At a time when many people get abandoned by their own families during their final days of illness, Kishore Rao not only accepts them happily at his Palliative care centre but also makes sure that people kiss their life goodbye with dignity, and not with a feeling of helplessness.
For those who might be unaware, Palliative care means providing mental and physical comfort to people who are terminally ill. There are well-established centres across the country who have acknowledged that a patient can get severely traumatized due to his illness, thus needing psychological, social, and spiritual care. It also involves spreading awareness about the illness, and early detection of symptoms. However, once the presence of illness in a patient is confirmed, the centre cannot issue any medicinal treatment. It only aims to provide comfort and care to the patients so that they can lead their life of illness with dignity.
Kishore Rao was inspired to open Bangalore Hospice Trust – Karunasharaya, that he claims to be the first residential palliative care centre of India for the terminally ill, after his mother’s suffering and death by Cancer. In an interview with The Better India, Rao says that,
“The genesis of this entire thing stems from a personal loss – my mother passed away from cancer many years ago, and it stayed somewhere in my head. It was with that intent that I started working towards providing support and palliative care to terminally ill cancer patients.”
In 1986, Rao first set up Indian Cancer Society in Karnataka to create awareness about Cancer. He worked in a comforting corporate job; however, he felt true joy in spreading awareness about Cancer and setting up screening camps for early detection of symptoms. During his social service with the Governing Council of the Kidwai Memorial Institute, he realized that before the disease could claim a patient’s life, they lose the battle early on mentally. As Cancer grows, one becomes increasingly dependent on their loved ones for even basic tasks of life such as going to the washroom. It is mentally agonizing to first deal with painful treatments, and alongside gulp down the embarrassment of being dependent, fight the helplessness, and feel like a burden on your loved ones, both financially and emotionally. Besides, most families get so caught up in dealing with the illness of the patient, that they fail to assure him mentally, and cater to his emotional needs. The situation is further atrophying in families belonging to weaker economic and social classes. It is upsetting that many Cancer patients are diagnosed with severe clinical depression that is more often a result of their thoughts about themselves, and environment than the disease itself.
Hence, in 1992 Kishore took early retirement from the corporate world to dedicate himself fulltime to fill this gap. “My full-time job commitment at that time did not allow me to devote time and energy to pursue this, and I thought that early retirement was the way forward,” he said. He categories Cancer in three stages- first that deals with awareness, and early detection, second is the medicinal treatment, and third is when either the patient is cured, or medicinal science has failed to cure him. Kishore Rao does not interfere with the patient’s treatment since he holds no medical expertise. He is more concerned about the preventive or primitive care, and the palliative care where the patient has lost all hope of life.
In 1994, along with the help of Indian Cancer Society and the Rotary Club of Indira Nagar in Bangalore, Rao established a charitable trust- Bangalore Hospice Trust, possibly India’s first residential palliative care centre. They initially started with home visits. “Caring for the patients in their own homes was what we thought was the best solution. In less than 6 months we were able to put together a team of a nurse and a counsellor.” They travelled in auto-rickshaws to visit patients at their home and assist them.
During this time, no hospital or charitable trust showed major interest in funding the centre, possibly because it was first of its kind. Meanwhile, Rao further decided to scale the operations and started looking for donations. He had come to Mumbai for some work, where he headed to Tata Head Office without knowing anyone or having any prior appointment. Luck favoured him, and the Executive director attended him speaking for a good two hours. He came back from Mumbai, and a week later he received an intimation that he had received a donation of Rs. 10 lakhs from the Tatas. This was a huge boost to his morale, as well as his centre. A good deed always attracts good-doers. The retired Chief Secretary of Karnataka joined the Hospice trust after his retirement, and he was instrumental in convincing the government to lease out the land on a long lease basis to build the residential facility. Post this, he came in contact with (the late) Tara Chandavarkar, a pioneer architect who offered her services to build the infrastructure free of cost. Her faith in Rao and his noble mission reaffirmed his belief in selfless service.
On May 1 1999, the facility opened its gates for their first patient. Reminiscing the day, Rao says,
“I remember the day our first patient was wheeled into the facility. The nurse, doctor and I were standing in the foyer. Once we took in the patient, I just broke down and wept.”
Since then, it has served more than 23,000 such patients. They started with a 50-bed facility, and today have a 150 facility which includes home care facility.
“The help we provide them is completely free of charge. Whether for the bed, medicines, counselling, or the food we provide. Whether rich or poor, belonging to any religion or caste, we accept all patients who come our way,” says Rao.
On average, the centre loses two lives daily. The trust also tries to fulfil the last wishes of the patient to their best capacity. Once a patient expressed a desire to eat Biryani at night. They could not gather the courage to tell him that it’d be available in the lunch menu, the following day. They knew it could very well be the last meal of his life. They sent someone at midnight to bring Biryani and served the patient.
One can never be completely healed from the loss of life, but Rao takes assurance in the fact that during their last days, he could provide them with little comfort, dignity, and peace. If you’d like to support Kishore Rao in his mission, you can contribute to his online crowdfunding campaign.
Kishore Rao realized, what we all need to. Our loved ones are more tormented by our lack of apathy towards them than any disease. Cancer or any other terminal illness is going to claim lives if it has to, regardless of our best efforts. However, what we can aim at is making sure that the final journey of the patient is in peace and love. Let’s not rip them off their dignity.
Along with making efforts to physically save a life, do make sure that the hope of life is not extinguished before its time.