Nagpur: This was three decades ago, when women, even, educated ‘professionals’ were still trapped in conventional slots.
If you chose to work, you became a – School teacher/ college professor/ Doctor. (These were accepted, noble professions, so it was alright for a ‘woman’ to venture into them if she had a slight manufacturing defect and didn’t want to be a ‘Home maker’.)
If you succeeded in passing your M.B.B.S including the internship – without succumbing to matrimony and motherhood in between, you specialized in – gynecology, pediatrics, ophthalmology, anesthesia or non-clinical lines like pathology , even Anatomy! (Then you could take on a professor’s job in some Medical college, bring home a decent income while your Doctor husband could run a hospital/ clinic, see patients, have odd hours and bring in the serious moolah! That was what husbands were supposed to do, wives were slotted for ‘Supporting Roles’.)
In this scenario of well laid out status quoes a lady Medical student shocked the entire college, including all the professors, when she declared she wanted to specialize in Surgery!!!
The reactions ranged from incredulity, scorn to even mild outrage.
“An emergency patient comes in at midnight, or even at 9 p.m. – are you going to be able to attend to him? You will say, sorry, I have to make dinner now for my family; or my child has to be put to sleep!” To which Seema Saxena – the girl in question – would reply ” I will make dinner also and still be a good surgeon. I will show that a determined woman can do it all!”
There were some nay sayers ( and sexist persons?) who asked bluntly “why are you blocking a guy’s seat? If a man becomes a Surgeon, he will be able to fend for a whole family, you will qualify as a surgeon, but not practise it once you are married? Why are you ‘wasting’ a valuable seat?”
Why indeed did Seema want to become a surgeon?
” After my stint in surgery as a student, I just knew this was a field for me.
Surgeons can bring instant relief to a patient; the results of their action can be seen immediately! It is not a long drawn out process where medicines, prescribed by a Doctor, are working – you wait patiently for the results to kick in. I felt surgeons do something great – they have to be creative, skillful and undaunted by challenges.
I began feeling very passionately about Surgery and was determined to become one myself.”
At that time there were no entrance exams for M.D, if you had the right marks in M.B.B.S. you got admitted to one of the ‘in demand’ M.D.s on the basis of your marks. Surgery was definitely in high demand! All the batch toppers vied to be surgeons.
Seema, whose extended family did not have a single Doctor in their realm, threw in her hat in the ring too.
“As soon as Seema declared she wanted to be a surgeon, we knew she would do it and be a good surgeon too” says Dr. Pradeep Barad, a classmate in GMC Nagpur and a renowned Orthopedic surgeon himself today. “Seema was a smart, no nonsense girl – outspoken and an avid debater. We all respected and liked her in our batch.”
Seema made it to surgery easily. She was a good student and she had worked hard for her goal.
“From the moment I became a Registrar in Surgery department of IGMC, I encountered no discrimination or attitude from my male classmates ” remembers Seema. ‘They were supportive, helpful and encouraging.” She particularly remembers their HOD Dr. Gore who was her mentor, guide and professor. “He never made me feel different as a woman. He was impervious to gender – we were all doctors together! I owe a lot to him.”
Among the other surgery students, Seema found her future husband, Dr. Prakash Sune. He was from Amraoti and was in Nagpur for his M.D. He was one year her senior. It was a case of mutual love, respect and admiration recalls Seema.
“The moment I said Yes to him I knew I was going to have to move to Amraoti because we had decided to set up our Surgical Hospital there.
“To be successful in both Amraoti and in fitting in, with the Sune family I knew I would have to learn Marathi and mould myself to Maharashtrian ways ” says Sune whose family originally hails from Lucknow, though she did her schooling from Kendriya Vidyalaya Nagpur. As students of KVK know, they do not have to study Marathi or any regional langauge there.
So Dr. Seema Saxena, M.D. (Surgery) joined Marathi classes to become proficient in the lingo.
Her father Dr. Saxena was a Professor of Economics and her mother Pratima was an English literature H.O.D. of her college. Seema joined classes to learn elementary Marathi!!
After marriage Prakash and she set up the hospital of their dreams in Amraoti. Sune Hospital – based in Rajapeth.
Both Prakash and Seema had their independent practise and saw their own set of patients. He specialized in some aspects and she in other so they complimented each other.
Even after their son was born, Seema did not take much of a break. Her in laws were at hand to help her get back to work asap.
This son was only seven years old, when tragedy struck.
Prakash had been called to Washim to help a friend with a difficult surgery. They finished late and Seema entreated her husband to stay overnight at Washim and return the next day morning. He said no, he wanted to return that night only and it wasn’t such a long drive after all.
It turns out that was to be a drive that never brought him home.
16 Kilometers from their house, a rashly driven oncoming car dashed against them and Dr. Prakash Sune died in the mishap.
“He and his driver both were teetotalers. But when it’s in your destiny, what has to happen, happens.”
Seema tells that emphatically to her patients as well.
“Do not ask me for any guarantees! No one can guarantee anyone’s life. I lost my husband to an accident, I lost my father to Cancer, as a Doctor I could not do much to help him.
“We are Doctors, we do our best for our patients, but we are NOT Gods! Don’t expect us to be. We do our work, but miracles we leave up to Him!”
Dr. Sune says that modestly, but after Prakash’ demise, it was no less than a miracle that she managed to keep the Sune Surgical Hospital going single handedly.
“Again, I got a lot of well meaning but discouraging advise.”
Many Doctors in Amraoti expected her to go back to Nagpur, take up a job and concentrate on bringing up her son.
“Running a hospital which is mainly for surgeries is not easy to run. Specially for a woman, and most especially for a single mother” she was told. “Sell your hospital” many opined.
“But I owed it to Prakash to keep it running. When I am in the hospital, attending to my patients, doing my surgeries, I feel he is with me, giving me the courage and confidence to go on…Running Sune Hospital is labour of love for me.” (And no, she is not keeping it going for her son. He has decided to become an Engineer.)
Her in laws, her parents and her employees – all kept her going.
The 20 odd nurses and others who help her run the 25 bedded hospital are like family.
“I send my employees on holidays and picnics with their family. I encourage my nurses to go for movies together. They need the R&R too” she says.
Has she or anyone from her staff ever been threatened, intimidated or faced violence from patients or their relatives? We ask.
“Never!” She replies instantly.
“I take a lot of time in talking to my patients explaining their prognosis to them and outlining my plan of action in treating them.
And I have a golden rule, which many advised me against. I never turn away a genuinely poor patient for lack of money.”
That is Dr. Seema Sune, nee Saxena. Not a God, but comes close… As the patients who have come under her knife will vouch!!
—Sunita Mudaliar (Associate Editor)