Seventeen years ago, a doctor in his late 40s fixed up a small hole in my tiny heart. I was then a toddler, little over three and I had difficulty playing for long. For me, he was just ‘Doctor Uncle’ in a big hospital. To others, he was the top cardiac surgeon of the country.
I was under his care for about two weeks. During that period, Doctor Uncle was in the hospital for over 18 hours every day. He made at least four rounds of our ward every day. After his early morning rounds, he would ‘disappear’ till late afternoon, possibly to fix the hearts of others.
In every visit he would spend a lot of time with each one of us. He would carefully go through the case sheets, discuss the line of treatment with his juniors, ensure that we had taken our medicines and end up with pep talk for each one of us. As for me, he would ask me how many toys I had, what I wanted to be when I grew up — and if I would remember him when I had grown up.
Doctor Uncle insisted that all his patients walk the length of the ward during most of our waking hours with both of our hands held up high. It was a post-operative exercise for early recovery. With adult patients, he was rather demanding on this routine. With me he was gently persuasive. As soon as the paramedic staff loudly announced his impending arrival, all of us would jump out of bed and start walking the length of the ward. And that was quite a sight — of robots in a gym rather than of patients in a hospital ward.
The day I was to be discharged, Doctor Uncle brought me a bar of chocolate. He blessed me and said, “From now on, you can run and play as much as you want.” His blessings have been with me all these years. As are the memories of a benevolent doctor. It was much later that I learnt that his name was P. Venugopal. I also learnt that he regularly donated a major portion of his salary for patients who could not afford even the subsidised treatment at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). He will retire one day from AIIMS, but never from my heart.