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When healthcare has become a lucrative profession, Dr Ruby Samuel, a gynecologist, believes in old-world values and ideals of service

Healthcare is increasingly a commodity that only those who can spend can get it. When modern medicine spread some 50 years ago, it was still a service. Those who provided healthcare primarily as a service are now surprised and taken aback at the turn medicine has taken.

In a lucrative profession, Dr Ruby Samuel is a doctor who considers her profession a service. She is a gynecologist in terms of specialization and offered her services to villagers without any conditions. She served without giving a thought to timings.

After retirement, she has fully dedicated herself to treating and providing healthcare to senior citizens. Dr Ruby Samuel now lives in Vetturnimadam in Nagercoil.

Gynecologist Dr Ruby Samuel has a rich and varied experience in healthcare. She shared it with

Question: Your family background…
Dr Ruby Samuel: I come from a poor and underdeveloped village. My family were common folks. I joined the Salvation Army and started my service there.

How did you get to study medicine? What was your interest?
Since I did well in studies in school, they sent me to CMC, Vellore. I was sent there so I could serve in villages as a doctor. With that intention, I studied medicine and specialized in gynecology.

They wanted to send me to higher studies but there were hurdles and opposition from some people. I returned to service. I served at the Catherine Booth hospital run by the Salvation Army.

How was your initial experience?
I started my service in the 1970s. At that time the concept of hospital had not yet arisen. Villagers didn’t know how to get treatment at hospitals. With modest infrastructure, a few hospitals were there whose intention was to serve.

There was no concept that medicine or healthcare was a fundamental need. It was at that time that I started my service.

My training had the first three months for pharmacy, next three months were out-patient, and the final three months were in urgery. European doctors were there. Other experienced doctors were there. I carefully observed how they treated patients.

Disease is a terrible thing. Those who come with pain and suffering should be treated properly. I would think about how I could do that. I would observe the approach of senior doctors.

I realized that the art of taking care of people is not easy and I should serve with caution.  I surrendered my concerns at the feet of the lord and started my service. Slowly my hesitation gave way to confidence.

Do you remember your first patient?
No, I don’t remember. What I remember is my hesitation. Even today, I approach treatment with much care and attention. I never take it lightly.

In those days, people would keep the mother and child at home as much as possible and take them to the hospital only if there was a serious danger.

How was your experience as a gynecologist in those days?
In general, women wouldn’t come to hospitals. There was not much security either, unlike today. There was no procedure to provide care right from pregnancy. By and large, childbirth happened at homes based on the advice of elderly women in the family or those who knew traditional medicine. A gynecologist could only be found in hospitals.

Maternal mortality rates were high. People would keep the mother and child at home as much as possible and take them to the hospital only if there was a serious danger. As a gynecologist, one had to be very cautious and full of attention. Often, the water would have broken for the pregnant woman coming in. That’s a very risky situation. Proper treatment should be given following senior doctors’ advice.

Providing good treatment was a struggle. It was difficult to change people’s traditional beliefs. The service had to be provided amidst difficulty.

Did you have working hours?
This was service. There was no question of working hours and so on. I was ready and standby all the time. As a gynecologist, sometimes I had to take care of four – five deliveries a night. I would finish work and hit the bed only in the morning. Just at that time I would get a call from hospital that a patient was battling for her life. I never ever felt I was too tired. I always served with full involvement.

What problems arose in home deliveries?
It can’t be said that people with traditional knowledge in villages knew fully what they  were doing. Deaths were common because the baby wouldn’t come out head first, or there was a problem in breaking the water, or they didn’t know how to properly cut the umbilical cord. Protein deficiency killed many women.

How many childbirths have you handled?
I have not kept account. That’s not my job either. A European doctor asked me once about this. I told him the same thing. I know that many doctors keep a count and celebrate a milestone. I have come to serve. I have delivered 10 babies in a day sometimes. What’s important is saving lives, not keeping count.

From the beginning, I haven’t worked for a salary. There would be a place to stay, food to eat, and some money would be there for my needs.

Have you been honoured for your service?
How can we expect something in return for service? From the beginning, I haven’t worked for a salary. There would be a place to stay, food to eat, and some money would be there for my needs. These were enough for me to serve properly. I spent a part of my earnings on the progress of underprivileged children.

How is retired life?
There is no retirement in medical profession. I have become old. I am sad that I am not able to serve with the same speed and energy like before. Even now I am taking care of the health needs of senior citizens.

I get a little pension. My needs are taken care of by that. My sister has constructed a house on the land that my parents owned. I live with her family. I have no great needs. I lead a peaceful, contented life.

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