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Dr Harrinder Dhaliwal, 24, is a doctor with a difference. This young medico treats his patients from a wheelchair, where he is confined as a result of injuries he suffered in an accident a year ago.

Harinder Dhaliwal walked tall in 1994 when he joined Pune's Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC). He had then topped the highly competitive entrance examination. Six years and an accident later, he had moved out of the AFMC - a graduate on a wheelchair, minus a commission, as he has been declared medically unfit for the armed forces.

It took one cruel twist of fate -- an accident in 1998 -- to turnDr. Harrinder Dhaliwal the strapping young man, who had looked forward to a career as an Army doctor, into a paraplegic with an uncertain future.

"I am learning to cope,'' Harinder says, as he tries to grapple with the physical and emotional pain, as well as the financial problems that have become his constant companion since October 22, 1998, when the Jonga in which his family was travelling in met with an accident and rolled down an incline on the Leh-Thoise stretch. His father, Col S S Dhaliwal, then posted in the Siachen sector, and his mother were seriously injured. But it was Harinder who suffered the most - a damaged spinal cord left him paralysed waist downwards. He recalls the nightmare:

"During my holidays I was visiting my father. We were travelling in a Jonga when it met with an accident and toppled over. We all blacked out.

I was the first to regain consciousness and found people pulling us out of the wreckage. I was in a state of shock and could not move my legs at all. We were shifted to a nearby Army post and quickly evacuated by helicopter to the Military Hospital there. I was then taken to Chandimandir but there was no neuro surgeon there who could treat me. So I ended up at the Base Hospital in Delhi Cantt where I was operated upon. By then four days had passed. In a spinal cord injury, the patient stands a good chance of recovery if he is operated upon within 24 hours
.'' Harinder returned to AFMC six months later and completed his MBBS. But while his colleagues have started their internship, he cannot - he has been given a provisional status as an intern at the Cantonment General Hospital. He wants to be paid so he does not have to depend on his parents, but the rule of the State is that an intern is only eligible for payment if he has done his medicine from a State government medical college.

Being a doctor himself, Harinder realises that recovery is a remote possibility for him. "Normally in spinal cord injuries, one waits for a year and a half for recovery. In my case that is over and there has been no real progress. I have tried everything - from allopathy to ayurveda to homeopathy - and even went to America after reading about a wonder drug called Nuralin. All to no avail.''

Today, Harinder's mornings are spent wheeling himself around the Pune Cantonment Hospital and attending to patients for six hours at a stretch or helping in the operation theatre; he manages both tasks remarkably well.

The afternoons are spent at home studying for Graduate Record Examination. "I plan to go to the United States for research in spinal cord injury. There is a lot happening there in this sphere - discovery of new medicines and a treatment called Functional Electrical Stimulus that implants electrodes in the muscles which help one stand and walk. Basically, I want to set up a spinal cord institute in India which would provide advanced medical treatment in this field - from operation to rehabilitation, to providing the right kind of wheelchairs.''

We hope that this brave young man's dreams are realised soon!


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