandmother that she should be regularly given ‘Sai Protein’ (a nutritional mix of wheat, pulses, groundnuts, etc. as mentioned before). And she did so religiously. Today, little Lavanya has again become the centre of attraction in the village, not only for her adorable looks but also because of the ‘miracle change’ that has come about in her tiny being.


Persistent Preventive Healthcare – The Doctors’ Passion

The doctors in the Mobile Hospital team have left no stone unturned in trying to drill in tenets of preventive healthcare. You may be surprised to know that many doctors, after a hectic day of treating hundreds of patients, again visit the villages in the night only to reinforce all that they have repeated number of times during the day; but now, using a different and more focused approach. Dividing themselves into four or five groups, they presently visit different lanes, and bylanes of the village, collect four or five families together in one house, and then in explicit detail explain all the principles and practices of proper health and hygiene using charts and other visual aids. The most important aspect is that these doctors and health educators point out to the villagers in their own surroundings the acts of omission and commission which lead to many common, and at times, chronic diseases. For instance, when they see food vessels in the kitchen not covered, they tell them how important it is to have lids on them given that there is a cowshed just beside the house where mosquitoes are breeding. To the kids, they explain how worms and harmful infections present all around the house could enter their bodies through the feet if they do not make it a habit to wear slippers. They make sure if the villagers are taking all steps in their homes to drink fluoride-free water, etc. If there are any queries, they clarify patiently.

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Talking to them in their own surroundings
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Catching them young so that they become strong
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Awakening the Village Youth

In addition to doing all this, the doctors have also evolved another strategy to sustain the measures taken up by them on the preventive healthcare front, and that is – forming a team of inspired village youth. Indeed, it is these enthusiastic youth who have ensured that the health care initiatives do not loose steam after the doctors leave the village. “During the lunch or dinner time, we go to every house and remind them that they should not throw the rice water after the rice is cooked. Similarly, we see if they have purchased the water can, lime and alum – the three things required to defluoride water and if they have made it a compulsory practice in their home. Many a times, if a particular villager cannot afford any of these, then we pool resources and offer all these free,” say Ramakrishna and Diwakar, two spirited young guns who, along with others, have converted their village, Rachuvarapalli, into an ‘ideal village’ in the respect of preventive healthcare. “We also discourage people from taking to unhealthy habits. On our insistence, and after hearing about Bhagavan’s love and compassion, couple of youngsters have quit smoking and become active Sai volunteers,” they eagerly add.

These village youth volunteers are there now in every village and among them there are a few, like the above-mentioned two, who in fact, travel to every village along with the Mobile Hospital doctors and help organize the camps, apart from taking active interest in educating their counterparts about disease-prevention measures. What motivates these youngsters to move from village to village educating people and helping doctors abandoning their profession? “If we take one step, Swami is ready to take hundred steps for us,” says Diwakar, sincerity evident in his serene face. “Personally, what we experience while serving is bliss. If we engage ourselves in His work, He takes care of our needs. We believe in this and are convinced about it.”

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Ramakrishna, a rolemodel for all village youth
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"We do His work, He does ours" - Diwakar
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Ramanjaneyulu, a Sai worker, who works with these youth and inevitably makes himself available every day of the camp whichever village it may be, says, “Even though we have so much work at hand, we leave everything and come to serve in this camp. We bring old people from different villages who cannot go anywhere else. We do not have much. We may not be rich, but we know we have Swami with us, and that is enough for us.”

Sevadals from Hyderabad – The Program’s Backbone

Their dedication and devotion to the lord is infectious; no wonder, this breed of inspired youth is only increasing in every hamlet. But there is another group which works very closely with the doctors as well as the villagers, and who are in fact, as indispensable as the doctors for the success of the camp. They are – the Sevadal Volunteers from Hyderabad, a group of dozen or more Sai workers who truly are the unsung heroes of this service program.

