On 11 August 2008, at Pune Airport, I was catching a flight for Lucknow with my husband [Fig. 1] Col. R. S. Bhadauria of 10 Para (Special Forces) to meet my teacher and mentor Prof. M. K. Mehra, retired Head of the Department of Ophthalmology at King George Medical College, Lucknow and Secretary at Sitapur Eye Hospital Trust. He had inherited the Sitapur legacy from his father Dr Mahesh Prasad Mehray, the founder of Sitapur Eye Hospital. During the entire journey, my mind was flooded with thoughts of the unknown. I understood that what I was leaving behind was an upwardly mobile professional career in the armed forces at a time when I was at the peak of my career. The nagging question was “Why should I be leaving something as beautiful as Armed Forces Medical College, Pune, to go and join a hospital that had lost its past glory, located in a remote place?” Making it functional would be a super human task, may be even impossible. Sitapur was diametrically opposite to the work culture and life that we were used to. Even if I didn’t want to be in the army, I had the best possible options available to me. Then why did we take a decision such as this?
The decision was based on our visit to Sitapur Eye Hospital (SEH) at the earnest request of Prof. M. K. Mehra.Prof. Mehra had trained me by hand, prepared me for Sitapur and had put this seed in my mind at the final departure after I had gotten married. We reached Sitapur next morning and spent a full day there. We were welcomed by a tall, straight, and daunting statue of Dr M. P. Mehray at the center of his own ruined creation. The statue emanated tremendous courage, commitment and creativity by its mere presence. After going through what was left from the past, our understanding was that the hospital was built by not only a dedicated ophthalmologist but also by an exceptionally capable leader. The system had been running on the basis of hero worship and the rules made by the leader and followed by the rest. They were golden rules for that era and were not replicable. On ground zero, his son Prof. M. K. Mehra was not able to replicate his father’s leadership qualities and worldly wisdom that were needed for management of the hospital, and so it went down on the slopes of time and needed recreation.
Having been a hardcore medical professional, I had no administrative experience. My husband, a battle-hardened soldier involved in operations in Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Kargil, immediately found what excited him. He planned as to how he would get rid of the land mafia, politicians and government officials who had occupied buildings inside the hospital campus for their own use. These elements were a major challenge to the hospital’s functioning and appeared to cause a sense of fear amongst the patients and hospital staff. Protection and security of the SEH became part of his job description along with general administration. He had a peaceful sleep because he was done. I felt like Alice in Wonderland, in this unique and incomprehensible organization, but felt protected by a strong arm.
After a sleepless night, the leader within me woke up. The leader counselled me, “You have vision, you are an excellent clinician, skilled surgeon, and are good at financial management. You love and understand people. You are a creative thinker, strategist and above all, you have inherited a strong value system from childhood along with a committed sense of responsibility. What else do you need? Protection, you have it. Shut up and take the call.” The thought of my other mentor Dr S. S. Badrinath gave me requisite courage and willpower to take the plunge. With no words spoken between me and my husband, he promptly and boldly told Prof Mehra that the challenge was acceptable us. In SEH, weaknesses far outnumbered the strengths but vast infrastructure, few technically trained and committed employees, students of DOMS and Diploma in Optometry were some solace. Weaknesses included crumbled buildings, no operation theater, very old equipment, strike-experienced employees with vested interests, and suboptimally trained doctors. Only the poorest of poor patients were still coming.
“ I see my path, but I don’t know where it leads. Not knowing where I’m going is what inspires me to travel it.” Rosalia de Castro
What Inspired us?
The statue of Dr M. P. Mehray, standing tall with a torch in hand; poorest of the poor, undernourished, underclad, bicycle-borne patients with corneal ulcers, keratomalacia and cataracts; and the guilty face of my teacher inspired us to undertake this journey, irrespective of what it would take out of our lives. May be a strong sense of commitment to our fellow human beings’ welfare deeply ingrained in our value system was responsible for taking this first step. Our learnings over the course of our lives gave us the requisite courage and confidence that we were good enough to bring a change to a place where it was needed most. In a disciplined and systematic manner, with small steps, someday, we shall be able to bring the same glory back to Sitapur Eye Hospital. With deep explicit faith in the lord above, and strength from each other, we took our first steps in Sitapur Eye Hospital on 06 April 2009 after retirement from the Armed Forces.
“When Nothing is sure, everything is possible.”
Today we can stand tall and say ‘it was not impossible.’ Today Sitapur Eye Hospital [Fig. 2] is a sought-after destination of learning for Masters in Ophthalmology, Bachelors in Optometry, Diploma in Ophthalmic Assistant, and Fellowships for Ophthalmologists and paramedicals. The super-specialties at the base hospital, robust outreach in eight districts of Uttar Pradesh, and vision centers cater to a large volume of needy patients. A financially self-sustained hospital is functionally effective for the needs of the most but it’s not enough. Project UP- Sight is the future of SEH, where Sitapur Eye Hospital Trust and Aravind Eye Care System will work together to create a brilliant future for SEH, and we shall continue to contribute as much as we can, in any form. Enhancing the glory of the Institutions is a never-ending story-only the characters change.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
About the author
Dr (Col) Madhu Bhadauria
Dr (Col) Madhu Bhadauria served in the Army Medical Corps (AMC) for 25 years and took premature retirement to rebuild the Sitapur Eye Hospital. In AMC, she was part of Kargil and Jammu and Kashmir operations, served in the Army Hospital Research and Referral, Armed Forces Medical College and Command Hospitals etc. For the last 13 years, she has been busy rebuilding Sitapur Eye Hospital, its community services, specialty services and training facilities for ophthalmologists and paramedical workforce. During this period, Sitapur Eye Hospital has been awarded many times for the services provided to the poor and needy and also for comprehensive development of eye care services.