Volume 6 - Issue 10
OCTOBER - 2008
It is a Monday morning in the month of September 2008. And we are in front of this stately edifice which is as elegant as it is sublime; the alternating hues of light pink, sky-blue and mellow yellow that adorn its façade, attract us. The straight two-storied structure stretches to about 400 feet, and all along the front is a tiny garden culminating with an exquisite open enclosure on the left, which houses beautiful statues – the most impressive one is of Shirdi Sai Baba, but not in the often-seen sitting posture, with one leg crossed over the other; here Baba is standing benignly on a high rock.
This freezes our eyes for a few minutes with its beauty and serenity…. We turn to our left and the big white letters on the deep blue board read “Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital, Prasanthi Nilayam.” We are happy. This is where we wanted to be. This was our mission for the day. This is the historic institution about which we had heard much, but now we were going to experience it for ourselves.
Patients are Needy but their Hearts are Full of Faith
We look around and see people of all kinds – an old man with thick glasses, walking, holding on to his tottering stick; a young lady in burkha, with a puny baby sleeping in her arms; a middle-aged man with a towel on his shoulder, ambling slowly, his face wrinkled and body tanned resembling the bark of a teakwood tree; a young boy, skinny but with a twinkle in his eye holding on to his father’s arm…there is a sense of eager expectation in each one of them; they all need help.
If there is anything common to all of them, it is their poverty, which is obvious in their attire and etiquette. We see each of them walk towards one of the main doors of the Hospital; as they near the entrance, their vigour only increases. They are needy, sure, but there is now a sense of concealed happiness too, as they reach the glass door.
Men in whites with blue scarves on (the sevadals) greet each one of them untiringly and with love, saying “Sai Ram” with both their hands folded. Each one shows his or her registration papers and the volunteers direct them to the right department. As this motley crowd enters one by one, we too join the queue. We do not have any papers, but in our hands are a digital still camera, a video camera and notebooks. “We are from Radio Sai…” we explain. A bright smile lights up their faces and they exuberantly say, “Oh, Sairam! Please go.”
Thousands Come Everyday Beseeching for Help
“So far, so good,” we say to ourselves, and walk in. What we see next is a busy scene. The whole area is divided into cubicles and every doctor is engrossed with their patient. “Tell me, from when have you been suffering from this…”, “Do not worry, take these medicines, and do not be sad; pray to God, He will help,”, “You must eat well…do you take milk?… take these tablets and come again after a week…here, keep this Vibhuti too…have faith in God, all will be fine..” Every doctor is so busy and so focused with their patients that we do not feel it right to disturb any of them.
We spot a nurse passing by. “Is it this busy everyday?” we ask. “Yes, this is the Outpatient Department. We have more than a thousand patients everyday, but Monday is the busiest…” We then introduce ourselves to win her confidence and time, so as to get a few more of our questions answered. But just then, she is called away… we quickly ask, “Where can we see the Medical Superintendent?” “Go upstairs…” she points to the staircase as she dashes off.
Bhagavan’s Energy is a Palpable Presence, says Dr. Verma, Medical Superintendent
We see the steps right in front of our eyes, and the next moment we are in the chamber of ex-Air Vice Marshal Dr. Verma. We are completely at ease with the inviting smiles and gentle demeanour of the chief of the Hospital. “We want to do a story on the Hospital for “Heart2Heart”, Radio Sai’s e-journal…,” we explain, and request him to spare five minutes for us.
“Sure, no problem. Ask what you want,” he says, with a smile.
“Sir, you have served many years in the defense forces. How does it feel working here, in this Hospital?”
“Oh, serving in the Army and Air Force was an interesting experience…I retired as the Principal Medical Officer of the largest command of the Air Force, but…that was a different experience. Working here is unique, incomparable. I was blessed with the privilege to offer my services here only a couple of months ago, but I was pining for it the last four years…I must tell you, there is no institution I have seen where such colossal and extensive care is offered with such love and affection, with absolutely no cost to the patient….
"When I was working outside, we used to have many cases of snakebite, but in this Hospital more than 500 cases of snakebite are treated every year, and quite amazingly every patient is cured…we have never lost a patient…there is a subtle healing force that pervades this entire ambience. It is Bhagavan’s energy that is infused in all of us here…we can feel it, but cannot see it…I can feel it, cannot express it… When you go round the Hospital, you will see it for yourself…”
We ask a few more questions before we take leave, but this last comment reverberates in our minds. As we walk out of his room pondering over his statement, we smile, and we see our smiles reciprocated, quite unexpectedly. Two old men, attired in Hospital costume, walking out of the male ward, seem so happy. We are naturally curious. “May we know what gives you so much happiness?... Where do you come from?... When did you come here?”
