KASARGOD: His doddering gait can be deceiving. Those who don't know AR Pai can mistake him to be another patient of Vellarikkundu Primary Health Centre (PHC). But then there aren't many who don't know him.
At 79 years, Dr Pai is still one of the trusted health warriors of the PHC. At a time when the raging COVID has kept many a senior citizen indoor, Pai -- the fourth batch (1960) of Kozhikode Medical College -- is out at the hospital every day, treating patients.
Every day, 60 to 70 patients consult him at the hospital. "There are all kinds of patients, those with respiratory infections, urinary infection, dengue cases. I get at least three to four dengue cases every day," he says.
After the consulting hours, he is available for the patients at the dilapidated government quarters next door. "He does not have a fixed consulting fee but some give Rs 50 and he is happy with that," says Sudeesh P, who once approached him at 7 pm after being bitten by a dog. "Dr Pai ensured I was treated at the PHC," says the resident of Vellarikkundu.
Dr Pai, a native of Payyannur, has been with the Vellarikkundu PHC as an assistant surgeon on an ad hoc basis for the past three years and a half. Before that, he was with the Community Health Centre at Cheruvathur from 2008 to 2012.
He has also worked in private hospitals in Payyannur. "Recently, he was dropped as an ad hoc doctor, maybe because of his advancing age. But he requested and rejoined again. He is very committed to his job," said Ajith, the health inspector.
The affable doctor mentors the regular doctors and has time for a friendly banter with all the staff, he says.
Dr Pai is an exception in many ways. Kasaragod is struggling to get ad hoc doctors. Few responded though the district medical officer conducted interviews five times. The ad hoc doctors get less than Rs 35,000 after tax and 'salary challenge', which means a deduction of six days' pay.
Dr Pai does not appear to be in for the money. His eldest daughter in an MD working in Maryland in the US, his second daughter is an engineer in Singapore. "They are citizens of the country and have been there for more than 20 years," he says, not hiding his pride. His third daughter is an orthodontist in Muscat. His son chose to be a farmer.
Dr Pai was, however, sceptical, when called for an interview. "Don't give me too much exposure. I just want to continue working here and be of some help to the people before I die," he said. He lives with his wife Maya Pai in Vellarikkundu.