Even though I am married to a Catholic, I never considered 13 to be an unlucky number. From now onwards, I have reason to hold it as an unfortunate day. For it is on this day in this month (February) that I lost my doctor, friend and God’s own angel on earth: Patrick DeSylva. He was (it is difficult to think of him in the past tense) special – very special – and it was shocking to get the news on last Monday evening that God wanted Patrick to be nearer to Him than we wanted him.
My Association with Him
They say that people come into your life for a reason. Long back I was convinced that Patrick (Paddy as some of us called him) came into my life to prove to me that whilst I thought God was unkind to me for having given me a life-long disease Psoriasis, He was most kind by giving me an outstandingly reliable doctor, guide and advisor whom, on one plane I could hold affectionately as a friend and on another plane look up to him almost as a saint sent on earth by God to do His work (If you see his picture above with the wax statue of Mahatma Gandhi when he, Patricia and Rohit (wife and son) visited Hongkong in May 2012, it would not be surprising to see more than slight resemblance). Patrick was indeed Mahatma to all his patients. Desylva was his surname; it could have been Nightingale, for, even as a very senior doctor in the Navy’s Hospital in Mumbai, Asvini, he would personally attend to patients’ (both officers and sailors) lesions and other skin afflictions.
I became his patient in 1994 when I was second-in-command on INS Viraat. His clinic was in the old building next to the gate. He was a Surgeon Lieutenant Commander at that time. It was the first time I had seen such large crowds of patients waiting. Later, I was to know that even if there were other dermatologists, people preferred to wait for him to see them. He took cuttings of my nails to rule out fungal growth and asked me to carry out an RA Factor Test to rule out Rheumatism and soon he diagnosed it as Psoriasis with Arthropathy.
As I saw more and more of him, I was to realise that despite the shock of my life-long affliction, God had compensated me by giving me the best doctor ever. His presence, his talking to me and his prescribing medicines and advice to me, all were always reassuring. In nearly two decades of my being with him (though I kept getting transferred all over and he too did the same), there were many instances when, however busy he was, I went to see him just to be reassured and not to obtain any medicines or treatment. He probably knew it but never looked edgy or gave me less importance. And, later when I compared notes, I found that there were hundreds with whom he was into such arrangement.
Amongst many memories of his, I shall take out two, just to tell you what sort of doctor he was. In the year 1995, I got my first attack of Urticaria (Hives). I drove to Asvini, at night, for emergency treatment. He was not even on duty; but, within no time he was there attending to me. It is as if he had left a word that he should be called for any of his patients.
The second incident is even more poignant for me. When Patrick’s own condition deteriorated, which finally led to his demise (it was sometime in 2009-10 that he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease), I had to start seeing another dermatologist. However, three years ago, when I was admitted to Asvini for severe gastritis, I found him visiting me at my bedside having been brought there on a wheel-chair. Whilst I talked to me, he stared somewhere at a distance. However, at one point there was a flicker of recognition. Little did I know that that would be the last flicker of recognition that I would see in him.
Patrick was born on 17th March 1955. Coincidentally, Patricia (Puttu), his wife also has birthday on the same date. He was a student of St Theresa High School, Bandra from Jun 1960 to Apr 1971. He joined St Xavier’s College in June 1971 for BSc (Chem) (Honours) and graduated in Oct 1975. Soon thereafter, he got selected for Army Medical Corps (AMC) and graduated from AFMC (Armed Forces Medical College, Pune) Grad School in June 1980. He specialised in Dermatology thereafter and that’s how I saw him from 1994 onwards. Patrick was so fond of his AFMC roots that he never forgot to wish his colleagues and friends from there on the AFMC Day on 04 August. And this continued even after his Parkinson Disease (PD) had progressed extensively. He retired as a Surgeon Commodore. I was waiting to see him as a Commodore. But, sadly, PD came along and put a sudden end to his career and life. We all have to bow to God’s will. However, one still fails to understand why God would give Parkinson to someone like him. All of us entertained fervent hopes of Patrick’s full recovery. Here is what a friend, Glen Ferro, wrote to him on FB on 30th Mar 2016: “Hey Paddy. Have been meaning to talk with you and share my written testimony with you. God healed me of CANCER- NHL 3rd stage high grade diagnosed in 2007.
