Kannan Diagnostic Centre in the heart of the city is celebrating its Golden Jubilee today (May 5). The pioneer, who started the first private Pathology Lab in Mysuru, is the gentle Dr. N. Kannan, who has been looking through the microscope since nearly 57 years.
The reticent octogenarian Dr. Kannan, who has shunned publicity all his life and never given an interview, went down the memory lane and shared his undying love for Pathology. In this special interview, he tells SOM Features Editor N. Niranjan Nikam why he chose to give up a government job, why he does not believe in giving commission and his work-life-ethics, sitting in the air-conditioned, swanky three-storeyed ‘Kannan Diagnostic Centre’ on Sayyaji Rao Road, next to Government Ayurveda Medical College and Hospital. – Editor
By N. Niranjan Nikam
Star of Mysore (SOM): 50 years ago you started a Pathology Laboratory. How do you feel?
Dr. Kannan: I feel very satisfied. I opened the first Pathology Lab in Mysuru on Dhanvanthri Road in Gayathri Bhavan building on May 5, 1968 exactly 50 years ago. I was the pioneer, with a Post-Graduation who started the Lab. I was working as a Lecturer-cum-Resident Pathologist in Mysore Medical College (MMC) for seven years at that time.
Predominantly, the tests were being done only in Government Hospitals. Everybody discouraged me saying you will not do well, Mysuru is a small town and Bengaluru is a better place. But somehow I felt I should serve in the place where I studied. Bengaluru is a bigger place and there were plenty of Labs even then. But here there was not a single one.
More importantly, I must tell you that not many doctors were interested in the clinical aspect of Pathology. They used to shun doing testing of urine. But while in the Hospital which I looked after, there were four outpatient labs and though there were technicians, I started seeing the slides myself. And then the doctors used to come there and also bring their children and their urine/stool samples. I used to draw the blood myself. So the personal touch was there from the beginning.
I was on Dhanvanthri Road for two years. I thought I will have only two or three patients a day because of the way people scared me. It was a 10ft x 20 ft room and I was paying a rent of Rs. 200 per month which was big amount those days. I had six chairs and one I used myself which is still there in the Lab downstairs. However, within six months the crowd was unwieldy. I started with a microscope which I purchased for Rs. 2,000 and a centrifuge. Three months later, I bought a small colorimeter for testing blood sugar. My investment was just Rs.4,000 to Rs. 5,000 when I started the first Lab in Mysuru.
Then I shifted to Irwin Road, which was a bigger place and the seating capacity increased from six to fifteen and added a few more chairs in the rooms at the back. I was there for 20 years. My sons started coming to the Lab and then I bought this old building belonging to well-known contractor Thammanne Gowda in 1988 and we slowly started expanding.
SOM: After passing out of MMC, you did your PG in Clinical Pathology at Madras. Why did you choose this subject?
Dr. Kannan: I liked the subject. My father was a diabetic. He used to live in Bengaluru. His blood sugar and urea tests varied from lab to lab. I got fed up. Unless you have personal touch you cannot do much justice. I decided, with my Diploma, my scope was less. I could not become a Professor or an Assistant Professor because it was Post Graduate Diploma in Clinical Pathology. I did Diploma to help people as many MDs in Pathology did not do much about it those days. There were a few lecturers also for whom it was a stop-gap arrangement. They would spend one year working here, then get a job abroad and go away.
I was different. Slowly the PG students brought the slides. I used to see the slides. I could see there was something wrong. Then I used to go to the wards and draw the blood myself from the patients. I did this as I found varying reports because it was half clotted or sometimes not enough anti-coagulant was used. I used to get clotted samples where you could not do the counts at all. So I decided the best thing I could do was do it myself. I was not supposed to do that but the good professors those days encouraged me.
Later, some of my colleagues did their MD and came back. I was feeling bad that I have to work under them. I did not want myself to do the MD in Pathology because I had seen that most of them were not interested in clinical aspect as they were not interested in Haematology and testing blood but only in Histopathology and teaching medical subjects. There were no technicians and some SSLC fellows were trained to do the job. That was the time I decided to quit and start something on my own.
SOM: What was the Pathology scene like when you started?
Dr. Kannan: No, I loved the subject. Unless you have aptitude you can’t test. Now-a-days there are a lot of labs. But those days, as I told you, I was a pioneer in Mysuru. Then people thought Kannan Lab is big, he is making lot of money so let us also start.