Generally on the 29th of every month (that is, two or three days before the actual commencement of the program) they arrive in Puttaparthi. Be it procuring medicines, arranging logistics, preparing the villages for the camp, looking after the comfort of the doctors (their food and accommodation), or training the village youth – they do everything with a great sense of dedication. In fact, they visit the village where the camp is to be held, the previous night itself, and supervise the erecting of the shamianas (temporary tents), cleaning of the school or any other suitable premises where the camp is to be held, setting up of clinics for various specialties, selecting a location for the bus to be parked, ensuring water and electricity points, etc. In short, they do all the spadework, working along with and guiding the village youth, and by the time the doctors arrive in the morning, a full-fledged make-shift hospital is ready at the site. The moment the doctors come, no time is wasted; they immediately get on with consultation after Dr. Narasimhan’s short introductory speech. Also, another moving service these volunteers do, which is a very salient feature of the Mobile Hospital service, is - going into the homes of the sick and the elderly, who are often neglected and least cared for, and carrying them to the camp site. For immobile individuals and senior citizens, they are God-sent. But for them, even if the Mobile Hospital was just a few meters away, they would never have been able to avail this unique opportunity.   

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They are lovingly carried from their homes...
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No stone left unturned to help the distressed
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It is also these volunteers who organize the big meetings held once in 2-3 months in every village. Held generally after 7 p.m. in a central location where almost all the villagers can be accommodated, these gatherings provide a useful opportunity for the doctors to get a pulse of the village as a whole. It is also a forum to consolidate and update the villagers on the health-status of the village as a whole, and inform them about the steps that have to be taken collectively [keeping the roads clean, using toilets in every household, wearing slippers, etc.] to make the village completely disease-free. From selecting the location to setting up the LCD projector – virtually every activity is coordinated by these volunteers.   

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Health education - whether night or day
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...using all modern media available
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Again, it is this group which maintains discipline and orderliness in the whole proceedings during the day by guiding the villagers at every step. While patients wait for their turn in front of respective clinics, some of these volunteers also double up as health educators and impress on the people the need for preventive health measures. “Are the villagers receptive to your narrations?” we ask Mr. S V Raju. “Many of these villagers are illiterate. Sometimes the receptivity is 30 percent, other times fifty. But this does not frustrate me. I go on repeating the salient aspects in different ways, and many a times interlace with it stories from our ancient culture and heritage. This way, slowly, the message gets drilled into them. It is the same with Swami, is it not? He has been telling us the same things for so many years now; when He can do that so lovingly, who am I? I never get discouraged. This is a great opportunity for me and I love it.”

“When I serve, I am in Sai Kulwant Hall” – Sri S V Raju

Does he feel sad that he does not get time to have Swami’s darshan though he is in and around Puttaparthi? The 73 year old Mr. Raju, who looks half his age but double the inspiration of an average devotee, says, “Never. I feel I am in Sai Kulwant Hall when I serve in these villages. I see Him in my heart. He is always in front of my eyes. In fact, all I want ever is more and more opportunities to serve till my last breath.”

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Hariharan's dedication is exemplary
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"I want only service, not even darshan" - S V Raju
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And Mr. Raju is no exception, rather just a random sample. Mr. Hariharan, another volunteer from Hyderabad whose whole family travels from Hyderabad to serve in the camp, says, “My wife and sister-in-law everyday prepare food for the doctors, my brother-in-law runs the pharmacy in every camp, and I coordinate the logistics as well as help in setting up of the clinics.” At 69, does he not get tired working in the villages? “Oh no, I am very fresh when I am here for seva in Puttaparthi,” he says. “Swami takes care of me. Three months ago when the chikungunya epidemic was rampant in Hyderabad, I too succumbed to it. I could not walk for four days. But believe me, on the fifth day I was fine!  While it took at least a month or two for others to recover completely, it was all over in a couple of days for me, even though I am just one year short of being 70. And on the 27th of that month, I could start, as scheduled, for the Mobile Hospital camp, thanks to His ever-protecting grace.”

If the Mobile Hospital camp is successful, efficient and delivering positive results, it owes a lot of it to these committed volunteers. Selfless service is the key to sure success, Swami has any number of times emphasized, and here is yet another example for all to witness. Even all the doctors who come for the camp, be it they distinguished professors of medicine, senior consultants at premier hospitals, reputed surgeons or junior doctors; be it they devotees, semi-devotees or non-devotees; whether it is their first trip or the umpteenth trip – all of them offer their services voluntarily and with great willingness. There are nearly 500 doctors from all over the state of Andhra Pradesh who have now associated themselves with this service project, and the story of how each one got connected with this program is fascinating.

