Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The good doctor

It was 1957 and the 'Asian Flu' had begun to spread out from China, where it had originated. Memories of the Spanish Flu of 1918 were quite fresh; when a second wave of the Asian Flu began in 1958, it caused general panic in the regions it struck. Madras was not immune to it and hundreds in the city fell ill and the doctors had a field day, trying out all kinds of concoctions on suffering patients. Each of them had his own presciption, in all probably mixed up by a loyal 'compounder', jealously guarded and claiming greater efficacy than that of competitors. It is not surprising that all these doctors raised a hue and cry when, in an interview to a popular weekly, Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar suggested that the tablet 'Elkosin' was probably the best cure for the raging 'flu. They claimed that Dr. Guruswamy had violated medical ethics by naming a specific brand.

Their alarm was well-founded. Dr. Guruswamy had made his reputation by keeping his mouth shut, listening to his patients, relying on 'percussion diagnosis' even where it was not traditionally used. Though well off, he was modest and frugal; and yet, Dr. Guruswamy would never treat anyone, no matter how poor, without a fee, because he was convinced that if anything was free, it was without value. His brilliance in medicine meant that he could not be denied a full professorship at the Madras Medical College - and so he became the first Indian to hold the post of Professor of Medicine, in the early 1920s. This was the man who had been interviewed during the 'flu epidemic and had voiced his opinion on the mode of treatment. According to him, the service of humanity overruled the ethics of the profession in this situation.

Dr Guruswamy died that same year, 78 years old and still capable of rattling the 'modern' doctors of his time. When a bridge was built near where he lived in Kilpauk, there was only name that could be given to it - a name that it continues to bear today!


Stefan Jansson said...

That is some story.

LVISS said...


chorinchath said...

I think the Dr was rightin accepting money if you go by a Dr's comment that he when once observed that the patient was poor prescribed drugs & told him not to pay. The patient came out & told others that as the Dr did not know his exact disease he merely prescribed some placibo or so !

Shantaram said...

@ Steffe: Thanks!
@ Lviss: Hmmm... and the fly flew, too? Time you got some new tongue twisters!
@ Narayanan: Haha - that's a good one!