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Saturday, September 25, 2021

A dharmic doctor on wheels

When  karuna (compassion) and skill converge, rooted in dharmic soil through actions (karma) fired by passion and purpose, Dharma blooms.

“Life is all about discovering your purpose. And  purpose is all about what makes you happy and fulfilled,” says Dr. C. Swaminathan, 33, Madurai-based emergency medicine specialist who runs a home  care service Doctor on Wheels that offers home care medical services for diverse populations, with a special focus on the elderly.

When Dr. Swaminathan speaks, he sounds like an anachronism that has survived the passing years when cyclones of change have swept through the medical landscape across the globe.

“The smiles and folded hands of grateful patients are all I need to keep me going,” says the doctor, who is a Canadian citizen, matter of factly.

Hearing him talk whips up nostalgia for a time and age where life was simple and people lived  their values. For example, that was a time when  doctors made housecalls. The family doctor was our go to person for the slightest cough and cold and was regarded as ‘family’ and  ‘consulted’ even on  non-medical matters….when the practice of medicine  was  an art; a seva or service and  health care was not  yet industrialised and corporatized.

Born in Toronto, Canada, Dr. Swaminathan’s parents divorced when he was very young and he was raised by his  mother Ganga Chandramouli, whose “dynamism and aspirations for her children” was the wind beneath her children’s wings that helped them sail swifter, faster and higher until  each of them discovered their calling.

Dr. Swaminathan recalls that he was a misfit in the multi-cultural Canadian society where even in school “boys indulged in gang wars and other escapades.” He attributes his strong  moorings in the traditions and culture of his birth country that  enabled him to stay strongly rooted and resist acculturation and assimilation by default.

The yearly trips to Trichy in Dakshin Bharat where his maternal grandmother and great grandmother  lived were  vacations that young Swaminathan eagerly anticipated.

“I was raised by three strong  women. My great grandmother Saraswathi and grandmother Thangam Vaideeswaran, 74, were my role models. My great grandmother Saraswathi lost her husband early and  was a single parent to her  four children. They were brave, bold and straightforward women who had zero tolerance for deviousness and dishonesty,” recalls Dr. Swaminathan.

Dr Swaminathan

Dr. Swaminathan’s social activism (through healthcare) certainly seems to have  a genetic inheritance. Grandmother Thangam Vaideeswaran is an activist for the cause of women’s empowerment, especially that of women widowed or abandoned by their husbands.  In order to empower such women economically, she has trained them in making traditional snacks. Thus emerged Periandavar Catering Services, (2001) staffed and manged by women, who supply snacks to well-known retail chains in Trichy.

As a  teenager, Dr. Swaminathan says that he was fascinated by  law and  even got admission into prestigious law schools in Canada. However, his mother decided that her son’s career lay in medicine and thus the law school dreams were nipped in the bud. He came to Bharat to complete his graduation in medicine and post graduation in emergency medicine at a well-known private medical college and university in Salem, Tamil Nadu.  He “fell in love with the country and decided to stay in Bharat because he wanted to make a difference, however tiny, in the lives of people to whom it mattered most.”

“During my growing up years I was fascinated by reality TV shows set in the ICU and emergency departments of hospitals. There was drama, action and so much of life saving possible. Even back then I decided that my career as a doctor lay in emergency medicine,” recalls Dr. Swaminathan about how his simple wish of long ago is now a reality for him.

Dr. Swaminathan worked for eight years in the emergency medicine department of a well-known hospital in Madurai.

“I had a ring side  view of how so many patients had to be denied admission because of non availability of beds in the ICU and  also because they could not afford the cost of treatment. I was also reminded of the NHS (National Health Service)  model of public health in the UK and Canada  that provided geriatric care services at  affordable prices. In my own experience as an emergency care physician  at Madurai, it was obvious that  several geriatric health issues can be managed effectively through home care services that reached health care to people’s homes. It is cost-effective quality care  and patients recover faster in the familiar surroundings of their home surrounded by  their loved ones and hygienic and tasty home cooked food. It was a pragmatic alternative to the exorbitant costs of institutionalised medical care,” reflects Dr. Swaminathan.

Although the security of a stable monthly pay check was  nearly impossible to overlook, Dr. Swaminathan felt stirrings of discontent; a deep dissatisfaction with the status quo. He yearned to make a difference in the delivery of health care; even if it were just a blip on the radar screen.

“I tried presenting the complementary model of home-based health care services to several well-known hospitals in the city, including the hospital where I was working. It was unanimously shot down as ‘impractical’. I realised that there were many people to put a person down; but few to pick you up,” admits Dr. Swaminathan candidly.

Paradoxically, the rejections and dismissals fuelled his desire to take the plunge.

“It was a leap  of faith. I had to choose between  profession and a passion and I chose the  latter, ” says Dr. Swaminathan about his decision to quit his well-paid job and follow his heart.

Doctor on Wheels and its  parent body Selvi Health Clinic, began its operations on September 16,  2019. The inspiration for this venture is Dr. Swaminathan’s father-in-law  P. Chandrasekaran who believed in “my dreams and aspirations” and encouraged him to persist despite the odds. Dr. Swaminathan’s wife  Gomathi Swaminathan “is my backbone, she made me a human being. She has been supportive in every possible way and her sacrifice and unconditional support has enabled me to do what I do  because she realises it is for the greater common good,” says Dr.  Swaminathan.

Currently, Doctor on Wheels  has an ambulance that has the requisite infrastructure such as a portable X Ray machine, oxygen canisters, defibrillator, intubation kit, lifesaving medicines  to offer affordable  home care services in and around the vicinity of the area in Madurai where Selvi Health care Clinic is located.

“We charge anywhere between Rs. 200 to Rs. 500 for a visit depending on the distance and this  covers only the fuel cost. We don’t charge for consultation and consumables,” says Dr. Swaminathan whose team also shifts patients  for hospital admission, if required.

Dr. Swaminathan’s small but efficient team includes Mr. P . Chandrasekaran, CEO; T. Pandi Meena, staff nurse;  Vijay (administrator) and Kasi Raja, clinic assistant. The team has also been providing home-based care service for people with COVID infections and also undertakes distribution of face masks free of charge for the public as part of their efforts to inculcate COVID appropriate behaviour in people.

Currently, awareness about the services provided by Doctor on Wheels has  largely been through word of mouth. Dr. Swaminathan’s dreams include establishing a state of the art rehabilitation home for people impacted by trauma, spinal cord injuries, neurological disorders, cancer and  alcohol and substance dependence and a centre for geriatric care.

Dr. Swaminathan is a deeply religious person and  was named by the seer, the  Mahaperiyava of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham, whose divine vision and blessings is the guidance and inspiration for his work.

“Before I die, I would have liked to offer rehabilitation services free of charge for 20,000  people with cerebral palsy,” says Dr. Swaminathan whose life is aligned to the dharmic ideal of “In doing what I am doing, what am I really doing?” Dr. Swaminathan can be content with having  discovered the “right” answer in  a dharmic context—a challenge that many may not even want to engage with.


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Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a communications professional,  author and researcher in Indic Studies.  She is a Contributing Editor with the HinduPost. She loves to wander in the forests with her camera. 

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