Over two dozen senior citizens with green plastic caps bandaged on one eye sat with their heads up in a corridor outside the operation theater of government-run JJ Hospital’s ophthalmic department. Some of them from places as far as Jalgaon, Parbhani and Jalna, had booked their 20-minute slot to get operated by one particular doctor for cataract. For six years, she has been holding the record of conducting the highest number of eye surgeries in India by an individual doctor. So, when doctor Ragini Parekh was selected among ‘100 Women Achievers’ by the Women and Child Development (WCD) union ministry, it did not come as a surprise to either her patients or colleagues.
The 50-year-old checks 500 to 700 patients in OPD and conducts 120 surgeries on an average, each day. Till now, she has conducted 72,000 surgeries, with last year’s operations touching a record of 6,000. “But it is never about numbers, always about quality,” she says.
This month, WCD ministry sent her a mail announcing her selection among the top women achievers in India, following a contest of voting on Facebook coupled with jury decision. On January 22, Parekh will be felicitated at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and get a chance to dine with President Pranab Mukherjee.
In her green apron, the spectacled doctor shuffles around her department, stopping and greeting patients and hugging a few. In the OPDs, clerks often find her scolding children consuming junk food. “It hampers your health,” she says, or sits counseling the elderly about the care they should take of their eyes.
Parekh started off as a medical student in 1990, following her mentor doctor T P Lahane who had held the record of highest surgeries each year until he became JJ hospital’s dean. The progression has been slow. Parekh would operate upon 60 patients in a day, stopping whenever her hand trembled. The figure rose to 70 the next year. Recently, she broke her own record by conducting 130 surgeries in a single day in a rural camp at Anandwan, Chandrapur, where patients, all with mature cataracts, had queued up.
In her 20-year-old career she has operated in 200 rural camps. The faith of patients in her is evident. “She operated several patients in my village once. They all got well. Now every time there is a cataract surgery required, villagers together take a bus to Mumbai to meet her,” said Ankush Landge from Jalna. He got his 65-year-old father admitted in JJ hospital for cataract procedure and is ready to put him on the wait-list if need be.
Having decided to remain single, she spends over 12 hours in the hospital every day. A geyser set up in her office bathroom ensures she can take bath at work, not wasting any time going home, if situation demands. When patient load is high, she spends the nights in the hospital. “I got so much involved in my work… If I was married, I would have to look after my children, in-laws,” she explains, adding she could not have done so much at work then.
Her septuagenarian parents do not complain. In fact, her father makes her morning tea and mother brings her dinner if she is too tired. The co-ordination is not just with her parents. During operations, her team works with precision, handing over instruments without being asked, taking over bandaging the patient as soon as she completes the surgery. “It is always a team effort. A person cannot handle everything alone,” she admits.
Ask her about the most difficult case, there are none. But there are memorable ones.
In one instance, a mechanic had lost his vision after a battery blast at a garage. Together, she and Lahane had been able to restore his vision. “When he was getting married, he came to meet us in his wedding suit,” Parekh smiles. Later, he brought his first baby to them for blessings and also invited them when he opened his first garage.
According to Lahane, who now comes next to Parekh in the volume of surgeries in the country, most ophthalmologists would only conduct over 30 surgeries in a day. “There have been cases where we thought the eye sight was non-salvageable. But she operates and vision returns,” he says, adding, “In camps, I have seen her work for 18 hours at a stretch.” After a long time, Parekh took a break to treat herself by visiting a mall this new year. “There is a long way to go. And I want to keep working,” she says. The recent rise in cataracts in youngsters is bothering her and she hopes to keep working to treat the new malaise.