A road less travelled
A new month begins with National Doctors Day, a day when people get the opportunity to show their immense gratitude to physicians for their selfless service and unparalleled contribution towards saving lives. The first face that crops up in the minds of Malayalis on the mention of the word ‘doctor’ is that of noted oncologist Dr. V. P. Gangadharan, who is fondly referred to as ‘Saint with a Stethoscope’. Such is his popularity as a loving human being and a compassionate physician that when he suffered a cardiac arrest a few weeks ago, social media was flooded with get-well-soon notes, messages and prayers for his speedy recovery.
What, according to Dr. Gangadharan, should a doctor be? After a few seconds of silence, he speaks, his soft voice embodying the spirit of compassion, “A doctor and a patient are not two beings who communicate sitting across a table. It’s more than a mechanical relationship. Though medical journals teach us not to build emotional attachment with the patients, my life has taught me otherwise. Only if a doctor empathises with the pain and suffering of the patient can he do justice to the treatment. The joy of the doctor-patient relationship is a deep experience.”
His field — cancer treatment — must have helped him in developing his unique style of treatment. “Perhaps,” he says. “Cancer patients require constant support in all phases of life. The relationship of a doctor and a patient doesn’t end with treatment. Most of them are left alone during and after the treatment as part of blatant social stigmatisation despite several awareness programmes. So, the doctor is their only hope and solace and hence, has a great role in their lives — even while they make crucial decisions regarding education, career and marriage. You become the part and parcel of another person’s life,” says the physician, who believes in the power of smile.
“All these are based on practical knowledge, not theories,” reasons Dr Gangadharan, adding, “Doctors’ is a profession like teachers’; both enjoy ample love and happiness. For all the support a doctor provides, the patients return love. That’s what I enjoy the most. That’s the richest earning you get out of the profession. Also, you are remembered by your patient’s relatives even if you couldn’t save their lives. Such is the love they shower upon you.”
In a message to young doctors, he says, “Enjoy the beauty of the job. Once you experience it, you can’t choose materialism over the joy of the doctor-patient relationship. Believe in interactive treatment; it boosts the confidence of the patient and will help speedy recovery.”
Dr Gangadharan’s consultation is also very special. He makes his patients at ease: making them sing, talk, warm up and bonds with them easily. With politically-inclined patients, his pep talk starts with political discussions. He explains, “I work by building affinity with them. Along with that, while they sing, I can know if the person has difficulty in holding breath and can indirectly assess the difference in their tones. They think of me as their own family and become confident while sharing everything about them. Recovery too becomes easier with their willpower.”
The doctor is known for his round-the-clock service apart from his humanitarian initiatives. He is moved by the emotional response from people when he fell ill. Following his belief that love and support help quick recovery, he too was back on his feet in a few weeks. “I know I will never be able to repay the love and affection I am getting from people. I can speak volumes and write books about my experiences, but nothing I do would be adequate to express the love I receive. Being loved by almost 98 per cent of the patients you treat is an experience beyond words,” Dr. Gangadharan says.
Back to his joyous profession and writing — with the same passion — the doctor has, however adjusted his regime. “I have started exercising in the morning, start work by 10 am and do not work late into night now,” he concludes.