Why, a doctor ?

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I thought I wanted to be an engineer. Physics and Maths were my favourite subjects, and it seemed only natural that engineering would be a straightforward choice. My mother, a gynecologist, wanted me to become a doctor. She managed to convince me to take Biology as a subject in class 11, in case I changed my mind. For one year I prepared for engineering, till in class 12, I realized something was amiss. I could not imagine myself sitting behind a computer screen for hours at end. Oddly enough, I could see myself spending those hours in a surgeon’s clothes. And that, simply, is how I changed my tracks and got in to medicine. Not because I really thought about public service as a 17 year old, not really because I wanted to honour my mother’s wishes, but simply because I wanted to see myself, in a few years, as a surgeon.

Medicine was hard, arduous and frustrating, and there were times when we slept for only two or three hours a day at a stretch. But having the support of my parents, both in the medical field, and being a day scholar made those hard times easier to bear. I often wondered how some of my classmates whose parents weren’t doctors, many of whom came from outside Delhi and stayed in the hostel, managed to keep up with the stress. In fact, sometimes, I thought what made them take medicine in the first place, for I was sure that even though I didn’t admit it, one of the reasons, albeit subconscious, that I moved in to this field was because my mother was a doctor. And that I knew that she’d always have my back. And we’d grow old together treating patients.

A few months after I finished five and a half years of medicine, I lost my mother. To pneumonia. Not an accident, not a heart attack, not cancer or any other morbid illness. To pneumonia. One week of fever and a chest infection. And she was healthier than me, even at 52 years of her age. The team of treating doctors could not save another doctor from a pneumonia. I couldn’t save her. Even with the fanciest of treatments, my mom died of an infection that should have responded to antibiotics. That’s when the faith broke. I left medicine swearing to myself I would never come back again. I had lost my mom and without her beside me, it didn’t make sense. I spent a year and a half at home, convinced that I didn’t want to be a doctor. But, as luck would have it, it was those months at home that gradually made me realize that a doctor’s job was to diagnose and treat, to the best of his ability and with the best of his intentions. Not to play God. There is no foreseeable reason why a treatment does not work in a fraction of patients, even if it is the standard of care. No way to know why a particular disease would behave in an aggressive way in some and certainly no method to predict it. Some patients have an aggressive infection, some an aggressive tumor and some are resistant to standard treatments leaving little time, and sometimes little much even doctors can do. And with my years of medical training, I could realize that, slowly but surely. As a doctor, I knew that we had done everything possible to save her. That knowledge gave me my reassurance and my answers. Without it, I’d probably be blaming Medicine or my ill fortune all my life. And so, two years after my mother’s death, I came back to Medicine again. Took gynecology to fill in my mother’s shoes. And years later, oncology.

Even today, every intubated patient in ICU reminds me of my mother on the ventilator. As oncologists, we try to keep our emotions in check because, in spite of best of our efforts, we lose some patients – to aggressive disease, to stage IV cancers, to relapses. And many times when we break the bad news to the families, we go back to our rooms and swallow our tears. We may not be going home happy everyday, but we know in our hearts that we do the best we can, striving to give hope in every way possible. If we stand for ten hours in a surgery, it is not to satisfy our egos, but because if even the smallest of efforts can make a difference to a patient’s life, it is worth it. Helping terminal patients may seem hopeless, but if we can relieve their pain, provide a quality of life and help them live their last days without suffering, trust me, there is nothing more rewarding.

To all my fellow doctors, and especially to those who lost their loved ones along the way but didn’t lose faith, a very Happy Doctor’s Day. Let us continue our work, no matter what, no matter how.

A difficult woman

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Haven’t you heard about the difficult woman ?

That eccentric and finicky human,

The one you have to deal with at work,

Bossing around with a frown and a smirk,

For she has such quintessential traits,

And for you, reader, let me lay those straight.

 

If she is a team leader and seems exacting,

She is fussy and overreacting,

A crazy and hyper human,

She is, a difficult woman.

 

If she loses her temper at the job,

She is hot-blooded and a snob,

And she being a woman, it’s probably her raging hormones at work,

Menopause, PMS, or something to do with her cycles, that she is such a jerk,

A crazy and hyper human,

She is, a difficult woman.

 

If she strives for perfection,

And encourages others in the same direction,

She may think that she wanted to give it her best shot,

But she was over-demanding and impossible, is what we thought,

Oh dear, that crazy and hyper human,

How does she manage to be a difficult woman ?

 

If she does things in a systematic way,

And doesn’t take any short cuts come what may,

She is a pain in the butt exasperating,

And in no uncertain terms, irritating and frustrating.

