Dr. Devi Shetty speaks of how medical doctors treat a patient
Abracadabra By K. B. Ganapathy, Columns

Dr. Devi Shetty speaks of how medical doctors treat a patient

September 15, 2021

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.

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 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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7 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “Dr. Devi Shetty speaks of how medical doctors treat a patient”

  1. Scorpio says:

    Reading this from afar, in a Western country where all medical procedures are free under the free health service for the nation, I am more than amused by this holding of hand. Nice talk to earn more patients to his chain of Narayana Health private clinics, which charge like any other private hospitals in Karnataka exorbitant fee for procedures, which even after the heart operation, the patient’s heart should flutter, reading the bill.
    How about at the same time saying that his hospitals would charge according to what each patient can afford, and the poor patient is charged what is affordable and not denied the procedure? That would work better than holding the hand hitting with hefty fee.
    Reading this surgeon’s curriculum vita, he was trained in the Guys Hospital in London, which operates under the National Health Service, for -the citizens of Britain, charges no fee for heart patients for any complex heart operation. Seems like these doctors train in hospitals like that, return to India, and begin their money-spinning treatment activities. I do not blame him, but accuse the Modi government for not making healthcare free or at least affordable based on the ability of the patient to pay. This lucrative care is the reason even religious seers open medical colleges-dozens of them in Karnataka, churning out MS, MD and MCh post graduate degree holders, who join the money -spinning brigade.
    Lastly, how about cutting out the post-operation infection rate relating to the heart operations In India, thus forcing patients who can afford to go to Singapore or even to the Cleveland Clinic in the USA?
    Most surgeons in the West, reassure their patients in the post-operative care, clasping their hands, and the patients in turn know that they are in an infection-free environment, and are charged no fee. That helps their recovery fast!

  2. Shantala says:

    The name of this ‘holding hand ‘ Surgeon with Mother Theresa photo nearby, sounded familiar to me even thousands of miles away, and what trying to recollect where I heard his name. It dawned on me that I had read in 2019 Bangalore news, the burglary of expensive jewellery consisting of gold and diamonds worth 23 lakhs of Rupees from the cupboard of his house in Koramangala (https://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/crime/2-held-for-theft-at-devi-shettys-house/articleshow/72030089.cms)
    That was the jewellery kept in a cupboard, which meant that there were more in a safe perhaps?
    What would Mother Theresa say about this?

  3. Shankar says:

    “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. ”
    Does any one want to undergo heart surgery by just spending 5-10 minutes with the surgeon? I don’t want that surgeon however nice he or she may be. Remember, the surgery is not free either.

  4. Mysorean of Yore says:

    A surgeon who claims to be a true believer of Mother Theresa, who sacrificed her self serving the very poor in the society, should hence hold the hand of a poor ,patient saying that his surgery will be free, the operation will be successful, and the post operative care will ensure that he recovers fully. The business model of this surgeon’s hospital empire is geared towards large income generation, and the words he sounds invoking Mother Theresa is cynically empty. That is medical care in India.

  5. Ananth says:

    My dad got his heart surgery in Narayana hospital. It is one of the best and cheapest private hospitals. Dr. Devi Shetty is a very compassionate doctor.

    I don’t know why some people are criticizing him. Some guy from abroad is saying treatment should be free. It is govt job to make it free. Like IT professional, dr Shetty is working in private sector, created lot of jobs, offering one of the cheapest prices for surgeries and making his fair share of wealth. Nothing wrong in that.
    He just said that he was inspired by mother Teresa and said touch gives confidence to patients before surgery.dont know why people who are not doing anything worthwhile is targeting him for that

  6. Roopadarshi says:

    The above poster shows his ignorance by comparing an IT techie-that is what I would refer to these so called IT professionals who are software coders and testers, to a Surgeon who is in a healing profession with responsibilities to help the patient to overcome his ailment. The medical profession and the hospitals ate unique in the sense that they are not outsourced IT sweat shops, using cheap IT labour to make their owners rich, but is supposed operate the best tradition of Hippocrates.
    In a country like India, where over a third of 1.3 billion souls are under the UN defined poverty threshold, there are myriad private hospitals to squeeze the money out of poor suffering patients, with no provision made for affordability. It is not the government responsibility alone to ensure affordable healthcare, but hospitals like this Narayana Health, whose chief refers to the ethos of Mother Theresa, have special responsibility too.
    It is shameful that India and particularly Bengaluru operate so many private hospitals as money spinners. Hippocrates is spinning in his grave! This is the country which Indian leaders often reminds the world of ancient civilisation with a proud history of compassion. Yet, here you find the healtcare tailored for the rich, and medical professionals fleece the patients to a degree that is unknown elsewhere in the world. What hypocrites!
    Let us look at a private hospital in South Africa, which has comparable percentage of poor population of blacks.
    The Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town in its Christiaan Bernard Cardio Thoracic Wing ,which has a world class reputation of cardio thoracic surgery considers the poor as worthy patients, while charging moderate fee to rich patients. Christiaan Bernard carried out the world’s first human-human heart transplant operation in 1967, which stunned the world. I listened to the AIR then, whose presenter was astounded too. He was more skilled and more distinguished than this Devi Shetty, yet, he never boasted about his kindness to his patient;, always a compassionate surgeon, he created charities to help the poor patients of any colour. This Groote Schuur Christiaan Bernard cardiothoracic wing today carries out his compassionate-based vision, which Mother Theresa would be proud .
    Well, the heart surgeons in the above Groote Schuur Christiaan Bernard Wing, are world class surgeons, unlike one finds in Narayana Health or ant similar hospital in Bengaluru.. But they do not own diamonds and gold jewellery, given that South Africa has arguably the richest deposits of gold and diamonds, and if they wanted, the South African government will happily donate each surgeon enough of them. But these world class surgeons in the tradition of Christiaan Bernard are dedicated to heal the suffering patients with quiet efficiency.

  7. Saketa Nivasi says:

    Only a total ignoramus, there are plenty of them in India, who compare an IT Techie with a a surgeon in the medical profession. Unlike a sugeon, who has toget sdegrees, and undergo rigorous training for many tears, and is bound by the professional ethics as mandated by his/her professional body, an IT techie can be any body-many have no degrees, slef taught, their certificates do not have the rigour of what a surgeon possesses, and finally they do not have a professional body to which they should belong as a surgeon does. The bodies like the BCS, IEE, IEEE CS etc..are voluntary bodies, and thousands of IT Techies do not belong to them. The Microsoft and Oracle and such certifications do not need the rigorours framework like what a surgeon has to undergo. Thus a surgeon has a unique position in the society-as the poster above put it, a healing responsibility, unlike an IT Techie interested in counting Rupees!
    Ironically, while surgeons in Western countries and other civilsed countries see themselves as healers, in India, it appears surgeons behave like IT Techies interested in earning Rupees as their first choice!

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