What the Vaidyan Prescribed and the Patient Desired!
By Sreekumar Raghavan
In my childhood days in Thiruvananthapuram, I was very much scared of going to a hospital- the smell of the surgical spirit, the sight of blood and ofcourse the scary syringe wielding nurses. I wondered why they were called angels!
Once, a small piece of sharp rock flew and hit my ankle when I passed by a worker who was hitting a rock hard with a hammer to break it into pieces for construction purposes. A piece of flesh went off from my leg and I had to be immediately taken to the nearby General Hospital. At the Emergency Room, a nurse and an attendant said it will have to be stitched and without anaesthesia it was indeed a nightmare. I don't know how much I shouted and cried. I was in fifth standard and for next fifteen days I didn't have to attend school as the stitch had to be taken off after five days and wound had to be healed. I remember my mom getting me a glass of lemon juice immediately after this ordeal, otherwise I would have fainted. Lot of onlookers came seeing my plight and sympathised with me.
At a still younger age, I remember being carried away by my mother in an emergency situation when my head was injured in a fall while playing with my brother at home. There was only one prescription- get it stitched that too without any anaesthesia. The old doc who did the job was full of confidence and I am sure he might have been just an MBBS with experience. A far cry from the modern times, when even minor surgeries are referred to senior surgeons.
The Vaidyan and Kashayam
It is not quite unusual for boys to fall sick or sustain injuries while falling but my greatest fear was going to a hospital. And it was indeed a pleasure to visit a homeo doctor who would give some sugar-coated pills which we would eagerly consume. One occasion, knowing my fear of hospitals, my father took me to a local vaidyasala (ayurvedic dispensary) when I had a swelling in my eyelid. Compared to a hospital, the Vaidyasala with its rich stock of ‘arishtams’ and ‘kashayams’ didn’t scare me . That is not the case with ‘arishtams’ that are difficult to gulp down the throat.
The chief Vaidyan in the vaidyasala who looked similar to our renowned Malayalam actor of yesteryears Thilakan looked at me very seriously and asked what is my problem. I said I can't open my eyes because of this swelling. Then he looked closely and said this is 'kakkotti' or 'kunkuru'. Then he opened a bottle and out came a few pills whose colour was light brown. He said it should be rubbed against a stone specially made for it by first making the stone wet. This will help create a brown paste that has to be applied to the affected area in my eyelid. Indeed, the next day morning the swelling had subsided- no pain, no medicine or injection! I was told that the local Vaidyan had learned the profession from his parents and not from any Ayurveda college.
I used to like the ‘Kooshmandarasayanam’ that my mother gave me for better growth and development quite worried about my skinny frame at that time. This rasayanam is supposed to be made of natural herbs and quite unlike the artificially stuffed nutritional supplements given to children these days.
The Great Indian Vaidyasala
Go to any Indian town or village,
despite all the super-speciality and multi-speciality hospitals you will find
homeopaths, ayurvaids,unani and naturopaths getting good number of patients to
remain in their profession. In one way, this provides a choice for the patients
and eases the burden on our otherwise overloaded public health system.
My Uncle who is no more (elder brother of my mother) was a doctor (more precisely a licensed medical practitioner-LMP). His qualification was a pharmacy diploma after 10th standard and might have worked for a decade in Government Medical College. There was a provision in the 1960's for paramedical staff to become LMPs based on their experience and passing a written exam. He left government service and started his own dispensary in the temple town of Ettumanoor which attracted large number of patients. His pleasing manners and ability to diagnose routine diseases was something even the present day MBBS doctors would envy. We used to observe this when we went on vacations to his house and stayed there. Me and my brother suffered from itches formed all over the body as an allergic reaction to playing on mud. My uncle and my cousin sister were the people who dressed the wounds and took injections daily to overcome it.
In the 1980's his dispensary business began to wane with the arrival of new breed of MBBS doctors but he managed to get a posting in AVT Estate in Thamarassery towards the fag end of his career. There again he was seen as God by the workers and employees of the estate. His pleasing manners and diagnostic skills were of great help here again. And he always had the option to refer complicated cases to nearby district hospital or medical college.
Now the modern medicine practitioners are worried about the new National Medical Commission Bill that will enable homoeopaths and ayurvaids to practice modern medicine by doing a bridge course of six months. I am not competent enough to comment on it. But I would say that any foreigner may be astounded by the variety of medical practitioners in India including bogus ones who are caught from time to time. Recently, in Azhikode, a spiritual person was attracting thousands of patients daily for diseases as complex as cancer and all that he gave was a powder and a local channel had aired some news about his magical powers. Among his patients included educated people, IAS officials, judges, businessmen as well as common people! In Kochi, a bogus doctor who was a specialist in piles surgery and treatment was caught a few years ago and his hospital sealed.
