Doctors~Reel,real and everything in between

*This piece was written for the 2017 edition of Dhanvantari~the annual magazine of AFMC,Pune.So if you possess a copy and would prefer reading it there,you know what to do.Everyone else,read on*

The red bulb is on.The hero and a bunch of relatives are pacing back and forth in the corridor,worry writ large on their faces.

Next you know,the camera zooms into the Operation Theatre,you see masked men and women in green and an ECG which dramatically turns into a straight line with multiple beeps.The people in green exchange glances,a shake of the head and a cloth comes up on the face of the deceased.

The doctor steps out.The relatives look at him half-expectantly,half I say coz lightning and thunder at the exact moment the deceased breathed his last have already prepared them for the worst.
Not to forget,the framed picture that fell off the wall before the accident happened last night.

Now insert any of the following dialogues and you’d have your typical masala Bollywood sequence.

“Bacche ko toh humne bacha liya par maa…”
“Maine injection de diya hai. Inko subah tak hosh aa jayega.”
“Inko dawa ki nahi,dua ki zaroorat hai.”
“Inka bahut khoon bah chuka hai. Phoren operation karna padega.”
“Mubarak ho. Aap baap banney wale hain”(LOL.Not this one.This was awkward)
“Iski halat bahut nazuk hai. Abhi kuch kehna mushkil hai.”
“ Ab sab kuch uparwale ke haath main hai.”
“Inko khoon ki sakht zaroorat hai.”

Vintage Bollywood stuff.Right?

As a 90’s kid growing up in small-town India,my impression of a typical doctor was pretty much what Bollywood had fed me.And I always went to doctors half-expecting such dialogues.

My earliest memory of a real life doctor goes back to my family physician.A portly,stout man with a Hitler-esque moustache possessing a green Bajaj scooter which required a tilt for a few seconds before every kick and in case that failed,a push from the kids around.

My first interaction with him was vaccination back in the 90’s when injections still looked like board pins and bawling kids could be pacified by a single biscuit.I remember howling as if I had been injected on behalf of the entire city.And no,I wasn’t pacified even with the whole biscuit packet,much to the dismay of the dispensary nurse.I hated him.

Since my father worked for a Rural development NGO,I frequently accompanied him for village visits.I don’t have any Doctor memories from those days coz a Doctor in rural areas back then was like a penguin in the Sahara.Absurd.That’s what it was.PHC’s existed but Doctors visited it once a month.And I dare say,the situation is still the same in most rural areas.

But my village had one.Everyone called him ‘Daaktar’(cliched,i know) and a large aluminium box with a bright red Plus sign was his only accompaniment.
Lessons learnt from vaccination not lost on me,I’d watch from a distance with starry eyes as he’d open his Pandora’s Box and set up a clinic right under a tree.
From injections that looked like torture weapons and pills that could have given ‘Cadbury Gems’ a run for it’s money to a rag-tag stethoscope and the IV hung from a tree,it all seemed magical back then.Someday,maybe.I thought.

On one such village visit,I suffered from a bout of chicken pox and was exposed to a world of medicine unknown to me.My Grandfather,a traditional healer,decided ‘Mata’ had decided to visit us and my parents’ protests notwithstanding,I got my first experience of ‘jhaad-phoonk’. So every evening,my room would be filled with pungent smoke from some forest weed followed by brushing of the body using a broom made of shrubs.And I actually ended up enjoying those sessions as I got him to brush me in every body part I found itchy.

When I was cured 10 days later,I was taken to the village pond,turmeric applied all over my body and post a pooja to ward off ‘Mata’,the virtues of ‘Jhaad-phoonk’ were extolled to me even as I exchanged glances with my Father.Not convinced of the approach,he had secretly put me on meds procured from one of his city visits and but for the two of us,nobody knew.The follow-up was darn nice too.Coconut water baths for 10 days followed by the choicest of delicacies.I wasn’t complaining.Nor was I going to believe in such methods in future.

