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’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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