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Dr. George Ani, ent surgeon exemplare, RIP

Posted by: Philip Alex | Posted on: April 8th, 2016 | 0 Comments

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I  returned from George Ani’s funeral on the 3rd of February 2016.

Equating the familiar mental image of his twinkling smile and that easy shake of his head with his now still body was a surreal impossibility. He was killed by a speeding vehicle while on a cycle from Vellore to Bangalore. Time then froze into a snapshot framed by Annie his wife, his bewildered kids, as wafting waves of incense stirred the heated air. The seismic shock of the moment fragmented into a barrage of questions and suppositions which whirled with the fan stirred wind, each shouting, but echoed by a silence bereft of answers. Here is the transcript of my message at his funeral. It is an attempt to find meaning and hope, and offer that hope to all those who hurt as we do.

“I stand here today on behalf of my family, my wife Anna and my son Nathaniel. I come on behalf of the Lady Willingdon Hospital Manali, and also on behalf of the many mission hospitals all over the North of India. I stand here today also on behalf of thousands of patients not only in the Kullu valley and beyond, but also on behalf of many thousands of patients in remote locations all over India.

I knew George from his student days. The songs we sang at his funeral were songs we had sung together with him. I watched him grow and mature, graduate, and go for postgraduate training to C.M.C. Vellore in E.N.T. Watched as he became an exemplary surgeon. By this time we were in Manali mission hospital. Manali mission hospital is the only viable hope for patients in the Kullu valley and beyond the 13500 foot Rohtang pass which isolates 45000 people beyond its natural barrier. George first came by himself for an ENT camp to Manali six years ago. Seeing the immense need he help set us up with all the necessary equipment for regular camps. He subsequently came to us faithfully twice every year for the next six years. He personally motivated other ent surgeons to accompany him. His department supported him in this endeavour. He used to come for four or five days, in which time he would see three to four hundred patients and perform ten to fourteen complicated surgeries before his return to vellore. This was a huge boon to so many patients, for whom access to this sort of service would normally mean an eight hour drive to Chandigarh and huge costs, both of which were beyond the reach of many.

I would like to share two stories from his times with us. Both stories have to do with time. The first is about a three year old boy called Man Singh, the son of a daily labourer who was brought to us with stridor and a progressive inability to breathe. We could only think of diphtheria, or croup, none of which fit into his pattern of presentation. We put a tube down his windpipe and put the boy on a ventilator to keep him alive. We talked to the father about taking the boy down to a higher centre but were greeted with that glazed expression which we know means that we might has well have suggested taking his child to the moon. The father of the boy asked us to remove the machine and give him the boy so he could take him home to die. But George was scheduled to come the next day. I persuaded the father to permit us to keep the boy till George had come to see him. He agreed. George came, saw the boy and diagnosed a rare condition of congenital abductor palsy where the vocal cords are unable to open thereby causing the difficulty in breathing. He then performed a surgery by trying to lateralise the cords and inserted a tracheostomy tube below the vocal cords through which the child could breath. The child was discharged well and has subsequently been seeing George for the next two years. Last September George advised us to remove the tracheostomy tube. This child who was now five was discharged completely well. If George had been even a day late, I would not have been able to persuade the father to keep the child and the child would be dead. Here in Kerala you may not be able to understand why a father would rather choose death for his child than the option of taking the child to a higher centre, but that is the reality that a large proportion of India lives with. God however, had chosen George to come just at the right time so that this boy could live.

The second story is from the very last time George was with us last September. He had travelled overnight by taxi from Mussourie where he finished a camp. He had seen about three hundred patients, and had performed twelve surgeries in Manali. He had to leave by bus at five pm and had just commenced his last surgery, a modified radical mastoidectomy at two thirty pm. This surgery normally takes anywhere between three to six hours. I was considering alternate travel arrangements when at four thirty I saw George outside with his bag. He said that he felt God’s hand permitting him to finish the surgery in record time. He was able to get on to his bus in time.

Today, as we see him lying still, many of us have questions. Some of the questions are about time. Most of these questions do not have answers. Some of those questions are suppositions that open oppressive doors of guilt or fear. But George would not have us live under these shadows. His times were undoubtedly in the hands of the Lord of the universe. And he lived a full life, filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run. So it is our unbelief that questions the progress of time in the Master’s hand. We have to believe that God knows exactly what He is doing, though it does not take away our pain or furnish answers to a shrouded future. We don’t know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. And so, we can come to say thank you. Thank you George for who you are, for your smile, your humility and for your passion for life and to see God’s kingdom come here on earth. Thank God for the privilege we have of knowing George. We can hope, because we know that this hope will not disappoint us, because of God’s love that has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Rom 5:5).

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