But there was one doctor in Trivandrum whom I used to consult for my son. His basic qualification was in homoeo (BHMS) but he went on to take additional degrees in modern medicine and Ayurveda. With the result he could practice all the three systems of medicine which made him busy throughout the day.
In many places even with adequate hospital facilities, people still go to a medical shop, tell the symptoms to the pharmacist and get medicines for everyday ailments. When my wife, a pharmacist, ran a retail medical shop business in suburban Trivandrum, we used to have such customers willing to pop up over-the-counter drugs or even prescription drugs. The reason was to save on money and time going to see a doctor in a hospital!
In my childhood, our shelves at home were filled with all sort of medicines -ayurveda, homeo, modern medicine and herbs. My mother had a problem called ‘Vatham’ for which she seemed to have first consulted an allopath and not satisfied went for Ayurveda. And for some reason, she also used to take homeo. Ultimately, this resulted in several half-consumed medicine bottles which had to be ultimately thrown away on expiry.
Why Vaidyans and Doctors Hate Each Other
You might have observed that
modern medicine doctors have an intense dislike or aversion to other systems of
medicine. Likewise, the homeo and alternate systems practitioners dissuade patients
from going to modern medicine. I don’t know why they don’t develop a healthy
respect for each other. Each system of medicine has its own merits and demerits.
I was struggling with sinusitis since college days and one ENT specialist even
suggested surgery for correcting my deviated nasal septum. I might have
consumed lot of anti-biotics and even tried Ayurveda kashayams. But I found the
best cure from a homeopath who happened to be my relative. He was able to cure
this persistent trouble in six months.
Dr MS Valiathan, the renowned cardiac surgeon and founder director of Sree Chitra Thirunal Institute of Medical Sciences spent a major part of his retired life researching and writing about Ayurveda. His book “Charaka Samhita” is an excellent rendering of the main teachings of Charaka especially his understanding of the human anatomy and surgical practices. That shows the greatness of this gifted surgeon who was willing to look for goodness in other systems of medicine.
Or take the case of Medimix Soaps owner Dr AV Anoop starting a new multi-speciality Ayurveda hospital in Kochi combing the traditional Ayurveda practices with the best diagnostics tools of modern medicine. (Read: https://tinyurl.com/yyj9ntrd).
When my father-in-law was diagnosed with retinopathy due to uncontrolled diabetes and couldn’t read a word, the opthalmologists recommended laser treatment which may also burn away good cells in the retina. That was when somebody suggested an Ayurveda doctor specialised in ophthalmology in Trivandrum. We consulted her and she advised two weeks of inpatient treatment consuming Kashayams, doing ‘dharas’ (oil based treatment) and other procedures. To our relief, his eye sight was restored and now can read and also watch television without much discomfort.
remember a tourism department seminar on Kerala Heritage organised two decades
ago in which several speakers talked about out architecture, nature, art and
traditions. Most of the Kerala traditions such as going to temples had multiple
benefits other than the spiritual. The women wake up early in the morning, take
bath and go to a temple. And the priest gives ‘prasadom’ which consists of
flowers and also tulsi leaves. Women put it on their hair and it has medicinal
properties which keeps them healthy and free from common ailments. The aal maram or the banyan tree is believed to
emit ‘ozone’ and hence good for calming the mind. The speaker said that
psychiatrists have the habit of putting a small refill of ozone in the air-conditioner
in their clinic so that it calms the mind of the patient. (The scientific part
of these I am not too sure).
The National Medical Commission Bill has already raised controversies and protests across India. Despite all the talk of advances in medicine and surgical practices most of the places in our country are still served by the kind of people I have mentioned but all of them may not be quacks nor all of them competent in doing their job. As can be seen from the several news reports including the recent one from Kottayam Medical College about a woman wrongly diagnosed with blood cancer and given chemotherapy, all is not well with the allopathic practitioners as well.
In an article in Malayala Manorama, Dr A Marthandan Pillai, a renowned neurosurgeon and former national President of Indian Medical Association says there are only 5000 vacancies of doctors to be filled up in primary health centres in India and this can well be done by increasing seats in government colleges. The sad part is that medical practitioners themselves are not aware of some of the ground realities about how the common man views diseases and treatment. What I feel is we need a diversified system of medicine that caters to the requirements and most important is affordability and accessibility especially in rural areas.
Tailpiece: Kerala Government was the first to come up with the revolutionary idea of ayurvedic students to be taught surgery in final year along with MBBS students when A C Shanmughadas was the Health Minister which was vehemently opposed by MBBS students. India Government has gone far beyond what A C Shanmughadas envisaged and enabling homeopaths and ayurvaids to practice modern medicine.