In the early fifties, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, one of India's distinguished vocalists had to undergo a surgery for a very substantial mixed parotid tumour. Any surgery on the face requires that the patient be intubated with an endotracheal tube during anaesthesia so that the anaesthesiologist can remain out of the surgical field and yet continue to give the general anaesthetic without compromising the unconscious patient's airway and without disturbing the surgeon.

Bade Ghulam was a huge, obese man, about 50 years of age. My problem was neither his age nor obesity. What was giving me sleepless nights was his pair of vocal cords. Ghulam Ali was one of the greatest vocalists but that did not grant him any "anaesthetic immunity”. He had to receive a general anaesthetic-he had to be intubated with an endotracheal tube and there lay my dilemma. There was always the possibility during the passage of this tube of my inadvertently damaging his vocal cords-as we did not then have the luxury of muscle relaxants. We had to use inhalational anaesthetic agents to produce complete relaxation of his muscles. A damage to his vocal cords would have meant a certain change in his voice and that meant India losing the music of a great maestro, and then what would people say of me?

I aired my anxieties to the operating surgeon, Dr A.V. Baliga who, in his characteristic manner told me that I should not be over-awed by the great singer, indeed, that I should not get affected by the "VIP syndrome”.

But this was no ordinary VIP syndrome. Being myself an ardent fan of the great maestro, I could very well imagine the wrath of millions of his fans all over the world should anything untoward happen to him or his voice, the golden voice that had soothed my frayed nerves on many an occasion. Could I possibly cause a grievous hurt to his voice box? I had nightmares and died a hundred times before the day of surgery.

After much deliberation and a great amount of careful planning, I systematically went about my task for over 90 minutes the duration of the surgery. During all that time, the thought uppermost in my mind was of a pair of vocal cords—may be the most precious pair, in all the land!

Once the surgery was over, I waited for Bade Ghulam to fully recover from the anaesthesia and it was only after he spoke to me and I could see that his voice had not in any way been impaired that I went home, a tired but happy man.

Subsequently, I attended three or four of his recitals and judging from the applause he received that never seemed to end, I knew that my ‘anaesthetic skills' had indeed been put to good use. But may I add that in those 48 to 72 hours prior to the operation, I must have lost at least five years of my life just worrying over the pair of Bade Ghumlam's vocal cords!

Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar.