Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bygone era doctors and some memories

This is how we pictured a ‘Doctor’ in our childhood - stethoscope on the neck, injection syringe in one hand ready to jab and an elderly face ready to heal the sick! When kids got uncontrollably cranky, parents would threaten “I’ll get you pricked by the doctor.. or I’ll hand you over to the police!” To even younger kids, there was always a ‘Gumma’ (demon!). We feared doctors most for that dreaded jab and often asked them to use thin needles if it was absolutely necessary to jab! Not to speak of their much renown ‘scribbled prescriptions’ – that meant bitter pills to swallow!

My memories are from the 1960s, which was still an era of family physicians. Doctors were not in great proliferation. There were neither many private practitioners nor any specialists for each body organ at every street block as we find now. We had neither nursing homes everywhere (barring a handful) nor “specialty” hospitals.

Krishnarajendra (KR) Hospital was rather infamous for its own reputation (hard earned) as ‘a booking counter for heaven’, took good care of most patients in the real sense also. Mission Hospital (where I was born) provided better facilities and had better reputation for their nominal charges also. P.K.Sanatorium was far off from the city to treat and isolate Tuberculosis patients. Holdsworth Memorial hospital off Irwin Road treated epidemic diseases. The Government Dispensaries (free) here and there sufficed the general ailments of people of nearby localities. There was one on 100-ft. road (Chamaraja Double Road now, next to Gayatri Talkies) in an old tiled building. Still functioning is the one on Prince of Wales Road, behind Lakshmipuram School. It is in an old house donated by the Ursu community many decades ago. I remember once how I got my earwax removed using water in this Dispensary. The attendant did the job. For half a day, there was an odd feeling in the ears! Here is a picture of it:
The old building has received a fresh coat of paint recently.

This is a Buddha temple that has come up recently in the same premise as the above Dispensary

A family of doctors in the opposite house, famous for their own formula for babies with liver troubles, lived as a boon to the neighbourhood for many decades. ‘Liver House’ was the name of their residence. Even autowallas (3-wheeler taxi) and Tongawallas (Mysore Tonga – horse taxi) knew this Devaparthiva Road landmark in the beautiful locality of Chamarajapuram. I can say that these were one of the earliest doctors my memory carries. I remember my mother or aunt carrying me on their arms and taking there for treatment either for fever or ‘boils’. The old lady Saraswathamma pricked me in the butt and the fever was gone very soon after my mother made me eat those bitter pills powdered and mixed with honey (weird taste) to make it kid-palatable! There were numberless occasions like that.

Both her children were doctors who served the people for many years. She was the wife of Dr.Rama Shastry, the formulator of that liver cure. He was a Gandhian, also adept at chess. I beat him once when I was in high school and I consider this a great achievement. His son Dr.Eswer (no more) together with his nephew Dr.Shivaram (now an experienced orthopedic surgeon in the US) had saved my life once (when a pickled gooseberry got stuck in the gullet while playing on the street in 1970), most of which I have mentioned in a separate blog. The story of how Dr.Rama Shastry’s son-in-law Capt. Srikantaiah (Kanti) saved my father’s life twice is here in this linked blog.

At home, there was a sick uncle who required frequent and sometimes long hospitalization at KR Hospital for an incurable disease in the mid 1960s. I used to see how much respect KR Hospital doctors had from the patients, staff and subordinates alike. Dr.A.K.Gopalarajan was the “Dodda Doctru” (Senior Doctor). I remember his short frame and a great halo of reputation that went with him. He was an authority.

Around this time, my grandmother once had a bad abscess on the heel. She suspected that it was because of her having stepped on a broken egg while she was taking lunch to her ailing son at the hospital. She always walked barefoot. To treat this, my friend Srinivas’ (now in USA) grandfather Dr.Doreswamy Iyengar (Thambi) was called one afternoon (from his house opposite Manuvana Park), as the pain was unbearable and she was unable to walk. This old man arrived with his bag, examined and simply pricked it open. The pressure of pus inside an abscess was enormous and the jet went across many feet. She became fine after a couple of days of limping.

