“In Jesus’ name we pray….” It’s 8:15AM in the OPD block of Baptist Christian Hospital, Tezpur, Assam as Dr Koshy George closes the prayer. The benches of the OPD waiting room are arranged neatly in rows with the doctors, nurses and other staff of BCH all gathered for the daily morning devotion. At the door, dozens of patients line up waiting for the OPDs to open. Many of the patients even join in the devotion. Some of them have come from as far as Nepal and Arunachal Pradesh seeking healing for their ailments. Dr Koshy wishes everyone a good day and everyone disperses. Then like clockwork, the benches are neatly arranged in their original positions and the patients flood in. The day begins.
BCH was founded in 1951, by British missionary doctor Charles Merchant, to reach out to the poorest of poor. Its motto is “Fellowship for transformation through caring”. The logo of BCH was designed by our very own Rev. Anand Peacock. It shows 3 tea leaves representing North-East India being held in the hand of God. The hospital aims to provide quality healthcare at an affordable cost, in a region with very few hospitals. They try to make sure that no person is turned away for lack of money.
From humble beginnings as a single room dispensary, it has grown in size over the years to become a 200 bedded, secondary care hospital with a 12 bed High Dependancy Unit. As of 2016, it is the only hospital in radius of 280km which provides 24 hour emergency service. The hospital is run by a team of 20 doctors, including specialists in Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, OBG, Orthopaedics and Dentistry. This is far more than most mission hospitals, but even then they are understaffed, given the huge patient numbers.
While the others are beginning their day, over at casualty, Dr Rohan Thomas’ day is ending. Having been posted in emergency the previous night, Dr. Rohan has had a busy shift, with as many as 11 emergency cases including a neonate that required intubation. Exhausted, he hands over to Dr. Lydia Newton and heads out looking forward to some sleep at last.
At the HDU, Dr. Lydia John’s day has only just started, with 4 patients crashing in a matter of half an hour. After unsuccessfully trying to resuscitate the first 2, she moves on to the next. Dr. Rohan and Dr. Jonathan Holla come in to give her a hand. Despite their best efforts one of the patients doesn’t make it, but the other one does! Dr. Rohan offers to stay and monitor the patient, but Lydia ma’am tells him to go and get some rest, knowing that he has had a long night. At this point what strikes me is the amount the doctors at the hospital care for each other. They don’t have the same distance that a head of department would normally have with their staff. It’s like one big BCH family.
At the female medical ward, Dr. Shirley, a nun from the nearby convent and a senior doctor in the Department of Medicine, starts off her day with rounds. She goes to each of the 40 odd beds in the ward, taking time to talk to each and every one of the patients and their relatives. One can sense the trust that the patients have for Dr. Shirley. All of them perk up the moment she walks into the room
In the operation theatre complex, Dr. Sam Joel’s day has already begun. Despite having slept only at 5:30am after an exhausting 4 hour operation on a patient with a bowel obstruction, Dr. Sam is as energetic as ever. Sam sir is the only surgeon at BCH, so as one can imagine he’s got his hands full! His schedule for the day includes 2 laparoscopic appendectomies, 1 laparoscopic cholecystectomy, 2 inguinal hernioplasties and 5-6 minor procedures. On top of that, he is the resident endoscopist at BCH, so add 7 endoscopies to the list. All in all, sir has a long day ahead of him. Moving over to the OPDs, the day is under way. The waiting room is packed. The number of registrations is near 700 and its only 10 am. In the Paediatrics OPD, Dr. Wangram Athing is busy, at work. His OPD, undoubtedly the most colourful one at BCH, has one peculiarity. There is always music! A lover of music, Dr. Athing plays hymns at a low volume; he says that it calms him and the kids also enjoy it. He is adored by his patients, especially a little girl on treatment for malaria, who brings him a flower every time she comes for a follow-up visit.
At the OBG OPD, it’s another usual day. Dr. Shanti sees one of the hundreds of women who come to see her every day, when suddenly she gets a call. She runs to the casualty where a lady has come with bleeding PV. She makes a diagnosis of ruptured ectopic pregnancy and the patient is rushed to the OT. In the OT complex, while the patient is draped and prepared, Dr. Sam is getting ready to begin an operation. It’s 2:30 pm now and he hasn’t eaten anything all day. Dr. Pritham joins him to help complete the minor procedures for the day. As he starts the case, we notice something interesting. Sir, and all the theatre staff take a moment to pray for the patient before they start.
At the Medicine OPD, Dr. Lydia also receives a call, the fourth patient from the morning, is crashing again. She rushes to the HDU, but this time, despite their best efforts, the patient succumbs. With, no time to be upset, Ma’am goes back to OPD knowing that there are many more people who still require her invaluable services.
Fast forward a bit… It’s 7:30 PM. The closing time for the OPDs is 5:30 PM, but with the number of patients who come everyday, the OPDs here never close on time. By now, everyone is thoroughly exhausted. Some haven’t eaten anything all day, but they still speak to each patient with the same love and care as the first. When the last patient leaves the OPD, you can see the signs of relief on each person’s face. Around the same time Sam sir is also finishing up in OT. However, the day is still not done for the doctors of BCH! There is still the matter of night rounds…
During night rounds we follow Dr. Sam as he went to each and every ward in the hospital and asked the nurses if there were any patients who need his consultation. In the surgery ward, we run into Dr. Asolie Chase, BCHs oprthopaedician. Dr. Asoli is on leave, having been blessed with a baby just 2 days ago, but still has come in to check on one of his patients! By 9:00 pm, the evening rounds end and everyone goes back home for some well-deserved rest.
In this article, I’ve only brushed on what I saw on my first day at BCH during the mission trip. I have only mentioned a few of the people whom I had the privilege of meeting. Like them, BCH is run by a team of hundreds of dedicated people, all working towards a common goal, of ministry to the people of North-East India. This is what happens every day in mission hospitals all around the country. People like us going far away from their comfort zones to serve the people who need it the most, keeping with the way of Christ, God who came down from heaven “Not to be ministered unto, but to Minister” (Matthew 20:28). This defies human logic. The sheer love for their patients and dedication of the staff a BCH is something that is beyond humans, it can only come from God.
The 14 of us who went for the mission trip were only there for a week, but we agree that our entire perspective towards medicine has changed. God willing, I would love to go back there and work when I complete my degree, and I encourage all my college mates, both juniors and seniors to seriously consider working at a mission hospital for at least a year. If we learnt so much in a week, I can only imagine what a year can teach us.
By Rohan Jacob Verghese