Monday, 30 January 2012

Med School Chronicles 1

      " It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us." I have no hope of improving upon these immortal words penned by Dickens which more than adequately describe my college life, so I let them stand unchanged . This was the most enriching period of my life ( which I suspect is the case with everybody ). It was a period of self discovery and personal and professional growth. There are a lot of memories I cherish and experiences I recall fondly from my time in college. This post is the first in a series of anecdotes from my college life that have influenced my way of thinking and enabled me to grow as a person.

      It was a bright March morning with a hint of the lingering winter cold. The mist transformed the route from my room to the college into an ethereal scene straight out of a fairy tale. The coconut trees lining the narrow dirt road filtered the sunlight making shadows in interesting shapes. The paddy shoots rose above the mist to create the illusion of a verdant sea floating on a bed of hazy nothingness. I took this scene in for a moment, breathed in the clean air and started my five minute walk to the college.

     It was the first day of my final year clinical exams. I nervously started going through the developmental milestones in my mind (It was the Paediatrics clinical exam). I couldn t remember a word. I was hyperventilating, feeling nauseous, had an urgent need to pee and my heart was beating furiously. In short, everything was normal. I reached the department a half hour early, met some of my fellow examinees, speculated about the possible cases and the identity of the external examiners, laughed at some inane jokes and tried to calm down before entering the hall.

    I entered the hall after my number was called and went to station number 3 to examine a short case that I took down in ten minutes and presented confidently. For my long case, I was herded, by an assistant professor, along with a few others, back into the ward, handed a paper and introduced to the patient and her mother. I started taking down the personal information after asking the requisite questions with the nonchalant and practiced efficiency one acquires when one has done something more than a few times. It was at that moment I looked at the vacant stare of the little girl who was the patient.

    I could tell almost instantaneously that the child suffered from Cerebral Palsy. I quickly finished examining her and had time to spare before presenting the case. It was during that time that I started a conversation with her mother. She talked about raising a disabled child. She talked without a trace of self pity or bitterness. I listened to her in silence, my eyes brimming with unshed tears. She had every reason to be resentful but she wasn t. She was upbeat and positive. She wasn t religious or fatalistic, just matter of fact and candid. When her daughter soiled her clothes, she proceeded to clean without so much as a pause. There wasn t a moment of hesitation or a flicker of annoyance or revulsion on her face - just a look of unflinching adoration.

     I asked her how she put up with it and she answered with a smile and a look of mild surprise, " I am her mother. "  She did not, even for a moment, imply that her life was affected adversely because of her daughter's handicap. I cannot fathom what she must have gone through on realising that her daughter would never be normal or what she goes through day after day caring for a child who will never be normal but I could not detect a single crack in her voice when she spoke or recall a moment of weakness during our tete-a-tete. She is one of the most remarkable people I ve ever met. I haven t forgotten her or her daughter and probably never will.

       This incident stayed with me for a number of reasons. It made me realise how much I take my mom for granted. It put into perspective all the sacrifices our parents make to ensure we have the best possible life. This encounter reminded me of something that med students like me and doctors forget very early on in their careers - that we deal with people not cases, patients not diseases and with families not individuals. It showed me that the most unexceptional of people may have the most extraordinary stories - stories that extol the unconditionality of a mother's love, the courage it takes to be a pillar of strength and stand by your child and the unwavering fortitude one can display in the face of adversity.

     Before you go to bed tonight, tell your mom you love her and appreciate all that she does for you. It is a very small gesture that will mean a lot to her. Moms of the world - you rock.