‘I have always returned healthy from this place’ – Mr. Sigijarla Narayanappa, a patient
“My name is Sigijarla Narayanappa,” says one of them eagerly. He must have been through at least sixty summers we decide, looking at his worn-down and tanned, but still active physical frame. “I come from Vengalamma Cheruvu,” he continues, which is a village about 10 kms from Puttaparthi. “I am a daily wage worker earning Rs. 100 (just about US $ 2) a day, but for the last four months I have not been able to work. I have this huge bulge on my back...I do not know how it happened.
"Maybe when I was carrying a load of sticks a few days ago on my head, one of them caused a wound. I came here couple of days ago and the doctors checked me thoroughly and told me to come again for an operation. And now I am admitted for the surgery...I never go to any other hospital whatever be the problem… A year ago a bullock cart ran into me, and before that I had an accident with an auto rickshaw…every time I came here…
“I am so happy to be here, in spite of my problems, because this is Swami’s Hospital and the doctors and sisters take care of me so well. Moreover, I do not have to spend any money…I find it difficult to maintain my family with my meager earnings, fortunately my son is supporting me now, but even if I had money, I would not go anywhere. Why should I? People from everywhere come here. Here they treat me so well, I have always returned healthy from this place. This is Swami’s Hospital...”
‘Sairam is our God’ - Mr. Narasimha, a patient
Even before Narayanappa finishes, the other old man spontaneously starts, eager to share his story of joy. “I am Narasimha. I am from the village Talamarla. It is 20 kms from here. About a month ago, I had a scorpion bite and the pain was unbearable. But the doctors and nurses here took good care of me with injections and tablets and I was alright in no time. Now, I have body pain and my wife has chest pain…but we are not worried because we know the doctors here will take good care of us.”
He pauses and then says forcefully, “No government has done what this Hospital has done for us. Everywhere else, they first ask for money, and even after we spare our precious savings, they do not treat us with kindness…we are poor farmers…only ‘Sairam’ is our God.” Narasimha’s palms are now folded prayerfully and his head is bent in reverence. We battle with our eyes to stop them from getting moist and walk out of the ward thanking both the seniors profusely.
Every Day is a Challenge… and a Joy
Just then we meet a young doctor, Dr. Uma. We later learnt that she is a former student of the Anantapur campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University, who has been serving in the Hospital right after her graduation in medicine in 2000.
We share with Dr. Uma our experience of the day and she says, “Cases like these are plenty. Every other day we deal with poor villagers who work in fields and gardens and are bitten by snakes. Now, with our experience, we can guess the type of snake from the symptoms of the patient. Do you want to speak to such a patient?”
“Yes, sure…by all means.”
“Ok, there is one lady in the ward who recovered dramatically from a life-threatening condition. I am going there to see her. You can come with me.”
As we enter the ward, we see a fragile, petite and evidently underprivileged woman being helped by a nurse to be seated on the bed and have her food. We decide to wait. In the meanwhile, Dr. Uma picks up the lady’s health papers and narrates, “Her name is Narayanamma. She came here on September 4 at 9 a.m. Her condition was pathetic, to say the least. She was bitten by a snake at 4.30 a.m. and when she came she had ptosis, which is drooping of both the eye-lids.
"From the symptoms, we guessed that the snake must have been a krait. This particular snake causes neuro-toxicity, in other words poisoning of the nerves. Therefore, she was unable to walk, or see, or speak, or swallow - so eating was out of question. Worse, she was having great difficulty in breathing.
“We immediately administered anti-venom drugs, and watched her vitals. But unfortunately, her condition was only progressively deteriorating. She was heading towards a complete neurological paralysis; her muscles in the chest were getting weaker, and her respiration could stop anytime! The oxygen saturation for a normal human being is 96%, but for her it had dropped to 30%! She was clearly in danger, so we intubated her, meaning we inserted a tube into her trachea and breathed for her. After a while, her oxygen levels were restored and then we sent her to the Super Specialty Hospital, so that she could be put on a ventilator (artificial respiratory system). She stayed there for four days and now she is fine.”
'If this Hospital was not there, where would I have gone?' - Mrs. Narayanamma, a patient
We now turn to Narayanamma. “How do you feel now?” we ask. “Swami saved me; otherwise I would have been dead. These doctors took such good care of me. I do not remember much of what happened that fateful morning…our house is nearly 40 kms from here. I come from a village which is seven kms from Chinna Kothapalli. We live in a hut…Even though there are other local hospitals, all my family members brought me straight here because everyone said we will be looked after well here.
"And really, the doctors and sisters have taken care of me with so much love. Anywhere else, they would charge Rs. 200 to administer an injection, here we did not spend even a single rupee…and they talk to us so nicely. If this Hospital was not there, where would I have gone? We have no money to pay for huge medical bills…I would not have been alive today. ‘Sairam Hospital’ has saved me, this is God’s place…”
‘Without Swami, we would not be living in this world’ - Mrs. Kumari, a patient
At this moment, another lady, on the bed next to Narayanamma’s, bursts out, “Without ‘Sairam’, we would not exist. Even I was bitten by a snake… I am Kumari and I come from a nearby village, Muddigabba. I could not see the snake; I was filled with terrible pain. After we came here, the sisters and doctors here have taken so much care…for me, Swami is God and all these people are God’s people…in this Hospital, nobody ever talks about money, everyone is only concerned about health and recovery; they provided everything I needed from medicines to food. And now, they are willing to drop me off at my home too. Without Swami, we would not be living in this world…He alone has saved me.” The devotion and reverence for Bhagavan on her face is heart-rending.
It was a touching experience. We slowly walk out of the ward and Dr. Uma rushes off downstairs to attend to somebody else. And as we slowly amble along the pinkish corridor, we ponder, “How vital is this Hospital for all these villagers around – from near and far…How much it has helped these unfortunate ones!…” Our legs have become heavy; our minds want to go deep…reflect…so we sit down on the black chairs placed outside the ward and look at blank space.
And suddenly… we see a familiar face - the father of a Sai youth who used to help us in the Radio Sai studio a year or two ago. We exchange smiles. We have met him before…and fortunately for us, we now learn that he has been helping the Hospital by serving as an interpreter to many doctors who are not fully conversant in the local language, Telugu. He is surprised to see us there. We tell him the whole story till then. “What this Hospital has done to the rural folks around is immeasurable...” we remark and then he cuts in. “It is not precious only to the villagers around – that was more than a decade ago,” he clarifies and continues, “Now, there are patients coming from all over India.
"And at any point of time, you will find more patients from that state of India which is undertaking sevadal duty in the Prasanthi Nilayam ashram at that time. These poor and illiterate patients need escorts, and the devotees who come as sevadals help them get here. Why don’t you speak to Dr. Patel? He interacts with many patients everyday in the Mens’ Out Patient Department. He has come here after working for many years in the UK; he will have loads of stories for you.”
“Oh, this is a good clue. We will do that right now. Will he be there now? It is 1 p.m.”
“Hmm…it is lunch time. Why don’t you come at 2 p.m. He will surely be there at that time. By the way, what about your lunch?” he asks.
“Oh yes…we almost forgot about it…these moving tales transported us to another world…”
“And you have not even seen the tip of the iceberg,” he chuckles. “Anyway, see you later. Meet Dr. Patel after an hour, and yes, do not forget to meet Dr. Kamala too. She will have plenty to tell you from the womens’ Outpatient Department, and you will have no trouble locating her; she is the tallest figure around here.” he again flashes a smile.
We smile back with “OK...thanks.”
“I had this deep desire to serve the poorest of the poor” – Dr. Patel
Sharp at 2 p.m., we are in front of Dr. Patel’s room. The soft-spoken doctor is busy with a patient. We peep inside for a second, and once his eye meets ours, we say ’Sairam’. He smiles and says, “Let me finish seeing this patient.” After 5 minutes, we are with him and after explaining the reason of our visit. We ask, “Doctor, how did you happen to join here? You were in UK, right?”
“Oh…that is a long story,” he smiles. “Yes, I served in the National Health Service, UK for 20 years. But after having known Swami and listening to His discourses, I longed to return to India, my motherland, and serve the poorest of the poor. I had this deep desire in me to serve the underprivileged, and I thought Swami’s Hospital is the best opportunity; because here one can serve the downtrodden without any constraints and reservations whatsoever, financial or otherwise.