Doctors wisely prescribed antibiotics in those days – never, indiscriminately and only when absolutely required. I remember the names of Pencillin and Sulfa drugs. A test dose (an injection) was given to patients to see if they developed any reaction, before administering! They were precise in their prescribing and there were no 'round abouts' in their thinking.

As a young boy, I remember visiting a clinic opposite Subbarayana Kere on 100-ft. road (now Chamaraja Double Road), with my grandfather who occasionally stopped by to say hello to his Rotary Club friend Dr.N.Sanjeeva Rao whenever he went to his office on foot. It was next to a rice mill. I do not remember my (sportsman) grandfather taking any medication. But sometimes he used a certain cough lozenge ‘Sucrets’ that came in a neat tin box fitting in the palm and my olfactory memory can vividly recall the flavour of it even now.

The only time my grandfather was admitted to hospital was when a scooterist hit him one morning while riding his 1914 Sunbeam bicycle on his way to his office in the late 60s. He suffered some bruises and scraped wounds. After he was retained for more than one day, he escaped home without getting tests conducted!! He knew he had no problems! He recovered quickly at home and for the first time in his long career, he had to sit idle at home for two weeks much to his dislike!

My grandmother used to take some medical help for her problem from one Dr.Shamachar, an Ayurvedic doctor but she never had been on persistent medication till the end. He lived by Geeta Road, the road behind ours and had his pharmacy near Sita Vilas Choultry on Narayana Sastry Road.

I am from the ‘milk of magnesia’ days. We did not like to take this white liquid for our indigestion. Those were days before the ‘antacids’. The day I hated most was when I was forcibly administered Castor Oil to ‘clean the alimentary canal’. The taste of it … ‘yuck’ itself was quite nauseating. In one hurried gulp it had to go in (we preferred it with coffee), with least contact with taste buds! It had to be a Sunday and the toilet had to be free for purging out, about 5-6 times at least for half a day. My father took it on another day – one person for one day only! Though purgative pills were on the market, castor oil was the preferred home remedy that needed no doctor!

I must mention many things of a sleepy clinic named “Mysore Pharmacy” in Krishmamurthypuram because of the long association we had in parallel to the “Liver House Service”. It was opposite Meenakshi Bhavan, a hotel more famous for its Radio rather than its dishes. People thronged there to listen to the radio, esp. Wednesday evenings for the Binaca Geet Mala programme on ‘Vividh Bharathi Station”, playing with loud volume! Not everybody had a radio at home or even a wrist watch those days. They were rarities. Come to think of the reach of the mobile phones of today!!

A shop in the ground floor of this building was where Mysore Pharmacy was. There was no shabbiness then as it looks in the picture now.

The Doctor at that pharmacy was V.R.Krishnaswamy Rao, LMP. He had earned a very high reputation. These LMP doctors were many. MBBS doctors were not in great numbers for obvious reasons. This pharmacy served the needs of the locality and if my memory does not fail me, we paid two rupees as consultation fee. He had an electric coil stove to sterilize the needle and syringe in a corner of his examining room always ready for any injection. Those were days when ‘disposables’ were not born. Then there was the “compounder” (that was his designation) inside his counter with many coloured liquids in huge bottles on shelves. The code of mixtures when needed was a secret between the compounder and the doctor. In many cases, only one liquid was enough. We always visited the doctor with an empty bottle in hand to get it filled with this coloured liquid. These medicated liquids were sure shots for various day-to-day ailments.
As we passed by, an acquaintance would inquire on seeing the bottle in hand, “to doctor’s shop?”

Dr.Rao possessed ‘hands that healed’ and a unique scribbled handwriting, esp. his signature, from his thick fountain pen. V.R.Kr….. followed by a spiral! .

I was about 6-7 years old when I was watching steel bars being cut during construction of the neighbour’s house. A splinter had struck and I felt something dripping down my leg. That I did not feel any pain is still a mystery. Cry. My friend late Rama of the same age was also standing with me, but ran off when he saw this. A hostel chap next door noticed me. He was from a sect of ‘untouchables’ as my Gandhi-hating grandmother classed. He took me to Dr.Rao on his bicycle for treatment. I cannot remember what her reaction was after that kind and gracious help of his, knowing well my grandmother’s ‘attitude’ which was understood in its perspective in those days without qualms. I can still show that mark of the size of a rupee coin on the left shin. After many years, I got hit by a cricket ball in backyard cricket and he put a stitch to my right pinna. He had very skilful hands be it stitching or jabbing.

