Dr Savita – giving her all
In a month looking back at Foxglove’s roots, there are stories that jump out at you. I don’t think each person’s ‘call’ is something to be compared or measured. We’ve all got unique contributions. Yet travelling to India in 2017, I met a woman who is giving her call all that she has.
Some stories can’t be told in 100 words. It would be reckless. Unforgivable. Stay with me in this post. It might be hard going. I want to feel and ache and come to terms with wrongs that need me to engage, not turn away. Come with me and meet Dr Savita.
Dr Savita is a force to be reckoned with. Impossible to ignore. Irrepressible. Passionate. Emotive. Driven. But quietly spoken, careful with her words, and honest with her feelings. She’s concerned that she could make me uncomfortable but acknowledges that her work is for most an uncomfortable business. She leads an HIV-Aids hospital on the outskirts of Delhi. When I attempt to summarise her work as, ‘helping people die with dignity’, she gently corrects me. ‘No, I am helping people live with dignity’.
Delhi is a city of 20 million with a very conservative estimate of 60,000 people HIV positive, and that number does not recognise the 30,000 members of the transgender community with HIV falling outside of official statistics. Dr Savita’s is the only hospital in Delhi that welcomes the transgender community, and it is where so many of those living with HIV come for ongoing medical treatment.
But more importantly it’s where they come for love and acceptance. And they get it in spades.
At 41, Dr Savita is an eminently qualified physician specialising in HIV. Looking around the sparsely equipped ward, I ask her, “How did you get here?”
“It’s a calling,” she replies, “I was 16 years old when I heard about this disease [HIV] and what it does to people. The physical destruction. The social isolation. The family rejection. I decided as that girl in high school that this was my life call.”
She lives her calling. She fights every day for people’s access to health and support services in a culture that alienates this vulnerable group. She cajoles other health professionals to commit their services and their hearts. She works tirelessly to raise funds that will keep the hospital afloat for a target group that cannot respond to the community development call for sustainability.
And she cares for her patients. Wordlessly she slips into the hospital ward to sit with patients on the brink of eternity.
She takes an older man’s hand and recognises his breathlessness. Calls for a nurse. Takes his vitals. Settles him with a touch and a word. Then moves to Munji. An 18 year-old boy with only days to count in his young life. She leans in close. Looks him in the eye. He has HIV-AIDS and end stage Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She’s already told him that this will be his last visit on the ward. That he cannot go home again. Now she follows through with whispers of grace and worth and peace. His eyes are fixed on her. They’re drawing every bit of strength they can muster. I move close too. I touch his hand and rest my arm on his leg. I want him to know and feel as much love as we can each find. His mother stands by his side. She’s lost her mind they say. Psychosis. And I understand. Perhaps I’d do the very same. Yet, Dr Savita brings a deep peace and tranquillity to the moment that must be divine. We’re all transfixed. Focused on Munji. Holding our breath as he holds his. Then we move away and trust we have given enough. I know Dr Savita has given her all.