"When I see a patient, I do not look at him or her as a patient; for me, he is an individual just like anyone from my immediate family. I look at the person as a whole, and not the disease alone, because a person’s ailment, many a times, is connected with many social, emotional and other factors. And I do not restrict myself to allopathy; I try other complementary therapies too. One of them is tachyon therapy wherein we try to harness cosmic energy with the help of special metals to heal the patient. And this treatment has sometimes done wonders. In fact, I was just speaking to one such patient now. He actually hails from Jabalpur, from the state of Madhya Pradesh…”
“Is he still there? Can we speak to him?” we ask eagerly.
When the Helpless Have Nowhere to Turn…
“Yes...he should be around.” Dr. Patel goes out of his room and returns with a middle-aged man who has a white band tied from his forehead to behind the neck. He is still weak, but can walk. His speech is unclear but understandable. “He is Ram Naresh Vishwa Karma, 45 years old,” Dr. Patel says looking at us. “When he came to my room a few days ago, he said, ‘Doctor, I want to die…I cannot suffer anymore.’ His condition was most pathetic. He was suffering from a condition called Bulbar Palsy.
"Simply put, it is a kind of paralysis of the food pipe (esophagus) because of the impairment of function of the lower cranial nerves. Therefore, he could not eat anything. Anything he put in his mouth, either came out, or got struck inside. This was due to damage in one part of his brain. There is actually no remedy for this in allopathy. So, I tried Tachyon therapy, and amazingly, on the second day itself he showed improvement! Now, he comes to me everyday.”
We are tempted to talk to the patient now. “How are you now?” we ask him. With enthusiasm and joy, he shares, “Now, I can talk and eat! I do not know what Dr. Patel has done…nor am I interested. For me, what has cured me is his love. I have visited any number of Hospitals before coming here. Everywhere, nobody wants to see you unless you have money, but here the doctors treat you with so much concern. I am so touched by his warmth…nowhere else I have seen doctors so pleasant... By Baba’s grace, I am cured.”
He pauses and wipes his overflowing eyes, and continues, “I have a small job in a non-government organisation and I had to take a loan of Rs. 12,000 to reach Puttaparthi, but now I can earn and repay the loan. I want to serve in this Hospital as everyone here works with so much dedication; there is no discrimination, and each one is so selfless and caring…” he goes on and on.
We are touched, to say the least. “His condition is no more regressing and with God’s grace, he might recover completely,” Dr. Patel adds.
Meeting a Grateful Patient, Mr. Kadirappa
Just then another person enters the chamber. “He is Kadirappa, you can speak to him too; he has been coming for 10 years,” Dr. Patel says pointing to the new patient. “Kadirappa, how are you? Why are you in the Hospital today?” we ask.
“I come to the Hospital every 3-4 days to collect medicine; I have chest pain. But even if I have medicine, I come many times just to see Dr. Patel…he has been taking care of me for four years now. When I suffered from a massive heart attack recently, Dr. Patel immediately sent me to Super Specialty Hospital and I was saved. I never go elsewhere for any ailment. (Pointing to Dr. Patel) He is like God to me, he is always so loving...when he goes to London for two months in the summer, I miss him.”
It is one emotional scene after another. “It is no more a mere patient-doctor relationship in this Hospital, it almost like a family,” we say to ourselves. No wonder the number of outpatients has only increased year after year. “Does it not bother you when you have to see hundreds of patients everyday? Does it not at times irritate you? You are past 65 now”, we ask Dr. Patel.
“No, this is my joy. Yes, sometimes there is physical tiredness, but it does not affect me much, because I enjoy doing this. This is a God-given opportunity...why should I get upset if I have to see a few more patients? In fact, I would like to carry on till my last breath. This is my prayer. I know Swami will be happy with this.” There is nothing more we want to ask Dr. Patel. The love of the patients and commitment of the doctors has made us speechless. Now, we only wish to remain silent, ruminate and learn. We take leave of Dr. Patel, humbly.
‘Our work truly is our worship’ – Dr. Kamala
As we come out of his room, we take a look at the wall clock. It is 3 p.m. “Do not forget Dr. Kamala...” the Sai student’s father's words ring in our ears. We head straight to the female OPD. As soon as see Dr. Kamala, even before we can speak anything, she says, “Yes, I know…the Medical Superintendent told me about you all. So, how can I help you?”
“In so many ways,” we respond instantly, our faces beaming. “First tell us your story and then about some of your patients.”
Dr. Kamala smiles. “My story with Swami goes back nearly four decades…I was originally working in Sri Lanka. To put it in brief, I first came to Swami when my brother-in-law became sick; I initially came to ‘check out’ this place but later fell in love with this divine hamlet. Later, my son joined Swami’s college in 1977 and in those days, we used to have lovely interactions with Bhagavan. Swami first asked me to work in the General Hospital at Whitefield, Bangalore, but after 1984, I started working in this Hospital under His instructions.”
