Happy 84th Birthday, Papa!

As a physician, he taught me the power of service to humankind

Papa is an accomplished surgeon, a voracious reader, prolific writer, extremely down to earth, immensely wise……most importantly a kind human being!

My parents are both physicians and have always connected and communicated with everyone in their personal and professional life with kindness, care and humanness. Growing up, I saw my parents role-model these qualities with their family, friends and students. Their students came to our home, they engaged in exciting and intelligent conversations, being taught with patience. I remember my father orienting his new fellowship trainees at the beginning of their postgraduate training. After he proceeded to discuss and role model the technical aspects of working in the operating room, he shared in a serious but compassionate voice, “. . . and after the patient is prepped and we are ready to begin, with the scalpel in my hand, I say a silent prayer before I start.” This is a literal example of an instrument in God’s hands!

My parents seemed so fulfilled and respected, and always helping others, that becoming a physician like them was always on the back of my mind.

On his 84th birthday on September 29, I decided to record some of his values and message for us and the future generations.

More wonderful photos are here at his website, and below is one of my favorite conversations with Papa about technology in medicine.

In the book Rhythms of Our Heart: Philosophical Dialogue Between Father and Daughter, I posed this prompt to him in 2016, “Can high tech be complementary and value-added to high touch?”

He responded, “Absolutely true. There cannot be any doubt about it. Let us look at the triumvirate of ‘server-service-served’. These three are not separate, they are linked together like three corners of a triangle, philosophically, like Creator, creation and created. Technology creates a server, which serves, and those served create more servers. This is not just true for this century; it has been the history of breakthrough in all the centuries. Every technology is need- and utility-based; also to some extent economy- and expertise-based. Technologies that were useful to their Creators survived, others just vanished. Similarly, this century too will encourage those technologies which are needed, are useful to humanity and which are likely to survive. High technology will always be complementary to the human touch; without which it is just dead weight, museum specimens.”

The art of practice and teaching of medicine has changed. Probably, the most noticeable is the advance in technology and its use in almost every field of medicine.

In many situations, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the deliberate use of technology as the sole method to educate through virtual learning and provide patient care via telemedicine. True, though, technology has seen medicine advance in leaps and bounds, but there are certain things that cannot be digitized or put into technology. Care, compassion, clinical judgment, connecting with patients, and humanism are hard to digitize. As clinicians, as educators, as one human being to another, we have had to be intentional and mindful about finding unique ways to communicate these valuable and needed qualities.

We should continue to strengthen these human bonds that are not easily made using technology. This technological advancement of medicine will hold the promise of untold benefits for the enhancement of health care, however, that will be realized only if we as physicians balance it with the roots of our profession’s timeless ethic of service to humankind.

“High technology will always be complementary to human touch; without human touch it is just deadweight, like archives, fossils, and museum specimens.” —Shyam Parashar