Fourteen thousand and counting – Our Blessings

This morning the whiteboard in my room says 14009 Active patients in India . By now I don’t think the numbers matter any more . Whether it is 14,000 or 1,400 or 140 or just 14 ,I think all of us giver our total commitment to our patients. And it is not just us ; the patients themselves too give wholeheartedly – factoring the calamity that has befallen them into their lives ,they too reach out and give total total commitment to whatever cause they espouse . And I know everyone will agree they give us so much more than we give them .

Let me tell you about 44 year Anil who comes from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh. When Anil speaks he exudes such energy and envelops everybody in his honest, searching gaze that one cannot but be drawn to him and become totally involved. His twinkling eyes blaze fierce and proud and shine from his bearded face – no one can resist being moved and he carries the whole 200 strong packed auditorium with him when he speaks.

I wonder if I can do justice to him but I can still try.

Anil used to be a vegetable vendor .

He lived with his wife and two young children and after his diagnosis five years ago, had to stop his small business as he was unable to cope with the physical exertion his work involved. He will never forget his neighbors and friends who supported him through that agonizing period when he had to go from doctor to doctor and literally from pillar to post before he was guided to Tata Memorial Hospital for effective treatment.

He does not hide the despair he felt at that time. He tells us how he simply packed a bag and set out for Mumbai once he knew this was where he could access treatment ; the best and least inexpensive too.

Then he talks about his fist ever visit to the teeming metropolis that is Mumbai and how he felt such positive energies flood his being once he breathed the balmy air that blew in from the sea. He is told at the hospital that it is a long weekend due to some National holiday and he should go back and come after four of five days.

When you do not know anyone in Mumbai and funds are scarce, finding shelter is well nigh impossible so it seemed to be sensible advice he was being given. But Anil, as we say in the local lingo here is made from a different kind of clay.

He was in Mumbai and whatever was in store for him, he was not going away till he met the doctor and heard from “the best cancer hospital “what was wrong with him.

And, he tells us , eyes shining with mischief at the recalled memory ; it was Mumbai ! that Mecca of every self respecting Indian who at least once in his lifetime needed to walk the streets which he had heard were paved with gold .

And suppose the God above did indeed call him up suddenly ( after all he had blood cancer people told him)he would not shame himself by saying oh yes I went to Mumbai but came back as everything was closed or stayed put till everything opened !! His God would never forgive him! He was sure to ask him You were in Mumbai and stayed indoors??? Did not even go to eat Pani Puri at Chowpatty ??

Anil , that irrepressible and diehard fan of this city was not going to be idle but spend the days he was given exploring the city and enjoying every minute of his “ borrowed “ time here till the hospital “imprisoned “ him again. This way he tells us, he could tell his Bhagwan, his God, when he did eventually meet him that he spent his time wisely and well.

Anil then had to wait till the audience stopped laughing to continue with his testimonial. Everyone agreed he had done the wisest thing in the world. I remember Anil’s first visit to our office and being totally overawed by the simple courage and acceptance of his situation by this exhausted but still vibrant man from Meerut. Of course I only got to know him gradually, over the periodic visits he made to Mumbai. But his bright presence and easy, happy demeanor always dusted off a little bit on us and we would all be smiling after one of his visits .

Now all the others were getting a glimpse of this amazing man.

Anil then went on to share what almost all the others in the room had gone through.

The waiting in line to make the file , the consultation with the doctor , the confirmation of the diagnosis , the finality of letting cancer into his life and the procedure for accessing the “magic drug” .

Today, Anil has relocated himself to Mumbai. Having been given another life he wants to spend it as fully and wisely as possible. He says the only way he can do it is by repaying all the good his friends and family, his doctors, Novartis and The Max Foundation have done for him. And what does he do in Mumbai? He has taken the responsibity of guiding and helping all new patients who come from outside the city and are lonely, lost and looking for that very helping hand. He stays at the lodge for outstation patients in a suburb in North Mumbai and is the lifeline for all those who come looking for treatment in this city. He has mobilized a group from where he stays who help in going to the railway station as part of a reception committee to welcome and guide new patients and caregivers. He accompanies patients to the hospital and helps them with the intimidating procedures of admission and treatment. He is never without an encouraging word or comforting smile.

And as you can see from the photographs Anil and his family are regulars at our meetings and he is never hesitates to shake a leg or lend a helping hand !!

Let us all doff our hats to Anil a true Friend of Max and friend in need to anyone who needs a helping hand !!!

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