“What has been your guiding principle when you treat patients here?”
“I firmly believe that Swami has brought all of us here for our spiritual growth, not only to do service. The feeling of ‘I did it’ comes very easily to us, but with time we realise that we are but instruments in His hand. In the early days of the Hospital, there were no extensive lab facilities and the number of qualified personnel was low, but we never had any deaths. When tiny children are down with vomiting and diarrhea, the situation can get precarious. There were no pediatricians then, still there was no untoward incident. I know, it was all His doing…so, all we have to do is perform everything as an offering to Him and see God in every patient… It is so beautiful here because we do not want name, fame or money. We just want to do His work and our work truly is our worship.”
Here is an enlightened doctor, we say to ourselves, and now ask something more down-to-earth. “What has this Hospital meant to the local population of Puttaparthi?”
“It is just fantastic, you know,” she replies excitedly. “I really do not know how they would have survived without this Hospital! I cannot imagine them traveling all the way to Anantapur or Bangalore for their ailments. Even simple conditions like asthma can become very serious. For example, take the case of M. Lakshmi... Actually she is here now; she comes to see me very often...Do you want to speak to her?”
“Sure, we are indeed happy she is here today.”
We request Lakshmi to come with us to another room so that we do not disturb Dr. Kamala any further. Then, we ask her about her condition, background, family situation and so on. “I have been coming to the Hospital for the past 30 years. Whenever I come, even if it is midnight, they treat me well,” says the old, tired and meek Lakshmi.
One look at her and you know she has gone through some of most difficult struggles in life. “When the doctors here diagnosed me with asthma a few years ago, both my sons deserted me… My husband was a drunkard and he is no more… I have nobody and nowhere to go… But for this Hospital, I would have died 30 years ago.
"I am not supposed to work in the fields, but I cannot help it; they give me Rs. 20-30 (50-60 cents) a day… whenever I have a problem, these doctors look after me very kindly and give me Vibhuti, medicines and injections. I recover fast… as long as this Hospital is there, I am not concerned about my health, and I pray to Swami everyday to give me the strength to ensure that I have enough food and clothes.
" In fact, I am 58 years now, and if I am still alive, it is because of the affection of these people and the energy given by Swami. I strongly feel Swami is telling all these doctors and others to take care of me… without Swami, who is there for people like us?” Lakshmi breaks down at this point…
There is silence in the room. Nothing more need be said or asked. ‘One heart-rending account from a patient is enough to know what this Hospital means to the local population here’, we think to ourselves. At this point, another old lady, bespectacled and supported on a walking stick, walks into the room. “Sairam sirs, Dr. Kamala asked me to come to this room…” she submits slowly and humbly.
“Yes, please sit here.” We place a chair for her and then ask, “What is your name? Why are you here? Please tell us about yourself.”
“I am Sheikh Jainabi…” but we notice that she has no burkha on her. Maybe it is because she is old, or maybe she cannot afford one. “I have been coming to this Hospital since the days of the old Hospital…” We make a note of this and decide to ask Dr. Kamala about the ‘old Hospital’.
“We do not visit any other Hospital, even if it is a small ailment,” she continues and says, “Today I have come to see my grandson, Afzal, who is in the ward. Though my son does a small job in Bangalore, he comes here whenever there is any health problem in his family. In fact, all my daughters had their deliveries in this Hospital… elsewhere, one has to spend thousands for the birth of a child.
"Here the treatment is free, but what draws us here is the concern and care shown by these doctors... They not only treat us, but also advise us on healthy eating and living habits. They teach us to love God and have faith…truly, even to our own children we may not be able to show this much concern…they hold our hand and guide us…” We stop Jainabi. We do not want to see her get tearful too…we change the topic and ask, “Being a Muslim, do you experience any problems visiting this Hospital from your family or others?”
“Being Muslims makes no difference to us,” she continues. “We pray to Allah, we know there is no difference between Swami and Allah. For us, Swami is Allah; everyone in my family believes in this. But for Him, we would have been dead long ago…I do not even board a bus without uttering His name…I always feel joyous to come to this Hospital.”
We thank both the elderly ladies and tell them “We are going to tell your stories to the rest of the world, to share with others the work being done in Swami’s Hospital. Are you ok with this?”
“Sure…we are alive because of Swami,” they reply with reverence.
