For Dr Johny Gabriel from Cherthala, Kerala, serving the society as a regular government doctor was not enough. He has always felt the constant need to go beyond his job. After graduating from T.B. Medical College, Alappuzha, and completing his Master’s from Trivandrum Medical College, Gabriel got his first posting at the Karuvatta Primary Health Centre in Harippad.
“I didn’t have any major surgeries to start with, as it was a primary health centre, but I still managed to do deliveries and minor surgeries” explains Gabriel.
In a few months, not only did he become the hospital’s favourite doctor, but also the go-to person for any organisations conducting medical camps. The camps were helpful for the people in and around the village, but many of the bed-ridden and elderly patients could not attend them.
With a majority of Harippad’s population being geriatric patients, Gabriel decided to attend to these patients individually and also started a geriatric clinic at the primary health centre for patients to get their sugar and blood pressure checked at a minimal cost.
With help from his colleagues, he took the initiative to begin the Rotary Club in Harippad in 2003. Although his hometown was almost two hours away, he decided to spare the first Sunday of every month for these patients.
And for the past 16 years, he has not missed a single Sunday. He has constantly been in touch with over 25 houses, providing them with the medical and emotional support they need.
He shares, “Geriatrics is a very sensitive area to work in. Most of my patients struggle with depression, anxiety and psychotic disorders. I came to realise that behind those doors, there were individuals in dire need of help.”
He speaks of one instance where he found an 80-year-old lady lying on the cold hard ground without any source of income or even food. Both her children had abandoned her in the house, and she was unable to move.
He adds, “Some of my patients can move around but refrain from stepping outside because they don’t want to be seen by others. In many cases, this has even led to Vitamin D deficiency. This was the real challenge that I faced–breaking the emotional barrier and helping the patients to accept that they need help.”
A few months into his Sunday visits, Gabriel decided to take children along with him to help him break the ice with his patients. To his surprise, this technique worked wonders.
“My patients were so happy to see children. I saw that they felt a sense of purpose with the kids around. The children would tell my patients to take their medicines and food, and I saw their eyes light up, something that had never happened before.”
For his Sunday visits, he carries as many kinds of supplies as he can. These often include medicines, food, bedsheets, towels, to meet any unforeseen needs of the patients.
He recalls, “Five years ago, we had a patient who had a neurological disorder. The 40-year old man’s mother was struggling to carry him to the bathroom and she had no option but to drag him on the floor. The Rotary helped us get an electric bed for the family which had all the necessary functions.”
Over these 16 years, Gabriel has dealt with a range of geriatric patients with chronic illnesses and cared for them, almost like a son. He continues to cater to many elderly families and has even built houses for six families.
“The rotary has funded over Rs 70,000 for these geriatric patients and we were able to find sponsors for building homes for them.”
Retiring from his government service in 2011 with his last posting in Palakkad district, he is currently the Rotary district chairman and has extended his services to the nearby districts.
When asked about his family, Gabriel is filled with pride to say that both his children, Dr Jerry Gabriel John and Dr Lisiya Mary have taken on his profession and are currently in the Government service.
Although his own house is in Kumbalangi, Kochi, he has rented a house in Harippad to care for his patients.
“I would have never been able to accomplish all this without the support of my wife, Rufina. She has never complained even once about me not being at home and I’m so grateful to her for that.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)