Words by Susan Tam
Photos by Kamal Sellehudin
He’s known as the “teddy bear doctor” and is all smiles when his friends tease him about the nickname. Labels don’t matter to the jovial Dr S. Madhusudhan, so long as he is able to care for the homeless and poor living on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
We took a ride with him one night to learn more about his work.
Kuala Lumpur was nearly gridlocked on Saturday night, a result of heavy traffic ahead of the festive shopping season as people prepared for Hari Raya celebrations. But hours of traffic congestion did not stop Dr S. Madhusudhan from going about what he does best; caring for patients.
But they are not the usual category of patients that we know of.
Every Saturday night, Dr Madhusudhan heads out on the streets to provide medical care to the homeless or poor and children who live along the five-foot ways or dark alleys of the city with their parents or guardians.
The 33-year-old doctor works with volunteers from Kechara Soup Kitchen to help provide medical treatment to those who don’t have money or face difficulties getting to hospitals or clinics.
The parked ambulance, ready to serve patients in Chow Kit
We were at one of the alleys off Chow Kit Road last Saturday where most of these patients or ‘clients’ gather. The non-profit chooses to use the term ‘clients’, as a way of respecting this community.
“Some of them may live on the streets, or may have left homes due to family disputes or are just plain poor, renting small rooms and living in cramped conditions,” the doctor tells us.
Dr Madhusudhan is always in a jovial mood, regardless of the conditions he and the volunteers work in. We were parked next to a heap of rubbish and amidst the usual odours that come from bins and drains, Dr Madhusudhan and his colleagues carry on with their work, using stethoscopes or blood pressure gauges to do routine checks on the patients.
Private donations fund the ambulance and medical equipment offered that night by Mahamas Ambulance Service.
Chow Kit Road is one of the many stops that the team go to on Saturday nights. Others include Sentul, Dang Wangi, Keramat and the area around Bangkok Bank. “Chow Kit area has the most patients, and sometimes we have to take them to the hospital if there is an emergency.
“Some of them may have been robbed and chopped, or have difficulties in breathing, so we have to admit them.” Typically, 80 to 90 patients meet at Chow Kit to receive medical treatment as well as food distributed by the soup kitchen.
But it’s tough at times, he admits, these patients are reluctant to be warded due to existing convictions or criminal records, while others have no identification cards or have had their documents stolen from them.
So instead, they wait for the team’s weekend visits as a way to get treated. “So instead of going to hospital, they wait for us. One of the worst cases I’ve seen is when a patient came to see us, with a gangrenous leg so rotten that it urgently needed hospital treatment, but the client refused to go.”
He explains that patient had believed in black magic as a form of treatment instead of going to hospital.
Patients at Chow Kit wait for their turn with the doctor
That night, we saw many women and children crowding around the team’s ambulance waiting for their turn to be treated. The adults’ blood pressure were checked and vitamins were given out to the children, most of them in giggles as they take their chewable vitamins.
Costs for medication and treatment, including hospital admissions, are covered by Kechara.
We stood by to observe Dr Madhusudhan and his team work, and they appear cheerful and kind while taking the time to listen to their patients and offer advice.
We chatted with some of these patients, and it appears that they are clearly pleased with the volunteer medical team. One of the patients even told us that he treats Dr Madhusudhan “like his brother”.
“Don’t smoke too much, make sure your take your medicine,” were among the doctor’s advice.
Dr Madhusudhan told us that being out there on the streets of KL helping people is an experience that was “anytime better than going clubbing”.
Dr Madhusudhan speaking to a patient in Chow Kit
Working on the streets is meaningful, he shared, and it doesn’t matter if it stretches late into the night. “If there are emergency cases, we will usually finish our rounds by 2am or 3am.”
Treating the destitute on a Saturday night complements the work he does at his clinic in Cheras. At his private practice, this Klang-born doctor offers free medication and treatment to the homeless, poor and senior citizens, supported by Kechara volunteers who bring over patients to his care.
His charity work began as a co-founder of the Genie foundation, granting wishes to children from orphanages. Then he moved on to join Kechara’s volunteer movement, after finding out one of his friends help out regularly at the soup kitchen.
“At first, I thought the soup kitchen was a cooking class. Who would attend a cooking class on a Saturday night?” he laughs. When he learnt about the real work involved, he fell in love with it and stuck to it for a year now.
Dr Madhusudhan treating a patient
“Some people accuse me of doing this work for fame, I laugh at such remarks. I think even if it is fame that I do it for, as long as the people (here) get helped, why not?”
Dr Madhusudhan doesn’t let these criticisms or accusations stop his work. He even jokes about his bachelorhood, expressing wishes that his future wife would either be a volunteer or support his commitment to the long and thankless hours of volunteerism.
Dr Madhusudhan is in this for the long-term, hoping to reach out to as many people as he is able to.
Dr Madhusudhan chatting with colleagues
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