Volume 17 Number 4
Dental Fire Sparks New Approach
01 August 2004

Paul Williams tells the story of an Indian dentist who saw his surgery razed to the ground.

MODERN DENTISTRY is virtually painless, claims Bangalore dentist Ravindra Rao. ‘So long as the dentist is the kind to whom the patient matters,’ he adds. Eyes twinkling with his characteristic humour, he cites a colleague who displayed a board in his surgery for all his patients to see: ‘Pain is a question of mind over matter—I don’t mind and you don’t matter!’

Rao says that his approach to his patients underwent a fundamental shift after he met people whose lives had been transformed through their contacts with Initiatives of Change (IC). ‘I perceived that my role should primarily be as a “care-giver”—to relieve pain and meet a patient’s need. I came to see them as people rather than as patients.’ Many are now numbered among his, and his wife Jayashree’s, closest friends.

A catastrophe at work marked a turning point in his own journey of faith. In 1993 a major fire broke out in the laboratory attached to his surgery. It swept through the premises, destroying every piece of equipment. ‘Jayashree and I were shattered,’ he recalls. ‘As I surveyed the clinic I had nurtured and painstakingly built up over 15 years reduced to ashes, I felt all the strength draining out of me and I nearly collapsed.’

The next moment, he says, he felt a surge of energy rush through him. ‘My faith, asleep for years, seemed suddenly to come very strongly alive. I knew in that instant that God would give all we needed to come through.’

A succession of unexpected things followed. First a builder friend offered him a high-profile shop in a fashionable shopping complex to use as a temporary clinic. ‘He said I could stay there till I was able to return to my own premises.’ Then a dental dealer offered to equip the temporary clinic. He told Rao, ‘Use the equipment as long as you need it. Once you are back in your own place you can decide whether to return or buy it.’ Institutions granted him loans at a time when loans were not easily or quickly sanctioned. Some friends got together and gave an expensive piece of equipment. ‘One day my driver handed me an envelope, saying, “Keep it sir, and return it when you can.” It was his savings—over two months’ salary.’

Rao says the rebuilding took just three months. ‘I returned to a clinic that was state of the art. We were overwhelmed with the good will that had been shown to us. After that, I could never doubt God’s love. Even though I had forgotten him—and often even doubted his existence—he never ceased in his care for us.’

The experience redoubled Rao’s resolve to give his best to those who come to him for treatment. ‘They trust that I care. My profession also gives me the chance to give more than just dentistry.

‘Some time ago I decided to make “remaking the world” my aim,’ he says. ‘It is a humbling thought and I have often come short. But it has given me a wholly different attitude to whatever practical task I am called to do. In my case this has principally been dentistry—but in fact it has been a lot more, including involvement in the work of IC in India and internationally. This gives a larger perspective and setting to my work with people.’

In a climate where medical colleagues are notorious for being on the make—Rao says they would regard it as securing a ‘return’ on their considerable investment in training— he sees an urgent need to create transparency and trust between doctor (or dentist) and patient. ‘The onus is largely on the doctors who, with a new outlook and motivated by a cause higher than their “return”, can make a difference. I believe that a doctor or dentist is well placed to care for the whole person. The patient comes seeking physical healing. A caring doctor will also seek to heal his spirit.’

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