Monday, June 24, 2013

The Gentle Giant!

I was about 10 years old when my father took me to an amusement park near JC nagar in Bangalore. Right at the entrance stood the tallest man I have ever seen.
Till that point in time I was absolutely sure that nobody in the world was taller or stronger than my father but then there was this man. Slightly startled and intimidated by his demeanor I stood at a distance. He beckoned to me but I ran away.

At the end of a thrilling day at the park I made my way to the entrance once again, the tallest man in the world was still there, it was December and the air was biting cold, he just stood there like a tree unhindered by the weather.
Father insisted that I shake hands with the man and he escorted me to him, I held up my shaky hands, he slowly stooped down, patted me on the back and gave me one of the warmest handshakes I have ever had in my life.

My tryst with tall people wasn’t over yet.

The next giant I met was my classmate and long time buddy Shashank Ballur, In spite of his towering height he was one of the gentlest people in the entire college, his voice was so soft that on most occasions he had to repeat himself. A man who stood up for what was right no matter what everyone else felt, His presence at any event within or outside the campus was very reassuring for the rest of us.

Dr. Shashank 'Tall'-ur !
16 years after the incident at the amusement park, on an unassuming Monday afternoon I saw another tall man strolling through the corridors of the hospital where I work.

He wore blue jeans with a black shirt, the long sleeves of which were folded up to the elbows; his white coat fit him so tightly that the seams appeared to be on the verge of tearing. His hair was neatly combed in the front and he kept to himself, doing his work without complaining.

While most of us were convinced that he was a newly appointed doctor at the hospital, some felt they needed to get their eyes checked.
On making some enquiries I found out that he was the latest addition to our efficient nursing workforce. 

I met him again in the general ward, he was quietly dispensing the afternoon dose of medicines to the patients, most of whom were swallowing their drugs without any resistance.

“So what’s your name”? I asked him.

 “Shibin Sam sir”. he replied politely.

His voice was steady, heavy and with a loud baritone (Exactly the way I imagined it).
Great ! A fellow Mallu. This is going to be good, I thought to myself.

“Evide aa naadu”. (Where are you from?) I asked him in Malayalam.

He smiled, he face immediately lit up.

“Sir Malayali aano”? (Are you also a Malayali?) He asked.

“Ade.” (Yes) I replied, and I patted him on his shoulder.

Trust me; it was like hitting a huge rock.

That was my first interaction with Shibin Sam, the tallest man in a 10 km radius from where I work.

Thanks to his height, Hercules like body and obvious good looks his popularity spread like wildfire, everyone wanted to know more about the giant with the baby face roaming through the halls in the hospital.

We developed a great rapport over the days that followed, our conversations were very funny, he humbly accepted the many jokes we cracked, most of which were aimed at his physique and in return he retaliated with funny one liners and cheeky anecdotes.
Picking a fight with the wrong guy !!!
We wanted him in the cathlab; his sole responsibility would be to shift the patients on and off the table with his bare hands.

He turned out to be a God fearing, Shy and hard working person with large measures of politeness, professionalism and courteousness embedded within him.
Shibin in his younger days !!!
Just when I thought I knew everything that had to be known about the man, I saw a completely different side to him.

It was 7.30 in the evening, I was still at work, a particularly eventful day had gone by and I was just winding up my activities when the phone rang.

“Please come to the male ward sir”, the anxious voice of Parmesh another staff nurse resounded at the other end of the phone. “A patient is very breathless.” He said

I picked up my steth from the OPD and rushed to the 5th floor of the hospital.

When I saw a relative of the patient I was about to attend to sitting outside the ward in tears I knew there was something seriously wrong.

I entered the ward with a pounding heart, I saw Shibin atop the patient’s bed giving him CPR as parmesh ventilated him with a bag and mask.

The patient had just had a cardiac arrest.

No time to waste, I gave orders to shift the patient to the ICCU.

The bed was rushed to the elevator, Shibin didn’t stop the cardiac massage, He relentlessly compressed the patient’s chest even as we moved through the corridors that led to the intensive coronary care unit.

Being a ward nurse I expected Shibin to hand over the patient to the ICU staff and leave but he didn’t, He made sure to see that our team of doctors including me had all the medicines and equipment we needed. To this day I believe that if not for his effort and dedication the patient wouldn’t have made it alive that day.

Its funny how easily we tend to assess someone by one aspect that sets them apart, we can spend a whole lifetime that way till we see the complete spectrum that defines who a person really is, and what they are capable off.

