“No man is too poor to afford first grade medical treatment”
I have wondered several times during my stay in Madurai if there is another person with my name wandering around out there, in search of answers to questions he is not even yet aware.
No, not someone identical to me, but someone with my name. You see, the reception I have received since arriving in Madurai, in particular at Meenakshi Mission Hospital & Research Center (MMHRC), has required me to complete a couple of quick Google searches for my name.
May be they think I am that guy.
Alas, in an act part vanity and part curiosity, I have not found another by my same name, only a couple of familiar photos of myself and links to webpages demonstrating my existence as a physician. Perhaps then, the death of my ego has led me into a severe case of “imposter syndrome”, as I don’t really think I have deserved the wonderful experience I have found.
When I alerted my old friend Prabu to the plans for my journey, unbeknownst to me, he arranged for quite the intricate itinerary in Madurai.
He had requested a copy of my Curriculum Vitae to share with the administration of his hospital (MMHRC) and Aravind Eye Hospital (which I visited yesterday), which I took as commonplace for a visitor to the institutions.
But since my arrival, I have been flanked by one or another personal guide affiliated with the institutions, providing me an in-depth understanding of their missions.
Given any minuscule belief in astrology, the idea that Prabu and I are Gemini with the same birthday, it is not surprising we practice medicine in institutions with extremely similar missions.
MMHRC operates under the auspices of every Indian having an opportunity to receive the best medical are possible, no matter their ability to pay. Above and beyond that, knowing that many of the patients they serve are beyond destitute (by both American and Indian standards), they encourage families to come with their sick loved ones and even provide 3 meals per day without charge.
Of course, they do they do care for Indians of means, even of particular wealth, and do in fact have distinct medical wards for these individuals. Yet, as a non-profit, the resources they are afforded by caring for Indians with wealth, are reinvested in the ability to care for innumerable Indians who have nothing.
The Meenakshi Mission, to which it is referred in short, is the largest private hospital in Madurai, with a near constant expansion plan, has increased its services to 850 in-patient beds and over 40 medical specialities in-house. The most eye-opening aspect of MMHRC has not been the medical care though, as modern medical techniques, pharmacology, and even hospitality have permeated some of the farthest reaches of the globe, but instead the community they have constructed.
There is a constant bustle about the campus, of which it should definitely be characterized, as the open-air nature makes it clear to see many individuals working in areas that may have been pushed to the background in an American hospital. It took nearly two days to make my way, with personal guide, to each of the individual medical units, the ancillary staff offices, and the on-site medical institution; each stop necessitated introductions, brief exchanges with nurses, ancillary staff, and innumerable physicians of varying rank.
Each of them brought a greater understanding to me about The Meenakshi Mission; each of them brought me a greater respect for their efforts on behalf of every man, woman, and child who came to them for help.
One of the more eye-opening experiences occurred while touring the para-medical institution on-site of MMHRC. The reception I received from third year medical technology students, who were in the midst of studying for their last exam before graduation, will leave a lasting impression. [Along our tour of the institution, my guide, Ms. P, asked me step into their room and wish them well.]
Not only did they stand up at attention the moment I entered the room, but when Ms. P introduced me as an American doctor a moment later, the looks on their faces went from respect to utter awe. I immediately had a groundswell of humility come across me.
I thought about asking Ms. P for a quick moment to compose myself, but my new identity as an American doctor quickly pushed those emotions deep into my subconscious, to be dealt with during reflection at another time. I provided them a quick thanks and wished them all the best in their future careers before moving on to another classroom.
The Meenakshi Vision, that “no man is too poor to afford first grade medical treatment”, transcends the delivery of antibiotics, the correction of broken bones, or emergent cardiac surgical intervention.
It includes the creation of the community I alluded to a moment ago; the people who create the hustle and bustle of the MMHRC are not only employees, but many of them, from the sanitation staff to the housing staff, to the nurses, to many of the doctors-in-training, live on the grounds of the Mission.
While touring the massive campus, I was harkened back to my readings and experiences at The Massachusetts General Hospital, where paintings and stories outside the Ether Dome documented how the physicians-in-training lived on the grounds of the hospital, creating the still-used term “Residents.”
Having just completed my Residency, and living within a stone’s throw of the hospital myself, I could relate to the ease of living so close to an all-encompassing job, but this was something on another level.
By the Mission providing housing and meals for the staff, most if not nearly all who came from destitute backgrounds, they could save a large portion of their meager earnings. In return, The Meenakshi Mission has created an intimate experience for its visitors and likewise for its employees, who are a large part of its mission.
In this way, the ethos of the institution can be carried out by each and every one of the care providers, but it has also become, based on my observations, part of the underlying thread of what it means to be part of a community of healers.