The Braveheart Orthopaedic Surgeon
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
The stunned auditorium was hijacked by shame. Nearly a thousand paralysed audience helplessly watched the ongoing horrific drama.
It was the annual day function, the only colourful evening in the year that the whole staff, the Dean, all teachers, resident doctors and students from all batches come together in the medical college. Extraordinary talents that the doctors otherwise have to sacrifice for lack of time: Singing, Acting, Music etc. resurface this one night. I was still in my first year.
Midway through, one resident doctor climbed upon the stage. He was a strong leader, a good student when sober, and had a strong political support, hence usually had his way around everyone. He was excessively drunk. He took charge of the microphone. Few of his friends, some also drunk, were guarding the doors.
“Our Dean is a drunkard. He is also corrupt, he takes bribe from everyone for everything. He is having an affair with this professor of XYZ department. I order the dean to come here on the stage and apologise after I slap him”.
This was beyond anyone’s imagination. One of the teachers requested the drunken offender to please come off stage, but received a flurry of obscene abuses. There was a silence that prayed for relief from this situation.
Dr. Devendrasingh Paliwal got up from the audience.
“Chal, bahot ho gaya drama. Main aa raha hun. Karle kya karega. This is not the place for your allegations. Get down”. Devendra was always known for his physical fitness, and had an intimidating personality. Straightforward and kind, he had almost no enemies.
He went to the stage, grabbed the mic from the offending drunk, handed it over to the MC, and brought down the drunken resident. Within a moment some others joined him to avoid the impending scuffle. The dean and many teachers felt the relief of a lifetime.
Those who anticipated fun at the cost of misery to others were of course disappointed, but at the beginning of my medical career I learnt one of the most valuable lessons of my life: It takes one man to be courageous, not a herd. If you have guts to get up and protest the wrong, there is a fair chance you will succeed. A good man’s fear is the bad man’s strength.
That night at 2 AM, after the programme I went with my friends to the hotel near the railway station for tea. Too much excitement prevailed. Devendra was sitting with his friends at a nearby table. I went to him and introduced myself. He smiled as if nothing special had happened, shook hands and told me “Kisike baap se bhi kabhi nahi darne ka (never ever be scared of anyone).”
We became good friends, we also shared a common mess. Studying at night and going to the railway station (6 kilometres away) for a tea break at 3 AM was also common, and Devendra often asked others to race him to run back those 6 kms after the tea. I can proudly say that I reached second, although a good two minutes after him!
He became an orthopaedic surgeon and started his own hospital, but his ‘Gene’ of fighting injustice and standing up for the good never left him. Stress and anger can be a big hindrance for a doctor, especially a surgeon, so he decided to drown his ‘stress-anger’ into exercise. Always a fitness icon himself, even today he does two hours of cycling and an hour of gymming. “It helps me concentrate better during my practice and surgery, and also keeps me totally fit” he says.
Few years ago, a doctor was arrested in a typical example of a hyperreactive populist system. This was illegal, but many a times the system gets away with the illegal more fluently than the citizen. Dr. Devendrasingh Paliwal was the president of the local IMA (Indian Medical Association) chapter. He took the system, police and politicos “Head On” as was his nature always. The city’s hospitals shut down. This enraged the politicos but encouraged the medical fraternity to unite like never before, and the doctor, wrongfully in police custody for 8 days, was released!
Dr. Devendra then worked to straighten out the relations with the system, and formulated a “Modus Operandi” involving the police and local politicians to protect the interests of both patients and doctors so that goons and petty politicos do not blackmail either. If only all the IMA chapters follow this lead (and I must also mention the excellent IMA unity and extraordinary leadership in Goa: Dr. Sam Arawattigi, and Kalyan: Dr. Prashant Patil), half the irregularities and injustice against doctors and patients will disappear.
“I have always kept friendship, professional courtesies and Humanity above my medical practice” Devendra says, “I take it for granted that it is my duty to treat free those who cannot pay”.
It is pathetic today to see many brilliant doctors working in perpetual fear under those who exploit them, by choice or in desperation, accepting humiliating and patient-unfriendly working conditions.. People like Dr. Devendrasingh Paliwal are a hope our profession can look upto.
All other things may change, but the value of fitness, courage in one’s heart and a kind nature that compels one to help others are some things which will never change their place as the best three human virtues.
Medical careers are drenched with excess hard work, stress and anxiety. The one training that the doctors in making must inculcate from the beginning is that of physical and mental fitness. Doctors leading a stressful life and always having to present a ‘pleasant face’ to the patients and colleagues, either suffer their negativity alone or pour it out upon their family. Daily physical exercise is an excellent remedy of many frustrations that accompany medical practice. Dr. Devendrasingh Paliwal not only sets an example by doing this, he goes way beyond his duties to bail out others from difficult situations: medical, surgical and social.
I consider myself fortunate that I met this fearless braveheart fitness icon who infused the right “mantras” of courage and fitness into me at the beginning of my medical career!
Much obliged, Dr. Devendrasingh Paliwal!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande