On 27th of October, 2015, at the Government hospital morgue, I witnessed my first autopsy – a full-term pregnant lady, and thus by extension, her unborn baby. On 4th of February, 2016, at the Government hospital operating theatre, I witnessed my first emergency C-section – the birth of a baby, and thus by extension his new-born mum. Here at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, in my own way, I have seen it all.
Slight exaggeration there! This is merely the beginning. If there is one stereotype that is not false of the medico community – it is that we never stop learning. Be it proper bedside manners (rub your hands together before examining the patient, so that they are warm), or proper dressing sense (are you Really wearing jeans to the ward!) to the easiest way to score… in the popular board game “Operation” (well, there is no one right answer to that) MBBS is a nerd’s game. Think sharp, be punctual, get used to caffeine driven all-nighters. And carry a hand sanitizer, please.
So, you put on your once-a-novelty white coat (not that white anymore), and your still-a-novelty stethoscope (still quite pink), and march right into the warzone. TB on beds 6 and 7. Diabetic Neuropathy far right. Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease somewhere, auscultate him! Rub your hands, rub your hands! One look at that steth, and suddenly you’re God – all-seeing, all-powerful, the hopeful look on their faces undeterred by your gaze of utter confusion as the only procedure you can competently perform is checking for pulse. The smarter ones can Even take Blood Pressure readings! 2 hours of that, the dawning realization that you know nothing, another promise to study harder tonight, and you can finally go home for the day.
Gruelling, demanding, gut-wrenching Med School. Thou art a heartless bitch.
Another popular stereotype is that the med students are heartless bitches too.
After all, where is the room for emotion in this bizarre tangle of IV tubes and catheters? This maze of OPDs and OTs and ERs and other assorted acronyms? This cacophony of codes red, blue, yellow, black, bubblegum pink? This… you get the point. There is no room. Your hands tend to shake when you care about the person you’ll be slicing into. Your mind tends to be less than objective when diagnosing a near or dear one. We all know about the dilated pupils, elevated heart rate, changed breathing patterns of a person falling in love. But it would do well for us doctors to remember that those are merely signs of our sympathetic system kicking in – signalling our choice between Flight or Fight. Sometimes, it’s better to just take the choice away from us, and just Do.
As such, we have a given protocol for everything. When we take case histories – we ask the patient what his chief complaints are, the history of said complaints, any past history of illness, family history of illnesses, illness, illness, illness – the 1st thing that we must ask them though is their Name. Their full name. Their given name. “Your name is your identity”, the professor says matter-of-factly, because it was a matter of fact “ and addressing the patient with his name, which he’s familiar with, has responded to all his life, forms a bond, a relationship with him, one of trust, helping him open up to you. You need him to open up to you.”
You see enough cadavers being chopped up, enough autopsies filed away in dusty cabinets, enough scalpels carving into bodies as if it’s just flesh – you may forget that people are, in fact, people, and not just “Cases”. Or, well, so goes the popular stereotype. The stereotype of the sterile Operation Theatre, where the actors leave germs and feelings outside before scrubbing in, squeaky clean, to play out their part of God.
Well, I’m still human.
The day of the 1st C-section, I got to see two more. Each carried out with the unwavering precision that comes from years of practice, dedication, and a slight caffeine addiction. A nip here, a cut there, baby’s head, neck, torso and limbs pulled out in quick succession, on to the baby tray, off to nurse’s station, Look ma’am, it’s your baby, looks just like you, mother faints. Every single time. To the untrained eye, it is an assembly line, unlaboured by this woman’s labour, just cuts and bruises that can be explained away by 2nd year obstetrics textbooks. But, underneath my faded green scrubs mask, there was etched an invisible smile. Look closely, with a doctor’s keen eyes, and you might just see it.