Cradled in the valleys of Silchar, Assam, beside the brown thick meandering river Barrak, laden heavy with silt, the Cacher Cancer Hospital makes a statement. Truly one of its kind, we discovered.
The airport boasts of only 2 flights a day and then it shuts down. Ours was the last flight in. We travelled 30 kms from the airport on roads that were almost non-existent. The goats lazily sunning themselves forced the car to swing around them not to disturb the relaxing animal and its family. More acrobatics to avoid deep potholes made the ride a true experience of living life on the edge, not knowing when your head might get knocked on the roof of the vehicle or when you’ll topple into the verdant paddy field that skirts the road. Of course, the beauty of the lush green fields and hutments with neat wooden fences provided a visual treat each time our life was saved by the expert steering skills of the driver, Laskar. On that 15th August, fervour of Independence Day was evident as every 20 metres the National flags adorned poles and children, adults, politicians, market vendors saluted the flag. Citizens in the heartland and beyond, insulated from cross border threats will perhaps miss the fervour and significance, but here this austere act of precarious life, typical of the border states takes on a reverent hue. We finally reached Cacher Cancer Hospital, our destination, to conduct a Leadership workshop. The air was oppressively heavy in stark contrast to the people who welcomed us with hearty smiles.
The discovery unfolds -Three small structures stood witness to pain, love and hope – the Administration office, the OP and the In-Patient ward. The challenges encountered were unique and they overcame them all in a manner that would put any sophisticated city hospital with expertly trained staff to shame. Cacher Cancer Hospital was a revelation in many ways.
Most patients were typically daily labourers who couldn’t afford the treatment. The hospital never turned them away for this reason but offered ways to fund their treatment. The patient often came from afar, sometimes reaching after a 5hr travel. The state of art biopsy and diagnosis procedures allowed tests to be done and treatment chart prepared, all in a day, keeping in mind their time constraint as most of them wanted to go home the same day. On occasions, the hospital provided accommodation for them to stay overnight. Patients often did not follow up on treatment. The medical team would then go to their homes to educate and deliver treatment to them and follow up on their progress. Satellite Clinics were set up in remote hamlets, visited routinely by the committed doctors and social workers. Fearing the loss of the day’s wages some deferred screening till the last stage of the disease. To enable early detection and timely treatment, temporary employment was offered, an experiment that has nudged more people to come for screening. Patients deserved a chance at a pain free life – a philosophy that has become a practice here. Doctors and nurses embraced their life’s purpose of service to humanity in its totality. Here is a hospital that truly understood pain and care.
The pathology department was just as proud as the IT department was, the nursing and pharmacy just as the administration was. They all took pride in the difference they made to human lives. An operating theatre technician could be seen sometimes tending to the garden, sometimes counselling or driving an ambulance in emergencies, as the need arose, going beyond the boundaries created by his role. A place where one of the most respected persons was the ayah who cleaned the toilets or the nurse who spoke with love. Positions and roles didn’t command respect here as much as humaneness did.
‘Death befalls all who are born, Life is to be joyful till the last breath, Live each day with joy’, it was humbling to hear the palliative care staff say this over and over, not giving up on the patient who sometimes awaits the call of death. A place where humanity was celebrated and revered. This culture was largely lived and propagated by the Director Dr. Ravi Kannan, chief surgeon, who after having left an enviable position at Adyar Cancer Hospital, Chennai, along with wife Seeta and daughter, took up the challenge of running the Cancer Hospital managed by a Trust in Silchar. Here was a person who is forever fascinated with life, its possibilities and its miracles. A man who never misses the birdsong on his way to work. On that 15th August when he met us, he was full of smiles, thrilled that now the Hospital can provide milk and eggs to more patients with the donation they just received. Simple Joys!
Cachar Cancer hospital one of its kind where they beat the odds of frugal resources with innovative use of what is available, where hope throbs even as pain stares you in the face, where love was above all.
Where the Chief Surgeon says “I don’t wear a watch because when I am with patients, time has no meaning, the watch only intrudes. Time at that point stands still for me.”
Where we were invited to teach leadership skills at a workshop – 3 days, 66 participants. We came away enriched with invaluable lessons in humility, service, commitment and gratitude. It was not so much the work they did as the attitude and joyful minds they brought to work that made the difference. Truly a discovery, in a remote border district.
We left Silchar with hope for humanity and prayers in our hearts.