The miracles and tragedies of life, the compassion and cruelties of humanity are nowhere more visible than in the field of medicine. It is these that Kavery Nambisan—doctor and writer of immense sensitivity—explores in this memoir, drawing upon her work as a surgeon over four decades in rural and small-town India.
Through her patients’ stories, she depicts the highs and lows of medical practice: Sudha, in Mokama, Bihar, left immobilized waist-down after being set on fire by her in-laws, but determined to walk; construction workers in Lonavala, Maharashtra, who preferred the quick-fix of the ‘drip’, so that they wouldn’t miss their daily wage; four-year-old Pavana in the Anamallais, mauled by a leopard, who had to be driven over 40 kilometres of gutted roads to the nearest hospital. And in contrast, the friend of a Tamil Nadu chief minister who could summon a doctor repeatedly, at will, to attend to her stubbed toe. Settled in Kodagu, Karnataka, after years of practice in hospitals, Kavery now works as a GP, and she writes about treating snake bites, skin diseases, tuberculosis, epileptic seizures and, lately, Covid-19; even as she helps some of her patients hide their meagre savings from alcoholic husbands.
Throughout, Kavery also examines the evolution of medical practice and the state of India’s public health; and weaves in episodes from her personal life: learning from heroes and rogues, coming into her own as a surgeon, and nursing her husband, the poet Vijay Nambisan, who was claimed by cancer.
Engaging, incisive and deeply felt, A Luxury Called Health shows, as few books have ever done, ‘the sincerity and the deception, the valour and the cowardice beneath the white coat’.