In my decades in Mumbai I’ve passed the J. J. Hospital often enough to look up the fact that it is named after the 19th century philanthropist, Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, who donated the funds required for setting up this hospital. I’d never had to visit the hospital. So this week when I had to look for the outpatient department I realized how large it was. The doctors who I know claim that interning here is the best training possible, because of the volume and variety of cases that you need to attend. As I arrived at the neo-classical facade of the out-patients building, it was clear to me how large this volume is. The next morning I read in the papers that I had underestimated the numbers of cases the hospital deals with; apparently this week medical interns are on strike, and the number of visitors has dropped dramatically. As I thought about this, I was reminded of an observation by Atul Gawande about the innovations in medical practice created in Mumbai just to keep up with the demands on services.
I wandered into the administrative building for the case papers I was there for. The crowded corridors smelt of strong bleach. As I stood in the queue outside the clerk’s office one of the people ahead of me tried to take off his slippers before entering. The clerk was furious “This is not a temple”, he told the man, “You are not here to pray”. After my work was done, I walked through the busy crowds to an alcove which held a statue of the person the hospital is named after. One person came by, took off his slippers and placed a flower at the feet of the statue. There was a small pile of flowers there. I thought that it was good that the staff kept the distinction between a hospital and a temple in mind. But for the poor who come here for treatment, the availability of government health care is a prayer come true.
There is a little donations box near the base of the statue. Even if it were full every day, it would not suffice to keep the hospital running. I wish that a larger fraction of my taxes would go into maintaining and expanding such health services.