Bangladesh: Edric Baker – A humanist physician for the poor

by Anwar A. Khan

 “The good physician treats the disease; the great physician treats the patient who has the disease.” -William Osler

( September 13, 2017, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Dr. Edric Baker was certainly a great physician for the poor people. Tuesday, the 1st September, 2015 was a very sad day for people of Kailakuri village at Pirgacha, Madhupur Police Station under Tangail District of Bangladesh where he served the poorest of the people by his treatment for more than three decades sacrificing his whole life because he died on that day. He set up a healthcare centre at this remote hamlet of Bangladesh in 1983. Smile was always obvious on his white face. He was affectionately called “Daktar Bhai (doctor brother)” throughout Tangail. He is a New Zealander. His full name is Dr. Edric Baker. He was born into a noble family and in an affluent society in New Zealand in 1941. Dr. Baker obtained his MBBS degree from Otego Medical College at Dunedin in his country in 1965. He could have lived there with pompous life earning so much money. But he didn’t do that. He was a confirmed bachelour and decided to sacrifice his whole life treating the down-trodden people and patients in the remote villages of Bangladesh. And he did so with so much care and deep love till his sudden death on the 1st day of September of that year. He carefully weighed, “In nothing do men more nearly approach the gods, than in giving health to mankind” which was signified by Marcus Cicero Tullius.

Expressing an honest, personal, sensitive, caring attitude in every patient-physician encounter, despite objective difficulties such as time constraints, is an essential part of medical care and healing. As a result, both patients and physicians gain immensely and the quality of care and ‘hard’ health outcomes improve. Thus, empathic medical practice adds an absolutely essential domain to the current sophisticated, technological and scientific medicine; therefore, existing deficiencies in the empathic aspects of care need urgent attention which this most revered Daktar Bhai selflessly rendered his most caring services to hundreds of thousands of poor patients almost at free of cost. He trained about 100 young boys and girls as health assistants and paramedics who visit the neighbouring villages to give treatment to the sick people, especially the pregnant mothers and newborns. “In a rare example of love and sacrifice, he had treated poor patients” for more than three decades in and around Madhupur P.S. In the language of Dr. Baker: “the people here are “really good” and they do not get healthcare due to poverty. “I’ve chosen this country in order to give them a little health support.” That was his simple assertion. Hermann Boerhaave has truly said, “He who does with the greatest exactness imaginable, weigh every individual thing that shall or has happened to his patients, and may be known from the observations of his own, or of others, and who afterwards compared all these with one another, and puts them in an opposite view to such things as happen in a healthy state; and lastly, from all this with the nicest and severest bridle upon his reasoning faculty rise to the knowledge of the very first cause of the disease, and of the remedies fit to remove them; he, and only he deserve the name of a true physician” and all these words are genuine with regard to Dr. Edric Baker.

By the evening he was laid out on a table in the waiting room. Hundreds of people came to give their goodbyes and showed their appreciation. By the morning many visitors and staff had not slept but no one minded and work began early. By ten o’clock  on that sorrowful day, the whole compound was full of people. He was laid to rest in his coffin and carried to the church (which doubles as a school) beside his Hospital.

He “collected the money from private donors including his friends and well-wishers in New Zealand, the US and the UK” and spent the same for the treatment and welfare of his patients; not for his own purpose. He lived in a hut made of earth; used to wear ordinary lungis which our poor people usually do in the villages; and used an ordinary bi-cycle to visit the patients’ houses to render his kind-hearted treatment to them. He was a humanist doctor; a doctor par excellence. He lived and led a very simple life but at the same breath of pace, he was an extra-ordinary kind–hearted human being. Where shall we get another high quality of humanist doctor who will serve the destitute in those remote areas of Tangail? Becoming a doctor, he fostered humane caregivers through his treatment and made the patients feel well. “A physician is judged by the three A’s, Ability, Availability and Affability” and these words of Paul Reznikoff were literal to Dr. Baker Bhai.

