Picture Courtesy: The Hans India
By Azhikkakath Joseph Antony
Our younger son Abe (Abraham), a few months old, wasn’t growing as infancy charts prescribed. We took him to the paediatrician we blindly trusted. He placed our younger bundle of delight gingerly in a steel plate atop a weighing machine, much like what’s used for vegetables. To check the baby’s height, he took out a measuring tape. He temporarily hung it around his neck to take the toddler down.
“Is he a doctor or a tailor,” asked our elder son Tony (Antony), all of three years old then, in Malayalam. My wife and I didn’t know where to look, absolutely aghast, wondering when the physician would explode. The doctor, who’d got the drift, was left speechless too. We feared the worst tongue-lashing for poor parenting.
Astonishment gave way to amusement and then to awe. “Ammo,” said the doctor in typical Telangana twang, “you better watch out for this fellow,” he cautioned, pointing to Tony. Visibly impressed by his curiosity and cheekiness, he advised us not to discourage kids from asking questions.
On another occasion, the Krishna hospital sentry told us we’d just missed the doctor, who’d left for the day. We gave chase. While very careful in medical practice, on the road he was just the opposite, a la Mad Max in a red Maruti Zen, with a single digit number plate–3. When I managed to overtake him, my wife frantically waved to him to pull aside, which he duly did.
I’d barely turned off the ignition, when our elder son flung the door open, rushed to the doctor and hugged him tight. “Sudershan Reddy, my friend,” shouted Tony, as if he’d met his long lost buddy, taking his time to disentangle himself. With no trace of respect or reverence, it was more a spontaneous show of affection. Such was the chemistry he enjoyed with children, cutting across colour, caste and creed. Without further ado, the doctor examined our younger son in the backseat of our van, wrote a prescription and left.
Rarely serious, I saw him grim just once. It was Providential we found him about to leave when we rushed Tony late one night to Krishna Hospital with an allergy that found his face and wind pipe bloating, leaving him increasingly breathless. This time Dr. Reddy administered the injection himself, a task otherwise left to Pratap, his loyal lieutenant. After admitting Tony to the ICU, he called me aside and quietly told me the next 48 hours would be critical.
Early the next morning, he drove down from his Jubilee Hills residence, on a Sunday, when he generally didn’t work, to personally check on the patient’s progress. An England-returned surgeon and family friend had taken us out to dinner the night before. The allergy had been triggered by a sea-food soup. “Had you been half an hour late, you’d have lost your son,” the surgeon later said, underscoring the significance of Dr. Reddy’s timely intervention and injection in saving our son’s life.
Once I ran into him in the Medinova Diagnostics lift around 6 P.M.. He still looked fresh after duty at Yashoda and Niloufer hospitals, his shirt as if starched minutes before. “Don’t you fall sick doctor, day in and day out treating children’s diseases that are so infectious,” I asked him. His reply stunned me. “The last I fell sick was eight years ago,” he said.
Blessed with so many qualities, he also had what stands out above the rest—raw guts. Once a politician, as usual keen on drama, barged into Niloufer, when Dr. Reddy was in charge. A paper published a picture of the politico, twice the doctor’s size, towering over the latter. The report alongside made it amply clear that the doctor matched the politico word for word, so much so that the latter beat a hasty retreat !
Looking back, greatness lay in the confidence he had in his craft. I can’t recall him prescribing tests to confirm this or that. His diagnosis was always on the dot, his optimism contagious. Niloufer was close to his heart and he refused to give up government service even when he could have instead piled up money by the minute in private practice.
Missing him the most will be the poor who visited his clinic beside Khairatabad market. He would not leave until he had seen the last patient, sometimes as late as 2 A.M.. Not only was he an acclaimed academic in his field, he was also President of the AP Chapter of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics.
We remain indebted to him not just for keeping our children safe but for thousands more he’d cared for. In this time of Covid 19, when the real warriors at the forefront are doctors and healthcare professionals, the world will be a lot poorer without Dr. P. Sudershan Reddy, 67, who passed away recently of cancer.