The staff at the Live Well Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine in Poovanthi helps chronic patients learn to live well and confidently

A year ago, 55-year-old Vallimayil suffered a stroke. A resident of Ramnad, she was rushed to Apollo Madurai by her husband. Her body mechanically went through the treatment and rehabilitation in the intensive care unit but her mind suffered progressive discouragement.

Vallimayil required continuous help to handle bodily functions. With her children busy with their respective careers and families, she was dependent entirely on her husband, Ganesan. He was expending a huge amount of energy and emotions and it was taking a toll on him. But he wanted her to be alive and happy. Today she is. She can even walk independently now, a milestone she achieved in the 100 days that she spent at a unique state-of-the-art centre 20 km from the Temple Town in a serene little village called Poovanthi.

Vallimayil and 80-odd others all have been rehabilitated successfully for a spectrum of ailments from stroke and musculoskeletal and neurological impairment to traumatic brain and spinal cord injury at the LiveWell Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine during the last year. Fifteen children with special needs and those in need of geriatric reconditioning have also moved back to their homes with a feeling of self-worth.

Inside the green campus tucked in 30 quiet acres, a model of care works with emphasis on patient self-management. From a 90-year-old paraplegic to a three-year-old autistic child, they all bond well with medicos and therapists. Life-enhancing individual therapies are scheduled for each patient, including medical and nursing care, physical, occupational and speech therapy, diet and emergency intervention.

Helping a patient on an exercise cycle, lead physiotherapist Punitha says, “It is the effective communication between us, them and their families that enhances the healing process and leads to quality health care.”

Hospitals are open 24X7 to care for everyone who walks through their doors.

Patients and their attendants often walk in with excess stress and anxiety. The environment that meets them has the potential to exacerbate or assuage their state of mind. But we rarely find a doctor or nurse who actually spends a few extra minutes with a patient even as many more wait outside already feeling ignored.

This is a challenge of modern times. With advancement of medical technology, there is depersonalization of patient care. Patients are mostly treated as diseases or numbers.

Art of caring

Says ophthalmic surgeon Dr.Aravind Srinivasan, “There is an art of providing personalised care to every patient in the midst of a rushed environment. Every health care professional knows there is a right and a wrong way to approach patient care.”

Providing care the way patients prefer is not an easy task but it was a target that Dr.Aravind set himself.

“It is all about the totality of the atmosphere, the attitudes and accommodations made around patient privacy, dignity, comfort and peace of mind. If you are able to give it, the outcome improves and persists long after the patient has left your premises,” he says.

Dr.Aravind, who is the Administrator of Madurai-based Aravind Eye Care Systems, had an urge to create something different especially for people above 60. He got the idea when his uncle Dr. G. Venkatasamy, the well-known ophthalmologist and founder of Aravind Eye Hospital, once hurt himself. “Though we are all doctors in the family we realised the practical problems and how you have to work your life up all over again.”

The lack of patient-centred culture both in hospitals and at home is a matter of concern especially when India is facing a “silver tsunami”, says Dr.Aravind.

“Eight per cent of our population is aging and our present-day medication is all about acute care and fast-moving medicine. You fix the ailment fast but recovery is slow.”

Dr.Aravind’s familiarity with health care and running a hospital helped him to execute his dream project -- a dependable home that would help geriatric and chronic patients attain maximum level of independence with dignity. This is the second such centre in Tamil Nadu after the Vellore Rehabilitation Centre.

He reframed patient care practices by encouraging patient involvement and empowerment. He included their families to read the behaviour of every patient and circumstance of every patient’s home.

After visiting rehab centres the world over, he designed a respite care programme geared towards validating patient preferences and preserving the patient’s normal routines to the extent possible so that reintegration into family post-treatment is easier.

“The single most important criterion by which patients judge us is the way we interact with them,” he says. “We need to assist them in anticipating what to expect when they are in our care, to address their anxiety and questions, and to help them plan their needs once they leave the hospital.”

(Making a difference is a fortnightly column about ordinary people and events that leave an extraordinary impact on us. E-mail to soma.basu@thehindu.co.in to tell about someone you know who is making a difference)