If sloppiness at work she doesn’t permit,

And doesn’t take any lame excuses or bullshit,

She is the dirt of the ditch,

In the mildest of words, a nasty witch.

A crazy and hyper human,

She is, a difficult woman.

 

If she works long hours and expects dedication,

Diligence at work, and no procrastination,

“ No wonder she’s single !”, comes the cognition,

For her personal life, the most logical explanation.

If she seems impatient, and ‘loses it’, once in a while,

Furrows her brows, looks annoyed or drops the smile,

The reason is most definitely, a spousal strife,

And she is, without doubt, ‘frustrated’ in her personal life.

Oh that crazy and hyper human,

She is, most certainly, a difficult woman.

 

If she gives orders, she throws her weight,

If she questions an order, she is insubordinate.

Belligerent and argumentative, if she raises a concern,

Obstinate and headstrong, if she doesn’t back down in an argument and turn.

She is a crazy and hyper human,

Alas, a difficult woman !

 

If she tries to show her mettle, in a work ‘not meant for the ladies,’

Well, she is odd and peculiar, coz she should be making babies.

Dresses up and she has put on airs,

Dresses down and she needs repairs.

Oh that short fused, overreacting, stubborn human,

She is, such a difficult woman !

Teacher’s Day

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To the teachers who made their students think their own thoughts and ask their own questions.

To the teachers who made us ask Why and How ; and not just When and What.

To the teachers who taught the children how to be better human beings and not just excel and succeed.

To the teachers who turned the walls in slums into blackboards.

To the teachers who made the shade of a banyan tree into a school, in villages far away.

To the teachers who refused to give up on ‘weak’ students, and who took those hardest to teach, and polished them into gems.

To the teachers who taught the students to take failures as lessons and to never give up.

To the teachers who never stopped and never lost faith.

Happy Teacher’s Day !

You are not a Hindu

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Where are we going as Hindus ? Our festivals have turned into pompous shows of extravagance. Celebrations with families and neighborhood have been overthrown by the pandals and festival melas, all trying to outdo each other with outlandish decors and loud speeches and celebrities and politicos. The sounds of the bells and the gongs and the conches are drowned by the loudspeakers blaring bhajans to the tunes of Bollywood songs.  Diwali used to be a festival of lights, poojas, diyas and rangolis. Instead we are lured by the mindless pre Diwali sales, the artificial electric lights and the booming crackers. Holi has become synonymous with outrageous songs, rain dances, alcohol and leering. Come Janmasthami, and cash prizes are offered for the dahi handi with many govindas losing their lives, or worse paralyzing themselves, in a bid to outperform each other in the race to climb and claim the coveted prize. Raavan dahan of Dussehra turns into a tragedy for hundreds, as people are drowned in the frenzy while safety takes a backseat. The return of the kaawads becomes a political game with the parties across towns making their shivirs on the roads, blocking main ways and turning traffic into mayhem. And then we take all the moortis and the flowers and the prasad, wrapped in toxic paints and plastic, and dump them into the rivers and choke them.

Why have our festivities turned into circuses of blind faith and tomfoolery and jarring displays of feigned reverence? Does God pick out and award the best ?… the best decorated pandal, the most exorbitantly decorated idol, the best lit house, and the people that promote these antics. Does he reward these picked winners with his grace, and shower them exclusively with his blessings ? Is the surest way of making God listen to your prayers, is to sing songs in his honor over microphones and loudspeakers, and to make them loud and clear for every earthly being living within the ten mile radius ?

What are these religious revelers thinking, if they are, at all, thinking ? …

“ Well, hello, hello. Jai Siya Ram, Har Har Mahadev, Jai Shri Krishna and Jai Mata Di. What are these ridiculous questions ? How can you call yourself a Hindu ? You should be ashamed of yourself. We don’t build pandals, Devi maa gives us sandesh to do it. If it blocks a main street, so be it. Everybody has to make sacrifices.  What traffic are you talking about ? Isn’t there already so much traffic in the city ? One pandal here and there, and it sets the tongues rolling. Bloody heretics ! How can you tell us how to celebrate our festivals ? We will build huge Raavan effigies near railway tracks, and we will burn them to the ground. Come Diwali, we will burn a billion crackers, we will light bombs, and we will fly rockets till kingdom come. Jisko bura lagta hai lage. This is between our God and us. Why shouldn’t we make merry on Holi, and drink and smoke and dance and tease the mohalla girls ? Even Lord Shiva smokes ganja. And what about Lord Krishna’s gopikas ? You talk about the bhajans on loudspeakers. The songs we play are in honor of our Gods. They are loud so that everyone can hear how ardently we love them. Ye bhakton ka zamaana hai. Did you donate for the Navratri celebrations in your locality ? No ? No wonder the celebrations were so lackluster this year. Well, you Madam, are a disgrace and an atheist and you will rot in hell for that. And you are no longer a responsible citizen of this country. You are more concerned about the plants and animals and the environment, than you are about human beings. All this nonsense about Diwali crackers terrifying the animals and the smoke killing the plants. You ask us to care about them when even God doesn’t. If he did, he would have made them humans. You see, we humans are made in the image of God. And we please only him. Rest of the earth gayi tel lene. The rivers  ? What are you talking about ? Ganga Maiyya is self cleansing – the holy water washes away all the dirt and sins. Yamuna ? Doesn’t she drain into Ganga ? You environmentalists have a habit of poking your noses into everything. With the blessings of Bholenath and Mata Rani, our celebrations will continue. And the bhakts will rule the world.”

