(Prologue: The experts say a writer’s block is usually overcome by just simply writing without thinking whether it is profound or even makes sense. This is such a kind of post, when I am not able to think of something funny, creative or imaginative, but am just going with the flow. If you like it, hi thanks, if you don’t, dear reader, please come back later, I will entertain you better next time)
As they say that when you get older the first thing which goes is your memory, I am writing all this stuff down to help me share these stories with my grandkids (whenever I have them). Anyway these will be a few episodes of my college life and a glimpse at what goes on in the training of a doctor.
The first and unforgettable memory of my college life is of the first day at college when we were all huddled up in a group afraid of getting ragged and then my batch mate Sridhar walks up with a freshly laundered white coat and a gleaming new stethoscope, looking the complete doctor- even on his first day at college. I, on the other hand was clad in a fluorescent purple t-shirt and a bleached white (what was then popularly known as acid-washed) jeans and this somehow attracted the attention of the dean who was passing by on his rounds and who took the entire group of us first year students to his office and making me stand on one side of the room and all the other students bunched up on the other side, told us in a gruff voice “We are all doctors you know, DOCTORS, we should dress decently – in white pants and white shirt preferably, no jeans and t shirt to college, especially no fluorescent t-shirts” he said pointing to me. I was tempted to say that I was from Andhra and I usually wear a yellow shirt and red pants but I felt it was too early to prepare the dean for the shocks which were inevitable for him ever since I joined his college. Poor man. Let him have a peaceful first day. Meanwhile all the rest of my batch mates were looking at me like I was Satan who had come to divert them all from studies, spoil the reputation of the batch and all. After all they had not been first year students for an hour and I had already been responsible for taking the entire batch to the dean’s office for a dressing down. Most of them had come from the southern districts, they had studied in the vernacular medium, were swots and mugger-ups and they looked on me with pure horror as the great corruptor and if I just said “ooohh” they would jump and run away from me.
Meanwhile my poor friend sridhar he who had turned up with stethoscope on his first day at college asking around “where are the patients? Where are the patients? Let me at them” had caught the attention of the seniors at college and he was ragged continuously for having had the temerity to come to college with a steth on the first day itself. For it was not till half way into the third year when we had to go on ward rounds for our general medicine (what the Americans refer to incomprehensibly as “internal” medicine) that we were allowed to take out our steths and place it on a patient, the first two years was all about lab work only and no patients to work on. But dear Sridhar, got his wish at last in our third year. He was allowed to use his steth to his heart’s content because he failed in gen med again and again for three consecutive years and even when he passed all the other subjects too, he never was able to pass this one alone till the time I finished my course and left the college. I heard later that the examiners satisfied that he now thoroughly knew how to use his steth at last gave him a pass in that subject and sent him out of the college.
In our first year, we had a very boring subject called Biochemistry which was all about studying organic chemistry- a subject I had hated at school level itself. The only saving grace was the long lab hours, where we allowed to play around with reagents and stuff.. In biochemistry we are taught to analyse all the body fluids for various disease conditions – the lab test your doctor orders whenever you are sick? Those tests. These include testing fluids like – saliva, blood and urine. The source of these fluids have to be fresh for the test to work. So when you are paired off with your partners one of you is supposed to donate blood and the other the urine sample, for both of you to share and do your lab work with. Have you ever pricked/cut yourself with a sharp instrument and collected that blood and passed it on to someone else to work on? It’s not as easy as you think. My lab partner was a very clever girl who offered to give me her urine sample if I shared my blood sample with her, telling me it was the manly thing to do. So I used to hand over my arm to her, while I tightly closed my eyes, bracing myself for the pain, while she used the sharp lancet to cut me open and draw my blood- two sets, one for her and one for me. Likewise, for the urine test she provided her urine sample- which we used to divide into two test tubes for both of us to work on.
