Medical teachers of yesteryear enjoyed a demigod status among students not merely for teaching skills but also for their inspiring personality. Clinical acumen, knowledge, experience, ethics, and demeanour in various proportions contributed to the charisma of the doyens. But the ability to inspire, an attribute of a good teacher, is not happening regularly these days. Hence, the intention to emulate has taken a beating. The concept of mentor and apprentice is not natural anymore and has to be enforced in a curriculum. I could not believe when I was told that Chief Minister Kamaraj, who came to the Government General Hospital, Madras (now Chennai), to meet Dr. Rathinavel Subramanian, waited until after he finished his class. Such stories are not only inspiring but epitomise the values of dignity and humility in great men.
A plethora of teachers
I was fortunate to be blessed with a plethora of inspiring teachers. I graduated from the Tirunelveli Medical College in Tamil Nadu in the late 1980s and we had a teacher Dr. Venugopal, fondly called by everyone VG. He must have inspired an entire generation of doctors who graduated from TVMC in the 1980s and 1990s. Dedication to the profession was so natural to him that he empathised with his patients.
I myself was a beneficiary of his empathy when I suffered from severe aphthous ulceration. Though a relatively minor ailment, the care he gave was amazing. The pleasure derived from healing others is enviable and incomparable. We have seen him giving money to very poor patients. The gesture was very natural and infectious. Such undocumented charity is essential for humanity to retain its sanity.
Once VG was heading a team of interns for a medical camp at a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee camp. Minor ailments were treated and patients needing admission referred to the medical college hospital. The last patient was a child suffering from acute gastroenteritis (diarrhoea). As an intern was about to prescribe oral rehydration solution, VG came on the scene. He quickly noticed the Bitot's spots in the eyes (vitamin A deficiency) of the child. Immediately, he told us that the child needed hospitalisation and vitamin A injection as otherwise the child would lose vision due to keratomalacia.
In normal circumstances, the mother would have been advised to take the child to hospital for admission. But VG himself took the child and the mother with us in the hospital van in spite of lack of space. On our way back, we stopped for snacks and as expected, VG paid for our gastronomical indulgence. I was moved, when I saw VG buying some biscuit packets for the mother and the child in the van. When we reached the hospital VG caught hold of me and instructed me to take personal responsibility of admitting the child. He gave me money to buy vitamin A injection from the pharmacy and ensured that I myself gave the injection without fail. He anticipated non-availability of the drug in the hospital and hence asked me to buy from the pharmacy. Such a passionate and dedicated approach to patient care was awesome and is not to be seen these days.
I understand VG has superannuated and is now rendering service in a rural hospital. He has not been decorated with any award but any TVMC alumnus will vouch for the unsung hero, our mentor.
(The writer is Professor & Head, Department of Surgical Gastroenterology, SRMC&RI, Porur, Chennai. His email id is: email@example.com)
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