Dr. Umashankar shares his insights on the medical camps set at the remote villages in parts of Himalayas
A mere mention of the Himalayas brings peace to many a city dweller. As gorgeous as the snow-capped hilly regions of the country may be, the locals staying here have many challenges of their own. Being cut off from the rest of the country, especially in the colder months of the year, the people here scream out for attention especially when it comes to health.
With the Manali Mission Hospital (also known as Lady Willingdon Hospital) being one of the main hospitals in the entire region, there is always an urgent need for doctors, nurses and other healthcare practitioners here. This made Dr. R Umashankar, a radiologist from Columbia Asia Radiology Group, set up medical camps in these breathtaking yet difficult regions and help many people in need. In an interview with Deepa Natarajan, the renowned doctor, who has been part of this unique endeavor for several years now, speaks about his experience in the hills.
How did you decide to become a doctor, especially a radiologist?
Actually, I was forced to become a doctor (laughs). Those days, there were no doctors in my family and I got a merit seat so my mom forced me to become one. But I never really thought I would get into radiology although I always felt it’s one of the cooler jobs in medicine.
Today, the advancements in radiology amaze me. For instance, with the help of influential radiology, you can remove a puss in the liver without any surgery.
What made you set up camps in remote areas?
I have always associated myself with social work right from the time I finished my MBBS. So when my teacher and mentor Dr. Shalini Govil who used to be part of CMC, Vellore and now heads the radiology department at Columbia Asia Radiology group approached me for this unique community service, I agreed immediately. Now I have been a part of this mission for the last five years and visit the region twice a year, just after the pass opens and before it closes.
Which are the places that you cover?
The camps are set up in places like Lahaul, Spiti Valley, and Champa and partly funded by the Government of Himachal Pradesh. We usually stay in Manali for a day or two to get accustomed to the altitude and then carry on to other places.
We go to various villages and do surgical and screening camps, general check-up, scans etc after obtaining the necessary permits. We have a team of experts from various fields like pharmacy, gynecology and paramedical science in addition to a vehicle full of medical equipment.
What are the challenges faced by the locals in these areas?
While the hills are absolutely beautiful, the people living there are in dire need of medical attention. Although they are loving, friendly and open to treatments, they are cut off from the rest of the country for at least eight months in a year due to heavy snowfall. So in times of a medical emergency, they are just stuck.
For instance, on our first day in Killar, we came across a patient in shock and found out that she was suffering from a ruptured ectopic, which means there was a rupture in her tube during pregnancy. We reached just in time to save her life but unfortunately, couldn’t save the baby.
What are the biggest challenges faced by you and your team every year?
The Rohtang Pass is over 13,000 feet high and Kunzum 15,000 feet. Navigating on these roads is dangerous and challenging. The road to Keylong is one of the most dangerous ones in the world. Then there are places like Killar, that take at least two days to reach, not because of the distance, but the dangerous roads that make us drive at a speed of only 10-15 km/hour.
We also travel at nights on these roads which are also prone to landslides. Last year, there were three landslides on one of the roads and we were stuck for an entire day till the Army came and helped us.
What has been the most memorable part of your journey in the hills?
No phone, television, and gadgets. In fact, I learned that HD Kumaraswamy was the Chief Minister of Karnataka only after coming back (laughs). I also enjoyed savoring the black, red and sweet potatoes which are extremely unique to the area.
One must admit that despite being difficult, the mountains are really addictive. Once you go there, you feel like going back over and over again. This year, I even took my family along since it was the summer holidays for my kids.
Do you plan to branch out to more remote areas across the country?
If I get a chance to then why not! In 2001 during the Gujarat earthquake, I was a part of the medical relief team in a place called Anjar sent by the Karnataka Government. Even during the tsunami in 2005, I went to Nagapattinam.
How has Columbia Asia Radiology Group supported you in your mission?
I am really grateful to the hospital for giving me immense support. The organization is really happy with me going there. Dr. Harsha Rajamam, VP, Columbia Asia Radiology Group and Dr. Harsha Chadaga, Head of Teleradiology, Columbia Asia have always been helpful and supported me throughout. In fact, we are in constant touch with the Manali Mission Hospital as we provide teleradiology services to them.
(This content along with the images was originally published on https://www.healthcareexecutive.in/dr-umashankar-doctor-mission)