For more than 30 years, “Doctor Bhai” has been a beacon of burnished humanism to the people and the patients there. Throughout his life, he has consistently and boldly stood up for the dignity and respect of all. Wonderful! Truly wonderful! Doctor Bhai, thank you very much. There are many people out there in the world, travelling and discovering and learning and loving and inspiring and doing what people thought was impossible. He did impossible things to make them possible. Whether these poorest people realise it or not, an alien physician has inspired many people in that remote areas not with a gun or a superpower, laws or missiles, but a medical-box, a statoscope and with some medicines. No more pain, evil and selfishness; a man, a noble man; a kind-hearted human being and a kind-hearted doctor who we all should aspire to be remembering this great soul on this month of September.

“Sitting in his mud-built one-room home just behind the centre, he told one correspondent of a reputed Daily once upon a time with flurry that he now waits for a successor. “Many students get MBBS degree in the country every year. I’m waiting for one of them to come and take the responsibility to provide treatment to the poor in the area.” But he lamented that no one did turn up!  “It is hard to explain how loved and respected he was. Since the moment he passed he was never once left alone. Local Mandi woman sang songs, people read from the Koran, others wept, and other stood silently keeping a vigil. Up until his burial time, he was surrounded by those he loved and who loved him.” People came from all over Bangladesh, some arriving in the night and most refused beds offered to them for rest and preferred to tell stories of their time with Edric late into the night. Even in death he managed to bring different communities and cultures together. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, rich, poor, Bangladeshi and foreigner all worked side by side to fulfill his final wishes. William James Mayo reminds us, “Given one well-trained physician of the highest type and he will do better work for a thousand people than ten specialists” and Dr. Edric Baker was such a physician of high stature.

By the evening he was laid out on a table in the waiting room. Hundreds of people came to give their goodbyes and showed their appreciation. By the morning many visitors and staff had not slept but no one minded and work began early. By ten o’clock  on that sorrowful day, the whole compound was full of people. He was laid to rest in his coffin and carried to the church (which doubles as a school) beside his Hospital. As the service was progressing hundreds waited outside and then followed his casket back to his house. He had made it clear to the staff he wanted to be buried out the back of his house underneath his veranda.

As he was being laid to rest, two lines of people formed surrounding his house and extending all the way out to the road. Slowly everybody gave their final farewells and each person sprinkled earth over his grave. At the end of the day the staff was happy that they were able to fulfill two out of three of his final wishes. His first wish was to take his last breath at Kailakuri. His second wish was that he be buried here at the Kailakuri Health Care Centre. His third wish was that the hospital continues to stay open and operational long into the future. But his last wish will never be completed without the help of others. True connection and partnership with patients and families requires attention to key themes of communication: relationship building, non-verbal skills (seated, eye contact), shared care agenda and team/transitions. His philosophy of care was consistent with the medical philosophical system, recognising diseases and their cures as natural part of life. Like Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus, Dr. Baker believed, “Medicine rests upon four pillars—philosophy, astronomy, alchemy, and ethics. The first pillar is the philosophical knowledge of earth and water; the second, astronomy, supplies its full understanding of that which is of fiery and airy nature; the third is an adequate explanation of the properties of all the four elements—that is to say, of the whole cosmos—and an introduction into the art of their transformations; and finally, the fourth shows the physician those virtues which must stay with him up until his death, and it should support and complete the three other pillars.” Dr. Baker Bhai promoted health education, disease prevention, and non-intervention in the absence of complications. He was committed to personalised, compassionate care for patients’ journey.

Doctor Edric Baker is the greatest humanist the universe has ever known. He considered treating of patients was a great privilege for him. Good doctors are humble doctors, willing to listen to their patients and gather together the full array of resources—medical, human, social, and spiritual—that will contribute to their patients’ healing. And he was such a great and noble guy!  Famous English Poet John Donne once aptly said, “Death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.” So is the case with losing of Dr. Edric Baker. His death is a rude shock to all people of Tangail District. On this day a little over two years of his death, we wish this baronial soul rest in peace in Heaven and rise in glory.


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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