Dr Rukmani Lobo, a palliative care physician in Goa, told us this story from Nagpur during her work with the hospice Snehanchal:
Snehanchal has social workers posted to stay near the registration desk in a major government hospital. (This privilege of occupying some space in a corridor was obtained after some long struggles; but eventually the powers permitted it.). The social worker’s role was to find people who needed palliative care and to direct them to the hospice.
One day, a social worker found a man and his wife lying helpless in a miserable state outside the hospital. A chowkidar was asking them to move away; but the man obviously was unable to. He had a nasty cancer on his cheek on which maggots were crawling about and feeding themselves. The hospital had told him the usual, ‘There is nothing more we can do. Go home and come back after a week for review.’
If only they had told him not to come back, they would have somehow gone to their village. But here he was having to come back to hospital. Strange, isn’t it? He is rejected without his wound with maggots being treated; yet the doctor’s word seems to be law to them.
The social worker wanted to take him to the hospice. Initially the family was reluctant to go. There was clear lack of trust in humanity! But after some persuasion, and after clear promises that no payment will be required, they accepted the invitation, possibly because they had little choice. The man and his wife were taken to the hospice.
The loving care cleared the wounds of maggots. The man lived there for nearly a month and died.
But the story does not end there.
A month later, a group of villagers led by the man’s wife came to the hospice. They carried several heavy sacks with them. They would not say what they wanted; they wanted to see the founder-director, Mr Jimmy Rana. The staff explained that he had gone back home for the day. But the family was insistent, “Just call him and let us talk to him.”
They obliged. Mr Rana came on line. When he learnt that it was the dead man’s family, he agreed to drive back to the hospice.
The sacks that the villagers brought had several jars of eatables and a jar of money too. That was the ritual; all the villagers would chip in with money and food stuff with which the family would host a feast. The villagers would enjoy the feast and then the man’s soul would be set free.
But in this case, the villagers had got together and decided that the usual ritual just wouldn’t do. They decided that they would not have the feast. Everything collected including all the money was to be donated to the hospice. They could think of no better way of setting the man’s soul free.
When we talk about the community participation in Kerala, too often we get an immediate response, “All that may happen in Kerala. It wouldn’t happen in our place.”
We are sharing the above story for the attention of everyone who believes in that line. There are people like these villagers, in every place. Maybe the busy habits of city-dwelling may have changed some, but deep inside there would be a lot of people in any community who would be willing to help those around them. They just need a facilitator who shows them the way to putting their humanity to practical use.