SOM: Your reputation is rock solid as a Pathologist because it is said that when doctors look at reports of another Lab for instance, they would want a second test done from you Lab. How did you build this confidence among your fraternity?
Dr. Kannan: I did everything personally. They used to come and see me working personally. I did not have a technician then; I worked all alone for nearly 20 years. There were one or two female staff to assist me. Majority of them would not stick for long as they would get married or our pay was not sufficient. So if they got better jobs, a government job for instance, I used to tell them to go and look for better opportunities. But I never believed in short-cuts or shortcomings of people working with me.
SOM: There must be many examples in these more than 50 years of service to the society, testing blood, urine, stool, sputum and other tests. Can you recall for instance if anyone has tested for HIV AIDS, one of the most dreaded infections or cancer or diabetes?
Dr. Kannan: Unless they ask for HIV AIDS test you cannot make out in the blood test. It is not like blood cancer where you see the smear and can make out. As a Pathologist, I cannot make out because I don’t do any biopsies.
SOM: There is so much news about nexus between doctors, hospitals, clinics and Pathology Labs including Government and Private Practitioners. Where do you stand on this grave issue?
Dr. Kannan: I know what you are getting at; you want to ask about commission. I never gave commission in my life. Even my children are following the same principle. Though there may be many Labs who give the commission and get lots of cases, we don’t do it. Most of the patients come to us on their own for general check-up.
The problem with me is I was overworked those days. When I was already tired working with enough number of cases, why should I give commission. I had so many cases that I could not manage it on my own. That is why the thought of commission never came to me.
SOM: Does it mean if you were not doing well you would have given commission?
Dr. Kannan: No, I wouldn’t have. Even if I was not doing well I would not have given commission. But I cannot take a stand and say just because I am not giving commission you do not do it. That is their prerogative.
SOM: But there were talks doing the rounds those days that you started the Lab close to K.R. Hospital because you could get more patients and there was a link between you and the doctors.
Dr. Kannan: Those who went to K.R. Hospital those days were very poor patients, most of them were villagers. The rich people do not go to Government Hospitals. We got many small cases as the poor cannot afford. On the spot test is necessary and the doctors in the Government Hospital referred such poor cases to me though they knew that I do not give commission. It cost only Rs. 5 or Rs. 10 for a test. They did not have the money to go in an auto to a faraway Lab to get the test done and come back. I would open the Lab early in the morning. The villagers used to come, get the test done, wait for the reports as they had to return to their villages by afternoon.This was the main reason I set up the Lab near the Hospital to give service to the poor people. Now-a-days, of course, we get people from across the city.
SOM: At 82, how do you look back on all the years and would you want to go back to Pathology again and again?
Dr. Kannan: Oh yes, definitely, no doubt about it. I was a Public Service candidate when I applied for a job in 1961. They asked me what do you want. I said I wanted Pathology. Nobody wanted Pathology those days as many wanted Paediatrics, surgery and other disciplines. The interviewers were all relieved when I chose Pathology because my father was a big shot as he was a District Judge and most of them knew him very well. They were happy that they could straight away offer me Pathology which nobody wanted and which I loved.
I was also afraid of transfers and so I resigned after seven years. All the persons except one Dr. K. J. Das discouraged me. They told me what are you doing, giving up a government job? You can do MD in Pathology and with seniority you can be a professor. I said, I do not want to get into the rut of teaching and administration.
SOM: What is the kind of influence your father G. Natarajan, retired as District Judge in Karnataka, had on you?
Dr. Kannan: My father died when he was 58. He had no say in my choice of the subject or the job I took up. I chose medicine myself and asked my father to get me a seat. He was travelling to Mysuru, Bengaluru, Ballari and he was District Judge in all these three places. He never interfered in my life. In my batch of about six, only Dr. Shivanna and I are alive, the rest have all passed away.
SOM: Yours is a close knit joint family, as both your sons Pathologist Dr. K. Lakshman and Radiologist Dr. K. Praveen Kumar have joined you. What are the lessons they have imbibed from you or you have imparted them?
Dr. Kannan: I allow them to lead their lives. I don’t interfere. To be frank, from the past 20 years, I am almost a recluse as I have withdrawn myself. I don’t want to hold on and allow my sons to suffer. Let them learn the ropes themselves, handle everything. Though we are in the same house, same Lab, I go home and lead my life and they their own.