HE Pulls the Strings in Mysterious Ways

“The opportunity to come to the Mobile Hospital, for me, was simply a dream come true!  It was totally out of the blue.  It simply touched my heart,” says Dr. Sreenivas who visited the Camp for the first time in April 2007, though a Sai devotee for a good number of years.

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"I am overjoyed!" - Dr. Sreenivas
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Narrating how it all happened, on April 11, 2007 in the Radio Sai studio, he said, “I was just praying to Swami, every day for the past 10 days, saying, ‘Swami, please cut down my selfishness and provide me an opportunity to serve people.’ One of these days, I also wrote a poem, spontaneously in Telugu, telling Him that I wanted to see Him.  I said, Okka sari ninnu choosanniki avakasam kaliginchu Swami, meaning, ‘Bless me with the opportunity to be able to see you at least once.’

“Though I wrote all this to Swami, I was not really prepared to come to Puttaparthi. I thought I would do it in July, as there were several things going on with my life. I am working in Yashoda Hospital in Somajiguda, Hyderabad, and this month I applied for leave as I was planning to prepare for my DM in a Super Specialty Hospital. To my surprise, I got an invitation to this camp from Dr Narasimhan. He came to know my name through my Professor Dr M. B. R. Sharma, who is a professor of medicine in Kakinada. 

“All this happened in just a span of two weeks.  I am really overjoyed!  I simply wrote a poem asking Him to grant His darshan just once.  In less than two weeks, I have already seen Him! And He even looked at me couple of times in the last two days. He also gave me an opportunity to serve.  Both my wishes are fulfilled.”

“I am ready to come any number of times!” – Dr. Ravikanth

Dr. Ravikanth, another young doctor specialized in ENT, says, “I was very much impressed when I came first time for this camp a few months ago. Apart from the excellent diagnostic facilities present here unlike other camps, what touched me the most was the holistic approach. We follow up the patients here. We ensure complete cure of their ailments. And above all, there is so much sacredness in this environment. It gives immense fulfillment. I am ready to come any number of times, whenever I am required.”

Self-motivated doctors who work for nothing other than inner satisfaction is what has made the Mobile Hospital a shining beacon of selfless service to the whole world. “I never bother about my private practice whenever Dr. Narasimhan calls me for this camp,” says Dr. Sai Prasad, a reputed orthopedic surgeon from Machilipatnam. “Financial loss does not concern me. I do not even bother about train reservation. It does not matter if I have to travel in general compartment. I just want to be here on the day of the camp.”

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SAI service has become Dr. Sai Prasad's passion
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Dr. Ravikanth never wants to miss a chance to serve
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“He has inspired me to start SAI Project” – Dr. Sai Prasad

Explaining what motivates him to join these camps, he says, “Working in these camps has influenced me a lot, I have changed for the better in so many ways. It has increased my patience tremendously. I do not mind explaining to the patient again, once or twice, even after my assistant has given all the instructions while handing over the medicines. And many times, when patients come with complaints which have nothing to do with Orthopedics, earlier I would just ask them to go and see some other doctor. But now, I give them a patient hearing and offer whatever advises I can, using my MBBS knowledge, before asking them to visit another clinic.

“But more importantly, it has inspired me to take initiative and help the poor and the sick in my locality. Now, with the help of a few other volunteers, I have started a program called ‘SAI project’ – Slum Area Improvement. We have adopted 80 families from the slums and want to take care of their entire health needs.”

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"Sai is my inspiration" - Dr. Shyam Prasad
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Dr. Shyam Prasad – The Sai Nightingale!

Just like Dr. Sai Prasad, Dr. Shyam Prasad, a Professor of Surgery at the Andhra Medical College, is another inspired doctor who goes to a suburban area every night from 9.00 to 9.30 to serve the poor. He says, “Sometimes after a long day, I am tired; but even then, I tell myself, ‘They are really the ones who are in need, they cannot come to me, I should go there and look after them.’ I do not miss a single day. I am the only civil surgeon to go to these underprivileged people and offer them help. It gives me lot of satisfaction. I receive my inspiration from Swami.”

Practically, every doctor who has come and served in the Mobile Hospital camp has become a change-agent – an ambassador of selfless service. Think about the 500 doctors who are part of this service (who come according to an intelligent roster managed by Dr. Narasimhan), and you know what silent but significant impact it is making on society. This is, perhaps, one of the most heartening spin-offs of this service project. And all this has been achieved because the emphasis in these camps has been equally on the ‘spiritual aspect’ of healing as much as on the physical aspect.

