Dr Savithri Devi

This interview was conducted by Dr. Neha Jain

What would prompt a young doctor to work at Shaheed Hospital, in remote Chhattisgarh, which is about 1166 km away from her hometown in Southern India? What were her motivations to choose to work in a rural hospital rather than preparing for her PG entrance tests, like most of her peers?

These questions were on my mind when I was asked to interview about Dr. P. P. Savithri Devi (MBBS 2014 batch), who hails from Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu and trained at MGIMS, Sevagram and is currently working as a Medical Officer with Shaheed Hospital in Balod, Chhattisgarh since her graduation.

Dr. Savithri recalls a happy and innocent childhood where being a girl child was never a hurdle for her to get a sound education or other opportunities thereafter. Her parents encouraged her to become a doctor. Her alma-mater MGIMS, Sevagram, Wardha has played a big part in the choices she has made and which reflect the higher purpose that she wants to fulfil as a doctor. Later whilst her parents were supportive of her decision to move to Balod they were concerned about her safety and wanted her to pursue an option closer home. However, they let her pursue her calling.

During the discussion, I also learnt how Shaheed Hospital was actually funded and built by the mine workers in 1980s to meet their own healthcare needs and that presently, it serves a large catchment area in and around the district of Balod. Dr. Savithri said that it was in her third year of MBBS studies when she learnt about Shaheed Hospital and its history and it aligned well with her own values and in that instant, she decided to work at this hospital post her medical studies.

On being probed regarding her motivation behind choosing service in the rural hinterland, Dr. Savithri reminiscences one particular instance that molded her thoughts and gave her the necessary enthusiasm and encouragement to pursue rural service. “During an interactive session at MGIMS, one of the senior professors narrated a story of a 2-year boy who had diarrhea and due to paucity of healthcare facilities in the remote village, the boy died on his way to a city hospital. In the end the professor asked all the students, as to WHO KILLED THE BOY? This question still lingers in my mind. I realized how important it is to fill in healthcare gaps in the rural areas because even a trivial ailment like diarrhea can cost the lives of people.”

Her normal days starts at 9.30 Am in the hospital with morning rounds. She primarily looks at general medicine as it is also her favorite subject. Once a week she is on emergency call and works through the night. Giving insights into her work she mentions how she treats a variety of patients in a day ranging from mild illness requiring simple counseling on diet to the more serious ones requiring urgent intervention.

She also mentioned how gratifying it is to work in a rural set up, like that of Shaheed Hospital as she can observe the direct and immediate impact of the service she provides and the difference it makes to the patients’ lives. “The need is so huge that your small presence can make a huge impact. The personal satisfaction is immense. A rural set up gives you a more holistic approach towards life.”

I asked her to recount one such story that gave her immense gratification and her reply had me full of admiration for her and for those like her on this chosen path.

“During the Covid peak we also had a malaria and scrub typhus peak going on simultaneously. These are much worse killers here, especially scrub typhus and leptospirosis, because they do not get diagnosed easily. We had this very young girl who had come in breathless and her saturation levels were at 34%. In rural areas patients perceive their illnesses differently and often the doctor does not get a textbook history of the patient. The patients normally come to us for two reasons- either when they have some really bad symptoms, or they stop eating. So, everything is either a negative history or sometimes you do not get any history at all. And then it is just the physical examination that tells you what happened. In this girl’s case, the same thing happened. All that the relatives were able to say is that they took her to some hospital where she was given IV fluids and then this girl started having breathlessness and collapsed. It was basically a case of heart failure due to her kidneys having failed due to the scrub typhus she had contracted. So, she was administered this magic drug called doxycycline. I call it a magic drug because we have seen it do wonders here. Once we started her on this course of medication, she recovered in 3-4 days and we were able to discharge her to go home, in time for her to appear for her exams. So from the jaws of death, she got back to complete life in three or four days. That was extremely satisfying for me. Even today when I lose a patient, I remember her and I say okay, you lose someone but you save someone else. It’s a bargain!! “

Dr. Savithri says that Shaheed Hospital is a predominantly nurse led set up and nurses form the backbone of the hospital. “We have such incredible female role models here who are doing such an incredible job coming from such difficult settings. Sometimes I feel like I cannot claim the female identity, because I have not faced any of the challenges that these women face. And especially the nurses here, who despite being educated, come from families that are very patriarchal, and are not supportive of their choices. Many of the them deal with alcoholic spouses, domestic violence issues etc, and in spite of that the kind of commitment they bring to their work is really incredible. The fervor they have to educate and empower their children is noteworthy. They are truly an inspiration. Standing within these circumstances, they still bring about empathy, they bring innovation into their work, which I think is really exemplary.”

At the end of the interview Dr. Savithri’s words resonated in my ears “your small presence can make a big difference”. Powerful and touching at the same time.

This women’s week I salute Dr. Savithri Devi and women like her, who are working relentlessly to make someone else’s life more hopeful and joyous.

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