An emergency call from the factory. The factory of Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, Thane, Maharashtra. The Calcium Sandoz people. From their Medical Clinic where I worked as the Doctor. A lady from the township had fallen and cut her forehead. A 500 meter dash, if it can be called that, and I was there.
The township was small. Only and totally inhabited by skeletal staff who may be needed in the factory post regular working hours. Archana Talukdar was the wife of one such staff member. She was also a good friend of mine. There was a huge playground in the centre of the township. Used by all in the township. The children played in gay abandon. The ladies gravitated to meet each other in what could be best called a common living room. The men joined this motley group on their return from the factory.
The factory was just across the road from the township. I was the resident doctor. It was here that I had to go, when the emergency call came.
Horror of horrors! It was my friend Archana Talukdar (Milu as she was fondly called) who was lying in front of me. Mr.P.G Jadhav, my assistant, had stemmed the flow of blood with a cotton swab dipped in tincture benzoin. The sedate assistant, always stood poker faced irrespective of the gravity of the situation. No flapping! Very helpful-that attitude.
The cut required stitches. I had not put one in over 5 years! From nowhere butterflies appeared to flutter in my tummy. Fear gripped me. Outwardly, I appeared calm. My hands did not tremble as I washed and wore gloves. Turning around, I saw before me the tray of instruments, including the curved needle and spool of black thread. A wave of familiarity swept over me! I felt like I had never left the operation theatre.
A neat job was confidently completed. I sent up a silent prayer. It reminded me of what is said about swimming and cycling. If you have done it enough and over a period of time you can do it later as well. So it was with me.
Rewind to the year 1973. And to me. A newly minted doctor. A little wet behind the ears. A glow of achievement on my face. But wait! Before I could put the prefix of Dr. in front of my name, I had to undergo intensive and extensive practical training for a full year. It was mandatory for the awarding of the degree.
The M.B.B.S. course then was divided into three professionals. Each of one and a half years duration. The subjects in each professional were divided in a way that basic Anatomy and Physiology of the human body were taught first. These seamlessly merged into the subjects of the second professional. The third and final professional had all the clinical subjects.
Here I must mention that the most important clinical subjects in those days, Medicine and Surgery were introduced in the second professional itself. The compulsory rotatory internship of one year followed these three professionals. One month of practical training in each department was chalked out for each student.
And so the arduous journey began. With a spring in my step, I entered the hallowed portals of the Department of Surgery. Being posted under Professor N.N.Khanna, our Plastic Surgeon, was by itself a lottery of sorts! A soft spoken, dignified, encouraging, but hawk eyed teacher.
I was the junior most in the team. A lowly Intern. For some reason, which I could never fathom, at the end of a surgical procedure, Professor Khanna would ask me to put the stitches. And for some reason, I never failed him. Always a neat row. I did this at least once a day on most days.
It was a practice that stood me in good stead in later years. I have the confidence to do it, even today! Sadly times have moved. Putting stitches has become history. Today stapling is done.
Cut to about a decade ago. I stopped at Dehradun enroute to Mussourie. Milu had moved from Thane to Dehradun. Her husband, Hirak Talukdar (Hirakda, as we fondly called him), came to receive us at the railway station. Reaching their home we were met by the ever smiling, charming Milu herself. First thing….. She pointed at the scar and said “Madhu, remember this?” The perfect scar!
I looked proudly at my handiwork of many moons ago. A friend recently told me that Professor Khanna always maintained that stitching was the most important thing. It was the only thing that the patient saw!!!
Thankyou Professor Khanna for all that you taught me. But the icing on the cake was what he said to me when my internship in Surgery was over. He said, “Madhu, if you ever choose to do post-graduation in Surgery, I will take you as my student!”