I lost a dear friend

by francine Hardaway on August 7, 2006

I lost a dear friend this week, to a situation that never should have happened. Although, if I were to ask him, he would tell me otherwise. He would say his life’s journey was over. I would say the ignorance and arrogance of his adopted country’s medical system killed him.

N.S. (Sri) Sidharan was a retired technologist from Intel who devoted his life to peaceful causes. He travelled frequently to and from Bodh Gaya, India (the place where Buddha received enlightenment) to visit Dwarko Sundrani, one of the last active followers of Ghandi. Dwarko runs the Samanway Ashram, a school for village childen in the Bihar province of India, far from the Bangalores and Hyderabads. Bihar is poor. Not only can’t people afford to educate their children; they don’t even understand why education is necessary. Some of the children Dwarko-ji cares for are tribal. They only come to school because he feeds them, and he teaches them only farming. With oxen.

Dwarko-ji is 85, and has no succession plan for the Ashram. Sri spent his retirement years trying to raise money for the school and figure out a way for it to go on after Dwarko-ji passes. Between trips to India, he helped a bunch of start-up companies in Arizona, including one that has a new method for diagnosing heart disease, participated in several meditation groups, and began a business called Technology Initiatives for Peace. He was a big proponent of trust.

Sri was my friend, and I admired him. I went to India with Sri three years ago, when Dwarko-ji was travelling from Bodh Gaya to Dharamshala for an audience with the Dalai Lama. We flew to Delhi, took an overnight train to Pathamkot, stayed in an ashram that served as a retreat center for the people who run other, more public ashrams, and then went to Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile. Not one touristy thing did I see.

Although I didn’t personally meet His Holiness, I did meet Dwarko-ji, and see the Dalai Lama and the chanting monks from afar. It was a life-changing experience. Sri took incredible care of me.

I went back to India last November, to meet him in Bodh Gaya for Dwarko-ji’s “eye camp”, an annual event in which tens of thousands of blind Indians are restored to vision by cataract surgery in a week-long surgical marathon that takes place in tents on a dirt field. In the years since the eye camp began, they have never had a fatality, and rarely an infection, despite the sheer numbers of surgeries and the dusty, hot, crowded conditions. Volunteer doctors come from all over to participate.

Sri wanted to spread the good will of the eye camp from India to Africa, and this July he went to Ghana to try to scope out the situation and set things up. He was very excited.

And then I never heard from him again. Two days ago, I awoke in the morning, opened my email, and saw this message: “NS Sidharan died last evening in Good Samaritan Hospital. He had recently returned from Ghana. Details to follow.”

I freaked. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what happened. Sri returned from Ghana with a fever. He went to the hospital. They diagnosed flu. He told them he had come back from Africa. They suspected malaria. But they didn’t begin treatment. They kept sending him home while they did tests. Some of the tests were “inconclusive” (meaning the pathologist probably didn’t know how to read for malaria).

By the time they got the diagnosis and admitted him to Good Samaritan, his body was overwhelmed by the bacteria. Then they had to use drugs so powerful that he died.

The friends who were with him told me he got good medical care. I beg to differ. I googled malaria. Here’s the CDC web site: “Malaria should be considered a potential medical emergency and should be treated accordingly. Delay in diagnosis and treatment is a leading cause of death in malaria patients in the United States.”

More: “Where malaria is not endemic any more (such as the United States), health care providers are not familiar with the disease. Clinicians seeing a malaria patient may forget to consider malaria among the potential diagnoses and not order the needed diagnostic tests. Laboratorians may lack experience with malaria and fail to detect parasites when examining blood smears under the microscope.”

And the last quote: “This sometimes fatal disease can be prevented and cured. Bednets, insecticides, and antimalarial drugs are effective tools to fight malaria in areas where it is transmitted.”

In other words, if Sri had stayed in Ghana, or any underdeveloped country, he’d probably be alive today. Only in America, where we think we know everything about how everyone “should” live, from what they should eat to how they should vote, is he dead. This teaches me humility. And I grieve.
Tags : ashram, Samanway

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