If you sms or WhatsApp or post me your email address I could send you the soft copy. If HE did it for me HE can do it for you. Godbless.” Alas.
Personal and Family Life
Patrick’s is a very closely knit and private family and I have Patricia’s permission to intrude and share a few photographs, when I told her that without this my tribute for him won’t be complete. I must begin by acknowledging that Puttu always stood by him in this entire period of trial that God made them go through. I have seen them occasionally in social gatherings including at our house in Ahilya building, before I retired in Feb 2010. She exhibited enormous courage, love and compassion to renew memories with him by visiting places even when his condition worsened.
Patrick completed his specialisation from AFMC in June 1986. Before that, on the 6th day of May 1986, he and Patricia married in Pune. Rohit was born on 25 Mar 1987 (I am thankful to Rohit for having put up the accompanying lovely picture yesterday). Nikhil, the younger son was born on 24 Nov 1988 in Kochi. Both grew up to be handsome, loving, intelligent and well-mannered children in the likeness of their parents. Indeed, every year, for Christmas, we all looked forward to seeing the family picture, next to the X-Mas tree. Here is one each from the happier days (year 2010, before the PD started having effect on him) and the last one in Dec 2016:
Being a doctor, Patrick would have known how the PD would start affecting him together with dementia and depression. Hence, after he joined the Facebook on 29th Mar 2009 (having been prodded into joining by a friend Rita Villaneuva), many of his posts were full of his scores on online video games such as Burst the Bubbles, Mindjolt, Angry Birds, and Zombie Frenzy, so as to keep his mind active. I took my son Arun to see him once (Arun has been a video gaming champ); Patrick and him happily discussed video games.
We would wish them on their birthdays (same day: 17th March); sometimes Patrick on Patricia’s timeline and vice-versa. Both would very graciously respond to the birthday greetings. It was a treat to receive his message despite the shakiness and slowness of his movements due to PD. How we all prayed for him.
And all the while, slowly but relentlessly the disease progressed though there were occasions and moments when it didn’t look like the disease had any effect on him whatsover. The 12th Dec 12, whilst attending Rohit’s graduation convocation, appeared to be one such day:
All the cheer that this brought in his life was soon wiped away when Patrick lost his father in March 2013; as it is Parkinson Disease has the symptoms of anxiety, dementia and depression. In 2012, the family (mostly because of Puttu’s resolve and dedication) kept a brave face by visiting Hongkong, Macau and Shenzhen (Guangdong) in June of that year. Anyone looking at the pictures can’t believe that he is suffering from a dreadful disease:
The most poignant picture (poignant now that Patrick has left us) is of them visiting Udaipur to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary on 6th May 2016. The picture is representative of Puttu’s, Rohit’s and Nikhil’s desire to see him as happy as possible. Indeed, there is another picture of them going to Goa together to celebrate his 60th birthday.
Patrick that We Would Remember
Whatever be his patient’s circumstances, Patrick always talked to them with a smile that started slowly (almost imperceptibly) around his lips but soon spread to his face and to the faces of his patients. He always brought hope to all of us even though in the end he landed himself in a hopeless condition. Patrick was an epitome of that small minority who hide their own pains in order to bring cheer to others.
We were at Vice Admiral Lowe’s house once (not too many years back) and Patrick took up a guitar and it surprised me (I didn’t know about this attribute of his) to hear him play and sing a lively song. Honestly, he appeared more appealing to me than Elvis. How was I to know that Patrick would leave us early like his singing idol did?
Patrick was deeply religious. What about comparison to Saint Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland? Saint Patrick’s Day is observed on 17th March, which is Parick’s (Paddy’s) birthday and the day when Saint Patrick died. It is difficult for me to get over the interpretation that on the day when one saint died, another was born. Here is a family picture on the Saint Patrick’s Day in 2016, less than a year before Paddy died:
Dear Patrick, knowing you, I won’t be surprised that you would have got to work in heaven too; after all people require to be cared for everywhere and you are always there to provide a helping hand. Since I have enough evidence with me that you would have, I have to tell you that my Psoriasis requires to be attended to again and like all your patients, I wish to be seen only by you.
Please don’t fail (you never did) all of us.
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