“99% of the diseases have their origin in the mind!” – Bhagavan

“World Health Organisation [WHO], too, in the recent times has acknowledged the profound significance of the spiritual dimension in ensuring complete well-being of the patient,” says Dr. Narasimhan. “Mental health is closely associated with this spiritual aspect, which can be cultivated when we really accept, at least in part, the value system that Bhagavan is trying to teach us - the principles of Truth, Righteousness, Peace, Love and Non-violence. A sense of devotion to the lord, surrendering to His will and chanting His name – all infuse lot of positive vibrations within oneself. Swami says that 99 percent of the diseases have their origin in the mind. Therefore, we tell the villagers, ‘You will be physically healthy if you follow all these health and hygiene measures which we regularly talk about, but for your mind to be healthy, you really need to develop love for God, make Him a part of your lives.’ And to rekindle and reinforce these thoughts, we frequently organize cultural programs which include small skits, dramas, and video presentations, etc. – all based on the rich cultural heritage of India. In fact, these so called ‘entertainment’ evenings draw a large gathering of villagers and we use this opportunity again to emphasize on clean habits and hygienic surroundings. So this way, there is a fine integration of mental, spiritual and physical health inputs to the villagers.”

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Reviving the spiritual heritage of India...
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Preventive healthcare is always paramount
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The Lord Blesses Them In His Own Way!

But for this sublime dimension, the Mobile Hospital would not have been what it is today. Be it the volunteers, the village youth workers, the paramedics or the doctors, the common thread that binds all to work with sincerity and a great sense of dedication is -  their love for selfless service and Swami. They seek no special reward from anybody. There are no expectations. And the lord blesses them in His own way.

“You know, one thing these doctors have mentioned many a time is that when they go back, they have good news waiting for them – it could be promotions, fresh appointments or better opportunities. In hindsight, they feel so happy to have participated in the camp,” says Dr. Narasimhan.

Sai – Doctor Divine

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HE actually heals!
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This apart, there are many occasions when Swami has come to their rescue. Dr. Narasimhan narrates specific instances:

“A child was operated on the ear. Soon there was a post operative complication - a hole developed on the internal bone. It could not be operated, for, it involved a highly complex surgery, which if failed would damage the brain. We were not ready to take this risk and so, we gave the boy a simple antibiotic and told him that the medicine should be applied only after chanting ‘Sai Ram’. To our surprise, the following month we found that the complication had cured miraculously.     

“Again, there is the case of Tulsidas. He had stones in his pancreas. Generally even experienced surgeons would hesitate to deal with such cases, because any post operative leakages can severely damage the internal tissue. However, we decided to go ahead with the surgery. Dr. Venugopal, a renowned Professor of Surgery form Hyderabad operated on the patient. But soon, he was shocked to notice the post operative complications. The patient had developed multi organ failure. The medical fraternity recognizes death as inevitable in such circumstances. But I was not perturbed.

I was not worried about my reputation or unpleasant remarks from any quarter. ‘This is the movement started by God and I did not want it to have a failure,’ I said to myself. I would hold Swami’s photo and weep. In the evenings, I started chanting Sai Gayatri. Then, one night Swami appeared in Tulsidas’ dream wherein He was delivering a talk. During that talk, Swami gave a compassionate look at Tulsidas. You may not believe this nor would any rational doctor, but Tulsidas was cured! Even Dr. Venugopal was stunned at this miraculous turn of events.”

These doctors always feel the ‘unseen hand’ guiding them and guarding them. When Dr. Narasimhan was bedridden for nine months in 1996 because of a life-threatening back problem, Swami came in his dream, created Vibhuti and lovingly applied it on his forehead. Next morning onwards, he started feeling better. And later, when he came to Prasanthi Nilayam, He called him near and blessed him profusely.

When Dr. Ravikanth inadvertently left the audiometry box (a diagnostic equipment) in the train while disembarking at Puttaparthi, the suitcase reached in time for the next day’s camp, thanks to a series of amazing coincidences and help from unexpected quarters.