We are touched once again. We come out of the room to meet Dr. Kamala. “So, how was it?” she asks. “It was stirring, to say the least,” we say and then ask, “What is the ‘Old Hospital’? Jainabi referred to it…”
“Oh! Yes, this new building for the Hospital was inaugurated by Swami in 1984. Before that there was a tiny structure in the area where the Sai Srinivas guest house currently stands,” Dr. Kamala explains and adds, “If you want to know more about that, you must speak to Ms. Nagamani. She is the grand-daughter of the first doctor of this Hospital, Dr. Seetaramaiah, and has been working here since 1965…she joined the Hospital as a young girl…”
“Where can we find her?”
“Look in the pharmacy. Go to the left.”
We immediately move in that direction and locating the board “Pharmacy,” peep inside and ask, “Can we meet Ms. Nagamani?”
Sharing Forty-Four Years of Service
“Yes.” A lady turns up and with a gentle smile on her lips, asks, “What do you want? I am Nagamani.”
“Madam, we would like to speak to you if you have a few minutes,” and then we introduce ourselves. She is very kind and says, “So, you want to know about the old days?”
“There are so many stories…” she starts, as she settles down comfortably in her chair. “Those days, the Hospital had a total of five rooms, that’s it. There was a central, bigger room flanked on each side by two smaller rooms... Swami laid the foundation stone for this humble building way back on November 23, 1954, His 29 th Birthday. And it was inaugurated on October 4, 1956 by the then Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Mr. Gopala Reddy.
My grandfather had just come to the Sai fold, and had retired three years ago from public service; he was a civil surgeon. Swami appointed him as the first doctor of this new Hospital, but initially he demurred saying that he would like to spend the rest of his retired life only in spiritual pursuits. Swami, then, told him: ‘I will work through you, you just be an instrument.’ And true to Swami’s words, my grandfather had innumerable experiences where he saw the Divine Doctor in action.”
“Do you remember any instances narrated by him?”
‘Swami Himself would see the patients!’ – Ms. Nagamani
“Yes…those days, my grandfather used to report to Swami every little thing about the Hospital. He used to have at least three audiences with Swami every day, and would take His direct instructions for the treatment of every patient who had a difficult problem. The Hospital then had very basic equipments, rudimentary facilities and a few medicines.
"But all the patients were cured because, actually, He took care of every patient. Swami would, at times, come and sit outside the labour room (there was no operation theatre then) while my grandfather was busy inside. At other times, He would ask him to rest and Himself would see the patients!
"I remember one amazing instance. Once a young girl was admitted with high fever, and it did not come down in spite of his best efforts. So he reported to Swami, and the only answer he got was ‘Wait, wait…’ The situation in the Hospital was pretty tense. And then, in the early morning, the next day, this girl called out, ‘Grandma, Swami has come!’ Everyone thought it was hallucination. But on her forehead was a mark of Vibhuti, and the next moment she was completely alright."
Swami’s Grace Cured Their Ailments, says Ms. Nagamani
“Even in those days, people used to come from long distances because of the faith they had in this Hospital. Once, there was an elderly lady from Nellore who was suffering from extreme pain in the neck, back and the chest. She was bed-ridden and her blood pressure was high. When my grandfather reported to Swami about her, He said, ‘She has no disease, only the shower of grace.’ This was the beginning of the end of her troubles… I can go on and on…Patients get cured here more because of His Grace than the medicines administered or surgeries performed. In fact, Swami even said in those days, “Give only half the dose required, My grace will do the magic.”
“That’s amazing…So, for how long did your grandfather serve in this Hospital?”
“He was the head of the Hospital till Swami’s 50 th birthday and even after that he served for another ten years, but from December 1, 1975 Swami appointed Dr. Alreja as the Medical Superintendent. Dr. Alreja too is a treasure-house of Hospital stories. You should speak to him too, but he may not be in the Hospital now... Try to see him in the morning tomorrow… but presently you can speak to Dr. Hema. She has been serving for 10 years now and regularly sees His grace work in different ways. Swami might not be physically interacting much these days, but His presence is very much there…that is how this Hospital runs and has grown from an 8-bed Hospital to a 100-bed Medicare facility today, with an impressive record of patient treatment and recovery.”
“Yes, we will do that,” we respond. “Actually we would love to speak to you more, but maybe we will come another day. We will see if we can speak to Dr. Hema now before it gets too late in the day.”
