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(7) The lesson a neonate taught me…

May 28, 2009

As part of our medicine postings, we were posted to the Epidemic Diseases hospital, which was also known as the Isolation hospital. The buildings were old and decrepit and it was located near Bamboo bazaar in Mysore. It was April 1984 and none of us were excited being posted there. We were 8 of us in the unit and the general feeling was that this posting was light and that we could have fun most of the time.

The isolation wards were basically small, tiled roofed cottages, which were falling apart. The Government seemed to have kept this hospital isolated indeed; isolated from the administrative vision, isolated from maintenance and any intent to improve.

One day during our 15-day postings, one of my batch mates came running to us excited. She claimed to have seen a 2 day old child with neonatal tetanus. Finally there seem to be some excitement in our dreary routine. All of us rushed to the cottage. All that we were intent on was in looking at the way the child started convulsing at the slightest stimulation. We were keen on seeing whether what we had read in our textbooks were true. One wanted to open the windows and let the light in suddenly. One other wanted to clap his hands and look for the convulsion response. We wanted to make sure that light and auditory stimulus initiated convulsion in the child. How cruel it all seems now! We were all more concerned in trying to learn as much as possible rather than try and understand what the baby might be going through or what the mother might be feeling looking at her new born suffer so much.

Suddenly, I felt like running away from the place. I realized that I was also sucked up into this mad urge to know and understand disease in exclusion of the person suffering from it. I was not able to reconcile myself with how God could be so unkind as to have this new born suffer so much. Rationalizing the situation, I realized that this baby need not be suffering so much. If only the health care system had ensured that its mother had got her 2 shots of tetanus toxoid! How injections costing only a couple of rupees could have made such a difference in this baby’s life! Why was it that our health care system despite the enormous money that the Government was spending could not find a way to provide immunization coverage to needy pregnant women? Questions of inadequacies in our public health system which I could not find answers to…

This incident helped strengthen my resolve that I could not be a part of a system which was unwilling to look inwards and find answers to these rather simple questions. I was getting increasingly restless and felt that I needed to do something. I could not run away from this anymore. I needed to find a solution that would allow me to find the balance between my own idealism and pragmatic sustainable action.

Balu (drrbalu@gmail.com)

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