I can quote numerous examples ranging from Samson the famous Biblical character to Little John- Robin Hood's closest aide and our very own Amitabhji, all gigantic but extremely lovable people just like my two friends.

Today Shibin is one of my most trusted staff in the hospital and I can’t wait to see what this 'Gentle Giant' has in store for us next.

P.S we found a way to correct the height mismatch between us-
Look who is taller now?
Until next time.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Puncture Surgeon

I love my bike, I really do. Among all of my materialistic possessions in the world my 110 c.c Honda CB Twister is number one. 

Together we have travelled close to 10,000 kms in the last couple of years and I have enjoyed almost every single moment I have spent with it, the reason I say almost is because every now and then my bike and I have a fall out.

Sometimes I forget to give it a proper wash and it retaliates by refusing to start when I am in the middle of traffic.
Occasionally I park it in the blazing sun and the gear system responds by getting jammed as I am going uphill.
Seldom does the bickering go to extreme lengths…. Seldom.

I knew forcing my bike to carry a weight one and half times the recommended maximum load would provoke an intense reaction, my rear tyre let out a high pitched scream before flattening out as my brother and I left from the hospital to home.

We stared at the now completely deflated back tyre in dumb disbelief; this was the worse punishment the bike could give us.

One of us had to walk home, and since I was the only one who could drive the bike in its present state, I sped away from the site.

My bike was unsteady, the back portion wobbling uncontrollably as I tried not to ram into the trees and people on either side of the road.

I stopped at three service stations none of them had the facilities or the technical knowhow of repairing a tubeless tyre, my only hope was a small tyre shop 2 miles away from where I stood.

The shop looked smaller than I had seen it before, it was nothing but a wooden enclosure with some tyres piled up on either side.
Hmmm... Why am i smiling???
The owner asked me to park the bike to one side and place it on the centre stand.

I did.

He disappeared for a moment and returned with a bucketful of water, he inflated my tyre and started washing it with some soap, carefully examining every possible portion of the tyre.

I wondered what was going on in his mind when things became clear to me.
With this simple test He demonstrated to me the leaks in the tyre, 2 closely placed holes
The prognosis was not good.

“Would you like a temporary solution or a more long lasting remedy for this tyre?” he asked me.

I shrugged my shoulders.

“The temporary thing would be for me to plug the leaks and let you go, but I cant assure you that the tyre won’t get punctured again.” he said.

I waited for him to tell alternative choice.

“Only a five people in the city know the other method which will cost you more but will eventually save your tyre”.

We both had met in the past only on one occasion close to a year ago-I had pulled over to fill air one afternoon and since I had no change to pay him, I had to drive away promising to clear my dues at my next visit to his shop; I had conveniently forgotten the whole incident till today.

I looked into my purse, Dammit I shouldn’t have eaten that lousy fried rice in the afternoon I thought to myself, I barely had enough money for the temporary solution, my fried rice induced stomach burn was now a full blown fire burning up my upper chest and belly.

I asked him if he would do the long lasting job now and let me pay him later, there was a definite sense of uncertainty in my voice, but I hoped that he would agree.

He did.

“This will take an hour and a half”. He said and got to work.

First the tyre came off; it took him 2 minutes to unhinge the tubeless brat who caused me this unnecessary delay from the back.

Next- he took out the rims in less than half a minute and he did it in a way that the tyre suffered no additional injuries.

He then brought out his instrument box, it was filled with spanners of different sizes and shaped and some weird looking tools he had developed on his own.

Upon enquiring his name he said it was Nadeem.

At a distance I saw the outline of my brother walking toward us; Just then I remembered abandoning him 5 miles away.

I expected nothing short of a sound thrashing when he saw me.

Before he could say a word I pointed at the eatery across the road and gave him all the money I had.
He silently walked away.
Two Thumbs Up For this guy :-)
That was a narrow escape I thought to myself.

Meanwhile my tyre had undergone stage one and two of the repair job, all the margins of the puncture were cleared off carefully with a scraper specially designed for the purpose and the holes were filled in with some special type of glue and rubber.

Nadeem put up my tyre to dry and quickly got to work on the other vehicles that had gathered around us, I watched as he went about his business.

He had a method, He would initially identify the puncture site, take out the offending agent usually a shrapnel, a nail or a piece of wood, he would then explain the problem the different options available for repairing the tyre/tube and then flawlessly finish the job without leaving any tell-tale marks. He had also invented a special warming deice that could integrate the repaired patch into the tube so much so that it became impossible to know if the tube was ever punctured or not

The icing on the cake-his charges were unbelievably low, and as I watched he made more money in an hour than I did in half a day.