My next memorable doctor encounter happened in middle school when I broke my clavicle trying to emulate Shoaib Akhtar.I remember running in full steam,extending my arm to release the ball followed by a crackling sound and pitch darkness.I was in such pain I could see evolution happen right in front of my eyes.I was rushed to the nearest hospital and I vividly remember the Doctor on duty playing Solitaire on his PC even as he guessed how the injury might have happened.
I liked how nonchalantly he ordered the nurse to tie a ‘figure of 8’ while still playing solitaire.
Damn!That was cool.And I wanted to be like him.

And as incredible as it may seem for my wiry frame,my next real brush with doctors came a good 8 years later when I was admitted to CH(SC),Pune during my fourth term at AFMC.

But much had transpired in those intervening years.
I finished school,gave up cricket altogether(lest the clavicle fracture recurred),made it to AFMC and watched movies which were to shape my impression of Doctors in the years to come.

My interaction with the AMC limited to the Army Doctor who invigilated during the AFMC entrance,I didn’t know much of the military or medicine.But that initial interaction had been impressive.I remember sitting in a classroom full of anxious AFMC aspirants when he had walked in and all I could see was the uniform,at least till he decided to speak.He spoke well and put us all at ease with a joke.And suddenly,I wanted to be like him too.

‘Prahaar’ was the one movie I remember seeing a military doctor.
In one scene, Nana Patekar asks young recruits,as the training i/c,if they’ve got any problems.And frustrated at the strenuous schedule,one recruit falls for the bait and claims leg pain.
He’s taken to the Academy Doctor who asks him to undress and lie down on the examination couch.A proctoscope and a few screams later,the scene fast forwards to next day when the recruits are visibly more tired,yet when Nana Patekar asks if anybody had problems,they reply in a resounding ‘No’.
I had my doubts if military medicine really worked like that.And I wondered if the Doctor I met in the exam hall was like that too.

Entry into AFMC made me meet quite a few people whom I still look upto as Doctors,teachers as well as human beings.

One such lady very popular with students for her teaching and nature alike was Col M.
A famous incident relates to Col M shedding tears with a med cadet during Term viva when he cried saying he missed his mom on being asked why he couldn’t answer much.He passed and plenty of us learnt a lesson in empathy,him included.We never gave her another chance to give us grace marks.Many called her ‘Fairy Godmother’.I couldn’t agree more.

Another famous teacher I remember from my college days was Col. R,famous for starting his lectures with Question-Answer sessions starting from the last bench.Fail to answer a Question and you could get anything between “six months” to a “I never forgive,I never forget”.
Never before had there been a mad rush amongst batchmates to come to class early and grab a seat but come his lecture and the tables were turned.As lazy as we were,we preferred coming to class early than going through our books.
And those lectures are still a stuff of legend.Crisp 30 min lectures minus powerpoint interspersed with fascinating personal anecdotes and great oratory.His lectures were a lesson in preparation and delivery.No one slept,nobody’s attention wavered and I dare say it was as much because of the teaching as because of his strict persona.Plenty to learn from him,suddenly,I wanted to teach too.

But being a medical student encapsulated other challenges.For instance,overcoming one’s fear of blood.My first brush with blood resulted in syncope in the blood bank and I remember being embarrassed every time someone reminded me that.With time & maturity,I’ve come to see it as a human frailty which needs to be accepted.I got over that sometime during my internship and find it funny in hindsight.

I witnessed life from the other side when I was admitted to CH(SC) as a patient in 4th term and I was every bit as pesky a patient as the ones I was to see in future.Judgemental of the nurse when she poked me with needles and intracaths, grudging the fact that my investigation reports were taking so long, lamenting that doctors didn’t have a definitive diagnosis even after 10 days or just patient-cranky,I was playing the textbook ‘patience demanding patient’ to perfection.Over a month in hospital,I came out of hospital cured and chastened and I never wanted to be a patient again.

