How This 65-Year-Old Woman Became a Messiah to Villagers in Pain
When I arrive at Sadhni’s hut on the outskirts of Konka village in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district, she’s visibly busy. She points me to a mat under a palash tree, and dashes off to milk her cow before the calf drinks up the milk.
I settle down, and while I wait for her to wrap up her morning chores, I take in the serene surrounds, hills and deciduous forest that rise up just behind her village. It’s stunning, but the remote location – Konka village is 65 kilometres from the closest city Ranchi – makes people like Sadhni all the more invaluable.
In a recent report in an Indian daily that published statistics from the World Health Organization, India is in the category of countries that face acute shortage of healthcare providers – with Jharkhand being one of the worst hit states.
Sadhni’s village is no exception when it comes to shortage of healthcare practitioners – with the closest orthopaedic specialist being at Dakra or Mandar hospital, both a 45- minute drive away, and available on prior appointment.
“I’m Never Free”
I soon realise that I’m not the only one there vying for her time. Sadhni’s patients wait inside her hut. “Should I come back later, when you’re free?” I ask, after she mentions that she hasn’t had time for breakfast.
Sadhni, who goes by her first name, is 65, maybe more, she cannot recount correctly, has no formal medical training, and has been attending to patients’ orthopaedic needs for the past 45 years. She picked up her skills watching her mother practise, and today, Sadhni is one amongst the many untrained rural medical practitioners in India’s healthcare system who attend to midnight calls and are at the patient’s bedside in an emergency when no doctor is available or accessible.
Relying on Massages and Stretches
Unlike with many quacks, Sadhni’s patients don’t run a risk of suffering side-effects since she doesn’t prescribe allopathic medicine and relies solely on trusted traditional techniques widespread across rural India, like massage, stretching and manipulation of pressure points to alleviate muscle and joint pains.
“Here,” she presses, and he grimaces as she exerts pressure on a point near his shoulder. She dips her fingers into a bowl of mustard oil and begins messaging his arm with smooth, deft strokes, that she says will stimulate the blood circulation. Post a few twists and stretches, she asks him to move his arm. Dennis moves his arm a couple of times.
Offering a Respite From Pain
However, for 19-year-old Sima Devi, it’s the other way round. Sima’s from Barkakana, a small town 75 kilometres away, and has been suffering for the past two years from acute abdomen pain.
“I couldn’t even sit with the pain. I visited every doctor in my hometown, went to doctor’s chambers in nearby Ramgarh and Bhurkunda, but the pain would always relapse after medication got over. One doctor even suspected appendicitis. I’m petrified of surgery, but thankfully it didn’t come to that.”
After her marriage, Sima moved to her in-laws’ home in Konka village, where she heard about Sadhni. According to Sadhni, Sima has a kind of gastrointestinal disorder. “I’ve worked on her stomach muscles to relax them and ease her bowel movements,” she says, adding that old ailments like hers must be given time. Sima, who’s here for another routine massage, says, “Regular visits to Sadhni have benefitted immensely. There is still some discomfort when I do household chores, but I feel much better now.”
Sadhni explains why women like Sima are also susceptible to musculoskeletal problems and recovery is delayed.
Gurcharan Bhuia, aged 50, is from Gartua village, a few kilometres from Konka and has recently visited Sadhni with a wrist sprain. “I’d been to Sadhni long ago when I suffered a muscle pull in my leg and she corrected it. A few days back I sprained my wrist, and went to her again. Many people from my village visit her for their aches and pains. She sometimes assists midwifes, but mainly treats orthopaedic problems. And is always available,” he says.
Despite responding to patients 24/7, Sadhni doesn’t have fixed consultation fees. There are instances when she’s treated them for free, but more often, out of relief or gratitude, patients give her more than she expected. “Once, a police officer gave me Rs 500 for treating his shoulder pain and a little girl made her grandmother pay me the same amount for saving her cat,” says Sadhni.
(Lesley D Biswas is a freelance writer who writes articles on parenting, environment, travel and women, besides fiction.)