It was the house collapse season in Mumbai…….Come rain and old multistory houses would collapse like houses of cards……The Sion Hospital had the first fully equipped trauma ambulance…..It was connected by short band radio to the Mumbai Fire Brigade….Our call sign for the ambulance was SA1…..
We were called out to the site of a house collapse in central Mumbai…..Several persons were feared trapped under the debris…..The team consisted of yours truly the trauma registrar, Anesthesia registrar, Nurse and two attendants…..
We reached the site post haste…..It was a bedlam as usual with a curious crowd of onlookers being pests as usual…..The cops were having a tough time controlling the crowd….
“Hi Doc” called out a dirt grimed fire officer, “over here”……I found out that there was a man trapped under a concrete beam. His leg was trapped under a heavy beam….It was not possible to extricate him…..We decided that he needed a through knee amputation to get him out…..It was pitch darkness…Typical Indian “Jugaad” produced an electric lamp….
The Fire Officer told me to wait….The debris was shifting and unsafe for us to go….But I had recently read Citadel by Cronin where the hero goes down into a collapsed mine and amputates a person’s leg to extricate him….I jumped in, not heeding the warnings..
It was damp, glowering darkness….There was an ominous creaking as the debris tried to settle….I realized that my so called heroism would get me and the team killed…..Suddenly a powerful hand gripped my collar and I was heaved up to the surface….It was the Fire Officer, face dark with rage…..”Do you want to commit suicide?” he hissed at me…”Wait for us to put supporting jacks”…
Suitably chastened I waited… Happily the patient was extricated by using pneumatic jacks and hoists….His leg was completely mangled and needed an amputation….In the safety of the OR in the hospital…..
“Aushadam Jahnaveetoyam Vaidyo Narayano Harih”. This was the benediction Mom used to recite before dosing with horrible tasting medicine…..The gist of the sloka was “May this medicine be like the waters of the Ganges and the physician Lord Narayana himself”…How we detested the medicine and the benediction that preceded it!
It was 1975 or 76 I think…..I was an Orthopedic resident at the Sion Hospital….I had examined a 12 year old boy…There was not an iota of doubt…It was osteosarcoma of the lower end of the femur…..Accompanying chest x-ray showed cannonball metastases in both lungs…..This was a death certificate if there was ever one….
“Baba” I said to the father, a weather beaten farmer from Kolhapur “Your son has cancer of the bone of his leg…His leg will have to be amputated at the hip” The father’s face paled with shock….”Will be survive after surgery, Doctor Baba? He is my only son”…”I cannot guarantee anything….His cancer has spread widely”….The father bore an inscrutable look…He said to me “My son is too young to die….I will not let you mutilate him…I will take him home”…..I tried to convince him..cajoling, threatening, pleading, but he was adamant. He took him home “against medical advice”…a term coined by hospitals that absolved you of all guilt…
It was 1980….I was a Lecturer hurrying to my outpatient clinic….Suddenly a voice spoke behind me “Doctor Baba…Kasa ahe? (how are you?)”…Looked back and saw the same weather beaten face, beaming. He had a strapping young man with him…”Olakhala ka? (did you recognize us?)” he asked….”You remember my son?..You wanted to chop his leg off…told me that he had six months to live”….It suddenly came back to me…The osteosarcoma! I examined the smiling youth….No sign of any tumor…no mets in the lung…”what treatment did you give?” I asked…”Nothing Doctor Baba…My Vithoba heard my prayers….He cured my son…..
I could not believe it…..On literature search, I found that spontaneous remissions and cures are reported in Osteosarcoma….A case for “Aushadam Jahnaveetoyam Vaidyo Narayano Harih?”