There is an apocryphal story told to every first year student by the Bio-chem. professor, telling them that it was told to him when he was a first year by his professor. Like all urban legends no one knows where this story originated but here goes. There was once a professor who was demonstrating the urine analysis of a diabetic patient. He first asked all his students to go out and get a sample of their own urine in a test tube. Then he drew out a sample of a diabetic’s urine in another sample and placed both the test tubes before them. He asked the students what was the difference in the two samples? Everyone answered all technically but the professor held up his hand and said there is a simple way to find out. The diabetic patient’s urine would taste sweet, while the normal urine would taste salty. And he demonstrated by putting his finger into the diabetic patients urine sample and taking it to his mouth where he tested it on his tongue and said “yep sweet” while everyone around him watched in horror. He then invited the students to come forward one by one and follow his example. The poor students had no choice but to obey the chief and taste that urine with grimaces and retching’s. Finally when everyone was done the professor looked at them all and asked “so what did we learn today?” the kids chorused “the diabetic urine tastes sweet”. The Prof screamed “No. we learnt that you are all idiots and fools and don’t deserve to be doctors. You have absolutely no powers of observation and didn’t see that I put my index finger in the sample but licked my middle finger. Get out of my class, you urine tasters” and thus goes the story.
Physiology was by far my favorite subject during my first year student days because, I got into a bit of trouble with my physiology professor early in the course and he started lavishing special attention to me, always singling me out whenever there was a question to be asked in class. So I had to study extra hard in Physio to avoid getting caught. The reason for this was that once in class the professor asked a question of me “Which organ in the human body is in the midline?” as everyone knows, the heart is in the left, the liver in the right, the lungs and kidneys are both paired on either sides of the midline. The answer he was looking for was up there- the brain which straddles the midline and spills out both sides. Unfortunately for me, I was a bundle of raging hormones in those days, or maybe just that day and while my professor was looking up I was looking down for the answer. The result was I confidently got up and announced “the only organ in the midline of the body is the male reproductive organ” at which the entire class broke up in guffaws. Dr.Saikumar never forgot this I learnt, for in my final exam viva in front of the external examiner my first question was “What is Menarche? The first Menstrual Emission, Sir. What is Menstruation? The discards of the monthly reproductive cycle, Sir and So on and so forth” And everything in the book (and some not in the book) about the female reproductive system. The external examiner was astonished and asked him why I wasn’t being asked from the usual topics like CNS, CVS, GI Systems (central nervous system, cardio vascular system, gastro-intestinal system etc). Dr.Sai said “oh, he will know everything about them, I am sure, and this is the topic which is his specialty- the reproductive system” and he proceeded to narrate the above quoted episode to the astonished external examiner. Needless to say, I passed the viva with flying marks.
Anatomy was yet another first year subject an introduction to dissection being the interesting part of anatomical studies. The bodies were not easily available so we had to share them in groups of four, each one taking one side and either the upper body or the lower body and alternate each week. The bodies would be wrapped in chains and immersed in big formalin tanks (looking like household septic tanks) and sometimes we would go in early to help the lab-attender use the pulley system to raise the body from the tank and then get it on a stretcher and roll it over to a dissection table for the day’s lesson. Contrary to jokes, I remember that it was mostly the boys in my class who were retching at the formalin smell more than the girls who seemed perfectly at ease with it. After a few months your nose got accustomed to it and you forgot the smell itself. The thing I most remember about the anatomy dissections is the incident of the eyeball dissections.
As we all know the eyeball is made of many layers, each of which have to be individually dissected layer by layer and laid apart for marks. But the problem was the cadavers had lain for so long in the formalin tanks that the eye balls would have become very dry, desiccated and fragile and tear at the first two or three layer depth itself. The solution for this, according to our seniors was to provide ourselves with extra eyeballs’, from the local butcher shop- eyeballs from a bull- big ones and fresh ones and easier to dissect. So on the day we were doing the eyeball dissection, I tore my eyeball in the third or fourth layer- I don’t remember which now, and not worried at all, I signaled to my friend Vincent who was diagonally opposite me on the other side of the body near the lower limb to pass me one of the eyeballs he had got from the butcher and was keeping in his pocket. Vincent threw it to me across the table in a fluid baseball throw and I caught it perfectly and gave a small whoop and turned around to see Dr.Nagesh the Anatomy Prof standing right behind me. “You two are playing with the eyeballs? Now whose eye is that? His eye? Or your eye?” I paused, held up the eye to him and said “Bull’s-eye, sir” and the whole class burst into laughter.