As an institution with a sense of history, a rich tradition and a strong affinity to its roots Sankara Nethralaya has always made it a point to keep its date with the past, it has done so in many ways; like acknowledging those who had stood by it during its early days and honouring those who had contributed to its growth and played a role in its success. This time around it had decided to honour the memory of an old edifice whose history was interwoven with its own, a building which had a special place in the hearts of early members of the Sankara Nethralaya family. The Lady Willingdon Hospital building whose memory was being honoured was not only a part of its legacy but also a favourite Madras land mark, started by the British primarily as a hospital to treat the soldiers wounded in the battle fields, the hospital over the years had acquired the status of an excellent Medicare centre with a distinct British flavor in the manner it was run.
The Jaslok Community Ophthalmology Services (JCOC) the community ophthalmology initiative of Sankara Nethralaya and the Jagadguru Kanchi Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswathi Nethra Nilayam (JKCN) had been functioning from the Lady Willingdon Hospitals premises since it was acquired by Sankara Nethralaya from the Willingdon Trust in year 1999. As part of its ongoing expansion and modernization plans Sankara Nethralaya moved JCOC its community services wing from the old block of the Lady Willingdon hospital premises to a more spacious premises in early 2012, as it planned to pull down the old structure to make way for a multi-storied, high tech, state of the art ophthalmic centre.
Dr SS.Badrinath, Chairman Emeritus, Sankara Nethralaya who has a deep attachment to the building was only too aware that there would be many like him who would be sharing similar sentiments, he decided that it would only be fair to let them catch a final glimpse of the building and take a ‘down the memory lane’ stroll around its compound, wards, stairway and every place that brought them old memories. An invite in the dailies to this effect drew many ecstatic families including a doctor who had served here. While most people living away from their home towns make it a point to visit the place of their birth, to many of the boys and girls accompanying their parents it was an exciting experience to be in the ‘actual’ place of their birth. It was very touching to see the women visitors trying to locate the wards they had stayed and show their children the labour room where they were born, while the husbands recalled the waiting room where they anxiously waited for news on the new arrival or the pantry where they sipped some great coffee or the patch of greenery in the centre where they rested. Visitors had a high word of praise for everything from the high quality of Medicare, the equipment which was considered state of the art in those days, the quality of the doctors to the excellent continental and Indian food served in the pantries, but what took the highest honours was the ‘Nursing’ department and the quality of the nurses.
The visitors were warmly welcomed at the entrance by Dr SS.Badrinath, Chairman Emeritus, Dr Vasanthi Badrinath, Director, Clinical Services and Dr S.Bhaskaran, Chairman, Sankara Nethralaya; two senior staff members Shri V.Suresh, Administrator, JKCN and Shri V.Sivakumar, Administrator, JCOC who had been associated with the building since it was taken over by Sankara Nethralaya made sure that the walk down memory lane was truly a memorable experience. While Shri Sivakumar escorted the emotionally charged visitors and their excited children as they went around the place like old alumni on a visit to their school, helping them with useful tit bits of information on the nooks and corners and events to help them refresh their memory and locate what they were anxiously looking for and engaging the multimedia team in shooting the photographs for the benefit of the visitors. Shri V.Suresh played an equally important task of sharing the glorious past of Sankara Nethralaya by recounting memorable events, illustrious visitors, medical excellence and the ethos of the hospital and the great personal example set by the founder in which he was joined by another senior staff member Ms Vijaya Murthy, who had been serving as a staff nurse for many years. This certainly helped to boost the morale and pride of the junior employees by giving them a glimpse of the greatness of the people and place and that they were part of.
The departing visitors had a profuse word of thanks to Dr SS.Badrinath, Chairman Sankara Nethralaya for his most thoughtful gesture of letting them know through the dailies that the Lady Willingdon building would soon cease to exist and giving them an opportunity for a last visit of their cherished spot. They were delighted to learn from the Sankara Nethralaya team that they could actually take home a few bricks of the old building as a memorabilia and the price they pay for the same would go towards meeting the cost of treating poor patients and enthusiastically placed their orders for the same to be delivered to their homes after the demolition, most visitors also picked up a copy of ‘Insight’ the story of Sankara Nethralaya’s passion for compassion.
Sunday the 7th of October 2012 was truly an emotion filled walk down memory lane for the visitors and staff members of Sankara Nethralaya