When in school, Sumit Sinha was witness to a road accident which had the left the victim bleeding with severe head injuries. “Seeing his pain, I wished I could have helped him on the spot, not just by taking him to the hospital, but by attending to him as a doctor,” says Sinha, now a neurosurgeon at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi.
After this incident, Sinha developed an interest in neurosciences, which deals with treatment of head injuries and behaviour of the brain. He also cracked both All India Pre-Medical Test and Combined Pre-Medical Test, joining the Sarojini Naidu Medical College, in his hometown Agra for a bachelor’s in medicine. He did super specialisation in neurosurgery from AIIMS, completing his residency training there and joining the institute as faculty.
“Head injuries are a leading cause of deaths in India and one person dies in road accidents every four minutes. We have about 3,800 neurosurgeons for a population of a country of 1.25 billion. In the last five years, the government has increased the number of seats for neurosurgical residency programmes across the country to 10 to 12 seats per year from the existing four to five seats,” says Sinha. “By 2020, we can expect to have about 8,000 to 9,000 practicing neurosurgeons in the country, but with the ever growing population, the numbers will still remain less. We need at least 5,000 to 6,000 neurosurgeons per annum to fill the gap.”
Neurosurgeons specialise in surgical treatment of the nervous system for trauma, tumours, brain infections, degenerative diseases of the spine and progressive disorders of the nervous system like Parkinson’s disease.
In case of head injuries, immediate treatment, often termed as the golden hour, can save a person from slipping into a vegetative state. Sinha was part of the team that treated Falak, a two-year-old girl who evoked a media storm after she was admitted to the AIIMS Trauma Centre with severe injuries in 2012. “She had blood clots in her head that needed urgent surgery. The worst thing about the brain is that it cannot regenerate, unlike other parts of the body. We operated on her immediately.”
Chances of post-operation complications after brain surgery are higher in many cases. Once an injured brain gets infected, quick recovery for the patient is impossible. Often, he or she has to be put on ventilator support, increasing chances of chest and blood infection.
Despite much heartbreak, being a neurosurgeon is a rewarding profession. “It is a wonderful feeling when you come out of the operation theatre and tell a patient’s relatives that the operation has been successful. Their happiness makes you feel you have been able to give something back to society,” says Sinha.
The Government of India plans to set up 150 trauma centres across all national highways. Sinha, who was a part of the committee meeting held at the Ministry of Health says that the country does not have people to man these units. “Most doctors will be reluctant to work in the centres in the outskirts of the city,” he says.
Neurosurgeons should listen to what the patient is asking, convince him/her for the surgery and counsel them well.