I first heard of Dr Farokh Erach Udwadia in 2004. The medical correspondent of The Indian Express was told stories about the consultant physician and head of the Intensive Care Unit at Mumbai’s Breach Candy Hospital. Like canonisation miracles, his patients spoke of astounding diagnoses of ailments that had baffled others. He was an unusual medicine, someone who also had other interests, like history, classical music, art and literature.
An Emeritus Professor of Medicine at two colleges, and a 1987 Padma Bhushan recipient, his reputation was that of a detective-healer considered so impossibly good his closest comparisons are to fictional characters like Sherlock Holmes, and the Vicadin-propelled Dr Gregory House (of House MD on AXN). There was, as a doctor might say, enough empirical evidence to state that Dr Udwadia was the best general physician in the country. But Dr Udwadia had an unfeigned distaste for the media, and so my colleague had no hope of an interview with the man.
Five years later, I met the 78-year-old. It had taken two months to get an appointment, and I had the requisite complicated ailment. As I stood outside his consulting room awaiting my turn, the tit-bits kept coming: “Do you know that six out of ten patients at Breach Candy are Udwadia’s?”. “If you’re Udwadia’s patient, then you’ll be looked after well.” One doctor even said, “We think the man walks on air.”
In reality, Dr Udwadia is a good doctor in the way that family doctors were once good. He is obviously very experienced, but what really sets him apart is his mastery of a craft few men of medicine practice today: bedside diagnosis. Dr Udwadia’s takes the time to note detailed patient histories, and divines patients’ problems by listening to them tell their own stories. He asked me questions, and even more shockingly, he listened. He checked my pulse, asked me about my diet, my job, family, my travel pattern.
I’d forgotten the last time a doctor looked like he wasn’t in a hurry. And here was this man, legendary by all accounts, calmly telling me about the benefits of walking for 30 minutes every day versus sweating in a gym. Most doctors today don’t want to know their patients, and we forget to tell the details that could have helped us.
Dr Udwadia himself spoke about ‘bedside diagnosis’ last year in his latest book, The Forgotten Art of Healing and Other Essays. Medicine, he wrote, “is learnt and taught at the bedside by listening and talking to patients, by touching and examining them…” I must clarify that Dr Udwadia also asks for innumerable tests, though he didn’t of me, but it seems like the responsible thing to do for a man who’s almost 80. And even then, here is a doctor like few you’ll ever meet.