Life and death

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I lost my Mom today, fourteen years back. One of my favorite memories is of her taking early morning walks in Lodhi Garden, and forcing me to come along on the weekends. I would grudgingly agree on a Sunday morning, force myself out of the bed and trudge along. As she bounced along the tracks in the garden, I tried hard to keep up with her pace, puffing and panting, wondering how a middle aged lady could beat a college kid like me at walking. But when she cooled off in between, we had the most interesting talks on a myriad of topics – life at the hospital and life at college, markets and movies, sarees and jeans, surgeries and exams, patients and teachers, and everything in between.

Today after many years, I revisited our old haunt – to relive the old days, maybe to honor Mom’s memory in some way. As I rediscovered the place, I realized there was so much beauty in it… nature at its best, a wonderment. The splendid scenery, the smell of jasmines and the chirping of birds swirling around. Life in the thick foliage, the bamboos and the bougainvilleas and the birds and squirrels. Death in the enshrined tombs and the dead leaves. Life and death swirling together in a song. An old dead tree trunk overgrown with blooming creepers and flowers. A barren tree with the sun rising in its background. The living and the dead playing games and life prospering, in spite of all odds. Everything around a display of life’s full circle. A symbol of the joy in struggle. The reason in sorrow. The calm in storm. The light in dark. And the hope in tomorrow. Saying that no matter how much the pain today, someday, things will fall into place. And life will be okay.

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Mumbai Diaries

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My tryst with Mumbai began with a dislike for the city, admixed with frustration and confusion. The houses and the PGs were pigeonholes, on top of which, when I went around looking for a single room, the frequent question was, “ Share nahi karna hai ? Kyun ?” After much cajoling and convincing, that some human beings (read this Central Delhi brat) need their personal space and can’t always ‘ adjust ’, I got habituated to being shown tiniscule, windowless cubes that rented at 10K per month, until I found one I could fit into. The killer humidity could put Delhi’s 48 degrees of scorching heat to shame. I did not understand the city’s obsession with vada-paos (those sauceless, mayoless burgers) and naming every third park after ‘ Naana-Naani.’ There were no excuse-mees to ask for way, but a curt ‘ Baaju !’ And shockingly, people made kissing sounds in order to beckon someone. When the rains came, it was a four month long thunderous downpour, that clogged the drains while we took the ‘riks’ and swam in muck and sewage en route to work.

A year later, I found myself as an Mch resident at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH), getting used to conquering the trials and tribulations. The green see-through scrubs with the pajamas inexplicably ripped at the bottom seams ( Was it our fatty posteriors ?… Or our gassy interiors ?) that we made a dash for in the morning, carrying a mental checklist – “ Check the naada, check for holes behind and below…” The Tuesday staple sabuddana khichhdi which the TMH cafeteria single handedly ruined for everybody. In all these years I always wondered who the 1% fasting staff was, for whom this evening naashta was intended. Not to mention, the upma and the poha, which everyone had more than a lifetime’s share of. Working for 16 hours as a first year and then getting calls in the dead of the night with a voice squeaking “ Doctor, Bed number 123 ka urine output only 800ml hai.” While some would reply politely and tell the sister not to worry, others would put in a tongue in cheek like “ Itna susu to maine bhi raat bhar nahi kiya.” Learning another language was always difficult but a few Marathi phrases got me through – “ Tikre zopa ”, “ Ghaabru naaka ”, “ Saieel soda ” ,“ Pot aatmade ghya ” and the requsite “ Thaamba!”, ” Laukar !” and ” Patkan !”

