We came to the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, India on December 17, 2020 with a diagnosis of stage IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) based on a thoracoscopy performed at another center. Thirteen months later, my mother is doing well, and her recovery has been nothing short of miraculous for all of us. We are full of gratitude and respect for the care provided by the team at the Tata Memorial Hospital. Dr. Sunil Chopade has been our primary point of contact for any and all medical care, and it was at his request that we were happy to share our experience.
Our major hassles at the hospital were during the early days. Patients with newly diagnosed cancer and their family members often experience intense emotional turmoil and vulnerability. In those early days, I remember being overwhelmed and worn out by the sheer number of people at the hospital, in every corridor, at every desk, in every queue. Back then, I had absolutely no idea about how things worked here. I did not know the queues, the system, the protocol, and everything would wear me out. I would be highly irritable and lose my cool (at least in my own mind). Therefore, I would like to suggest that new patients be provided daily handholding by volunteers or patient navigators, so as to help them understand the flow and system of the hospital. It is a huge center, where one often needs to navigate different desks and facilities, spread over different floors of different buildings, and doing it without any guidance can be a nightmare. Even with the help of Mr. Mukesh Kumar (a volunteer with Utsaah Foundation, who was working in the clinic that I was being treated at), I had a difficult time going from one place to another within the mammoth Tata Memorial Hospital infrastructure; I can only imagine the plight of others.
Nevertheless, to this date, the care provided by Dr. Sunil Chopade has been exceptional. At first, I was keen on getting face time with Dr. Kumar Prabhash, and perhaps my attitude may have been irksome to Dr. Chopade, in case he sensed our desire to be seen each time by the senior doctor. However, not once did he let that get in the way of the care and advice that he provided to my mother. This is a testimony to his work ethic, integrity, and tolerance. During the second wave of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, my mother was infected and was quite visibly affected by it. This was after her first four chemotherapy cycles with pemetrexed and carboplatin, when she was already very frail. I would call Dr. Chopade every other morning in the outpatient department (OPD), before any of the patients had arrived. His calm voice was very reassuring. His advice was solid, steady, and logical; it was what got me through that fortnight, and I am eternally grateful for it.
I had the opportunity to interact with Dr. Prabhash on one occasion. I must mention something that I have noticed. Usually, the heads of department tend to rush out of the OPD, without wanting to be interrupted or accosted in the corridor by patients and junior doctors or nurses or other staff; they make a beeline for the closest exit or elevator. However, on several occasions I noticed that Dr. Prabhash does quite the opposite. He walks as slowly as possible, making place for everyone waiting in the OPD to file their questions or ask him their doubts. I have never once seen him lose his temper with anyone. There is no hint of a superior attitude and this exceptional work ethic set at the top percolates through his entire department, including Dr. Sunil Chopade, Dr. Suresh Kumar, and Dr. Mehak Trikha (I may be forgetting a few names).
I would like to make a special mention and thank Mr. Mukesh Kumar (volunteer mentioned earlier) and Mr. Ratan Dhekale (volunteer in the Geriatric Oncology Clinic) for being kind and helpful at all times. I would also like to thank Mr. Siddhesh Darekar, Mr. Rahul Mahyawanshi, Mr. Ganesh Phanse, Mrs. Aparna Bhadalekar, and Mr. Hitesh Roge (the non-medical staff at the OPD). They have always been helpful.
Having said that, I have had several issues with a few people at the center, including the technician in the main building, room 51, who handles the computed tomography (CT) image uploading function. But for each such person, there are others in the system who more than make up for such hassles. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Dr. Suyash Kulkarni, Head of the Department of Interventional Radiology/Radiodiagnosis, and his assistant, Mr. Manas Kawali. On two occasions, I have had to report my troubles to Dr. Suyash Kulkarni and on both occasions, he gave me a patient hearing and acted swiftly to resolve the matter.
In a system as large and burgeoning as the Tata Memorial Hospital and with the ever-mounting pressure on its staff and infrastructure, I am fully empathetic to the fact that a seamless or effortless process is challenging to achieve. Despite the pressure, the doctors have always displayed extraordinary patience, care, and empathy for us patients.
About the author
Kartick Sitaraman (caregiver, age 40 years) is based in Mumbai and works as a screenwriter in the entertainment industry. He moonlights as a voiceover artist. He is passionate about music, yoga, and cycling.
About the patient
Geetha Sitaraman (patient, age 73 years) is a retired banker. Post retirement, she and her husband have been volunteering with a non-governmental organization (NGO) that assists the poor in cancer treatment (Vasantha Memorial Trust). She is a firm believer in natural/traditional healing remedies. She is a trained (but amateur) Carnatic classical vocalist and a fantastic cook.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.