Tuesday, November 06, 2007

vaidyo nArAyaNo hariH !

There is a popular shloka in Samskrita which has been taught to children for a long time now. This is supposed to be recited just before taking any medicine. It goes as follows -

"sharIre jharjharIbhUte vyAdhigraste kalevare |
auShadhaM jAhnavItoyaM vaidyo nArAyaNo hariH ||"

"When the sharIra (body) is suffering and the body is beset with disease, medicine is like the sacred water of the Ganga and the doctor is nArAyaNa Himself".

Another reading would be to consider water of the gangA itself as medicine and nArAyaNa Himself as the doctor. The interesting word here is also "hariH" - hari means some one who destroys. In this case it would mean that nArAyaNa is destroying disease.

Also, the word "sharIra" comes from "shIryate iti sharIraM" - which means it is bound to be destroyed. That understanding is also implicitly conveyed in the shloka - even if one takes enough medicine, the body is eventually something that will decay and get destroyed. With this meaning, nArAyaNa would be apt as He is the protector in the Hindu Trinity - he is protecting the sharIra - something that will decay in the course of time.

As a child (and even now as an adult), I have recited this verse almost involuntarily before taking any medicine. Not once did I think of its meaning then, but now as I grow older, such meanings become seen, not with any effort on my part, but automatically.

Doctors have not always been treated on par with Hari. They have been seen as Yama's cohorts also! There are umpteen subhAShitas which talk about these.But this post is more sympathetic to doctors.

It is not that I have not been to hospitals before - but I was never as close to an action packed emergency room till now. This was a couple of days ago when my uncle was admitted to a hospital. We took him to the emergency room (quite a small one for this hospital's name) which was already full. A child that was lying on the bed in the room was asked to go to another room to accommodate my uncle.

When treatment commenced for my uncle, a group of people barged in with a semi-conscious person on a stretcher. And since the new entrant was more spectacularly (sorry for the seemingly insensitive word - but it was really that - with a lot of curious onlookers craning their necks) sick, my uncle was asked to sit out and wait. My uncle was in a serious condition but his external appearance belied it. Once the rush subsided, my uncle was treated.

In the middle of all this was a doctor patiently negotiating with agitated acquaintances of the patient. He had to make quick decisions on whom to take in and whom to be asked to wait. There was only one doctor as opposed to the ER team we're used to seeing on TV shows. He directed the nurses/para-medics with the elan of a conductor in a symphony while never getting flustered even a bit. Prescriptions came out of his mouth with certainty as did soothing words with grace. Even as I was concerned about my uncle's health, I could not but gaze in awe at the doctor's concern and presence of mind.

For non-medical folks like me, spending an hour or a day in a hospital is torture. But for doctors and nurses this is their life. And, while it is their job, I have great appreciation for them as they have stepped up and chosen these noble professions. And while I do not deny the exploitative nature of a few bad apples in the profession, none can deny that it is indeed a life saving profession.

The other amazing thing is that doctors are not omniscient! With their vast, but limited knowledge, doctors try to play God knowing fully well that they are nowhere close. The "playing God" is mainly to instill confidence and courage in the patients themselves and their anxious relatives. I've seen good doctors maintain a confident body language with words that uplift. A good pat on the back with a warm smile from the doctor does wonders to the patient's mindset.

This amazing profession has unfortunately not been receiving commensurate financial benefits. Why, a driver for a car rental makes more money than some new doctors! And the less said about software engineers (I too am guilty of being one) vis-a-vis doctors, the better.

Good doctors are still hard to come by. People of the older generation used to talk about the "kai-guNa" (the efficacy of a doctor which is orthogonal to the years of experience or the advanced degrees a doctor might have) of a doctor. That is still valid, in my opinion. Some of these might be just heredity and some of these might be acquired. But after seeing doctors and nurses work, I just felt a new sense of appreciation for what they do.

"vaidyo nArAyaNo hariH" - indeed. I fully agree with whoever wrote this verse.

PS: Some good "doctor" books - Ian McEwan's Saturday and Atul Gawande's "Complications" and "Better".

8 comments:

parijata said...

I have not read Saturday, but Gawande is truly a great writer! Both 'Complications' and 'Better' are immensely enlightening.

The thoughts on the shloka 'sharIre jarjarIbhUte...' were very good.

Calmness distinguishes good doctors from bad ones. A calm (and cheerful) doctor inspires confidence.

It is hard to be so much in the midst of sickness and death, and yet remain unaffected by it. And there are those darned difficult situations when the doctor is required to pull the plug ... I have seen my granddad send a three-year old's mother away, because the child was already half dead.

It was very nice of you to raise the issue of the low pay of new doctors, too. Hopefully, with the reducing number of doctors in India, things will be better.

Aram said...

Very good post.

I come from a family with many doctors and doctorates in medicine-related subjects, almost all of whom opted to be in service rather than private practice.

The doctors certainly need to be paid well, but then, I shudder to think of the time when doctors become unaffordable for the common man. Maybe the American system of compulsory medical insurance might solve that.

"And the less said about software engineers ... vis-a-vis doctors, the better." reminds me of a leading medical transcription company in Bangalore which once had more than 300 doctors and dentists on its payroll - all of them working as glorified typists, forgetting what they studied in-depth in medical colleges and foregoing the much needed clinical experience because of working in better-paying typing work.

It is amusing to see so many of us falling for short-term benefits and lures which makes us lose sight of the long-term goals which most of us anyway lack.

The "kaiguna" concept is the basis on which the holistic healing system of Reiki operates.

Suresh said...

Very true. According to me, Doctor is one of the three noble professionals. Other two being Teacher and Soldier.

nIlagrIva said...

Thanks for the comments.

@parijata,
I fully agree. Calmness is a necessary virtue for doctors.

@aram,
I shudder to think of the USA-like Compulsory insurance system in India. They just drive up the cost completely while benefiting neither patients nor doctors.

@suresh,
Yep. You can add farmers to the list of noble people.

Suresh said...

Yes, I forgot to add farmers!

Vijay said...

Excellent post. The translation and commentary were lucid.

I remember my grandfather chanting this verse often. I remember it to be third of three verses. The first was "achyutananda gOvinda naamoscharena bEshajAk, nashyanti sakalAn rOgAn, satyam satyam vadAmyaham".

The translation for this is interesting. "By chanting the name of the Lord, any disease can be conquered. This is the truth." Interesting, because generally verses never contain self-affirmations like "This is the truth." Such statements in verses can be seen as conveying more importance than normal.

What is even more interesting is that the next verse, which I don't recall fully, starts "satyam satyam". Almost as if to reach out to those who still do not fully believe him, the seer adds even more affirmation to his statement.

Dr.Chandrashekar.K.L. said...

"vaidyaraja namasthubhyam yamaraja sahodaraha
yamasthu harathi pranah vaidyan pranani dhananicha"
This sloka says doctor is the brother of yama. yama takes away the life of a person but doctor tkes away life along with money!!!
This post is good. I myself is a doctor. Now the profession is commercialised and whoever passes out from the college wants to amass as much as possible as he would have paid donations in lakhs. Medical colleges are minting money bribing Indian medical council(kethan desai) The family doctor in olden days used to be doctor, friend and philosopher. He had close contact with the family and he was respected by all. Now before exmining the patient doctors ask for all investigations and the patient is not treated as a whole.

AJAY said...

Thanks for such a beautiful post on the verse ' Vaidyo Narayano Harih' and the Doctors.I feel proud to be a Vaidya(doctor).Altough i came across this verse not during my Academic training but off late.It has been my most favourite.And you have really written well.Also thanks for the note,wil try to got through these bks.