Caring for the sick must include easing their pain, both physical and emotional, says Mallika Tiruvadanan. She wants more palliative care clinics in rural areas to help people there.
An anaesthetist by profession, she tells R. Sujatha that the principles of palliative care can be applied to other progressive incurable diseases.
Inmates of Sundaravadanan Nursing Home, staying in a sprawling 20th century building, appear calm in the bustling traffic on Poonamalle High Road.
The nursing home houses the Lakshmi Pain and Palliative Care Clinic, where physicians, surgeons, nurses and paramedical staff treat both physical and emotional pain of the patients and their family.
Dr. Mallika, alumna of Madras Medical College and Stanley Medical College, Chennai, followed in her parents' footsteps when she took up medicine.
'Six years ago, my father suffered from backache due to old age. The pain affected his whole personality. I took him to Calicut [Kozhikode] where my professor Rajagopal runs a palliative care clinic. During my nine-day stay there I watched cancer patients.'
It was then, she says, that she decided to set up a palliative care centre in Chennai. Palliative care is all about how the patient and his or her family copes with the medical condition, she feels. Some people accept their condition; others do not.
Dr. Mallika's clinic is supported by a charitable trust. It is not easy for patients or their family to accept the inevitable, she says.
When patients are brought to the clinic the priority is treating physical pain. Then begins the difficult process of making the patient open up emotionally.
Some are easy to talk to but some refuse to show interest in their physical problems. They would rather not know their condition.
One of Dr. Mallika's patients remained oblivious of her condition till her death as the patient's mother did not give permission to the doctor to speak to the patient alone.
'Pain relief centres are most useful for people in remote areas. We need more centres in villages so that people do not have to come to Chennai for treatment.'
Such centres are necessary as cancer patients often come too late to hospital, she notes. 'Kerala has 62 satellite centres,' while Tamil Nadu has only a handful, she says.
Sometimes palliative care is just the beginning. Often, the family needs counselling and moral support.
An autorickshaw driver who suffered from cancer died a happy man after the clinic helped his wife take up a job.
The school waived the fees for his three children. Before he died his eldest son, who had passed class X, landed a job.