By Amit Roy
THERE was something very special about Poornima Nair, reportedly the first female doctor in the UK to die from Covid-19.
Her death is a personal tragedy for her husband and son, who have shown great dignity, character and courage in telling me about their loss. But her patients, too, have expressed their grief about a general practitioner whom they clearly loved.
Poornima, a GP at the Station View medical centre in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, was admitted to the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton on March 20 after showing symptoms of the virus. She was put on life support on March 27 and died last Tuesday (12).
This is just a small sample of the many heartfelt messages from her patients in which the word “lovely” is repeatedly used – Michael Towers (“great Dr, gentle and kind, will be sadly missed by all”); Joan Merchant (“a lovely doctor”); Riaz Hameed (“Forever grateful. Forever in your debt”); Joanne Ward (“excellent doctor”); Andrea Grehan (“lovely person, she delivered my daughter 20 years ago”); Kirsty Mawdsley (“absolute tragedy, one of the kindest, most empathetic doctors around”); and Claire Stott (“was always so lovely whenever I needed a Dr”).
Most GPs are so hard pressed these days that you are lucky to get 10 minutes, assuming you can get an appointment at all. But it seems Poornima made her patients feel she was their personal doctor.
What about the woman behind the GP?
Poornima was born in New Delhi in November 1963 to Sarala Nair and PK Nair, who were originally from Kannur, a coastal city in Kerala.
Her husband, Shlokarth Balupuri, a consultant surgeon at Sunderland Royal Hospital, recalls: “I met Poornima in 1981 when she was in her first year and me a year older at University College of Medical Sciences in Delhi. We more or less fell in love straight away, much to the chagrin of her classmates. Eventually as years progressed, we acquired the title of ‘made for each other’ by most of the medical students. We had been together for 40 years.
“We got married in 1990, giving us 30 years of blissful married life. After my surgical training and her training in obstetrics and gynaecology, we moved to the UK in 1993 just after our son was born.
“Poornima was a very active person, both at work as well as in her extracurricular activities. She took up making jewellery as a hobby and eventually had a website. Her death has left a void in my life that I will not be able to ever fill. I know, however, she lives in my heart and will always guide me and my son through the remainder of our lives.”
Varun Nair Balupuri, 26, a data scientist, adds: “My mother was kind, caring and loving to her family, friends and patients, as evidenced by the hundreds of tributes and memorials to her. She had an unflinching determination and dedication to everything she did in life and inspired those around her, living each day to its maximum. In her 56 years of life, she accomplished more than most can even imagine while always having time and love for those around her.
“Her passion for life and the integrity in which she faced challenges will serve as an inspiration to me and many others. Although she is gone, I will forever be walking in the warm footsteps she laid for me.”
Maybe in time someone will make a feature film about Poornima along the lines of the medical stories told by one of my favourite authors, AJ Cronin. His best-known novel, The Citadel (1937), tells of a Scottish doctor in a Welsh mining village. Replace Scottish physician with Indian lady doctor.