Dr. Narasimhan – Lovingly Hand-picked by Bhagavan

Not only the doctors, every member of this team, constantly feel His presence and that is what motivates them to strive higher and higher in offering the best care to the deprived. Additionally, they also have the dynamic personality of Dr. Narasimhan who is a pillar of inspiration for all by his hard work, sweet words and infectious dedication to Swami’s mission. In fact, serving in the rural areas has always been the passion for this gentle doctor who, in the last 15 years, has toured more than 60,000 kms doing Sai medical camps covering at least 300 villages in the state of Andhra Pradesh. But the ‘turning point’ in his life came, he says, in 1997.

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Right man for the right job - Dr. Narasimhan
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“I came that year to Puttaparthi after completing a Grama Seva (Rural Service) project along with another friend who was a dentist. We had also brought along with us a group of handicapped children for Bhagavan’s darshan. When Swami came near, my friend got up and said, ‘Swami, we would like to enact a drama with these handicapped children.’ Swami listened to him, walked ahead a little, retreated His steps and said in Telugu, Drama kadu, Gram Seva cheyandi, meaning, ‘No need to do drama (a cultural program), undertake Grama Seva (service in the villages).’ This really pepped my enthusiasm and from that day onwards, I thought I would focus all my energies solely on serving in the rural areas. Offering medical help in the villages is really a very powerful instrument, because through this one can solve the problems of the villagers and at the same time instill in them higher values of truth, love and unity.”

In March 2006, when Swami asked him to be the Director of the Mobile Hospital, he was least expecting it, though it was the fulfillment of a word that Swami had given him many months ago. Eager to plunge into village service, Dr. Narasimhan had, in fact, taken voluntary retirement from the prestigious post in the public sector when he had another seventeen years of service! Having got his relieving orders, he had come to Puttaparthi and prayed to Swami to bless Him with an opportunity to serve at His lotus feet in the ashram itself. But Swami then had said, “You serve so well. You serve there (in Hyderabad where he was stationed) and you are welcome here too.”

So it meant he was to serve in both the places but nothing materialized for more than a year. And then on Ugadi 2006, the Mobile Hospital arrived and Swami immediately chose him to be the Program Director. “So right now, I am here 15 days of the month with the Mobile Hospital and the rest of the month serving in Hyderabad – just as He had indicated,” says Dr. Narasimhan, a serene smile blossoming on his lips.

India, Truly, Lives in Her Villages

It was a perfect fit. The lord knows the right man for the right job. Villages have always fascinated Dr. Narasimhan. He says, “I have experienced what Swami means when He says: ‘The rich culture of India even now exists only in the villages.’” Citing two specific instances, he says, “One evening, by the time we concluded the health and hygiene meeting, it was nearly 10 p.m. As the crowd was dispersing, I saw an old woman walking with her supporting stick and slowly coming towards me. When she came near, she raised her hand and held out a small paper bag filled with puffed rice and some kind of mixture (snack), and said, ‘Dear one, by the time you return, it will be very late. I can give you only this. Please have it. This might fill your stomach, at least a little.’ I was moved beyond words, almost in tears.

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The simple village-folk are India's precious asset
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“On another occasion, I was asked to visit a person’s house to see a cancer patient whom we had previously diagnosed and even referred to a higher oncology center for treatment. This man was terminally ill in spite of the best treatment. It was an advanced stage of cancer and there was nothing I could do, except provide emotional and moral support. Around 10 p.m. in the night I went to their house. Normally when we, doctors, go to houses of patients who are sick, the members of the household are not in the mood to really ask us, ‘Would you like to have a cup of coffee or a glass of water?’ We understand their plight. But here was a situation where the members of the household had prepared dinner for us. That was really something surprising.  The patient’s father asked me pleadingly, ‘Can you give him some medicine which will make him at least to swallow a glass of water?’ But there was nothing that could be done.

“In a few days, he passed away and when we had our next month program 15 days later,  you will be surprised to know that the father came to the camp along with his widowed daughter-in-law and grandsons to attend the Bhajan and meeting. Normally, when we lose somebody in our family, we start blaming God or our fate and lose interest in life. But this man was as our scriptures say ‘equal-minded’. He tried his best as long as the son was alive, but when he passed away ultimately, he accepted it with poise. Swami says that culture is refinement. And you will find this even today in our villages – their sense of gratitude and tolerance will humble anybody.” And it is these precious virtues that get rubbed off on every person who works for and along with these innocent and unassuming village-folks. The doctors of the Mobile Hospital project being excellent examples of this phenomenon. Ask any doctor as to how did the camp help him personally, and he will say, “It surely has made me a more patient individual. I have greater tolerance and much consideration for the poor now.”

