A Matter of Destiny - 1


Dr.Sharad Panday

I was trained in Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital when I was an undergraduate and went on to become a surgeon and later to specialise in Cardio-Vascular Surgery. The heart or le couer,as the French would say, is known to have caused havoc in the lives of many. So has it affected my life—sometimes taking me to dizzy heights of bliss, when I had met with small successes relating to it. At other times it has devastated me when, inadvertently, the "human' heart has played truant with me.

The small successes that I have encountered have made my life meaningful; otherwise life would have been sheer drudgery. To the people at large, the heart is the seat of emotions, many a poet has recounted the travails of the heart in rich language. But being a heart surgeon I have to be pragmatic enough in dealing with it. When I deal with the heart, I deal with matters of life and death.

I must begin with the first surgical case I handled independently and almost disastrously! I was a House Surgeon (Junior Resident) in general surgery and to my bad luck, our unit had emergency duty on Saturdays and that meant missing out on the weekend merriment. So my Registrar (Senior Resident) who is now a very famous surgeon struck a deal with me. He said that we would do alternate emergency duty alone, so that one of us could have a relaxed week-end to wash away the tension of six work days. As it happened, on my very first emergency night when I had to handle in-coming cases by myself, a case of obstructed hernia (an emergency situation) got admitted to my unit. This needed urgent attention and in my 'over-confidence' I took the patient for surgery (repair and reduction of the hernia). Swiftly I went ahead and reduced the herniated bowel and repaired the hernia. I was satisfied with the excellent repair. Now the skin that was isolated by the surgical drapes, had to be sutured. When I removed the drapes, I realised to my astonishment and horror that I had left the testicles out, and forgotten to put them back in their position! I had to undo what I had done and begin again at the beginning taking some 4 to 5 hours when the job could have been done in half the time. The patient, happily enough, recovered uneventfully. Had he known where I had slipped, there would have been hell to pay! Looking back, that must have been a turning point in my career. Instead of general surgery, I went on to specialize in cardiac surgery. At least there was no chance of my leaving the heart out!

I owe a lot to my Registrar who was also a good friend. But that did not prevent him from giving me the works for my carelessness. Bless his heart, he did not let friendship come in the way of pulling me up when I was in the wrong.

A surgeon has to be very efficient in tying surgical knots and my Registrar was very particular in this regard. Once when he found out that I was rather deficient in this skill, he bluntly refused to allow me to operate on any patient until I met his high standards in tying surgical knots. I was so upset with his reprimand that I took it as a challenge. I would pick up an ordinary thread and start tying knots in the exact manner my Registrar would want me to tie them. I would keep at it even at home while engaged in conversation with family members until it became a family joke. My mother must have harboured some serious doubts about her son's sanity!

But what I first thought was an unjust decision on my Registrar's part has stood me in good stead to this day. I know now that a single knot loosely tied can make all the difference between life and death.

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