A Matter of Faith (4)




 When I came to Bombay in 1958, I started admitting leprosy patients in the wards of the Plastic Surgery Department with all the other patients. They were cured patients. At first, people were a little queasy. But that did not deter me and I operated on the first patient without protests from anybody, proving that the fear and myths about leprosy are superficial and chiefly in the minds of doctors themselves. One of the greatest difficulties in the control of leprosy is the attitude of the medical profession which has an unscientific fear of this disease. You can hardly expect people to help rehabilitate leprosy patients if the doctors themselves will not touch them or if they use gloves and masks while handling them. Everybody warned me that the Plastic Surgery Department would never develop if I admitted leprosy patients into the ward-which was quite untrue. Nobody-neither doctor, nurse or wardboy or patient-ever objected. The only objection came from the leprologist of the hospital! He suffered from leprophobia and was afraid that he would have to admit leprosy patients to his Dermatology Ward with the example that I had set. He even threatened to inform the press about my indiscretion!


Be that as it may, we operated on a vast number of leprosy patients in the General Ward of the Plastic Surgery Department and I believe this was the first time in the world that leprosy patients were admitted in the wards of a general non-missionary hospital. If I have made any important contribution, I think it is probably this. Once the fear was overcome, doctors and researchers started seeing leprosy as an extremely interesting subject.

Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar.