Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hey Mr. Tambourine Man

But that's not even close to the most remarkable conversation I've had this week. That privilege goes to my latest co-intern, a boy with a disarming smile, and an almost ridiculously filmy back-story with a rags-to-riches spin to it.

In the spirit of our 'Too Much Information To Handle' conversations, he leaned over conspiratorially over the three bottles of Sterilium that separated our workstations and loudly whispered, "You know, ever since I was a kid, I wanted to learn to smoke. And two years ago, I actually did!"

His stage whisper alerted me to the thought that he probably wanted me to be either really shocked or really impressed. I, therefore, decided it was best to neglect to mention that he wasnt the only one with a fun tale of trysts with cancer sticks.

So, I let him proceed with his 'secret' outpourings. "I smoked for a month, one cigarette a day. And I really liked it! It made me feel so, so, umm.."

"Uninhibited?" I supplied.

"Free." he smiled back.

"So if you liked it, how come you quit in a month? To test your moral fortitude?" I had to ask, struggling hard to stop the question sounding as cruelly sarcastic as it obviously does.

"Well, I thought, what wud my dad think? He wud be hurt if he knew, and I wud have to tell him. He wud think his son's going bad." he shrugged.

"Yeah, becoz all the boys from your village are good Marathi boys who dont smoke, right?" I said rather distractedly, as the distinctive smell of formalin wafted in through the window.

"Oh come on, Karishma, we're both not that stupid. And we've seen enuff people here to know that every person who isnt a smoker is not automatically a good person. One bad quality does not indicate the presence of other worse ones, and one good quality cannot compensate for the absence of many better ones." His face momentarily clouded over before his genuine, boyish smile shone through instants later and he giggled before adding in another theatrical whisper, "You know what I've always wanted to try though? Ganja!"

A Dangling Conversation (if ever there was one..)

Internship is turning into a real goldmine of life experiences, all of a sudden.

I've spent the last fortnight in a relatively mildly irritating posting in a unit run by a registrar who until today I'd put down as a moderately effective, watered-down sort of a dictator. A stickler for punctuality, a nitpicking nag, that kind of a person. Not remotely a malicious bitch so much as a typical trope, instead of a real person, I thought. She was often short with patients, frequently snapped at her clueless but kindhearted housemen, relentlessly ordering them to get their act together, she was painfully particular about us turning up in the wards at 7 AM to do blood collections, only if there were just two patients that needed to be tested. The only time there appeared to be anything to humanize her stony countenance was the few occasions when she presented cases to the professors, an activity that in the Psychiatry department involves having long, sometimes really ridiculously silly-sounding conversations with patients. Her histories were detailed and thorough, her cases peppered with witticisms and a somewhat wacky sense of humour, that was decidedly at odds with her otherwise apparently hostile demeanour.

I was glad to be finishing the posting really. Just take her signature and get the hell out of there, I thought.

Then, it so turned out that we didnt really need her signature, the saccharine sweet lecturer and the histrionically entertaining professors were ready to sign all our work.

So, in what felt like a minor coup, we paraded into the office, stamping our own logbooks with the department seal and there she was! My co-interns all thought the best strategy was obviously to not look her in the eye, and simply troop past trying to look as innocuous as possible, as if willing themselves to be invisible cud actually work.

I, however, am more than a little worse at that, and blending into the background wont ever really be a strong suit for me. So, I thought that I shud use that to my advantage and contribute a cheeky parting shot instead.

So, trying to look her in the eye with what I hoped resembled bonhomie, I gave her a big smile and I said, "Ma'am, so we're done with psych. Today was our last day." 'And you wont be able to boss us around any more.' being what was left pointedly unsaid.

She looked at me, as if really noticing me for the first time in that very moment, and to my great surprise, smiled, although sardonically, and said, "Then I guess you're lucky. Do well in your exams." before turning and leaving.

My co-interns gave me a 'why do you always have to do this, Karishma?' look and marched into the office. I, however, realized that I was seeing the woman in a whole new light, and a really rosy one, too.

