Saturday, September 17, 2011


“Kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the and the blind can see”- Mark Twain.

I was leaving to do a clinic this weekend at my hometown and booked my travel by train. It was an obscure ’special’ Mangalore Express and its announcement was not even on the billboard at the railway station. It even arrived at an obscure platform 2A in Chennai!

The train arrived in Coimbatore at dawn- 6am. As I walked towards the exit , I saw a couple- a blind couple with the man holding a white tell tale stick. I slowed down when the man and woman were about 10 feet away; people walked around them clearing the space for them. The couple clearly did not know which way to go. The noisy platform did not help them either. The man rotated around himself as if to assess which way to go. The wife just held his hand and circled along with him.

I politely walked past but then out of curiosity turned around to look; no one wanted to help. My pick up was waiting and I wanted to go away; but was interested enough to see if anyone would help. Well, no one did. So I stopped and walked back to the man and asked if he wanted to go out of the station.

He said he wanted to go to the bus stand. Coimbatore station has 2 long flights of stairs and I walked holding up his hand, warning him of the steps and the pillars around. He was a bit slow at first and then picked up momentum, gathering enough confidence in me not to use his stick for tapping. I walked him and his wife to the bus stand and then rang up for my car pickup.Ten minutes of my time probably save one hour of his.

I suppose most people would be like me – knowing when some one needs help, and hoping that someone else would help them. I guess that is human enough. But then, when help is not coming , we should step up. A little bit of kindness in spirit and action goes a long way to help the physically challenged and the weak.

Mark Twain was not wrong.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


On Visiting the Alma Mater

Prof Inian had told me I must attend a farewell few months ago and followed up with a few polite emails. So, just for a day, I visited my alma mater- Christian medical college hospital, Vellore on 10.9.11. The occasion was to attend the felicitations to my friend since 1970- a famous Professor of Surgery who later on became Principal of the college. Department of surgery held a series of lectures from 8 am to 5 pm for surgeons from all over in honor of the retiring surgeon , Prof George Mathew.

The hospital campus had changed over the decades. Concrete buildings had replaced the green gardens. So many tall new buildings! Ocean of people and numerous pedestrian paths had replaced the wide roads of the past. Large posters of the farewell festivities were everywhere. The buildings bore little resemblance to the institution I trained in.

In contrast, when I walked into the auditorium, I was taken back in time to the 70s. Many of my former professors and teachers were there. Some who trained with me are now professors and surgical unit chiefs there.

To my surprise, the program read that I was to chair the second session in the morning. When you are back with your teachers who have taught you how to hold the scalpel and how to take your first stich, after a lapse of so many years , one feels tongue tied and very self conscious .But it got easier after the session started and my two presentations on thoracoscopic(keyhole surgery of) esophageal cancer and laparoscopic achalasia( cardio spasm) went down well.

I met many of the surgical trainees. There was definitely something similar about all these guys, which has not changed over time. Apart everyone wearing half sleeved white or light blue shirts with no coats, there was also the polite demeanor, which surrounded them. Not once did I hear a cell phone ring; nor did anyone walk out after a lecture began. No loud conversation or backslapping! Polite applause after every lecture as it always was and will be! The new things were of course a lady surgeon who was the master of ceremonies and the gifts for the speakers. So after all, the changes had been only exterior and much of the traditional spirit was the same.

At five thirty pm sharp, the director of the medical college and hospital (my room mate from first year of medical school) and the medial superintendent walked in. Over the decades, punctuality and simplicity of the speeches were maintained. All the former professors were also on stage and they had some anecdotes of note to share about the retiring George. The George I knew in medical school was a quiet, simple guy with no airs, who went about his work with no nonsense. From the remarks of everyone, that is the way he had remained over the years. After taking over the post of principal of the medical school, he made his highest contribution by getting the medical council of India to make way for more medical graduates, post graduate programs in the most ethical way.

Sitaram Chief of liver surgery who had been close professionally and personally to George spoke of his contribution in surgery and research. George in his own way responded by attributing all his achievements to the co-operation of everyone. Over the years he had been to many of my conferences. His tone and content of the talk of naturally with his fully grey hair was professorial and he remained quiet even on his last day after 42 years of service.

At night, we the shifted out to another part of town to a poolside dinner. Much of the evening was spent in anecdotes by other departmental chiefs, songs from other surgeons and a slide presentation of George.

Speeches from the heart full of dedication to the profession and God, with no flashy superlative statements. That left me to wonder if I had missed out by not getting back to my alma mater. Had I missed all this out by not working in this ivory tower?

Then I mused of all my non CMC colleagues and junior doctors I had worked with in the mission and corporate hospitals. The experience of being with surgeons of various medical colleges had made me broadminded and I had friends all over India. And I have met some terrific, brilliant, dedicated doctors from all over the country and abroad during the course of my life. And in our own way, we had kept the CMC flag flying high. So working out of the ivory tower was not a bad move after all.

I had wanted to leave back by road by 6pm, but managed to quit only by 11 pm to reach Chennai by 1am. I had only a three hour gap to catch a flight by four am to Madurai for another surgical meet. But what does a little loss of sleep matter when you have just managed to meet so many of your friends who have laid a foundation in your life? This was yet another moment in time when I met so many, who had taught me so much, so many years ago!

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Drunken Driving

I never understand why people drink and drive.

Yet another call from the hospital last night – 9 people injured and 2 dead. Auto driver was taking his wife and son for a wedding. He collided head on with a car with some young men driven by a drunken man. Fate decided that the sober auto driver and his son had to die… to make things worse, wife of the auto driver suffered fracture of thigh bone.

Folks drink in parties. So why can ‘t they leave in a taxi after they drink?

Why do so many of us needless watch these accidents happen not taking enough steps to ensure the safety of people who are sober on the road?

First of all, awareness by the drivers who drink that they can kill themselves or those on the road is vital to avoid drunken driving.

Of secondary importance is the stronger punishment for the guilty will have a deterrent effect on drinking. But then often the drunken driver also dies and hence the first option of awareness is vital.

Every day, I see more and more of flashy adverts on tv on alcoholic beverages. Yet the horrors of drunken driving are not brought out to the public at large clearly.

Being maimed for life or being reduced to a mental or physical handicapped person due to a negligent drunken driver is one of the cruelest fates in life.