Those were the days when life was easy, not many people fell sick, and so there were no queues in pharmacies. Taking appointments were not in vogue, fashion or a need in those nice days when telephones were owned by very few! Proportionately, there were few chemists. Chemist-doctor connection for commission might not have been in vogue then. Doctors were satisfied with what they earned from their humble service. At times when an elderly or very sick could not go to the doctor’s ‘shop’ (we used this term also), a word sent to him would be promptly responded to and Dr.Rao would visit on his old Lambretta Scooter, leather bag in hand. Those were good old days of ‘family physicians’. Of course, he never demanded that others carry that bag in and out when he arrived or left. Often, the patient after merely meeting the doctor would find half cure of the ailment. Can we find such a patient-doctor association/rapport so easily now? They were healers.

Once in high school, I was suffering from malnutrition following the sudden death of a cousin. Aversion to food was the main cause. Dr.Rao had prescribed 30 injections of Iron, Calcium and Vitamins given in turn. Iron was pricked in the butt as it was painful. Calcium was the least painful and so it went into the arm. I used to take one on each day before I went to school at his pharmacy, which was on the way. I was never afraid of getting pricked as an orthopadeician long later was in amazement at the KR Hospital when I said I wanted to look at being pricked. He was giving a local anesthesia for my fractured ring finger following a blow from the cricket ball in 1982, the same day when Amitabh Bachhan’s accident happened at the shooting of ‘Coolie’.

After the 30-prick course, I had regained some strength and was eating better. In the end, he emphatically told me to eat well, esp. Avarekalu Saaru (Hyacinth beans soup) that came in the winter. Those were words that came in handy much later in life after I began observing others’ eating habits and correlated their well-being!! But it crucially inspired at that time, to improve to a great extent.

It was either Dr.Rao or Liver House that we turned to for our family medical help often. It was Dr.Rao who was summoned in the wee hours when my grandfather had a heart attack in 1976. He gave an injection and he was by his side when the last breath happened. He said the attack had been massive and impossible to save. By the time the KR Hospital ambulance arrived, it was too late.

Dr. Rao visited his pharmacy until he became old and died. I knew two of his sons. The eldest among them was Vasu. Cricket was our common factor. He proudly boasted of having been born before ‘independence’ (1946). He was an avid cricket follower and a talented player with the tennis ball. Obesity never prevented him playing. His heavy beedi-smoking was much renowned. Unfortunately, he was unemployed and loitered. We played many games together for our ‘own team’. He died a couple of years back after suffering towards the end. After his parents’ demise and brothers having moved out, he faced a tough life. That a son of a doctor was almost on the verge of begging was a pathetic sight. He would show a prescription for his stomach ulcer and asked help to buy medicines. It was a sorry state.

His younger brother Narasimha was my classmate in high school and we often went to school together as he lived just a furlong away.

In our high school (Sarada Vilas), there was a routine annual medical examination, which we tried to avoid because the doctors of those days made us remove the knickers and made us cough. They could find out an underlying problem from that! I still wonder why other doctors did not do that. I remember his nickname as a ‘buffalo doctor’ or something. His son was my father’s colleague and his grandson was my classmate there.

By early 80s, one Dr.S.V.Subramanya who had passed MBBS was now ready to serve the people. It was he, who helped us often in the years to come until his untimely end.

A little senior to him was another Dr.Srisha in the next street. We went to him also for help at times. He was kind enough to respond to our request when my father suffered a stroke in the wee hours in 1981 and had to be admitted to a nearby nursing home. The end came a few hours later, primarily due to negligence of the attendants on duty and the doctor, Govindappa (who was being consulted and visited that nursing home), who never answered the phone in the wee hours.

