Thursday, November 25, 2010
I have been wanting to write about Banerjee. But he is reading my blog so I have been hesitant to write about him. He is one of my classmates from medical school. In medical school, he was well known to all of us, not always in the best light. His most memorable feat was publishing a year book. It was a beautiful book, full of photos and writings. However, the rumor was that he went way over budget and the editors were not able to publish any year books for the next two years because the school was still paying for our year book!
Another Banerjee coup: One of our professors used to give a lecture from 12 Noon to 1:00 PM. We would get hungry by 1:00 PM and this professor would go on and on in his monotone voice, way past 1:00 PM. He was the most boring professor. One day at exactly 1:00 PM a loud alarm clock went off in the back of the room. The professor left the lecture hall in a hurry and after that never stayed past 1:00 PM. I thanked Banerjee for that. Anyway that was forty years ago.
Today he is the Medical Superintendent of Irwin Hospital. That would be like the CEO of USC-County Medical Center. He was head of Cardio-thoracic surgery before this. He told me that he took the job because it was such a challenge. His family was already used to an absent dad, so the new job with long hours would not make any change for them.
I have talked to several people and have seen him at work. It is a hard and thankless job. But there is so much possiblity of doing good for a large number of people. He works ten to twelve hours a day. This is in sharp contrast to most Professors who regularly work five to six hours a day in government hospitals.
There is one or the other crisis every week here in Delhi. A few weeks ago, two foreign tourists were shot by terrorists. The tourists were brought in to Irwin Hospital. Banerjee had to here day and night, with all the media and the political leaders coming in.
During the past week it was something else. A seven story illegally and poorly built building collapsed killing 50 to 100 people, and injuring several dozens. About forty bodies were brought to Irwin Hospital. About a dozen seriously injured patients were also brought in. This was front page news in all the Indian newspapers for three to four days. Naturally all the politicians would come to Irwin Hospital to show their "concern". Their main concern was that they would miss the media attention if they did not come! Banerjee had to be there to meet them and show them the excellent care that the injured were getting. He did make sure that everyone got the best possible care. This was after all front page news.
Then he had to do the very sad and difficult job of dealing with the bodies. Every body had to be identified. This was no easy task, since most Indians do not have photo ID. Some bodies had no claimants since these were migrant workers from Bihar and Bengal. Some were Moslems and others were Hindus. The bodies have to be treated differently. The railway ministry offered to transport the bodies to Bihar and Bengal in special refrigerated coaches. But the heat was not going to make it easy for them. The bodies might decompose. So the bodies had to be embalmed. Not an easy task in Delhi where only two mortuaries have the ability to embalm.
Then came the greedy ones. The relatives and neighbours realized the value of the bodies. The government was going to give compensation of seven hundred thousand rupees to each of the families of the deceased. Now several bodies had several claimants each. Some families did not speak Hindi. Several families were from Bengal and spoke Bengali. Now Banerjee was himself talking in Bengali to the families, trying to identify who were legit and who were not. By the time the whole task was done it was over a week and Banerjee had been in hospital twelve hours a day everyday!
I do have a complain against him. He has not invited me for lunch, let alone a dinner. One day while walking we stopped at Medical School Cafeteria and Banerjee ordered a tomato sandwich. I shared that with him. The bill was Rs 12/-. I think he did it so he can say that we have "broken bread" together!
I have nothing but high praise for the man. If we had more of him, India would take its rightful place in this world.