Doctor, Am I a Sinner?

“Doctor, am I a sinner?” Although it may sound weird and unbelievable, but this was the question one of my patients had asked during my initial days of private medical practice. You might be wondering as to what the patient was referring to. When I heard these words, I was as perplexed as you are now.

It all happened many years back when I had opened my first private medical clinic on the beautiful outskirts of Palakkad, a place in Kerala. Even after so many years, the place still mesmerizes me with its scenic beauty and the people are very loving and wonderful. As the clinic was my first venture, it was a small set up. Most of the patients were from the lower and middle income groups. Though the journey of establishing my own medical practice was not smooth, I was quiet happy with how things were spanning out.

The drama unfolded on a bright Monday morning, at about 10am. On that day when my medical assistant came to open the clinic, an old middle-aged man accompanied by his son was outside the entrance patiently waiting for me. I called the man and his child into the consulting room. When the man came inside with his son, he had a pleasant smile on his face but had a worried demeanor. He told me that he was from one of the aadhivasi (tribal) villages which was quite far from where the clinic was located. There was no place for dental check-up near his home and most people in his village were unaware and least concerned about dental problems and their treatments.

He said that his child was having pain in the left lower tooth (tooth 36, which I came to know after examining him). The pain started a few weeks back and became more frequent with time. They tried all sorts of natural remedies at home. Initially the home treatment seemed to work but the pain kept recurring and now there was a swelling with the pain (tooth 36 abscess). I was very curious and asked him what prompted him to come to my clinic which was very far from his home. He answered that he came to know about me from his landlord’s son who had earlier undergone treatment in my clinic. The landlord’s son told him to meet me for the child’s dental problem. I was glad to see people coming from far off places to get treatment at my clinic. More importantly I was happy that the people were getting aware of dental problems and treatment. I examined the child and gave the necessary treatment.

After one week, the man came to meet me. This time there was a huge smile on his face. When I inquired about his child, he said “All fine doctor sir, your medicines and treatment have worked wonders, now the swelling and pain has all gone”. It was so heartening to hear those words and this time it was my turn to have a smile of deep satisfaction. By now he had developed a confidence in me, so this time he decided to get a consultation for himself. After examining him for few minutes I got the impression that he was not a big fan of maintaining oral hygiene. I asked him how many times he brushed his teeth every day. He said that in their community they used the bark of neem tree to clean their teeth in the morning. He was almost unaware of tooth brushes and toothpaste. He informed me that he gets the job done with neem leaves or bark of neem tree once a day and off late he has noticed bleeding from his gums. Gum bleeding happened to be the complaint for which he asked for my consultation.

His next statement shocked me, especially as I was a newbie and had just ventured into private medical practice. He said “Sir is the bleeding from gums a sign of my sins and is it God’s way of reminding me of them? Doctor, am I a sinner?” It took me some moments to fully comprehend what he was saying and to understand the full implication of his words. Then I explained to him what the gums are, what is gingivitis, what factors caused it, the preventive and remedial measures and told him “It isn’t the God punishing you, it’s you yourself punishing your body by not taking adequate care of your oral health” After this I did a full oral prophylaxis for him and told him to follow good oral hygiene for next one month. After about a month he and his whole family came to visit me for oral check-up. It was heart-warming to see the changes in him. Later on I came to know that he was propagating the same good oral hygiene practices which I told him in my clinic, to his family and friends. Following his last visit many people from his community regularly came to me for oral health advice and treatment.

This incident proves how small things beyond routine medical consultation, like, simple practical advice, little extra care, some kind words can bring about a large change in the life of so many people and how we as doctors can be part of it. So, let us all join hands and bring about a change in the society. It takes just a little extra effort.

Contributed by:
Dr. Varun Menon P
Junior Resident
Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
PMS College of Dental Science and Research
Trivandrum, Kerala.
India.

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