Story 16: Real Medicine
It was 3 pm when Dr Tanu finally finished with her last patient. She felt tired but satisfied with a good day’s work. For a moment, Tanu stared outside her window, drinking in the fiery red leaves of the gulmohur tree. The afternoon was extremely hot, but within the mud-brick walls of Jeevan clinic, a fan was sufficient.
“Didi, kya hai… aapko khane ki bhi fursat nahin. Lo, ab to jeem lo.”
Savitabai put down a thali with chane ki dal lauki, garam rotis and namkeen sev on Tanu’s desk. The young doctor gave her a grateful smile. In the 18 months that she had spent in rural Madhya Pradesh, working at a primary health centre, Savitabai had been a lifeline. Her cheerful personality and native intelligence made her a valuable assistant to Dr Tanu. In every possible sense.
Mumbai now seemed a lifetime away. Those MBBS days when life was all about lectures, hospital rounds, gappa sessions in the canteen, talks about the future. Who was planning to go abroad. who could pay Rs 2 crore for a post-grad seat in surgery… It was all about money, how to earn it and how to spend it. None of this appealed to Tanu.
One evening, she came across an article on the ‘New India’ website about Doctor Saathi. They were seeking young medicos who were willing to work in the villages, for two years.
A month later, Dr Tanu was on a train to Gwalior, en route to village Chhapra, tehsil Bhitarwar. A community which had been identified as one of the most backward in the state.
“Tum dactarni ho?” said the sarpanch, shaking his head. Ek to ladki bheji, aur wo bhi itni chhoti si.
Reluctantly, he took her to the primary health centre. A dilapidated structure, with a dingy living quarter attached. That afternoon, Dr Tanu put her head in her hands and cried tears of despair. What had she got herself into it?? When all of a sudden, she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder. A stout, middle-aged lady was standing there, broom in hand.
Wordlessly, she swept and swabbed the floor, opened all the windows and drew a rangoli outside the door. Suddenly, the place did not look so drab. Besides, there was so much work to do…
Over the next fortnight, Tanu forgot that she was a doctor. She accompanied Savitabai, an anganwadi worker, and learnt what it was really like, to live here. Simple things she had taken for granted in Mumbai were hard to find here. Clean water, electricity, a school with teachers… although Maggi and Coca Cola were everywhere.
Everyone was curious about the young dactarni. Was she married? How come she lived alone so far from home? Why didn’t she sport a bindi? Wo to sabhi pehente hain….
“Yeh lo didi,” said one newly married girl, sticking a small red dot on her forehead.
Well, if that’s what it takes to get accepted… theek hai. It took some months for Tanu to realise one simple truth. Diarrhoea, anaemia, iodine deficiency… these were preventable. The young doctor arranged for iron tablets, vitamins and iodine patches. And got them distributed to all the pregnant women in the village.
But a month later, Savitabai came with disturbing new. A lot of women did not take the pills regularly. Some even believed bachche ka rang kaala ho jayega. Dr Tanu did not know whether to laugh, or cry…Nothing taught in medical school had prepared her for this moment. She looked at herself in the bathroom mirror, a young woman, with dusty face, tired eyes and a crooked bindi.
Medical News Today:
“A young doctor in rural Madhya Pradesh has come up with a unique way of reducing iodine deficiency among women. With the help of a local manufacturer, Dr Tanushree Kulkarni has created a iodine patch which can be worn in the form of a bindi…”
Women are thrilled to receive a free supply of these bindis… And wear them without fuss. When Dr Tanu looks at herself in the mirror, she sees a doctor who has left behind the textbook.
Because real medicine is not about the disease but understanding the patient.