‘The people’s doctor’, Ramesh Sugrim, is a ‘Special Person’
“People would come whether they have money or not. My first aim is to help them. I don’t ask them how much money they have…and anybody can tell you, my clinic is always filled with people from all over.”
By Leon Suseran
He embodies the care and deep concern that a doctor has for his patients. Running a private clinic,
he opines that in the grand scheme of things, money is not really important, as in some cases he willingly treats persons free of charge. Maybe that’s why his Williamsburg, Corentyne clinic is abuzz with activity from early in the day, and remains that way till late in the afternoon.
People trust him; some persons have expressed to me their immense confidence in him. He says he has had a life-long love for medicine. For decades, that mindset has smoothly worked its way into the day-to-day dealings with his patients, and that is possibly why they call him “The people’s doctor.”
His name is Ramesh Nauth Persaud Sugrim. He was born to Sugrim Surujnauth and Kawal Surujnauth on August 9, 1954, at Skeldon, Corentyne. His education began at Skeldon Scots School where he attained a Bookers Scholarship – his eligibility being through the fact that his father was employed as a truck driver at the estate. He attended Skeldon Lutheran High School with the scholarship from 1965-1970, the only member of his family of eight who actually got to the high school level.
Sugrim recalled tirelessly walking the streets on weekends selling sweets “penny for one…to raise funds to pay for my exams”.
He later attended Queen’s College for a “short while” after being encouraged by several cousins who were at the prestigious city institution. Boarding and lodging provided a constant reality check, and consequently he decided to leave after two years since “they (his relatives) were finding it hard to maintain me”.
A newspaper advertisement then attracted him – training for a two-year Certificate Course in Medical Technology, with a stipend. He successfully applied and attended the University of Guyana for that course in 1972.
Interestingly, he met a young lady, who was doing the same course, and they got married three years later, on January 19, 1975. They both worked together at the Central Medical Laboratory in the city for a few years, and were transferred to Skeldon Hospital to open a lab there. Both technologists worked there for about two years and were transferred
to Georgetown Hospital.
Afterwards, he and his wife applied for Government scholarships to study medicine in Cuba. He recounted that they were not accepting married couples to study, thus the decision was reached that he would go. He went to the Spanish-speaking territory in 1979, where he studied for six years.
“Those were the six longest years of my life,” he reflected with a smile.
A six-month Spanish course was done right here in Guyana prior to his departure.
“It (studying in Cuba) was tough, but we made out. Actually every night I cried and I think that was one of the reasons why I went with a full head of hair and I when I came back I was half bald….stress… the stress of being away from my wife and children for so long.”
Whenever given the chance to return for a short visit to home, he readily accepted. Unfortunately, during a home-visit on the fourth year of his studies, his father died the same day he arrived.
“When I arrived that Saturday in Georgetown, I telephoned him and told him I was coming the next day. He was so anxious to see me. Perhaps the anxiety was too much for him. That was a great shock for me at the time, but I had to go back and continue finish off [studies].”
And finish he did. Upon returning as a graduate doctor in 1985, he worked at the Georgetown Hospital and was later transferred to the hospital in Black Bush Polder.
Health care delivery was essentially brought to life in the tiny farming community.
“It was a new hospital and it was underutilized, so we opened the lab and theatre and x-ray department and there is where I built my reputation, because many people used to come in from all over the country for treatment.”
He worked three years at Black Bush and was called to work at the Port Mourant Hospital. Sugrim said that the people of Black Bush actually held protests to express their need to have him stay there.
Their actions touched him deeply.
Upon completion of his five-year contract with the government and feeling frustrated with the system, he said that the then Minister of Health, Hamilton Green, had called him up and said that the repeated protests had become political “…so the best thing was for me to go back to Georgetown Hospital”.
Sugrim declined to do so, and he and his wife, a Senior Medical Technologist, both left the public system and he started a new chapter in his life.
He opened his private clinic in 1992 after working with a private doctor two years prior. Dr Sugrim deeply wanted to remain in the public health system “because “I never had the intention of doing this (starting a private clinic)…through there (the public system) I could have helped a lot more people. My aim was not to make money…as long as my family lived comfortably that would have been okay. But maybe it was a blessing in disguise.”
A blessing indeed! He has since been able to tangibly impact on quite a few lives.
“People would come whether they have money or not. My first aim is to help them. I don’t ask them how much money they have…and anybody can tell you, my clinic is always filled with people from all over–Guyana, Suriname…people even come from United States.”
Sugrim’s two sons are specialised doctors. Shilendra, is an Eye Specialist at the Georgetown Hospital and his younger brother, Surendra, a Family Medicine specialist, has a private clinic in the States.
