Chennai, May 11:
The news is difficult to believe and its background more difficult to digest. Padma Bhushan Dr Thayil John Cherian (85), the doyen of cardio-thoracic surgery who had won the ‘hearts’ of thousands of his patients is no more.
The police reports say that on Monday, March 6 he took the lift to the terrace of the apartment complex at Abiramapuram in the city where he lived, scaled the parapet wall at the end of the terrace and jumped down. He landed on a Maruti 800 car in the parking lot, in the process smashing the rear end of the car and breaking its windshield. He died on the spot.
A part of the media has reported the cause of death as head injury caused by a fall from the building. The circumstances are baffling. There was no reason for him to end his life so abruptly. He had attended to his duties at the private hospital as usual on Monday morning. He had gone on his regular rounds, examined the patients routinely and prescribed medication, change of medicines, change of food habits and expressed happiness over how his patients were responding to treatment. Some of his patients, speaking to this correspondent, recalled how jovial he was as usual on that fateful day. They would refuse to accept that he had any suicidal instincts in him.
At the same time, there was none else on the terrace, say the security personnel. So all chances of foul play has been ruled out. Was it an accidental fall or outburst of some pent-up feelings that culminated in his decision to commit suicide?
He was a bachelor and is survived by two sisters and a brother. He had seen everything in life, and had scaled the heights of glory in his career, which found recognition in the form of one of the topmost civilian honours from the government of India – the Padma Bhushan decoration, besides many professional awards and honours. He was believed to have been suffering from some ailment, which not many of his associates were aware of. He was also hospitalized recently, but had resumed consultations in Kalliappa hospital lately. Was it so serious that he was forced to call it a day and to bid good-bye to a life of honour and achievements?
He was born in Kerala on August 2, 1920 as the eldest of the four children in a family from Kottarakara. He studied in Madras Christian College School and later in the Madras Christian College. Then began his medical career that spanned several decades. After completing MBBS at Madras Medical College, with specialization in cardiovascular surgery and thoracic surgery between 1959 and 1963. He was one of the first few students who were sent to Australia, where he did his residency.
He had served in the Railways, at different health centres in Kerala, in Tiruchirapalli and Perambur in Chennai. He retired as the chief medical officer of the Southern Railway. His patients say he treated them like his family-members. A colleague said he was well known for his keen medical attention to his patients, accuracy in diagnosis and more than all, care and concern for them. He did not discriminate between anyone in his attention. Sometimes, if anyone pressed him to accept fees, he reportedly used to say jokingly, ‘You cannot afford my fees’. After retirement, he joined Vijaya Hospital and moved to Devaki Hospital. His colleagues say, with admiration no doubt, that his patients used to switch over to whichever hospital he would move to.
Popularly knowns as ‘TJC’, he was being revered by colleagues in the profession, many of whom he had taught, guided or worked with. His long-time associates paid tributes to the great man of service and integrity.
He reputedly treated a large number of patients from the Middle East and other countries. He will be sorely missed by them all.
His funeral took place in St George’s Cathedral here at 3 pm on Tuesday, March 7.