It dawned on me that she was probably the only rigorously competent person in the whole unit, the reason we were called on for blood collections daily was becoz the sweet but simpering houseman had no idea what bore needle to use, or what bulbs to take, or even which laboratory the blood was supposed to be sent to. That the other gruff but kindly houseman was bad at remembering drug names and repeatedly badgered the registrar for dosages.

That the honey-tongued lecturer often left rounds half-way and the much-renowned professor was on holiday for much of the month.

She was single-handedly responsible for all the patients in the unit and the obvious stress from all that work was probably what made her lose her temper so often.

And I realized what I really felt was not exhilaration at having gotten another barrage of signatures out of the way, but the slightest hint of guilt towards and a somewhat grudging admiration for the woman who delightedly wrote words like 'mendicants' and 'verbose' and 'lotuseaters' on the case-sheets, a woman whose name I hadnt even bothered to ask for all of the two weeks I was posted alongside her.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What's past is prologue

For the third time in the five years that I've been studying to be a doctor, this city gets bombed by terrorists. This time I feel better equipped to deal with the casualties but as luck wud have it, a relatively lighter posting had me heading home in the middle of terrible traffic the same time as news of the blasts started to filter thru.

I was on a completely different route, of course, but one cudnt help but get infected by the panic in the air on the roads today.

After making several futile attempts to call mum and dad on their cellphones on jammed networks, my driver suggested we switch on the radio where helpful RJs told us about the location of the blasts, the condition of traffic on the roads, what routes to avoid, and where brand new checknakas had sprouted up.

So a usually forty-minute long ride morphed into a two hour-long odyssey punctuated by frequent text messages asking me if I was home and safe, all the while I was frantically trying to call mum and dad.

With the radio our only source of reliable information we had it switched on the whole time and as reassuring messages from family and friends started pouring in, so did news about patients pouring into our hospital, when this unexpected song started playing on the radio.

And for a few minutes I was dumbfounded. The ridiculous optimism of the song sounded hopelessly and naively out-of-place in these dangerously cynical times.

But in those minutes, I realized that this song was from another time and place. That it was recorded in a city which had never been laid siege to, in a country that had not gone to war against its neighbour numerous times, by idealistic people who had believed that the battle for freedom had really been won. Once and for all. And that the beautiful, peaceful utopia they'd dreamed up wud come to exist in the future, that their children wud inherit this vision of a perfect world.

And then the song ended, the next song played, and it was "Bombay Meri Jaan" and what cud I do, but wistfully change the channel? It was the only way to stop the past from seeming like some sort of paradise, to stop feeling that now, whenever the world changes, it is always only for the worse.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Last place you looked

And thus it ends, what must be one of the singularly most frustrating and strangely fulfilling postings of my internship. Assisting the BMC pull off what must be a rather childishly futile PR exercise, against our will, shunted from real clinical postings, to act as default blood collectors in the freshly created Fever OPD in daily twelve hour shifts for 15 straight days without Sundays off, or any other day off for that matter, really puts some things in perspective.

That spending twelve hours with someone at a stretch, chattering about Delhi Belly and Kishore Kumar over mechanically sticking needles into people's veins does create a rather unexpectedly strong bond of friendship with your fellow intern. That spending five years attending lectures in the same class as this person will teach you nothing about them while spending fifteen harrowing days with them will fill you in on everything from their boyfriend's favourite flavour of ice-cream to their favourite boy-band from the nineties.

Also, long nights spent chit-chatting with the first really sweet and warmly human registrar (she even bought us three scoops of ice-cream on our last day of work) I've met in KEM so far are well worth the endless hours of thankless hopelessly boring work. There's nothing like strife and loneliness to teach you to appreciate the goodness inside of other people, the kindness of strangers that goes unnoticed on ordinary days.

Isnt it just incredible that friends really can be found in the most trying of times and in the strangest of places?