“Yes…carry on. You might just be lucky. You will find her in room no. 24. She often works late…I am always available any day.”
We pack our cameras with a quick parting “Sairam” to Ms. Nagamani. She responds with a big smile.
“We are a family…I learn a lot from the patients’ - Dr. Hema
“Sairam Dr. Hema…” We are in front of room no. 24. “Ms. Nagamani directed us to see you. Do you have a few minutes…?”
“Are you from Radio Sai?”
“Yes…I heard about you boys from other doctors. Ok…tell me, what do you want?”
“Can we ask you a few questions?”
“When did you join this Hospital? And where did you work before?”
“I and my husband, Dr. Gopinath, joined this Hospital on September 1, 1998. Before that, we worked for almost 25 years in Canada. Actually, Swami gave us our first interview in 1984 and told us to return to India in five years. So in 1989, we closed our practice there, packed up everything and came to Puttaparthi. But somehow we could not receive any instructions from Swami then.
"During this time, the Divine Life Society approached us, and since we always had this desire to work for the poor in rural areas, we accepted their offer and went to Swami Sivananda ashram in Pattamadai, a rural town in South India, to join their fledging hospital. We actually set up the hospital there and worked for nine full years. There, along with a lot of satisfaction, we gained tremendous experience too. And then, in 1998, my mother passed away and we came to Puttaparthi to inform Swami.
“On that occasion, Swami said, ‘Your mother is with you.’ I was so happy to be back in Puttaparthi after a long time and wished if we could continue to stay with Swami. When Dr. Alreja went with our applications, Swami said, ‘Oh, they are long time devotees! Take them.’ So, that is how we became a part of this Hospital.”
“Wonderful! Is it a different experience working here than in Canada or even in Pattamadai?
“Absolutely. Swami is the core of the Hospital here. And everybody is so focused, so, we have greater cohesion. Here, we are just a family…a big family. And more than that, it has been a great learning and humbling experience for me because people come here with so much faith. There was one lady with an advanced stage of cancer, but she would not agree for operation because many years ago Swami had told her, ’No operation’.
"Her condition was getting bad to worse; there was puss oozing out. We used to only clean her wounds and she would return happily. She used to only take Vibhuti and say ‘I have no pain’. Every time I saw her I was in awe at her faith. Later she even suffered a hip fracture. She endured this along with her cancer, but never wanted an operation. Like this, she lived for many years. I cannot imagine a patient with her condition surviving for so many years, that too, with a smile on her face! I feel we are here only to learn from such people!
“Even now, there is an elderly gentleman in the male ward. His name is Mr. Divya Poorna Chandra. For more than a year, he had been suffering with a foot problem because of diabetes. And then, in this July, he went into sepsis, meaning, his kidney, liver and heart failed. There was no way to save him than to amputate his leg, but Swami instructed that his leg should not be cut, and now look at him! Suddenly all the drugs have started working…he has started walking now!
"So, these instances happen everyday. Sometimes, it might be direct instruction, at other times, it is a strong intuition, a right suggestion at the nick of time, or just a prayer answered…And what works in this Hospital, apart from faith in Swami, is the absolute dedication of people working here. Whether one is paid or is working voluntarily, he or she is working here only for Swami and nothing else. If there is work, you will not find a nurse say, ‘Madam! It’s time, I have to go.’”
‘This Hospital is your home’ - Baba
“That’s remarkable. Ok, Doctor, what is your best memory of working in this Hospital?”
“Well, Swami’s visits are undoubtedly the most memorable. I remember, on one occasion He said, ‘This Hospital is your home.’ And for me, there is nothing more personal than working here. This is my first husband and first home; I spend three-fourths of my day here. This is very special to me.”
“Madam! It is so refreshing speaking to you….Swami always puts the right person at the right place at the right time. It is so amazing…thank you very much, we should not take more of your time…but do you think we can speak to Dr. Gopinath, your husband too?”
“Yes, why not? Go upstairs, he might be there.”
‘No human being can do what Swami has done for the poor’ - Dr. Gopinath
We climb the steps with our hearts and minds still dazed pondering about the commitment of these Sai doctors.
“Sir, we are from Radio Sai, we just now spoke to Dr. Hema…can you too spare a few minutes for us?”
“Yes, come in…what are your questions?”
“Sir, can you please share about the growth of your department since you joined here?”
“Well…actually, the surgical department started right from the very early days of the Hospital. Earlier, it was only deliveries and minor procedures, but now we do major surgeries. The most common abdominal operations done here relate to hernia and appendix. In 1998, I was the only person in this department of General Surgery, but now the Hospital has grown.”
