It’s a Doc’s life
By Rishi Grover
If you have doctor friends, you would have noticed how they keep cribbing about how difficult practice has become, how govt regulations are troubling them, how their work load is decreasing and how bleak the future is? The nursing home owner will crib about how the govt is strangulating hospitals and how corporates are out to devour them; and the corporate or govt employee will be foul-mouthing his administrators. A few years down the line, the kids of both of these will be doing MBBS somewhere. Ever wondered why medicos behave like a different species?
After senior school, the ‘rankers’ are thrown together in the frying pan called a Medical College. All the school toppers and the ‘Raja betas’ suddenly realize that there are a hundred more like them. In the same class. Also, it doesn’t take long to realise that Bollywood has thoroughly misguided you and students don’t break into group songs or choreographed dances spontaneously, there is no melodramatic background music in real life, you cannot throw chalk or paper planes in class, and you actually have to study to pass! And medical students face another harsh truth; there is no glamour in medical college. Again all those movies and series have been grossly misleading; a single person does not continuously do heroic, life saving cardiac, neuro and cancer surgeries (there are different departments for that!) and beautiful and smart doctors are not permanently decked up and spouting highfalutin dialogues. On the contrary, the Surgery, ObGyn and Ortho residents mostly look like they have just escaped from Guantanamo and most would be ready to give you one of their kidneys just for a good night’s sleep. The Ophthal, Psychiatry and Dermatology crowd, on the other hand, are more like the movie people!
Realization soon dawns that Prof ‘Virus’ (of ‘3 Idiots’ fame) was correct: Life is a race! Actually, Medical training is a complicated race. It is like a 100 mg/kg sprint, which includes hurdles (whose size, shape, consistency and reducibility have to be described), a long jump (after enumerating all the bones and muscles it would involve), a high jump (where ‘high’ actually means something else) and a javelin throw (where, before tossing it, you have to diagnose what it suffers from by looking at a glass slide!). At the end, you also have to diagnose the cause of the blood in the judge’s stools and what mental illness the referee is suffering from. However, every time you are about to reach the end, the finishing line keeps going further and further. And the faster you run, the farther the endpoint goes away from you! When MBBS is almost over, prep for post graduation is at full swing. When PG is over, ‘super’ specialization beckons. In branches like ObGyn, Ortho, ENT, Ophthalmology etc, where there are no formal superspecialty courses, instead of trying to start having a life, doctors find fellowships in some-or-the-other scopy, xyz-surgical procedure, mildly annoying disorders of the right ear, not too difficult surgeries of the upper one third of the left eye and what not!
Medical training sucks the life out of most like a Death-eater! The enthusiastic, chirpy and bubbly teenager is successfully transformed into a hunched, morose and efficient machine. By now, all non-essential brain centers like those for socializing, entertainment, fashion sense, making small talk and giving a damn, have been effectively stunned into subservience! While some of these functions may recover with time, most won’t! By the time the training is over, all you are left with is a swollen head, a hard outer shell, very little inside and a single purpose: to run around to survive! If it hadn’t been for the big head, this description would have exactly fit that of a cockroach! And the next shock is already waiting round the corner…
On stepping out into the real world, you realise that your quota of youth has been lived by others of your generation and very little of it remains for you. The fun which normal young people generally have, apparently cannot be stored and had a few years later! While your contemporaries in other fields are high up in the echelons in their respective fields, you start working at least 10 years later and are still the most junior in yours! And who wants to go to a freshly qualified doctor? The answer is: nobody in their senses!
Now begins the struggle, running around from one hospital to another, soliciting referrals from consultants, general practitioners and many non-entities too. Then come the mandatory, but dull CMEs (Continuing Medical Education Programs), the pointless FB Live sessions on topics which Google explains much better, the senseless festival greetings on Whatsapp, which no one reads or even downloads and the bugle blowing on social media in the form of difficult surgeries done, complicated or confusing cases treated and other such malarkey. But with time and dedication, you finally become established in practice and by this time most of your hair is either white or gone and presbyopia has already set in! Even the English language mocks medicos. No matter how senior you are, you are never perfect. Any doctor, no matter how old or experienced, is still ‘practising’!. How patently unfair? Doctors are the only breed amongst humans, whom practice does not make perfect!
Work-life balance is a concept as alien to them as melody is to Dhinchak Pooja. All work and no life make Jack (or Jill) a good doctor but not so much a good spouse or parent. Children seem to magically grow up under the bedsheets, school meetings are annoying but compulsory nuisances (nuisance: anything which keeps you away from your precious patients), celebrations of any sort are a nightmare (because they involve socializing with non-medicos and making pointless small talk!) and vacations are mandatory (as much for unwinding as for marital harmony)!
It is considered absolutely normal behaviour to excuse yourself and leave a party in between just by saying “emergency!”; even if you are the host and the party is in your home! Since most of the others present are also generally doctors, they pay as much attention to your leaving as Indians do to traffic lights when the policewala is missing. And don’t even talk about finances….
In general, doctors are as aware about financial planning as elephants are about flying. They are easy prey for all those agents lurking around with those weapons of wealth destruction, called ULIPs. By the time you realise that you have been taken for a ride, the money is already locked in and the over-friendly agent is nowhere to be found. This is invariably followed by joining FB and Whatsapp groups on finance and stocks, but that is a whole story in itself and we shall take that up some other day. Anyway, they keep slogging and when they see their contemporaries in other streams getting ready to retire, instead of being envious, they console themselves by saying that doctors keep working till the end and never retire! Poor sods! Imagine trying to convince yourself that you are happier treating someone’s constipation when your pals are chilling out, sipping pina coladas on a beach somewhere……
But that’s doc’s life for you….
Bye for now! More later on Life, The Universe & Anything…