As promised exactly one and half hours after he had started work on my tyre it was ready and promptly fixed back into position.

I wondered if his technical prowess extended beyond repairing tyres and so I asked him if he could do something about my leaky oil tank.

He politely looked up at me and said

“No sir, Can’t do that, I'm just a one hundred per-cent Puncture Surgeon”!

I think of what he said from time to time, he was a surgeon in many ways, He had a fixed regimen, he used only his own instruments, he stuck to his specialty, explained the various treatment options gave follow-up advice and better he still he left no scars.

There were many positive things I learned from that incident

I learnt that the best way to calm an angry person down is to feed him something first and then talk, I also understood that when a product manufacture sets an upper limit for something he is not being cheeky but only trying to keep you safe, but perhaps the most important thing I learnt is that nothing in the world can replace the innate goodness of the human spirit.

Nadeem could’ve turned me down because I didn't have the money for the repair work, my brother could’ve blasted me all the way to Timbuktu for just dropping him off in the middle of nowhere and driving away but they didn't.

If you are wondering what happened to Nadeem and me? I paid my dues including last year’s debt and we are good friends, every now and then when our paths cross we greet each other, sometimes it’s a wave, a nod or just a curt smile.

My colleagues and I repair punctured wounds, Nadeem and his aide do the same for tyres, but general surgeon or puncture surgeon I guess in the bigger scheme of things we all need each other.
The Puncture Surgeon and Me !

Until next time,


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Junior Consultants - IIHR

Camp season still continues at work. Unlike the IPL, it lasts all year long.

Towards the end of last month, I had the pleasure of attending an exclusive cardiology camp arranged at IIHR Bangalore, The Indian Institute of Horticultural research- a premier undertaking of the Indian council of Agricultural research.

It’s very hard to try and describe the IIHR campus non-poetically, but to restrict myself, suffice to say that any person with the slightest fondness towards nature will fall head over heels in love with this place on first visit. Spread across a sprawling campus more than 250 hectares, this organization has achieved some really groundbreaking milestones over the last 5 decades.  More details can be viewed here

Irrespective of the nature of the camp, whether at a far flung, remote village near the border of the state or at a charming farm just 5 miles from my place of work, there are always unique experiences to cherish, and although I was expecting a straightforward doctor to patient interaction at the IIHR, me and my colleagues had a memorable time.

To start with, we were late.

I wasn’t asked to be at this camp, someone else was. But since no one else was willing, I had to go.
Upon enquiring a little I found out that it was my good old friend Dr. Monica who was supposed to be going, she refused. All I had to do to convince her to tag along was to assure her that if everything went well we would be treated to the sweetest organically farmed mangoes known to man and she immediately agreed to join us.

We reached the IIHR in less than five minutes, but like I mentioned we were late, a good one hour late.
‘Blame it on Sathish’ (the camp organizer) we unanimously decided and took a bold step inside the dispensary.

The Medical officer  stood at the entrance to her office, upon seeing us we expected her smile to grow a couple of inches wider, I mean who wouldn’t be impressed at the sight of two good looking doctors in their prime, wearing casual clothes, with star struck eyes and weird but cute mannerisms of their own? 

We were wrong, Dr. Mandakranta Bhattacharya’s beautiful grin faded within milliseconds turning into an expression which was an amalgam of concern, surprise and annoyance that could have only meant one thing – Oh…..Kids!!!

Monica and I shrugged our shoulders. Our expression too suggested only one thing-‘ Blame it on Sathish’.
Blame it on......

She led us into her office as she tried to get an explanation out of him for coming late and for not arranging for a consultant instead of us.

We waited for the patients to arrive as I brushed through a copy of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ that I found on Dr. Manda’s table.

My first patient was a good looking man in his early 40’s who walked in with a cowboy hat on his head.
I love cowboy hats, if it were possible for me to wear one all day long, I would have.
As I started asking him his complaints I heard a cat purr, before I could confirm a feline presence in the room a tiny white kitten whizzed past my feet, two more followed.

I have never really been fond of the domestic cat as a pet, In fact I’m actually very uncomfortable in the presence of the four legged creature.

I know I know, my pet name by default is the same as one of the most beloved cartoon cats in the world but still, I’m more of a dog person.

I wanted to leave the room, or at least exchange places with Dr. Monica, but that meant losing my comfortable rotating chair, my access to Dr. Manda’s magazines and having to use the most sturdy and unyielding BP apparatus I have ever seen before.
Some BP Apparatus !!!
The purring had stopped for a while; with a little reluctance I resumed treating the patients.
It came as a surprise to me that a large majority of patients at the institute had no complaints, they were here only for a basic cardiac evaluation, the employees had their medical history cut down to the finest details, they were completely  aware of their investigation reports, most of them were complaint to their respective medication and in addition to having good food and lifestyle habits except for 2 employees no one here smoked or consumed alcohol.

