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Dr. Arthit Kukreja on guiding the community towards better health for close to half a century

by Shradha Aswani

Health and Healing.

By Shradha Aswani

As someone who is fairly new in the city, I can vouch for the fact that finding a doctor you can trust is the most significant part of the move, especially if you are as paranoid about modern healthcare as I am. That is why when I first spoke to Dr. Arthit Kukreja, his warmth made Bangkok seem not as alien as before.

Born and raised in Thailand as a Thai-Sikh of Indian origin, Dr. Arthit claims that he has never felt like an outsider in the country, despite the fact that he looks different. He had decided that he wanted to become a doctor at a very young age, after seeing his younger sister struggle with polio. His family was unable to find a cure for her despite consulting with numerous specialists, and her helplessness pushed him to reach a position from which, one day, he could help her.

His journey to achieving the title of doctor started at St. Georges College, Mussoorie, a hill station in India, where he completed his schooling. It was only after he graduated that he realised that he was required to have Biology as his major to be able to compete in the required pre-medical tests in order to get into a medical college. Left without an option, he applied for a position in the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi upon insistence from a close cousin, but one year into engineering made him sure that it was not for him.

Still attached to his previous vision, he decided to cover high-school biology by himself, and luckily found a great tutor who helped prepare for the test. As a result, he got through the most prestigious medical college in the country, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), but chose to return to Bangkok to be closer to his parents, where he completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Internal Medicine, from Chulalongkorn University.

He sat down with Masala to give us a closer look at his unique approach to medicine and the positive impact he has had on countless lives in over 47 years of being a physician.

“People and their make is the same,” he tells me, as I enquire about how he thinks healthcare has evolved over the years. “But I think people are more aware now than they were before about what constitutes good health, and how to get there. What has also changed is the interface between the caregiver and the patients. Doctors have less and less time for their patients now. They, like myself, work from paperless hospitals, interacting with them from behind a screen. This distance is the biggest transition I have
seen over the years.”

Mulling over the profound impact this can have on the face of health care, I can’t help but ponder over how awareness can have its own pitfalls. I ask him how he deals with the self-medicating vice of the Indian community, which has seen a rise since the internet has become an inevitable part of our existence, and he agrees that it does irk him at times. “A friend of mine printed up a poster for me once, and I still have it
on the door of my room in Bumrungrad International Hospital,” he recalls with a laugh. “It said, ‘Patient will be charged extra for annoying the doctor with self-diagnosis gotten off the internet.’”

This interaction makes it clear to me that his good nature allows him to express himself with humour to relatives and friends who approach him with their symptoms and probable solutions, even in private gatherings. “There was this one time when a gentleman came up to me in a party and kept asking me what the discomfort in his stomach could potentially mean,” he says, sharing one such anecdote. “At first, I politely told him that is something that I would have to examine and possibly run some tests on, but he kept insisting that I take a ‘guess’ on what it could be. Resigned, I asked a waiter who was passing by to join two tables for me and asked the man to lie down on it after taking his shirt off. He was definitely embarrassed but it was a better way to deal with it than being angry. I try to not be irritated most of the time, because all of that comes back and affects your own health eventually. The self-medication aspect does require counselling of
the patients from time to time, because it is important for them to understand that reading symptoms without a medical background leads them to erroneous conclusions. It is understandable that they are concerned about themselves and their loved ones, but they need to know where to draw the line.”

It is hard to not talk about mental health and the impact it has on the physical self when talking to someone who has witnessed the community so closely for so long, and Dr. Arthit kindly obliges my question. “In the many years that I have practiced medicine, I have always found that many physical ailments have their roots in some kind of emotional stress. This is especially true for disorders of the stomach region. You may think that I am exaggerating, but I am not. You may have heard the term ‘psychosomatic.’ People often mistake it to mean an experience that is just in someone’s head, which is not the case. What a patient maybe going through is very real. But its origin lies in overthinking, excessive speculation, and the stress they feel over all.

“That is why whenever a patient comes up to me with a problem, I do try to steer the conversation towards understanding how much stress they feel. And to be honest, most of them get the point.” My inevitable question after this explanation is, ‘does the understanding help them heal?’ and his affirmative response is encouraging. “Once they understand how to cope with the root problem, the symptoms themselves resolve quite nicely.”

I promise to leave him after a message for the community, and he smiles in response. “I always tell my patients not to wait for your body to trouble you before you start taking care of it. Often when I perform a physical examination, and ask patients to open their mouth, I enquire about the last time they have had a dental check-up. Most of them have not visited the dentist for over a year, which is not a good practice. Invest time in healthy habits, like knowing what is the right kind of food for you and the right quantities to have, starting physical activities, and more. Ultimately, I think the best piece of advice is for people to
remember that prevention is better than cure, always.”

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