Demonstrating Unity – Distributing Love

And this transformation has happened not only in the doctors, but in every participant of the camp including people like the bus driver, the lab technician, X-ray technician, etc. “I feel so blessed to be part of this team,” says Ravindra Kumar Pandit, the lab technician of the bus. “Earlier I used to work in Mumbai, but there was no peace in the hustle and bustle of the big city. We struggle to earn but we do not take back anything when we leave this world. Here there is no commercial motive whatsoever, it is pure service. I am very happy for this golden opportunity.”

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Ravindra Kumar (left), Moinuddin and Alexander (right) - Unity of faith, purpose, passion...
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Blessan Alexander, who conducts X-ray tests in the bus, says, “This must be the result of meritorious deeds of many births. Not only do I get a chance to do fulfilling service, I also get the opportunity to see Baba everyday from very near distance. I feel so blessed.” Interestingly, after a Hindu to conduct lab tests, a Christian to handle the X-ray machine, the Mobile Hospital Bus has Moinuddin, a Muslim, as the driver. “When I first saw Swami in November 2005, I felt so happy within. I had come driving the bus from Belgaum (a town in Karnataka) to only deliver it in Puttaparthi and return. But they asked me to stay on for sometime and I started liking the place. Swami too showered so much grace on me. He even sent clothes for me. Now, I do not want to leave this place. It is so peaceful here and the work so rewarding – in every way.”

The Mobile Hospital, today, has become a ‘moving’ messenger of love, hope and happiness. True, a single project like this cannot solve the problems of all of rural India. But it can surely serve as a model – a demonstration of what is possible and what can be done if one has the will, determination and purity of purpose. In fact, it does not have to be duplicated entirely in the similar fashion.

“This Project can be replicated in spirit, if not in scale” – Dr. Narasimhan

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A serene saga that stirs us up to serve...
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“If only a few doctors and few inspired individuals come together, easily a free medical outreach program can be designed. It may not be on the magnitude of the Mobile Hospital, but can cater to the health needs of few villagers all the same.”

Citing an example, Dr. Narasimhan continues, “Prior to taking up the current assignment, for the last seven years I was involved in a service program called “The follow-up medicare” in Hyderabad. This process of this service program involves firstly, conducting a medical camp and identifying patients with more morbid and serious problems which need further follow-up medicare (which could be a diagnostic procedure or surgical intervention). 

Secondly, transporting them in our own modes of transport; thirdly, lodging them in our own individual houses or in some designated halls; fourthly, getting all the diagnostic tests done, including surgical profile; and fifthly, getting them operated in any of the  nine hospitals we have in Hyderabad.

Devotees take care of all the physical, emotional and even spiritual needs of these patients in the best manner possible. And after their surgery is done, we give them small gifts like dhotis, saris (clothes) and then drop them safely back at their respective villages. You will be surprised to know that we have done about 1400 such surgeries of different varieties in the last seven years. And these people once they return to their villages, become silent ambassadors of Swami’s teachings. They not only follow all the preventive healthcare measures with great sincerity, but also goad others in the village towards a better and cleaner lifestyle. This way a lot can be done if there is purity of intention and an intense desire to serve.”

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Offering incense, flowers, etc. to their 'God'
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It's festival whenever 'this white messenger' comes
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The Mobile Hospital - A ‘Moving’ Model

Just like its colour – snowy white – the Mobile Hospital is a testimony to the world what purity, patience and perseverance can achieve. Swami says, with these three qualities one can become God. And truly, this special vehicle of service has become ‘God’ for nearly 50,000 people of the Anantapur district. When it arrives, it is Swami coming into their villages and homes. They worship it; take it in a procession, and offer incense and flowers to it - it is their source of hope, health and happiness. As a villager said, “It is not a Moving Hospital, but Sai Moving in our villages.

- Bishu Prusty
Heart2Heart Team


Dear Reader, how did you like this cover story? Was it inspiring? Did it help you in anyway? What suggestions you have for future cover stories? Please let us know at [email protected] Thank you very much for your time.



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Vol 5 Issue 05 - MAY 2007
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