I was waiting in the small hall in front of the Dean’s office. I was shivering uncontrollably. I was completely drenched right down to my underclothes. I had arrived from Pune, my hometown. I clutched a letter informing me that I was selected as a surgical house surgeon at the Sion Hospital.
I got down from the train at Dadar in the morning only to be met by a veritable deluge. Monsoons had arrived in Mumbai and anyone with any experience of Mumbai will tell you that when it rains in Mumbai, it is serious business. Large areas get flooded, buses and trains go off the road and there is general chaos. But no Mumbaikar worth his salt gets worried of a ‘small drizzle’. They go about their business wading through knee deep, sometimes chest deep water. I took one look at the deluge outside Dadar station and groaned. My heart sank. There was a sea of water everywhere. In addition, I did not know swimming. I ran to the bus stop opposite the station and waited for the bus. By this time, I was thoroughly drenched. The bus lumbered to a stop, splashing dirty street water on all of us waiting souls. Somehow I managed to reach the hospital.
There were a motley crowd of prospective residents; Medicine, Surgery, ENT, Ophthalmology, Orthopedics…the entire lot. The Secretary would call out the specialties, residents-to-be would go in, get the Dean’s signature onto the forms and go off to the PG section to get their white coats.
“Hi, registered for surgery, are you? I am Prakash. Doing surgery as well” Prakash was a serious looking man with eyes like those of a frightened rabbit. We shook hands. “Tatya, over here” called out Prakash to a tubby guy who was chatting to a huge man. “I’m Arun Joshi. Everyone calls me Tatya” was his introduction. “I too am doing surgery. You see that mountain there? He is Dilip, the reigning university heavy weight wrestling champion Don’t ever get on his wrong side. Last week he cuffed one of the fellow interns in the back playfully. That guy peed blood for two days. Hey Dilip! meet the new nerd from Pune. Doing surgery” Dilip lumbered across and shook hands with me. His hands were surprisingly soft till he gripped your hand and made you wince. “What’s keeping ol’ hemorrhoids today? He’s extremely slow. His piles must be acting up,” grumbled Dilip. “Orthopedics,” announced the secretary. Dilip and a couple of others strode in. “Who is old hemorrhoids?” I asked Tatya. “It is our Dean. It is rumored that he has third degree piles, by the way he shifts from one buttock to the other while sitting. Short tempered bugger though. But a decent sort. Likes residents”
Finally, surgery was called. We trooped into the secretary’s office. My teeth chattered with cold. The air conditioning was on full blast. “Look at you! you will catch the death here if you’re not careful. Have some hot tea” This was Mrs Kane, the matronly secretary. I gulped down the piping hot tea gratefully. Tatya gave me a stare, followed by a wink. “I see that you have a way with women. Must teach me your technique” We went into the Dean’s chamber. He peered at us over his reading glasses. “From Pune, eh? Why did you not try at the BJ medical college there? No matter. In any case, this hospital is like the United States of America. We welcome the flotsam and jetsam from all over the country”, he exploded into laughter. I grinned weakly.
“Now comes the tough part”, announced Tatya. “We have to meet the Old Pete and get our posting letter from him” Who is ‘Old Pete?” I asked. “Professor Joshi, ‘The Prof’ to us minions. He chews iron nails and residents for breakfast. He can cut you down in a second if you miss something in a patient. A first rate surgeon though. Takes special interest in training residents. Hope we survive”, Tatya smiled wanly. We trooped up to the Department of Surgery to wait outside the Prof’s office. ‘ Dr Praful B Joshi MS FRCS’ read the name board.
We could hear the Prof berating his registrar. “How many times do I need to tell you Rajesh? If a patient develops retention of urine two days after surgery, you have to think of peritonitis. Merely catheterizing the fellow is asking for trouble. We were lucky that We saw the patient today. He will need to be opened up again. Post him for the two ‘o’ clock slot. I will give you a hand” Rajesh’s voice was low and apologetic. We entered Prof’s office, trembling.
Prof Joshi was a middle aged man. He was tall with a lantern jaw and a droopy mustache. There was no sign of any fat on him. His arms and forearms bulged with muscle. He had thinning grey hair. He was dressed in a loose trousers and a bush shirt. His eyes were a deep snappy brown. He looked positively intimidating, towering over us.
“From the Army hey?”, was his greeting. “Ran away from the Army did you?” “No Sir”, I stammered. “I was not selected to the Army Medical Corps because I have a spinal condition” “How the devil are you going to manage surgical residency with a bad back? Don’t expect any favors from me. You’ll have to slog as hard as the others,” He growled at me. “I am from the AFMC. I don’t expect any favors from anyone. If I feel that I can’t manage, you will have my resignation.” I was wet, miserable and furious. No old codger was going to bully me. “Got a temper, I see. Good. We shall see. Prakash and you will work in my unit. Arun will work with Dr Joshi. Go to the residents hostel and get your rooms allotted. You have today to settle down. I will see you tomorrow morning in ward 2 at 730 sharp” He waved us away.
Rajesh was waiting outside. “Either of you worms got a fag?” he asked. I passed him a cigarette and we both lit up. ” Better go to the hostel and dry up. I will show you worms around in the evening. As I am feeling generous, dinner is on me. Welcome to hell’, he hurried off. Prakash and I looked at each other and grinned. The journey had begun…….