In all those five years, I never realized how Mumbai grew on me. Days were long and arduous at the hospital, but a hearty laugh expunged all the aches and pains. No matter what the patient load, no matter what the odds, things got done – biopsies, PCNs and CT scans, physician referrals, emergency explorations and OT lists. And even then, it was never too late for a sea side stroll or a movie in the city that never sleeps. When the TMH cafeteria botched up the dinner, Canara and Aditi fed the Tata inmates. Catching the sunrise at Marine Drive on a Sunday, or gorging on lunch at Pizza by the Bay, the joyride never stopped. And before you knew it, you were salivating at the sight of vada- paos and swaying to songs on your headphones, oblivious to the rain and the traffic. ‘ Chalega ’ had replaced ‘ Theek hai ’, ‘ Ek number !’ had kicked out ‘ Ye baat !’, ‘ Mast hai ’ had taken over ‘ Sahi hai ’, ‘ Baaju ’ had toppled ‘ Bagal mein ’ and ‘ Barabar ’ had usurped ‘ Bilkul.’ The years zipped by as we wrestled duties and night outs, busy weeks and Sunday breaks and exams and celebrations. But just like that, the time ran out too, jostling us out of the reverie, asking us to pack our bags and leave.

I never thought leaving Mumbai would be so hard and painful. I never thought I would end up romanticizing it to Delhiites. And missing it so. I left with a heavy heart but with memories to cherish for a lifetime. I have so many extraordinary people and so many remarkable things to thank for ! Here’s a big shout out and dhanyavaad to my family, friends, teachers and colleagues who helped and supported me, and made this a wonderful adventure.

Dance Basanti

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Dance is the medicine to everything. It is as indispensible as coffee. And it stays with you through all the ups and downs of life. Eat, pray and love all you want, but there is nothing like dance to lift your spirits up. Everyday, when you come home, lock your door, turn on the music, and dance. Forget what happened at work, and dance. Whether the day was good or bad, whether you are feeling happy or sad, drop everything and dance. If you are overjoyed, jump and leap, and bobble your head this way and that. If you are down in the dumps, get up on your feet, twirl around to some happy music and make circles with your hands. And if you are feeling just like you do on ‘any ordinary day’, wave your arms to your favourite song, twist and untwist your legs and swing your hips away.

 

Dance like you did as a kid, oblivious to everything and everyone. Dance like no one is watching. Do the eighties break dance, or the seventies Saturday Night Fever disco moves. Move your arms at the hinge joints and do the robot dance. Sprinkle talcum powder on the floor and attempt the MJ moonwalk. Spin round and round and scream whee ! Break into a tango, a shimmy or a sixties twist. Enact every word of a song. Do the ‘vulgar’ pelvic thrusts and the bum moves in your bedroom. Try the twerk, if you’d be so brave. Turn on a rock number and do the headbanging and the air guitar. Or perform a solo waltz with one hand on an imaginary shoulder, and another around a dreamy lover’s waist. And when it’s raining outside, dance to old Hindi movie songs with a coffee in hand.

 

In your world of Dance, you are the salsa queen, the Bollywood enchantress and the belly dancing seductress. You are the dancing champion, you raise hell, and there is no one like you. Dance like there is no tomorrow. Dance all your worries away. Dance with all your heart. Dance a stellar performance and take a bow to the empty room. Dance in the shower singing into the soap. Dance amidst others, mixing Bhangra steps with electro music. Dance in front of the mirror in a public restroom. Dance in the trial room, trying on a pretty dress. Stop and break into a dance during your morning walks at random. Click your heels and whirl around to the music playing in your head. Dance in the rain, dance in the sun, dance in the snow. Dance till you can’t dance anymore and then dance some more. Dance till the day you can’t live without it, and then dance through your life, all the way to the end. And the sun and the stars will dance with you, in celebration.

Addendum to the Hippocratic Oath

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I will always respect the ‘Google Maata,’ for she is always ere and better informed than I.

I will work for more than 24 hours straight and not once, even for a minute, will I sit down for rest, lest a media hound snaps that moment of a pause for the world to see and condemn.

I will not expect any pay for my work, for my family’s needs would be taken care of by God and his men.

Any ‘personal time’ or ‘family time’ will be considered a crime, liable to persecution and legal action.

I will be expected to have a contrast enhanced CT vision, to diagnose patients’ illnesses without ordering any ‘expensive tests,’ and to pick up complications, if any, the nanosecond they happen.

I promise, never to err at any time, or subject myself to the risk of being beaten up by the patient’s relatives.

I shall expect, for my work, no respect ; rather, I could be sued anytime for wrongdoing and neglect.

I will neither eat nor drink any food or beverage, remotely linked to any disease, in any case report published by Google, even in the confines of my house, if I chance to visit it at the end of the day.

I will be under constant scrutiny, and all my doings, including the restroom breaks, will be watched over like a hawk, around the clock.

I am neither God nor a normal human being, but a healing machine with Godly powers, dutifully bound to perform miracles in the worst of sickness.