Dr Sugrim was once the President (for six years) of the Arya Samaj Humanitarian Mission in Guyana.
His packed schedule does not afford him to do much outside the medical field, but Dr Sugrim sings and performs at wakes and other religious functions, something he loves to do. He even has his own recording studio at home where he propagates Indian and religious music, does his own recordings, and assists other like-minded individuals and organisations with recording and publishing their music. He is also a licenced marriage officer.
THE PUBLIC HEALTH SYSTEM
In assessing the health system as it relates to care of the general public, Dr Sugrim opined that it “seems to be improved, with the newly-trained doctors…even with the health centres.”
The only criticism I have is that the government is only now emphasising training for specialists. If this was planned and done a long time ago, they would not have had to depend on foreign specialists. They were not previously interested in training specialists. When I came back from Cuba, I asked to go back and specialise (in Gynecology) and they (the then administration) did not allow me.They permitted who they wanted to.”
“Even though they have state-of-the-art facilities now and there is lots of improvement, many persons are apprehensive about the public health system– they are afraid. For instance, some tell me they afraid to go to the New Amsterdam Hospital because if they go there, they will die. It is a false perception they have, but then again the public hospitals need to dispel those fears. It begins with competence and a professional attitude.”
Sugrim said that he gained his experience from Dr Deen Sharma, with whom he performed many surgeries in Georgetown. “He trained me a lot. It was priceless.”
To the critics of the Cuban training that many doctors have today, Sugrim asserted “the training in Cuba is excellent. Medicine is actually the same worldwide; in my opinion there is not much difference”.
Our ‘Special Person’ then offered some advice. “I normally see a lot of patients with diabetes and hypertension. The basic thing is people don’t eat right and keep a proper diet. Diet alone can help with a lot of illnesses…so it is basically the lifestyle that people live that determines their health.”
He added that very few people do care.
“The growing obesity rate in Guyana is fueled by the killer, meat…the worst enemy is chicken. A lot of people depend on chicken and chicken has a lot of oil and fat. To be frank, the majority of people who are vegetarians, they suffer less.”
“Another thing, people should take regular check- ups and not wait until they develop complications. You should take special note of family history, especially if your family has a history of chronic diseases.
“Leading busy lives and not having time for their health is no excuse…What’s the use? Lead busy lives, earn the money, and then you’re going to have to spend it all to cure yourself. It does not make sense.”
Dr Sugrim is proud of his journey through life. “No regrets whatsoever”. A typical day for him begins at 6:00 am .
“I open up and do minor things then come down to work, most times at 8. Some days we go up to 6:00pm.”
He loves singing and has made a number of CDs.
“I have a little studio where I do recording for other people, for free…just for the fun of it, and to put on record, especially older folks.”
A 93- year- old woman at #19 Village Corentyne ,was one person he encouraged to do some recordings when she was 86, “now she could hardly walk and is on her death bed, but she actually left something, so I love doing this, keeping the culture going”.
The recent Bollywood Segment winner of the GT&T Jingle and Song Competition, Gail-Ann Singh was also nurtured in this regard by Dr Sugrim. “She started with me from small and I nurtured her talent”.
Weekends, he related, is time for home and family life and the Mandir is on Sunday.
Dr Sugrim has served in numerous high ranking positions in the Hindu community, including as President of the Berbice Central Arya Samaj from 1987-1992. He has since been made Honorary President. He also served as President of the Guyana Central Arya Samaj from 1990-2009 and is currently serving as President of the Port Mourant Central Arya Samaj, a position he has held for the past ten years.
He conducts Hindi and religious rituals classes once per week at the #78 Vedic Mandir on the Corentyne and has been doing his bit to share his faith, Hinduism, with a local TV programme that has been on the air in Berbice for over ten years, ‘Vedo ki Vaanie’.
So in concluding, I asked him what in his opinion makes a good doctor and how much longer he would be practicing.
“Honesty is crucial in the doctor-patient relationship. You also have to be humble. And I think in many respects the personal upbringing of a doctor has a lot to do with it.”
“With respect to how long I’ll go on. I’m not really fixed on that. Normally doctors would work until either they die or fall sick. Time will tell, I guess. My younger son keeps telling me to close shop and go to live in the States, but I don’t think that will happen permanently. I do need to go there from time to time…I had a massive heart attack eight years ago, and I had to be flown there for treatment.”
At 58, Dr Sugrim continues his heavy workload daily. Five-minute lunches are a regular feature.
“People come as early as 5 o’clock in the morning and lineup out there. It’s a challenge, but I love it. I always will.”