For more than a decade, Dr G.M. Phadke, Dr A.V. Baliga and Dr Shantilal Mehta dominated the surgical field in Bombay. I was personally associated with these surgeons as their anaesthetist and witnessed some of their memorable surgical work.

I have not come across anybody so kind and humane as Dr.Phadke in all my life. He was undoubtedly a brilliant surgeon. To him goes credit of introducing many surgical procedures for the first time Hospital. His work on male infertility, with special reference to surgical vas reconstruction, was a pioneering effort in the country. He held a record in the quantum of operations he performed and what was even more admirable his success rate was one of the best. I have seen surgeons coming from all over the country and abroad to watch his operative technique of vaso-epididymo and vaso-vasal anastomosis.

I was with him once when he received the news that one patients had at last been successful in fathering a child after years years of sterility. The operation he had performed had been successful. His eyes sparkled and I noticed that they were moist when he told me the always remembered his patients by their first name and treated them as his own relations. He was totally involved with the joys and sorrows of his patients. He would laugh with them and share their moments of happiness and he could just as easily cry over their misfortune. His interest gradually shifted to Family Planning and he made it his mission in the last few years of his life to contribute his mite to the Family Planning Programme. He wanted to do his bit to check the population explosion and refused to either operate or lecture when invited if they had no bearing on family planning. Cruel fate was to snatch him away. In his passing away I lost one for whom I had unbounded admiration.

For Dr Phadke, the K.E.M. patient was as important as patients in his private nursing home. On one occasion, I was booked by him to give anaesthesia to a patient who was suspected to have cancer of his stomach. It was a major surgical procedure. I was told to be at K.E.M. at 8.00 a.m. sharp. Dr Phadke was very particular in such matters and if he said would be at the hospital at 8.00 a.m. one could be sure he would be fifteen minutes ahead of time. He expected the same respect for punctuality from others. He always gave K.E.M. top priority.

On this particular occasion, we both entered the operation theatre together, and were about to change when the House Surgeon came running in to say that there was no blood was available and the operation had to be postponed. Dr Phadke hated to postpone an operation out of sympathy and understanding of the patient he blew up in right royal style. Once he calmed down, he inquired about the patient's blood group. You should have seen his face brightening when he heard the answer.

Turning to me, he said: "Bhojraj, do you have your driver with you today?” When I said yes, he went on: "In that case will you please send your car to my residence and get Manu to come here immediately?" To my questioning look he replied: "You see, her blood group is the same as this patient's!". Manu was Mrs Manutai Phadke, Dr Phadke's wife. Sure enough she obeyed the summons as fast as she could. Her blood was cross matched and everything was found to be in order, Mrs Phadke gave her blood without a word being uttered and left soon after. The operation was completed and all was well. Mrs Phadke had donated her blood to a poor patient voluntarily without the slightest hesitation. It left an indelible mark on my mind. This was a fabulous couple!


Let me recount another incident.

I hail from Nagpur. A close friend of mine, Sabnis (a fictitious name) also from Nagpur who was working in an American company found himself out of job because the company was closed down. He lived in a single room tenement in Dadar. He had a daughter and a son. To finance their education, his wife decided to educate herself first and was attending college. One morning on her way to college, she felt unwell and dropped by to see her family physician, one Dr R, who gave her an injection in the arm. This family physician was also a friend of mine and I had introduced him to the Sabnises. Late in the afternoon as Mrs Sabnis came back, she began to get excruciating pain at the injection site and her arm began to swell unaccountably. At this point, I was called in. I noted that Mrs Sabnis had blisters --like burns. Clearly a wrong injection had been administered. Dr R said on inquiry that he had given a Vitamin B12 injection but later admitted that he could be wrong and the syringe had been filled by his compounder. By nightfall, Mrs Sabnis was in severe pain and the swelling of her arm had increased. I took Mrs Sabnis to Dr Phadke's private nursing home. She was admitted and kept under observation. Next morning Dr Phadke and I went to see Mrs Sabnis in her room and when the dressing was opened, we were shocked to see that the skin, fat and muscle on the arm had sloughed off exposing 5 to 6 inches of the arm bone! It was a ghastly sight and the diagnosis was clear. A very strong corrosive substance had evidently been injected by mistake and it had caused complete destruction and death of the overlying skin and muscle, exposing the bone underneath. The matter was very serious. I could see the agony on Dr Phadke's face. He asked me to summon Dr R at once. Meanwhile he rang up Dr Charles Pinto, a student of his, who was then the Head of the Department of Plastic Surgery at K.E.M., to come and see him at once.

When Dr R arrived, Dr Phadke took him aside and admonished him for his gross negligence. He told Dr R that he would have to bear the cost of the drugs that would be needed from time to time. Dr R who was himself in a state of shock, readily agreed.

Then Dr Phadke went over to Dr Pinto and said: "Charlie, Sabnises are friends of Bhojraj. One of our own colleagues is responsible for this mishap. Now this is what we will do. Mrs Sabnis will be in my nursing home for as long as necessary; you and I will put her right. We are not going to charge Mrs Sabnis anything for the operations and I won’t be charging Mrs Sabnis for her stay in the hospital either.”

Dr Pinto, as generous a soul as any, readily agreed. Mrs Sabnis was to stay in Dr Phadke's nursing home for more than four months and had to undergo more than ten major operations. But by the end of her stay her arm had been saved and her bone had proper skin and muscle cover and the hand was functionally perfect. Mr. Sabnis was not allowed to spend a single paise for all this treatment. Dr Phadke himself never forgot Mrs. Sabnis and would make kind inquiries about her long after she had been discharged from hospital. That was another object lesson to me.


I must recount another story.

As I said earlier, Dr Phadke had perfected the operation for male sterility and his success rate was very high. Patients came to him from all over the country. Very soon this operation formed a major portion of his surgical work and as his regular anaesthetist, I had the opportunity to watch his progress. What amazed me was that he did not attempt to turn his expertise for amassing wealth. And I got an inkling into his professional philosophy quickly enough.

One day a patient came to him all the way from Delhi. The man was extremely wealthy and had arrived in Bombay in a chartered plane. He had been married for ten years and had no child. He was pining for one.

Dr Phadke operated on him and as usual I got the operation fee for my services as attending anaesthetist. This was no larger than what would have been routinely paid in similar circumstances. This intrigued me no end. I said to Dr Phadke. "Sir, don't you know that this patient from Delhi is a very wealthy man? He came by chartered plane bringing a score of his relatives along with him and you are charging him only your usual fees?”

Dr Phadke's reply was classic. It taught me the lesson of my me time. "Look, Bhojraj” he said, "of course I know that this patient from Delhi is rich have done the same operation on him as I have done on an ordinary clerk who, incidentally, is staying in the room next. I see no reason why I should charge one more and another less. If I did that, I would feel that have sold myself to the one who has paid me more. In this nursing home everybody, whether rich or poor, gets the same treatment and care. To me all patients are equal."

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