Last month, I had the good fortune of surviving a stroke. Although it is devastating at any age, it was especially hard at the age of 50. After spending the first week in the hospital pondering “why me?” I came to terms with my situation, and decided to focus on the path forward, wherever it may go.
My hospital room and my home are filled with flowers, greeting cards and fruit baskets sent by my well-wishers for which I am extremely grateful. They bring joy, and as I read the messages of support and sympathy, they uplift my mood.
A few years ago, I read about an experience of a social worker who had dedicated his life for the upliftment of Tribals in western India. The Tribals are extremely poor with minimal, if any, material possessions. They live deep in the forest and survive on whatever they can collect from the forest. They trade firewood, honey, fruits, etc. with village folks to obtain miniscule cash for buying a few items from a local store. They are exploited by local traders, religious preachers and money lenders due to their illiteracy.
Rarely, they may accumulate enough money for a piece of clothing. The writer of the article I read had lived among these extremely poor people for years, helping them with basic education, hygienic practices, and eliminating social ills like alcoholism.
One day, the social worker suffered a grievous accident and was hospitalized in a county hospital about 15-20 miles from the forest. When the news reached the Tribals, they started showing up at the hospital every day. After touching his feet, which was the traditional manner of greeting seniors, they would sit and chat. Before leaving, they would slip their hand under his pillow and leave.
The social worker thought that was a strange gesture but wrote it off as some unusual tribal tradition. When the time came for his discharge from the hospital, they found a pile of coins and some small notes. Each of the Tribals had left whatever cash they could muster. His doctor told him that this was a peculiar Tribal tradition and was commonly observed when a Tribal was admitted.
Since the money was secretly slipped under the pillow, no one knew how much people gave. However, every person gave something, and most people gave the maximum they could. Most of the visitors had walked the distance to avoid spending money for a local bus ticket. The sacrifice of the simple folks brought tears to the social worker’s eyes but also made him realize the practical nature of this tradition.
As I lay in bed, I thought about the fact that due to divine grace, I had a good job with insurance. Over time, I was able to accumulate savings for difficult times such as now. However, every patient still has extensive out of pocket expenses both during and after recovery.
In fact, hospitals could have a system, similar to the Tribals’ tradition, where visitors could swipe a credit card and gift a particular patient’s account some cash, which could then be used for co-payments, output medicines and other sundries. The balance could be issued as a generic gift card with hospital advertisements on it, for people to use outside the hospital system, like for groceries. The gifts can be named or anonymous.
Furthermore, on important days in their lives like anniversaries, birthdays or weddings, people can visit hospitals and donate money which can be directed to a general fund for patients with less money in their accounts to cover their bills.
As times get more difficult due to disease and political and societal divisions, it is imperative that we humans find a substratum of compassion among ourselves which supports every lifeform, regardless of any differences.
Dr. Pattekar is a radiologist. He is national director of service activities for Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, USA. He also serves on the board of volunteers of the Hindu Temple of Central Illinois.