By Dr. Veena Bharathi
When the lady doctor, a well-known OBG professor met with a car accident near Maddur in July 1979, she was in the prime of her exceptional medical career, at the age of 44 years. A severe spinal injury in her neck left her nearly paralysed from her neck down (quadriplegia).
Dr. Arundhathi was the first DGO (Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics) and MD (OBG) qualified woman to be appointed as Lady Probationary Medical Officer and later as Associate Professor in Department of OBG in Cheluvamba Hospital, Mysuru, between 1961 and 1966.
Arundhathi had lost her mother when she was just one-and-a-half years of age, when her mother died in her subsequent delivery, due to child-birth related complications. It was Arundhathi’s father who motivated her. Her father Gundappa Shetty told Arundhathi, “You should become a doctor and serve womenfolk by becoming an OBG specialist!”
Arundhathi, born in the conservative Vyshya community at Huliyar village of Tumkur, became a first rank holder in the Andhra matriculation examination (her father was in a transferable Government job as the Deputy Director of the Postal and Telegraph Department.)
She meritoriously completed her MBBS degree (as the only successful lady candidate in her batch) from the Government Medical College, Guntur, in 1958. After finishing her DGO, Dr. Arundhathi got her first professional posting in the Cheluvamba Hospital, Mysuru, in 1961.
In 1960, Arundhathi got married to Dr. R.S.K. Murthy (who was the Professor of Medicine at K.R. Hospital, Mysuru), who had gone to Guntur from Karnataka, on deputation. Dr. Murthy is a gold medallist from Mysore Medical College (MMC), who received the gold medal from Jayachamaraja Wadiyar.
During her posting in Mysuru, Dr. Arundhathi was permitted to pursue her MD-OBG in Visakhapatnam, which was of one-year duration. (She had also passed the ECFMG examination in 1962 itself, which was the essential entrance examination if an MBBS doctor wanted to pursue higher studies in the US).
In the MD-OBG exam final, of the 25 candidates, who had appeared for the exam, Dr. Arundhathi was the only woman who could pass in her first attempt.
When she rejoined the Cheluvamba Hospital in 1964, she created the milestone of the first MD-OBG qualified woman to become the Associate Professor in that Department, specifically with labour room in-charge responsibility. In mid 1966, she was transferred to Hubli.
Says her son Dr. Ramesh Makam (a reputed laparoscopic and bariatric surgeon in Bengaluru): “When my mother met with the tragic car accident near Maddur in July 1979, she was on her way to meet her senior Dr. Savithri in Mysuru. At that time, my mother was working at Kidwai Institute of Oncology in Bengaluru as a Professor and Head of the Women’s Cancer Wing. I just then had got selected for the first year MBBS at JJM Medical College, Davangere.”
Soon after the car accident, Dr. Arundhathi was admitted to the Neuro Centre Department of NIMHANS in Bengaluru. Six weeks later on, her rehabilitation schedule was continued at the St. Martha’s Hospital and then onwards for about 3 months of neurorehabilitation at the Victoria Hospital, Bengaluru.
“She did regain about 25 percent strength in her left side of the body, though her right part continued to be non-functional. Most of the time, my mother had to be in a wheelchair. Even though she had recovered only partially, till June 1980, she continued to work as the Head of the Department of ‘Women’s Oncology Wing’ at the Kidwai Memorial Hospital and later on worked at the Bowring Hospital, Bengaluru from June 1980 to May 1981, when she took voluntary retirement from Government service.”
Dr. Arundhathi, along with her husband Dr. Murthy started their own nursing home (at Patalamma Street, Basavanagudi, Bengaluru) in October 1980 named “Anugraha Vittala Nursing Home” (A.V. Hospital). Even after getting partially disabled due to a cervical spinal injury, with her never-say-die attitude and optimism, Dr. Arundhathi started examining her patients with her functional left hand and she had also learnt to write prescriptions in her left hand itself.
Says Dr. Ramesh Makam: “Mother’s students like Dr. Krishna Bai used to come to A.V. Hospital, to learn the complex foetal manoeuvring techniques like ‘external cephalic version’, which my mother used to demonstrate live on a pregnant woman, using her only functional left hand. Though my mother herself had to consume 10-12 types of analgesic tablets every day, to mitigate her bodily pain that was most of the time unbearable after the car accident and despite the continued physiotherapy sessions, she was always spirited enough to be beside a pregnant woman, assuring her, that the delivery would be smooth sailing.”
The exceptionally meritorious lady doctor, who never knew anything about cricket, started watching the game frequently after the car accident.
During 1984-86, she was a visiting faculty and advisor to KIMS (Kempegowda Institute of Medical Sciences, Bengaluru), till the institution got the MCI (Medical Council of India) recognition.
Before the accident, in the medical camps that used to be conducted in Bellary, during the late sixties, female patients always used to ask for “Arundhathiyamma.” In 1974, Dr. Arundhathi was granted a fellowship by WHO (World Health Organisation), when she had to travel to UK, Singapore and Yugoslavia, which qualified her to teach MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) to junior doctors.
Says Dr. Ramesh Makam: “A few months after the accident, my mother used to get up every day around 3 am to do pranayama and meditate. Never once did she show any frustration, nor did she blame her fate. She was always optimistic. When I appeared for my surgery-DNB examination, she went all the way to Kukke Subramanya Swamy Temple and did ‘urulu seve’ praying for my success. At the All-India level, of the 326 candidates who had appeared for the examination, only 8 persons including me got through.”
The lady doctor who passed away on Jan. 23 last year (2022), was 88 years of age. Arundhathi means “washed from the rays of the sun”, the role-model doctor, indeed was a ray of hope, sunshine for the womenfolk till her very end.
For the gritty lady doctor believed in Jarod Kintz’s words: “Faith-a device of the mind, fed by the soul that functions like crutches to a man in a wheelchair.”