Residents of Rakcham village, in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district, were happy about finally getting a doctor in October 2019 after months in their local Public Health Centre (PHC). But there were certain reservations.
They wondered if this female doctor from Delhi would be able to survive the harsh climate and adapt to a completely different lifestyle. Honestly, even Dr Shilpa had similar concerns but she reminded herself of her resolution to make healthcare accessible in the remotest of areas.
Dr Shilpa Kumar’s genuine efforts to make individual report cards for patients with diabetes and hypertension impressed the villagers, who were neglected till then. She focussed on people needing regular check-ups and minor trauma cases.
Her sincere attempts to be friends with patients and give them health advice at every stage assured them that this doctor was here to stay and would not leave them like the rest.
After this wholehearted acceptance by 800 odd villagers, it did not feel right to leave the village and go home in Bengaluru during the nationwide lockdown in March owing to global COVID-19 pandemic.
For the first 4-5 months, Dr Shilpa was the only serving doctor in the local PHC. Even today, there is no nurse or other medical staff in the centre.
While there is enough medical equipment, lack of manpower often comes in the way of helping patients and sometimes for bigger cases she has to direct them to Sangla’s government hospital, which is 13 kilometres away.
To help people deal with the pandemic, the 29-year-old doctor personally went to every household in Rakcham and checked for vital signs and fever.
Brazing the harsh climate and hilly regions that made it impossible for her to cover more than 20 households per day, Dr Shilpa singlehandedly completed the mammoth task within a week.
When cases were reported in the neighbouring village, Reckong Peo, Dr Shilpa started doing random checks on people not just in her village but also other villages from the Sangla block. At present, she has been temporarily transferred to Sangla due to lack of staff.
Alongside educating people about coronavirus and assuring her parents that she is safely tucked away in the valley, Dr Shilpa attends the Sangla PHC daily for OPD-related cases. Her weekends are usually spent on going for hikes.
As Dr Shilpa narrates the situation of Rakcham to The Better India, she is once again reminded of the day her life took a 360-degree turn.
Quitting A Job To Serve the Needy
Dr Shilpa Kumar’s unusual journey begins from a quaint town in Chhattisgarh where she was born. But she lived in different parts of India as her father was a Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officer.
Living in varied cities and interacting with people educated her huge difference in terms of health facilities in big cities like Mumbai and small towns like Bhilai, Chhattisgarh. This played an influential role in Dr Shilpa’s life as she always wanted to go beyond the corridors of the hospital and provide her medical services to the needy.
Last year, she quit her residency at Delhi’s LNJP hospital and went on a trip to Bir in Himachal Pradesh to visit her friends.
An MBBS from Dayanand Medical College and Hospital, Ludhiana, Dr Shilpa has spent many vacations there and during one of her stays she became friends with an elderly lady who worked on a farm. This time, when she visited her, the lady was coughing incessantly.
She immediately removed the stethoscope from her bag that she carries at all times and did some preliminary checking.
“She had symptoms of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease which could have been fatal. When I asked her to visit the hospital for tests, she refuted citing it is an age-related ailment. She assured me paracetamol would make everything right. That was the triggering point and I realised there many ignorant people who are in dire need of a doctor. So, I started looking for opportunities in rural areas,” recalls Dr Shilpa.
A few inquiries later, she learnt the region was short of government doctors and that the Shimla administration was conducting walk-in interviews for Public Health Centres (PHC). She applied and was selected to serve in Rakcham.
It has been a year since she joined and it has been a journey full of learnings.
“I had a culture shock when I came here. I had to shift gears and change my lifestyle completely. But people have been very friendly and helpful here that gives me the motivation to work. Sometimes the ladies often sit in my clinic for an hour to give me company and invite me to their house for meals. Serving here is not just my duty as now they have become my family,” she adds.
Leaving everything and packing our bags to get away from our tedious life is something that most of us have thought about but various factors like courage, risk and comfort zones hold us back. For Dr Shilpa too, the decision was hard but not an impossible one.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)