JV Peter, Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Vellore


Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore, was founded by an American missionary, Dr. Ida Scudder, in 1900. While visiting India to see her parents, she was shocked when she saw the deaths of three women in labor in one day. Although her father was a doctor working in this region, tradition prevented women from seeking medical help from male doctors.

Ida had never wanted to become a doctor, but this event moved her so much that she decided to become a doctor to help Indian women. She returned to the United States and was among the first female physicians to be trained at Weill Cornell University. She opened a one-bed dispensary in Vellore in 1900. From there, our hospital has since evolved into a 3,000-bed tertiary care teaching hospital.

Frankly, when I was a kid, I didn’t want to be a doctor either. I wanted to become an engineer. But a few incidents made me want to be a doctor, and I was also inspired by the dedicated service of a few of my family who have been doctors. I felt this would be a very meaningful way to serve God in the healing ministry.

Like everything around us, the pandemic has changed our professional lives. All elective work had to be suspended, both in outpatient and in surgery. However, emergencies were taken care of, including emergency surgeries.

We did not suffer from the same oxygen shortages as some other hospitals. We ran into supply issues for a few days, but never hit critical levels. We had government support for a steady supply of oxygen. In addition, during the first wave of the pandemic, we planned to install two PSA oxygen factories, and also purchased portable oxygen concentrators. These helped mitigate the risk. We also have adequate PPE for the staff.

These days the working day doesn’t end until around 9 p.m. It has become more busy, with a lot of pressure on creating beds, ensuring staff well-being, the need for frequent and timely communications with staff on changing scenarios, and multiple planning meetings.

By the grace of God, out of more than 10,500 CMC employees, we’ve lost only one healthcare worker to Covid, so far. Unfortunately, this person had not taken the vaccine.

I think Covid really brought out the differences between nonprofit charitable institutions and corporate hospitals. There has been an overwhelming response to the Covid pandemic at the many mission hospitals in the CMC network. People have taken on the challenge altruism to meet the growing needs. It was sad that some – luckily only a few – private hospitals exploited the situation. Unfortunately, there are always some that tarnish the image of the rest.

The practice of medicine has changed since the start of my medical career as a student almost 40 years ago. On the one hand, technological advances in medicine have given us much better diagnostic tools and treatment modalities. Survival rates have improved for many diseases. Complex surgeries are now performed more easily, with less pain and with faster recovery times.

However, all of these advances have come at the cost of personal interaction. it was so essential between doctor and patient in the past. I have sometimes seen rounds take place without the clinician actually touching a patient.

Medicine was once considered a vocation, but now it is called “the medical industry”. CMC Vellore has strived to protect its core value of medicine as a vocation. This is illustrated in CMC’s motto: “Serve and not be served”. Indeed, our founder, Dr Scudder, said, “We are not just building a medical school, but the Kingdom of God.

As I try to figure out what God is doing in and through this pandemic, I agree with the biblical principle that God sometimes sends plagues to discipline His people. However, it is important to understand that such events may not always be punitive. These things happen, but not as a punishment for disobedience. We will only know the exact goal when we meet it face to face.

I believe that the primary purpose of God is to bring his people back to him. I believe many of us have looked to our Creator to find the deeper meaning of our life and existence through all of this pain and disaster.

I think what surprises me the most is how short our memory is for the right things, and how we sometimes cling for so long to the memory of less good things, or grudges. I am no exception.

The hardest thing to bear is when close friends let you down. And cynical people with a negative outlook on life are what really make me angry.

My best childhood memories were growing up in a safe environment surrounded by love. What I am able to do now is mainly thanks to the sacrifices of my family at the time. They have always been a great support, mentally and spiritually.

From the earliest age, my parents, and especially my mother, instilled in me trust and dependence on God. It has only matured and deepened with every experience I have had in life. I have always felt the constant presence and direction of God.

What makes me really happy it’s when I see someone who – in all standard medical terms – is a sunk patient survive their critical illness and return home. I have witnessed several miracles in my medical career.

I think the thing I would really like to do now is take a break with my family, and spend time with them, without the pressure of work. The pandemic has certainly changed my life, but all of these changes, I believe, are only temporary. We will soon find better times.

What I learned from the pandemic is that God is always faithful, whatever the circumstance; and that he created each of us with a very special and unique purpose, no matter how small it may seem here on earth.

I love music, period.

I pray most often for wisdom.

My hope for the future is that, unlike us, nothing surprises God. He is seated on the throne.

If I were to find myself locked in a church for a few hours, with any mate I could choose, I would love to be there with my wife, Jayanthi, because there is so much power in the agreed prayer.

JV Peter was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

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