Dr. Panchapakesan Ramachandran was the most amazing doctor I have met. Doctors in general speak less (including Dr. Mohan Ram, my close friend) and seniors in the profession speak even less. Dr. Ramachandran was an exception. He made everyone comfortable with his kind words spoken with compassion.
Apollo Hospitals Chennai pioneered Heart Surgeries in India in the mid eighties. Before that, one had to depend on General Hospitals (long waiting periods) or go abroad which only the rich and politicians could afford. Dr. Reddy revolutionized the concept of affordable Heart Surgeries and Apollo became the sought after hospital where people from all over India came for treatment. The reception area of Apollo looked like general waiting hall of Central Station, the only difference it had air conditioning. Patients and their attendendants swarmed the hospital, arriving directly from the station.
My father had an heart attack in the winter of 1988 and Mohan Ram referred him to Dr. Ramachandran. He arranged for an angiogram. It was the first time we learnt those unpronounceable words, Angina, Holter tests, Angiogram, myocardial infarction & Bypass surgery. Our schoolmate Dr. Umapathy was an understudy to Dr. Ramachandran at Cardiac Lab at that time and Mohan Ram was a budding doctor general physician.
Dr. Ramachandran said a bypass surgery was necessary and gave a budget. We were short on cash, father had no big insurance cover. We decided to go for the surgery in another private hospital which had just come up. When my father was on the operating table, a crucial piece of equipment failed which resulted in postponement of the surgery. To cut the long story short, after waiting for couple of months for the malfunctioning equipment to come into good repair, we relized we could not afford to wait any longer and went back to Dr. Ramachandran at Apollo. He did not even show a face to indicate, ‘Did I not tell you, it is better to do this in Apollo,’ but assured us that he would fix up a date with Dr. Girinath and made all arrangements.
Dr. Girinath, who, I am told entered in Guinness Book of Records for performing most number of bypass surgeries was other end of the spectrum compared to Dr. R. He spoke less even by Doctor’s standards. Probably he reserved all his energy for doing complicated surgeries at breakneck speed. He spoke about half a dozen sentences a couple of days before surgery and seven words after the surgery, ‘The surgery went well and the patient is fine.’
Dr. Ramachandran gave regular updates about the patients to their attendendants. He was like an umbilical cord connecting us to the patient lying in ICU, recovering after surgery. He had his cup full from morning to night. Patients in OP in the morning and evening, Angiogram studies in the lab, checking on the patients who are in surgery or recovering in ICU.
After his evening OP at the hospital which invariably exceeded the appointment hours, he would check on his patients at ICU and emerge out of it. And then we all would mob him for a information about the patient. It would be definitely past 10.30 in the night. And he would answer all the questions thrown at him. He answered in at least four or five languages. English, Tamil, Hindi, Telegu and if I am not mistaken a smattering of Marathi. To an outsider it would look more like a rock star being mobbed by adorable fans and not a doctor addressing anxious relatives.
He would recognize me as I was the schoolmate of Dr. Umapathy and Mohan Ram and I would walk with him a few paces and make some comments and he would answer them with great sense of humour.
I would be dumbstruck. Here was a man who came into hospital at about 7 AM in the morning and at 11 PM in the night he had this great energy to talk, make comments and cut jokes. He was a kind of hero and role model. It was one of those rare moments I felt, I should have become a doctor. (Naga I can hear your mind voice – Thank God You did not become one and thus saved the world). Seriously, he left an impact so powerful in those two or three days when my father was in ICU.
During follow up visits, when I accompanied dad, we used to wait for hours to meet him. No appointments. But I was eager to do that and it was the only time I would have waited for anyone without getting irritated, well almost. The two minute meeting after two hours of waiting would be worth it, just to say ‘Hello Doctor’ and listen to him. I always came back happy not just because he was reassuring that dad was doing well, but just meeting him always taught me something, his ability to handle anxious patients, his actions during an emergency, his choice of words which he combined with wit.
Over the years, Mohan Ram referred hundreds of patients to Dr. Ramachandran. Few years later, I brought my uncle from Mumbai to see him and he remembered me and enquired about my father. Cut few more years, during one of my visits to Chennai, Mohan Ram arranged an appointment with him and I met him for advise. This was probably in 1996 or 97 and I did not have a chance to meet him after that. Mohan Ram used to mention that he met the doctor in a conference or dinner and we used to rewind to the days when my father was treated by him. When I met Dr. Umapathy, a Senior Cardiologist with Vijaya Hospital now, the first question I asked him was, “How is Doctor Ramachandran?”
Usha, my sister in law, sent me a message in the morning and asked me if this was the doctor who treated Appa. The message carried the sad news that Dr. P. Ramachandran had passed away on 6th of June.
I mentioned that he is one of the doctors I respected most and more importantly it is doctors like him which make us treat doctors like God.
Dr. Panchapakesan Ramachandran, was a well renowned doctor, an admired teacher, a man with superb sense of humour and above all, one of the most adorable human being. RIP Doctor.