This was a very unique experience for me, in most camps the atmosphere is very negative, the fact that a vast majority of our people live in poor conditions and suffer from illnesses that cannot be cured by a small medical camp causes me a lot of grief, at the IIHR however a striking feature was the amount of positive energy that radiated from every nook and corner, even the employees were in good spirits.
One of Monica’s patients seen in the picture below made us laugh till our stomachs hurt, he is one of those people who has diabetes only because of his intrinsic sweetness, not because of some complex autoimmune-idopathic reason.
Monica cant keep her eyes open due to all the laughing

A little later I had the pleasure of meeting another patient with an unbelievable request, He was  healthy as an ox just entering his fifties but he wanted to live only till the age of 65.
His explanation was simple, over the years he had seen scores of elderly people abandoned by their own, not being able to take care of themselves, the last thing he wanted to do was be a burden to the society.
Despite all my attempts at trying to explain how important it was for the world to have selfless people like him sticking around, he was adamant that he shouldn’t be alive a day longer than 65. This request of his I could not say yes to.

Meanwhile Dr. Monica treated a patient who was proud of the fact that his blood sugars were so high that the machine could not display the value; I guess his philosophy in life is the more the merrier. We tried in vain to explain to him the need for proper medication and exercise to which he just gave us a curt smile as seen below.
I Have Diabetes, and i'm loving it !!!
Then came the part we were waiting for-Lunch.
The IIHR canteen is known for the food  they serve which is prepared from purely organic vegetables and is one hundred per cent vegetarian.
We weren’t disappointed, the only grief I had was that we were allowed only one helping of the curries, again-‘Blame it on Sathish’.
Food, Wonderous food, Glorious food !!!
Upon reaching the dispensary for the second half of the camp session I saw a mother cat feeding all her kittens, the little ones who had just given me a scare earlier. It was one of the cutest sights of the day, temporarily overcoming my apprehension I took this picture.

The Dog Lover
A couple of hours later it was time to leave and I couldn’t help but notice how deeply Dr. Manda had touched the lives of the employees at the IIHR, most of them in fact referred to her as ‘Our doctor’, she knew all employees by name and was very well acquainted with their complaints and illnesses. I arranged her desk back to the way it was, placing the books in the same direction as I saw them that morning and clearing all the mess that had accumulated over the course of the day.

It was now officially time for the mangoes.
To our dismay, they weren’t ripe enough fors us to take along. (I’m still a little suspicious about that being a fact)
Dr. Manda promised to send the mangoes to the hospital as soon as they became available.

Her initial disappointment of seeing a couple of junior doctors instead of a consultant was gone, we both had done a great job, especially towards the end when we diagnosed a person with hypertension who was struggling with personal anger management issues.

But then something happened.

“So you have both have completed your MD and are working in cardiology”? She asked us.

“No”, we replied in unison.

“We both are MBBS graduates working in cardiology as residents”. Dr Monica said.

Dr. Manda couldn’t help herself, she nearly lost it.

“Don’t send children to the next camp” she urged Sathish, who shyed away to the corner of our SUV.
My hopes of ever seeing those mangoes were dwindling away.

Then when she saw Dr.Monica and me quarrel for the window seat in the car, my hopes were dashed-completely.
With Dr. Mandakranta Bhattacharya
It’s been more than two weeks since the camp was conducted, I have spent a good deal of time trying to figure out an explanation for all the positivity in the environment at IIHR, how these people could not be high on something and yet look so happy and at ease.

And then, just like that- I got it.

I remember the days when mother would force me to help her with the terrace garden in our house. Like all other teenagers I showed a lot of disinterest in this hobby of hers; she would force me to plant seeds, rearrange the pots, water the plants and so on, amidst all my groaning and complaining mother would eventually take over the responsibilities herself and get the job done.

At the end of each of her daily gardening sessions, even today, I see mom staring back at her garden with an expression of child like wonder on her face.

There’s something about being close to nature that rejuvenates the soul.
I guess that was the reason behind the happiness of these people, happiness born out of the love of nurturing and caring for something. Joy, in its purest form, derived from a relentless pursuit for a greater cause.

To Dr. Manda and everyone at IIHR Bangalore, thanks for a great experience and all the fond memories.

Until Next Time