I spent the last few days of March at my annual camp at Sumerpur, Rajasthan. It is held at the Bhagwan Mahavir Hospital, a 150-bedded facility that caters to medical needs of the poor and needy in Pali district.
My association with this hospital started about 10 years back. I was then a surgeon who had started his private practice but, as with any new professional, had time to spare. I wasn’t as busy as I am now. I was approached by my teacher, Dr Buch, whom I tremendously respect and admire; not only as a doctor who taught me basics of surgery but more as one of the best human beings I have met. A prominent gastroenterologist had backed out last-minute from going to Sumerpur, so I filled in.
What followed, as they say, is history.
I did about 100+ gastroscopies in a single day on my first trip and that set the tone of things to come. It was peak summer, the temp was about 40 degree C, but the air was fresh, as we slept out in the open under clear, enveloping skies. The hospitality was impeccable and the food was classic Rajasthani Jain cuisine.
This hospital is run by a trust which is currently presided over by Dr ML Singhi, a surgeon who has dedicated his life to the welfare of this facility and their patients. The trust also runs a free school, a nursing college, an eye hospital and more, all thanks to the vision of a man called Rajmaljee Jain, fondly called ‘Bhaisa’, by all he came in contact with.
The first time I was introduced to him I expected to see a powerful impressionable personality who ran so many things successfully. To the contrary I saw a frail man in a dhoti kurta sitting on a tiny wooden table in a small little corner of the eye hospital – unassuming and very humble!
In the nine years that I interacted with him I was more impressed by him every year. He believed that helping his fellow human beings would get him salvation and he tried his best till his last breath. I had planned to start an old age home with his guidance. Now, after his demise, I am even more determined to do so.
In the Sumerpur camp we operate on patients for ailments of the gall bladder, appendix, uterus, hernias, etc. The patients pay nothing for surgery, drugs or investigations; many cannot afford to even pay 50 Rs for their bus fare to come to the hospital. With God’s grace, the numbers have only increased every subsequent year and we operate about 75 cases in two days.
What gives me immense pleasure and satisfaction is the fact that we give to these poor patients the best surgical option currently available which they would not be able to afford. Also, because of the wonders of laparoscopy, they feel almost no pain, and can experience a very early recovery. Which means they can go back to work quicker, to earn their livelihood.
It is my biggest endeavor especially while we operate on these patients to ensure that we have a zero percent complication rate. Because as ridiculous as it may sound, it’s my belief that a rich man may get away with an odd complication but a poor man may die as a result of it. Over the last few years we have built an enviable reputation and it’s funny as everyone waits for Dr Lakdawala’s camp but probably have never seen him as I remain the face behind the surgical mask.
My family forms an integral part of this camp.
My wife Priyanka (Lakdawala, nee Kaul) has been an active member of this camp now for years! One would wonder how a hedge fund manager would figure in a medical camp? Well, she not only motivates me and pushes me to deliver more every year but also looks after the organisational aspects and makes sure that everything runs according to plan and schedule.
My father, my uncle Burhani, my cousins Mash and Shabbir all have contributed in their own right.
I remember this one instance, when my father who had accompanied me for a camp was made chief guest. We told him he needed to go on stage and announce that he would donate an entire laparoscopy set to the hospital. Little did he know then how much this cost! It’s only when he came to know was he proud of his son and daughter-in-law and just said with an emotional timber, “The more you give, the more you shall get son.”
I have used my influence with companies and am thankful they do their own bit of CSR and give us the best equipment currently available! Just imagine operating in the middle of the biggest desert in the country with the most hi-tech equipment available in the best of hospitals in India and abroad.
My team keeps growing every year: the regulars have been Aparna, Rajesh Shrivastav, Rajesh Mahida and Sharad Mehta. May god bless them all.
I have realised that giving back to humanity comes naturally to every doctor and he or she has the best chance to do so. We are blessed as god has given us the power to heal. I keep urging my fellow doctors that let’s not waste this chance of serving mankind for we can make a difference if we want to. As Gandhiji said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world”
To me just the sight of an old Rajasthani woman standing in front of me with folded hands and a tear in her eye without saying a word is a sign from god saying, child, you are blessed.