Published on October 6, 2008

By Lalthlamuong Keivom (L. Keivom)


My tryst with the NEIGRIHMS began in May 2008 by chance. After a gap of many years, my wife and I landed in Shillong on May Day to escape from Delhi inferno and be with our ailing relation and her family for a few days. Aptly described by Europeon visitors of yore as the ‘Scotland of the East’, Meghalaya’s capital Shillong remains basically the Shillong I knew of despite its recent haphazard growth with all its attended evils and the ant-like infestation of its tiny and clogged roads by a profusion of all makes of cars with Maruti 800s ruling the roost and providing perhaps the cheapest taxi fares on this planet of ours.


Like the lock of hair of a maiden past her prime, the thick pine groves have become thinner but are still humming their sweet old song at every kiss of the gentle breeze. It is a place where the Jim Reeves, Elvis Presleys, Beatles, Boney-Ms, Bob Dylans and others so-called ‘Oldies’ are evergreen and their albums remained timeless.


Two days after our arrival, my brother-in-law consulted me if it would be better to keep his ailing wife for some time at NEIGRIHMS. I told him I knew the names of Nazareth, Woodland, Bethany, Bethesda and Roberts hospitals but I did not know anything of this Medical Institute except that it was designed as a Postgraduate Medical Institute in the lineage of AIIMS, Delhi and PGIMER, Chandigarh.  It’s abbreviated name scared me and I wonder if there is any even from amongst the bright contestants in General Knowledge tests who can spell out correctly what NEIGRIHMS stands for.


My brother-in-law did not know though he had been to the Institute several times. To bail me out from my ignorance, I took the help of my laptop and surfed its website. It provided only old information on how they started the Interim Hospital Facility at Polo Hills. At least, it helped me to know the long winding name of the institute: North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health & Medical Sciences.


After breakfast, we started off for the Institute from Happy Valley by a short route which took only twenty minutes to reach. Going through the main road, I was told, took at least forty to sixty minutes. We headed down towards the east amidst lush pine groves, and there about three kilometres away from the madding crowd, stands the newly built NEIGRIHMS. It looks more like Five Star alpine resorts I used to stay in Europe. It has big hallways well lit both sides by natural light from above. All the main patient wards are placed at the south end facing a beautiful hill slope covered with pine and locally grown evergreen trees. Patients can feast their eyes on the panoramic sweep from their beds free of cost.


I am a man from the hill. I love hills and mountains. Whenever I see them, they not only revive my soul and spirit but also reinstall a challenging spirit in me. I still remember an article of John Muir, the great naturalist and founder of Sierre Club that I read in 1973 from the National Geographic Magazine in which he says, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” In fact, inspired by these memorable lines, I wrote a song ‘Kan tlangram mawi’ on the same day in which I used these very words for the refrain in a paraphrased form. This song is still as popular as the day I wrote and is a subject of study in vernacular papers at Secondary and College levels.


Cardiology Department


After admitting our patient, I took my wife to Cardiology OPD for a check-up. Before we left for Shillong I took her to two cardiologists in Delhi who examined her and confirmed she had no heart problems. But we wanted triply sure that she had no fears to fear. We met Dr. Animesh Mishra, the head of the department who examined her and declared that she was fit as a fiddle and that she did not need to do angiogram as she did in 2005 in Delhi. He wrote a few other tests to be done and my brother-in-law and I accompanied her again the next day.


It was then that my brother-in-law and I too decided to do heart check-up together as we both experienced shortness of breath when exerted. In the absence of  Dr. Mishra in OPD, we approached Dr. Manish Kapoor, Assistant Professor, a Delhiite and an old hand of ESCORTS who, while about to leave for South India to join an offer, had to change his flight and headed for Shillong instead at the frantic plea of his friend Dr. Animesh Mishra who had then already joined NEIGHRIHMS. Apart from academic excellence, the two possess a winning heart, a heart to understand and respect the local people and a dedication and commitment to serve them. Destined to do yeoman service for the people of north-east India, the two musketeers started the Cardiology Department from a scratch and against many odds have built it up to the level it proudly stands now.


I had spent more than three years daily seeing through the construction, commissioning and supervision of 200-bed Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital at Male, the capital of Maldives under our ITEC programme and I know the complexities of building up a hospital into full operation. The most difficult task is to get the right people for the right job. You can buy the best equipment and material from the best manufacturers but it is difficult to do the same when manpower is concerned. Whatever impressions I gained during my brief encounter with the Institute, I came away with a feeling that the Cardiology Department has an excellent winning team spirit.


Angioplasty & Stenting


After examinations, I expected the doctor to tell me that everything was fine and that I need not come back again. In stead, Dr. Mishra who conducted ECO test ordered that we be admitted in the hospital for further evaluation and coronary angiogram the next day, May 7, 2008 which I did. I left Shillong for Delhi before the results were out. When it came, I had three 75% blockages-two at the left and one at the right and I had to do angioplasty as soon as possible. Angioplasty and angioplasty with vascular stenting are minimally invasive procedures performed to open narrow or blockage of arteries to improve blood flow in the body’s arteries.


