Renowned Cardiac Surgeon Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty, MS, FRCS, who is also the Founder and Chairman of Narayana Health, shares his encounter with Mother Teresa in 1989. He tells how his perspective towards life changed after meeting Mother Teresa. He also stresses the importance of touching a patient which is no longer the practice these days. In fact poor patients, even after surgery, are treated like untouchables.
Thus spake Dr. Devi Shetty: I left England in the year 1989 and started working in a Hospital in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Those days there were no mobile phones in India. And we used to have a landline phone in the operating room.
When I was in the middle of an operation, my anaesthetist took a call and he told me that some patient wants me to make a house call. And I politely told him that I am a heart surgeon, what do I do at home.
And then the caller insisted that I visit the patient saying that it might perhaps transform my life. And that patient happens to be Mother Teresa.
She introduced me to the power of simplicity, power of compassion, power of love. Like one of her very famous statements which I have in my office is that ‘The hands that help are holier than the lips that pray.’ She is a nun and her job is supposed to pray. She herself believed, helping other human beings is the best form to reach out to God.
The modern medicine has undermined the importance of touch and compassion on the face of a doctor. When a patient comes to me, he has done all the investigation, I know exactly what’s happening with the patient. I don’t need to put a stethoscope and listen to his heart and lungs, but I do it. I don’t need to touch the patient but still I do it because the power of touch is phenomenal.
The moment I touch the patient, I put my hand around the shoulders. That’s very reassuring. I only have 5 or 10 minutes of interaction. In that period, I have to convince him to undergo an operation by which he can potentially die. He has to make a decision, he has to trust me.
I have to look on to his eyes, talk to him, connect with him and that’s very important. That has a larger healing power than all the surgical tools and medicines I have in this world. But unfortunately, the whole philosophy of touch, compassion and care is gradually losing ground. It is a sad situation. I hope it gets restored.
Note: This is from a WhatsApp forwarded to me. Incidentally, I too had written in this column about how these days doctors, even surgeons among them, rarely touch the patients and look merely at the test report to prescribe medicine or advice surgery. These doctors are either ‘business like’ or ignorant of the fact that ‘power of touch is phenomenal,’ as Dr. Devi Shetty says. Worst is when the surgeon who operated on the patient does not see him the next day (at least) or not at all. If the patient is groaning with pain and discomfort, the surgeon had to be specially requested for his goodwill. Dr. Shetty is a heart surgeon with a heart ! —KBG
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