In the late 80s when my aunt fell sick, we had to turn to a doctor who had newly opened his clinic close by. It was for the first time we were in an unfamiliar situation like this because it was related to the heart and he claimed to be his cup of tea. We were late to realize that times had changed. His high ego reflected in his behaviour. He would never carry his leather kit but asked me to carry it as if I was a servant. I could feel the changing times of the noble profession getting too business-like also by the way he handled the case. He was new to his profession but his actions contradicted his knowledge! We settled his account soon after my aunt’s demise a few days later for which he sent hurried reminders! May be what we saw was a hint of what was in store 15-20 years later when medical science and technology improved by leaps and bounds only to devalue human value! Medical ethics seemed to have dissolved somewhere. “Kaliyuga doctors” appeared to have mushroomed .

There was one Ayurvedic doctor who landed to reside in the same street in the 80s, the knowledgeable Dr.Vijendra Pandit. Sometimes my mother went to his house for treatment – once he used leeches to ease the problem of the arthritic knee. He was quite efficient and was helpful many times.

Being a doctor was really something in those days. Studying medicine was for the elite as it required a high fee and as such, it was difficult for all and sundry to pursue this field. As such, the noble profession had in great numbers people that came from respectable families with culture, ethics and compassion - essential components that made them demi-gods to the patients. They were considered life-savers and life-givers.

It was a job of much dignity, dedication, respect and honour. There was hardly any who deviated from these. Doctors used their commonsense, communication, intellect and that vital healing touch before he prescribed anything. They could tell by the look what the patient lacked and what they needed to get better. For a low RBC, the paleness told the story and one pull at the cheek to expose the inside of the lower eyelid only confirmed his judgment. Only then, he would advise remedies or appropriate diet. Pathology labs were not required much because the doctors mostly relied on their knowledge and resorting to technical help would tantamount to insult to their own knowledge, or so they might have thought, rightly so. Only dire emergencies warranted pathology tests. They never sent their patients to the lab unless absolutely needed.

Doctors healed the patients and freed them from their ailments with absolute ease because they were straightforward and honest with no malicious intention. Doctors felt happy to see the patients cured - there was such fine rapport. Often they would stop by his clinic to inform the cure. Doctors had firm belief in their own capabilities and there was no place for ‘if’. They dealt with conviction. They used their stethoscope, or felt the pulse to study the case asking relevant questions - one was about stools and the other, urine, basic indices for troubles! They built up genuine confidence in the patients. For digestive ailments, they used to press and feel the problem in the ‘temple of wonders’ called the stomach. They used brains and stethoscopes and not machines, however few machines were. They never meddled with human lives and they were there to cure sicknesses and not spread panic and further sickness! Patients believed their doctor’s word in full faith because they knew that the doctor was being honest! I do not know if anybody thought of a ‘second opinion’ – this is a modern word. That this second and even a ‘third opinion’ is in vogue now despite much extravagant, excellent technical support, only in my opinion, reflects the overall stuff! Medicine has become big business. Why, even places of worship and education also!

Presence of approachable doctors in the locality is a boon to humanity and I must say we were blessed to have had at least one at any given time. My tributes to each and every one of them for having responded to our calls of need, sometimes dire need. I hope their number is not dwindling what with the commercial aspect trying to supress everything. There might be a few here and there, but one must be lucky to find such ones who can respond to calls and visit homes just like a friend. Doctors are a very busy lot, or so it appears, nowadays. They have so many machines to attend while the patients are waiting in queues!! I know the old world charm of family physicians will never return, but at the same time, it is hoped that medical ethics are kept in practice.

Before employment came my way, I had come across by chance a person by name Rajgopal Nidamboor who happened to be a nephew of my father’s long time friend, one Krishna who also happened to be a many-decades-long acquaintance to our family. Read the story of this chance meeting here). Raj’s father, Dr.N.Ramakrishna Rao, became our doctor at times and he helped me regain health on quite a few occasions before they moved away to another city. Age was no barrier to our friendship that developed from my frequent visits to his home in Krishnamurthypuram. That chance meeting with Raj was to change the course of things that was to follow in terms of taking care of health.

By the way, I thought this blog by MPV Shenoy gives a good insight on medical practices in Myosre earlier than the period I have mentioned here.

A place with many police stations, hospitals, doctors, clinics and busy lawyers means that the place is ailing from serious ill health that no doctor can heal! Yet another "multi-speciality" hospital has sprung up in Mysore now.

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