Handle with care

Almost half a century after a compassionate doctor decided to rent out medical equipment to those who couldn't afford to buy it, his son grapples with a stark new reality: The need to rent hospital equipment might soon be obsolete, along with the generation that believed in caring for their parents themselves

A whirling concrete mixer conceals the entrance to The Laboratory on the day of our visit, but to the proprietors this is no cause for alarm. "We've been around for so many years that everyone knows about us," says Sarosh Bilimoria, adding, "Even if we take the signboard down, customers will still find their way in."

Proprietors Sarosh and Perviz Bilimoria at The Laboratory, a store in
Tardeo that rents hospital equipment. Pics/Sayed Sameer Abedi

The Laboratory may not be a household name, but when you need a crutch, walker, wheelchair or oxygen tank, everyone knows about "that little place in Tardeo." Sarosh and his wife, Perviz, have been running the place since they tied the knot in 1982, but it was Sarosh's father Dr Pesi Bilimoria who, Sarosh explains, thought of "renting out sick room requisites and oxygen cylinders."

Attendant Bhiko Gaikwad with an electric suction device used to purge
the lungs of phlegm.

In the beginning
"This used to be my father's dispensary," Sarosh says, recalling the time when his anaesthetist dad thought of renting out nitrous oxide cylinders. "Back then, that too was used in anaesthesia," he explains. Sarosh's mother Dina, a pathologist, also ran a path-lab on the premises. "That's why it's called The Laboratory."

It was the rapid deterioration of the health of Sarosh's ageing grandmother � 54 years ago � that prompted the family to purchase a hospital bed. "Several months after her demise, my father was about to sell the bed to a scrap dealer, when he was approached by a man, who asked if he would rent him the bed."

Factoring in how expensive the cost of buying a bed like that would be for the man, Dr Bilimoria realised that care for the infirm must weigh heavily on the average pocket. "That's why, even today, we only rent equipment," Perviz points out, "We don't sell anything, unless someone requests us to, which happens if a patient gets used to a certain wheelchair or bed. In such cases we try to accommodate the request."

Cost-effective option
The margin between renting and buying equipment is huge. "For instance, that cylinder would cost you Rs 7,000 to buy," Sarosh estimates, as Jagdish Rathod who has worked here for over a decade ably and efficiently demonstrates the assembly of an oxygen cylinder.

Jagdish plucks a metal trolley off its hook on the wall, as easily as one might pluck an apple off a tree, places the heavy cylinder on it, pulls out a tube and a bottle of water and assembles it in a matter of seconds. "The oxygen must pass through the water before one inhales it," Sarosh explains, "else one gets a sore throat."

Renting the entire apparatus involves depositing a refundable sum of Rs 2,000, plus the cost of the gas, which is Rs 200. Weekly rental charges are Rs 30. "Rs 100 for an oxygen mask and Rs 70 for a nasal prong must also be factored in, if required, as these are both disposable items," clarifies Sarosh.

Senior attendant Bhiku Gaikwad brings out an electric suction device (Rs 2,000 refundable deposit; Rs 600 monthly rental charges) and places it on a dark wood cabinet. "It's deceptively heavy," says Sarosh about the device that is often required by the aged to suck out phlegm from the lungs.

"In the old days, families would employ ward boys and ayahs to care for the elderly, but nowadays the demand for several of these gadgets is has dropped as very few people will actually take the time or effort to care for the elderly in their own homes," shares Perviz Bilimoria, adding, "They prefer to check them into hospitals."

Sarosh rationalises that with well-equipped hospitals becoming more comfortable than they used to be that this is understandable. "Personally, my preferred mode of healing is to take a few days off and visit my fruit farm in Karjat," he smiles, offering us a small yellow card that lists all their equipment.

"Renting a surgical fowler position hospital bed requires a deposit of Rs 3,000 that is refundable, plus a rental charge of Rs 600. Wheel-chairs require a refundable deposit of Rs 2,000 and a rental of Rs 600 per month," Sarosh tells us as we go through the list on the card that also offers saline stands, walkers and foldable back-rests for beds, each for a refundable deposit of Rs 500 and a monthly rental of Rs 200.

Nebulisers aren't listed, but they rent those as well as antique lifting chairs, which were used in place of stretchers before buildings were equipped with elevators. 

At: The Laboratory, 141, Noman Manzil, Wadia Street, Tardeo.
Call: 23521917/ 23514332

2 more places you can contact for medical equipment

Kosmochem Home Healthcare
Call: 23445018/ 66545477
This place has been in the healthcare business for over 15 years. Though hospital equipment is only sold and not rented here, they stock everything from sterile wraps, drapes, disposable needles and syringes to intravenous catheters, blood pressure monitors and incontinence products, including adult diapers and air mattresses that prevent bed sores.

Relief Medical
Call 9820179197/ 28403181
This pharmacy/ medical equipment store is located on Film City Road in Malad, but they can deliver anywhere within the Thane-Goregaon-Malad area. Aside from medicines, the store stocks Glucometers to monitor diabetes, blood-pressure measuring instruments, weighing machines, nebulisers, walking sticks (single sticks, tri-pod and quadruped variants made of wood), varicose vein stockings, bed pans and even  over-the-counter hearing aids.

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