Let me try to explain this procedure in layman language. Angioplasty is the act of opening narrow or blocked arteries. Imaging techniques are used to guide a balloon-tipped catheter, a long, thin plastic tube, into an artery and advance it to where the vessel is narrow or blocked. When it reaches the site of the blockage, the balloon is inflated to open the vessel, and then deflated and removed.


After angioplasty is performed, a small wire mesh tube called a stent is permanently placed in the newly opened artery to help it remain open or prevent the vessel wall from collapsing. This is called vascular stenting. There are two types of stents: bare stents (wire mesh) and covered stents (with an additional artificial wall). The stent is completely covered by natural tissue in a matter of 4-6 weeks.


According to the Guinness Book of Records, Northern Ireland is the country with the most occurrences of coronary artery disease (CAD). By contrast, the Masai tribe of Africa have almost no heart disease. People of the north-east would come close to the Masais a few decades ago but now that civilisation has caught us up on the wrong foot, sooner or later, we may not be far behind Northern Ireland.


Medical Tourism


I had the option to do my angioplasty either in Delhi which has world-class facilities for performing such procedures or go back to Shillong where they detected my blockages. Technically and for many other considerations, there cannot be a second opinion to Delhi’s preponderance. My colleague in the diplomatic service, Mr. L. T. Pudaite also recently came down to Delhi from Aizawl for similar treatment. I had visited him several times at the hospital and had seen the facilities available in the city.


But I have another way of looking at it from another window. This has something to do with the much hyped ‘Look East’ policy of the Government of India, a brainchild of our forward looking visioners. I will not be surprised if my senior colleague, the DONER Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar is one of the authors of this laudable venture. However, to put this idea into a concrete shape, we need a massive infrastructural development of roads and railways, airports, river ways and many other limbs. This includes medical sector to be used as a hub not only by north easterners but by our immediate neighbours especially Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and even Thailand.


A place like Shillong richly blessed with nature’s beauty and bounty has a tremendous potential for the promotion of medical tourism. Patients from different parts of the country and even from our neighbouring countries can easily reach Shillong in a matter of a few hours for a holiday-cum treatment. To hug a lung full of its fresh and sweet air and feast on its scenic beauty free of cost is by itself a great healer. NEIGHRIHMS sits on this very lap of nature and the beauty of its natural surroundings compares to the best sanatoria anywhere on this planet.


I therefore decided that I should be the first medical tourist from Delhi and returned to Shillong on August 25 and did angioplasty the next day at NEIGRIHMS. They opened three vascular blockages and put stents on them and I was discharged after twelve hours. Dr. Animesh Mishra from UP assisted by his colleague Dr. Manish Kapoor from Delhi performed the operation using the new Rs. 5 crore Catch-Lab and I watched the whole procedure from a computer screen. Dr. Mishra had already performed more than 500 such procedures with complete success. One rare case he performed successfully a few days after my operation was on a 94-year old local lady, the first lady doctor in Shillong who had three blockages.


North-east is a couldron of different ethnic tribes speaking dozens of languages unintelligible to each other. One place where one can find a conglomeration of these tribes is NEIGRIHMS. The 14-member Cath Lab team who performed my operation hailed from 8 States- UP (1), Delhi (1)  Jharkhand (1) Assam (4), Manipur (3), Meghalaya (2), Mizoram (1) and Nagaland (1). This team as well as the Institute’s set up is a new face of India in the making where no one claims to be the mainstream. The north-east people are fiercely independent and one word they hate is the so-called ‘mainstream’. Who is the mainstream? Nobody. We are all the streams that make the ocean of Indian nation.


After a few days rest in Shillong, I returned to Delhi on September 1 with a new lease of life. I got up late that morning as I was delightfully caught up in a sequence of  dreams. I was travelling back in a time machine to my youthful days, strolling hand in hand with my angel under the whispering pine groves and sometimes flying freely in the air, like a pair of eagles, soaring higher and higher and singing with wild abandon John Lennon/Paul McCartney’s ‘Let It Be’ (1970) at the top of our voice. As we reached towards the end of the verse –


And when the night is cloudy

There is still a light that shines on me,

Shine on until tomorrow, let it be –


my wife woke me up for a cup of tea. It was already 8  and we had to leave at 9:30. There was no time to indulge in my wonderful dream. But deep inside, I had a mystic feeling that my rendezvous with NEIGRIHMS made me definitely young again. And at the back of my ear, I could also hear dream interpreter Sigmund Freud saying a BIG AMEN. (September 8. 2008 Delhi)


The writer is a retired Indian diplomat.