All this while,my constant accompaniment was Bollywood and I couldn’t help draw comparisons.
The Bollywood doctor could’ve been an intense,no nonsense doctor like Amitabh Bacchan in ‘Anand’ yet struggling to come to terms with his friend’s illness or he could’ve been a funny,zany man used for comic relief or at times even a Villain like Dr. Dang in ‘Karma’,the Dr. prefix there being a misnomer.

Quizzing in Pune introduced me to some really must see Doctor movies like ‘Ek Doctor ki Maut’.If one wishes to understand why brilliant doctors migrate to greener pastures, this is the film that one needs to watch.The bureaucracy taking down a young Doctor with a potential cure for a disease and him not even getting credit makes for an eye-opener of a film.
In light of the recent attacks on Doctors and the insensitive treatment meted out to them the judiciary,administration and even the Govt ,that sounds too familiar for comfort.Doesn't it??

‘Dr. Kotnis ki amar kahani’ was another movie I stumbled onto while answering Quiz questions at the Boat Club Quiz Club,Pune.
A heady concoction of professional commitment,interspersed with nationalist fervour,the movie remains a shining example of how a Doctor should execute his job.Ideal yes,practical maybe not so much.

One of the quizzes introduced me to M*A*S*H,the escapades of a medical team during the Korean War,making it a fascinating watch and one of the most famous medical films ever.
‘Doctor at Sea’ happened sometime soon and I never knew it would someday become an oft repeated term during my ship tenure,literally and figuratively.

Still 'she-sick'
‘Young Doctors in love’,a spoof poking fun on all those doctor-filled soap operas,remains the funniest Doctor movie I’ve seen till date. Our very own ‘Munnabhai MBBS’ happened too.I was thrilled and amazed only to know later it was a desi take on ‘Patch Adams’.

Becoming a Military Doctor was to further bring about a sea change in the way I saw Doctors.

I still remember my first Commanding Officer telling us on the last day of our internship “There are two types of Doctors.The ‘facilitators’ and the ‘enforcers’.Both are as effective in the long run and it’s upto you how you’d like to become.The first category requires empathy,the second one not so much.If you were to take my word,become a mixture of the two,ideally with more of the former.Also because the fauj has enough enforcers and it could do with a few facilitators.”
His words didn’t make much sense to me back then but two years on board a ship and his words ring true now,almost prophetic.It’s empathy that sets apart a Doctor from others in a fighting unit and it’s a lesson I’m not forgetting for life.

Also,Bollywood,for all it’s cliches doesn’t work in real life as I discovered to my angst a couple of years back.Deciding to engage in small talk with a Grandma from Haryana outside the Labour room waiting her daughter-in-law’s delivery I decided to go vintage Bollywood and said :-

“Mubarak ho. Ghar mein naya mehmaan aaney wala hai”.
Her expression bordering on disgust she shouted at her Son “ Re Mahender. Tanne kitni baar bola Bahu pet se hai. Ghar pe doston ko aur mehmano ko naa laya kar. Ab delivery bhi mehman se karayega ke??”

The son was caught unawares as was I and even as we shared sweets post the delivery I let out a chuckle as he told me about his mother’s amnesia.I find it hilarious in hindsight but back then it was anything but funny.

A few decades on,Bollywood’s portrayal of Doctors still remains the same and I’ve started 
preferring Hollywood.
I don’t behave like the Doctor in Prahaar,I prefer Col M’s method more.I don’t carry Doctor cases with Emergency written in bright red even though I do play Solitaire on my PC once in a while on duty.I’ve started playing cricket again,even though I’ve quit bowling altogether.Invigilating at the AFMC entrance exam remains an unfulfilled dream,courtesy it’s abolishment and I want to teach like Col. R someday.


And I’ve become a Doctor.A sum total of the books I’ve read,the patients I’ve seen,the teachers I’ve been taught by,the movies I’ve watched and the quizzes I’ve attended.And yes,I’d like to believe I’m a ‘facilitator’ and a proud one at that.

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