People

Of Hope & Resilience

An inspiring tale of India’s first and only woman Neuro physician and Neuro surgeon

Dr Prithika Chary is India’s first and only woman Neuro physician and Neuro surgeon. She specialises in brain related disorders like stroke, epilepsy, parkinsonism, developmental delay in children etc. Speaking to Sruthi Ravinder, Dr Prithika talks about her journey, coping with cancer and bouncing back like never before.

Keeping in mind her qualification and experience, it’s heartwarming to see her smiling and talking enthusiastically even now. Enter her home and you notice several awards lined up on her shelves, along with thick books on medicine and literature, with even the latest issue of a popular lifestyle magazine present. The more you speak to Dr Prithika Chary, the more inspired you become to live life to the fullest.

Beginnings…

I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, literally from the age of three. That’s why I feel it was my destiny to become one. As a kid, I used to spend my summer holidays at my family friend’s clinic, explaining the patients the prescription. So it was a natural step for me to study well, get good grades and do an MBBS.

Challenges faced: Being a woman in a man’s world

In India, being a doctor was a woman’s profession. In abroad, that came much later. So my challenges came about after I became more senior. When I entered Post Graduation, it became a little tougher. In my MD in General Medicine, we were 21 students in a batch  with me being the sole female student. After that stage, I’m often the only woman in a room full of men. I was the first lady to have enrolled in DM in Neurology, Madras Medical College. Till then it had only been men.

Not just a pretty face!

Being a woman in the field, I was subjected to heavy gender stereotyping despite the fact that I was breaking them all. As a student, I had wondered sometimes if being good looking was a bane. I  always gave importance to how I presented myself; I’m very feminine that way. People immediately think you are only all beauty and no brains. They assume that if you have brains you should look the part – dorky and geeky. This did affect me a little. But the thing is, I never felt different. I never looked at myself as a woman. To me, I was a doctor and I did what the men did, but without compromising on my individuality. I did not become dorky or masculine. I’m still very feminine and did not change myself for anyone else’s convenience.

Why I chose Epilepsy

Epilepsy is a disorder that majorly affects people between the ages of 10 – 25. This is at a time when they would be studying, working, getting married and developing a life. There a lot of myths that surround this disorder; it is not incurable. 70 percent of the patient with three-five years of treatment can get better. With time, surgery became an available cure for the same. Since it was not a very lucrative option, many of my colleges were not ready to help me perform one. So, I decided to learn it myself. I enrolled in a five-year neurosurgery course.

The neurosurgery course:  The best of both worlds

I was already Head Consultant of Neurology in Apollo Hospitals when I enrolled myself in the course. During the day time, I was a Post Graduate student. I did all the menial work that I had to do as a PG student. In my class, I was much senior in age and experience; some of my seniors were MBBS boys. It was a really nice experience; I felt youthful being with them.

 Out of all the awards I’ve won, the Humanitarian Award from Red Cross is my favourite

We organised around eight health camps in Chennai. I was very pleased and that is my proudest award. Because all the rest are about me; this was teamwork. We had a team of doctors and worked really hard. I’m also involved in social causes in the community, especially those empowering and enabling girl children, women, the less abled and the economically underprivileged.

Marriage is something that does not happen to all

I’m 72 now, and I’ve never been married. People make such a big deal out of it and I don’t understand why. It just didn’t happen to me. I have some great friends and I live my life and have my fun.

Fighting cancer: I was diagnosed with  grade 3 cancer at the age of 69

I was a fairly healthy person. In December 2016, I was diagnosed with grade 3 rectum cancer. As soon as the diagnosis was made, I was scared. More than cancer itself, I was more anxious that as a single woman who lives alone, how was I going to cope with all the treatment, radiation, chemotherapy and sickness single-handedly? I had to sit down for two-three weeks just to analyse what to do.

I had three strong learning points that helped me deal with my disease. Never ask ‘Why me?’ The body is just a machine that sometimes fails. You cannot dwell on the question. The next is acceptance. The sooner you accept you have the disease, the sooner you will deal with it.

My friends helped me fight cancer

After my surgery, I had to be under supervision for 24 hours. So I sent a message to about 30 people from my contact list and, to my surprise, 22 responded. Throughout I was surrounded by my friends. Some of them were actually people I didn’t know too well.  At the end of the day, I felt really loved and that made me a happy person. Such love can heal.

 

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