Mr Das was about 60 years old when I first met him in the summer of 2012. Accompanied by his nephew, he had a dignified bearing despite his tattered clothes.
He was from the eastern part of India, and in spite of his broken Hindi, we managed to communicate.
He had a large goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland). He underwent surgery, had a smooth recovery, and was ready to return home a week later. Fortunately, his histopathology result showed very early cancer, with an extremely high likelihood of cure. Before leaving the hospital, he came down to my out-patient clinic, just to shake hands with me, and showed me his return train ticket – he explained how it takes him almost three days to reach his village. He was quiet for some time, then he said, “But I feel it was worth coming all the way.”
A couple of months later, he dropped into my clinic again. I was surprised to see him – he was not due for a follow-up visit. I asked him what was wrong. He pointed to a man about his own age who had come with him – “I am perfectly fine, doctor. This time I came to show my cousin to the neurologist in this hospital. Thought I would pay my respects to you.”
A month or so later, I saw Mr Das again! We bumped into each other while walking in the corridor. This time he was accompanied by an elderly couple.
“Namaste Doctor Saab (Sir),” he said and beamed.
“Namaste Sir. How are you?” I replied in Hindi.
“I am doing well. Please meet my brother and sister-in-law,” he went on, pointing at the couple, “My sister-in-law requires gynecological surgery. So I brought them here.”
I greeted them and they smiled.
“You were here a couple of months back too,” I said.
“Oh yes Sir,” he said. “Age is catching up. I don’t have the stamina to work in the fields now. So, I have handed over the responsibility to my son.”
It was not clear to me what he was trying to say, but I nodded my head.
“And I have taken up a new role in my community. I am grateful to God that I was directed to this big hospital for treatment. Honestly, I thought my life had ended. But I got a new lease of life after coming here. I feel I must return the favor by helping and guiding others who are now in need,” he went on, “Healthcare facilities in our region are very poor.”
I was impressed and said “Well done Sir! My best wishes to you.” Even his Hindi was much improved since a few months back!
Working in a university hospital in the past, I had the opportunity to interact with patients from all walks of life and all strata of society. Some patients arrived in air-conditioned luxury cars reaching in a matter of minutes, while others like Mr Das traveled days together in second class by train – both to receive the same treatment. The contrast felt unsettling at times. But that’s how life is.
However, Mr Das didn’t seem to care about any contrast! He seemed to have found a new purpose in his life and appeared content in his role.
Isn’t that what matters? So, I chose to be happy for him!