“What fascinates you the most about this Hospital?”
“It’s spiritual atmosphere, unquestionably. This is a spiritual Hospital, and not a commercial, or even a religious Hospital. I enjoy it so much here because not a penny is charged. Even in the Swami Sivananda Hospital where I worked, there was a charge, though it was much less than private hospitals. Personally, for me it is very difficult to mix money with medicine. And it is for this reason that I never had a private practice ever in my life.
"For more than half a century thousands have been treated here free of charge, it is a magnificent achievement even if Swami were a human being…but He is Divine; no human being can do what He has done for the poor. It is just too beautiful. Now, others should get inspired and build more such Hospitals. There is no dearth of rich people in this country. Swami says, ‘when one undertakes to do noble work, money will automatically come.’...Swami has shown it to us...He is demonstrating everyday the power of sharing, the power of Love!”
It is almost five in the afternoon, and we do not wish to hold the senior doctor for long. We thank him profusely and walk down the corridor. This stretch of the Hospital is now familiar; the room of the Medical Superintendent is just a few steps away. “Why not update the Chief with the plethora of our interviews and experiences?” one of us voices. “Good idea…let’s drop in and see if he is there.” We all agree.
“Sir, do you have a minute?”
“Oh…you have all come!…come in. So how was the experience? I did alert and inform many doctors about your project.”
“Yes, many seemed to know about it. We did not have to explain ourselves much. Thank you for your help.”
“So what did you gather?” Dr. Verma asks.
“We spoke to Dr. Patel, Dr. Kamala, Dr. Hema, Dr. Gopinath and…yes Ms. Nagamani and many others too. We covered a lot of the Hospital…it has been a very busy day.”
“That’s nice…but you know what you have seen is just about maybe 20% of the Hospital…you have seen only a little of General Medicine and General Surgery. That’s it. One of the main areas for which you have to spend an entire day, or maybe many days, is the Mother and Child section of this Hospital. The Gynecology and Obstetrics Department is as old as the Hospital. And that is the area where maximum benefit has been done to the rural population around.”
“Ok…Yes... That will be our agenda tomorrow.”
“Good…but before you visit the Maternity section, you might want to see the Pediatric Out Patient Department and Ward. Start by enjoying the sweet and innocent smiles of the kids. We have created a nice playpen for them recently; it will make you smile too and ensure your day is bright!”
“Sure…that’s what we will do. Thank you Sir.”
Sevadals Who Just Can’t Stop Serving!
We climb down the staircase reminiscing all the beautiful moments of the day - some touching, some revealing and a few heart-rending. As we near the door, we are again greeted with a warm smile and loving ‘Sairam’ with folded palms of a sevadal volunteer. Now, we are tempted to talk to this Sai worker.
“Can we ask you a few questions?... Where do you come from?”
“I am Rajesh Kumar Jain and I come from a town called Ganj Vasudha from the state of Madhya Pradesh.” His broad smile still lingers.
“How do you like serving here?”
“Oh, I love it very much. In fact, I feel bad when I have to return home after the mandated 15 days of service, that is why, I often extend my service. If Swami permits, I would like to serve here permanently.”
“What is it here that interests you the most?”
“Everything! I like the doctors, the poor villagers, the loving atmosphere…I like to serve the patients, feed them, bring medicines for them, carry their x-ray films…really, as long as I am alive, I will come to serve in this Hospital.”
We spot another sevadal, a middle-aged lady, guiding the patients at the gate with so much love. We go to her, fold our hands and say ‘Sairam’.
“We are from Radio Sai…would you like tell us how do you feel working here?”
“Sure…I am Preeti Khobra. I absolutely love being here. The doctors here see the patients with so much patience. Every time I come, I learn so much from this place…it is so beautiful serving here…for me, believe me, it is like serving in front of Swami….I work 12 hours from 7 a.m. till 7 p.m, but I am never tired…I want to come here every year and hope I have that good fortune.”
These are just two volunteers who have served here for maybe just 10 days and how heart-touching are their feelings! We wonder what is in store for us the next day. Whatever it is, we are sure, at the end of the day we will return recharged and enriched. For, this is not a Hospital, but a ‘House of God’… where doctors, nurses and others happen to be there and healing just happens. In fact, the patient is the deity of this house, and the rest are all loving devotees…
End of Part-1
- Bishu Prusty
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Vol 6 Issue 10 - OCTOBER 2008
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