It was the year 1993. I have just finished my house-staff-ship in a tertiary hospital in Kolkata and was desperately looking for a job. I was newly married and my husband Shantanu was my batch mate; so, we were in the same boat. Fortunately, we got a job in Mornai, a remote tea estate in Assam in Kokrajhar district. Without much thought, both of us landed up there.
It was a 20-bedded hospital with an out-patient department (OPD), from where we were catering a population of 10,000 people. Apart from us, we only had another homeopathic doctor in our team.
Locals were mostly Santhali and Mundari and the garden was owned by the Lutheran Evangelical Church.In the beginning, they were quite skeptical about us (by nature, they had the tendency to resist anything new). Moreover, we were facing extreme difficulty to understand their language.With our limited knowledge and unlimited enthusiasm,we started our job. Gradually those tea garden workers started accepting us and after some initial hiccups we also settled down in that isolated island!
Next year, I gave birth to my only son. For delivery, reluctantly I had to come down to Kolkata fearing about any complication.The nearest secondary care was in Dhubri, which was 6-7 hours drive from the garden.
I returned to my job when my son was 40 days old.Soon we realized that for his immunization we should take him to Coochbehar, a 4-5 hours drive on an undulated village road.Moreover, the scorching heat in the month of June was unbearable.
I and Shantanu discussed an alternative, whether we could get the immunization done in the garden.Till then, there was no facility for immunization, as the tea garden workers were against any kind of injection to their children.
How much we tried, we failed to convince them. We started our correspondence with the local health bodies and government officials.Also,initiated some dialogues with the union leaders.The solution was to get our son immunized first and show the local workers that “doctor Sahab’s son” had received the immunization.
Finally, the day came.My son got immunized. He was the first to receive the shot in the immunization camp.
After that, there was a procession.The union leader led the procession,carrying “the example” on his back,showcasing him to the local workers.The message was conveyed that if the doctor was ready to give the injection to his son,it was important for the others to do the same.Then there was a big queue in the camp and that was the beginning of the immunization in that garden.
The roller coaster of my life took me from one extreme to the other. After practising evidence-based, guideline-driven medicine in one of the poshest practice in the UK, it was hard to swallow the harsh reality of a remote tea garden.
But at this juncture of my life, I can still visualize two young doctors putting their heart and soul to improve the life of a few backward poor tea-garden workers.