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I can never forget or fully recollect that morning when I was taken in a trolley to the Surgical Out patient section of the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College famed for its exemplary service since 1951. Why was I here? My right foot was highly infected with a badly neglected wound after an accident. I took full onus for the extremely critical situation I was in as the doctor in charge of the surgery unit looked at me with pensive and worried eyes. He seemed to be searching for the right words to introduce me to the world that I was going into.

As a first step he stroked my head which surprised me..in his eyes there was the question “ How and why did you land yourself in such a mess?” Unable to and afraid of answering I kept silent, my face dark with the pallor of pain that was shooting up from my inflamed foot.

I was taken to a room where a young frail doctor waited for me and instructions from the Chief. The Chief walked in and spoke about a few things many of which I was unable to understand. The only thing that I understood was that I am about to enter a realm of extreme pain and suffering. The Chief came by my side and took my hand. At that moment and ever since then, I have a feeling of having “fallen into good hands” (1). With compassion and honesty in his eyes he said “ We are going to do what is called Merciless cutting” that will remove all the infective dead tissue from your leg. Since no anaesthesia will work on this, you will experience pain”. OMG,pain? Is there a level higher than what I have been feeling now? I wanted to ask him. He smiled at the young doctor who had already started the process. My hands were held by an  attender whose sensitive eyes and understanding smile as I grimaced in pain and discomfort made me feel sadder. The old man next to me whose feet were also being worked on kept crying “ Oh my father”. This cry took my mind off from the pain in my leg and made me think of his younger days.Why was he calling his father when most of us would cry “Amma” when in pain…?

From that day and the successive 150 days,I witnessed the hands and heart of a team of doctors with expertise,skill,will,faith and dedication to the task they were performing. As days passed, the Chief would look quizzically at me and my leg and ask “ Let us see, isn’t it?..many a day this would create waves of desperation and hopelessness in me. Once I asked “ Are you not sure that it will heal?” Again that compassionate stare when he said “ We are trying to save your limb”. What struck me was never once did he blame me for the folly that created the situation. He put me in the strong and good hands of a house surgeon who was in the threshold of his training. I was sceptical about this pale vague looking boy whom the Chief introduced with confidence.” Here is A.. he will be setting your foot right”. From that day on for almost a month, I watched A’s skilful hands cutting away the infected tissue and dressing my wound with patience.As this person withstood my cries and at times angry admonishments, I understood the mind of the Chief who during the course of the training must have identified the right person to be moulded as a surgeon. If patience, silence and subtle care along with the right words at the right moment are the hallmarks of a surgeon then A was one,no doubt!

In between I felt the hands of 2 lady surgeons in the making too. Here too what struck me was the way Chief would comment on the individual qualities and skill of each one. If he described A as one of the best, he would refer to the Post graduate student with an anxious face as “ compassionate”. This was in response to my comment that his over concern that reflected in his facial expressions scares me. Both the ladies  displayed to me their individual special means of handling the wound.When I shared this with the Chief he would look with deep understanding at them and me.

The Chief proved to me over the months that words can also be a surgeon’s most important tool.(2). He would try and provoke good thoughts in me by encouraging me to go on mind trips to beautiful places.Thus I revisited the Louvre Museum, stood by Mona Lisa, walked along the beaches of Malta, climbed the peaks of Silent Valley, sailed the Lakshadweep sea with stories for the island children. Through non-verbal communication he inspired me to stay positive and to keep smiling which has a positive effect on healing. Chief almost always showed undivided interest in my thoughts, ideas and activities without being intrusive.

His uncanny capacity to reply to messages on the mobile, inspite of his busy schedule impressed me  and my sister a lot.When I expressed doubt about the time that so many people have to spare for me,he replied in simple,uncomplicated style that TIME IS LOVE that set my mind at ease.True to his advise, from then on each moment that my sister and friends spent with me became symbols of their unconditional love and bonds.  The message that moved me  a lot was on each day being a gift which if treated with a grateful heart illuminates from within. He would send messages that evoked unique thought processes like “Enjoy the last day of October”.

Last but not the least I would like to share my experience in the Operation Theatre during the skin graft procedure.I could hear the Chief work in tandem with his student, a Plastic surgeon asking questions and sharing the task. I agreed totally with the statement that “surgeons are not  technicians. They are not mechanics.They are artists who see patterns that others cannot”. (3)This was when my graft site was opened and one saw the way the skin had been taken uniformly without  a blemish due to the magical hands of this surgeon.

Language and words seem inadequate, dear Chief as you held my hand and soothed my body and mind on this long journey to health. If not for the pain and insecurity that the days gave, I cherish every moment of time spend with you and the team you are shaping in the service of human kind.Yes, time has become love for me too.

Dec 6,2016-

1.Saul Bellow

2.Paul Kalanithi

3.Leonard Shlarm

Anitha.S writes about the surgeons in Trivandrum Medical College who saved her limb in 2016 after an accident and subsequent wrong treatment.  This is written in conversation with Dr.M.S.Sulfekar, Dr.Kalesh Sadasivan, Dr.Roshith Nair, Dr.Akhil, Dr.Vishnu, Dr .Dantis, Dr.Gayathri, Dr.Sheena and many others who treated her from July-December 2016. Written as a tribute on Doctor’s Day 2019


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