Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reunion diaries

Around a decade and a half after passing out of our Alma Mater, Government Medical College, Trivandrum, we are now hopefully all set for another reunion, planned tentatively somewhere in the middle of 2014. Sounds exciting and really looking forward to seeing the old guys and gals. The ‘old’ part being unfortunately both literal and figurative now!
Things have really changed over the last 15 odd years - other than grayer hairs (for those who have hairs remaining) and the varyingly impressive grades of central obesity.
We were a little more than kids back then and more than a handful. Now we have kids of our own who are quite much more than a handful. We were all excited to get a little prefix of Dr. back then….now the Dr. thing is a bit like taken for granted, but the excitement remains. We were elated to finally be doctors, yet a little insecure of our futures …..Now we’re mostly settled and secure, but many have probably starting getting insecure of the future of their children. Back then a stipend of less than 2000 bucks was enough to survive for most of a month…..including the absolute basic essentials like junk food, movies and petrol. Now many of us have added a couple of zeros to the earnings…but our needs seem much more. Back then we didn't mind waiting in line for hours to get a chance to call the ladies’ hostel from the single phone in the hostel, now we have one or two smart phones with ‘full options’, but unfortunately don’t have the option of calling anyone else other than our own ‘bitter-halves’. Back then we were ‘us’ and the faculty/famous practitioners/teachers were the ‘them’….many held in awe and respect, some ridiculed, some hated, some ignored. Now many of us have become the ‘them’ …mostly held in awe and respect I think (and I hope).
Life seems to have come full circle…or at least a good regular semi circle.
Three people will be really missed – Ranesh, Easaw and Pushpalatha. Three good souls who left the stage a bit early. When I sat down to write this piece I was beginning to get a bit uncharacteristically senti….but then I realized that those dudes would probably get nauseated themselves seeing all this overdose of mush. So to hell with the senti…I mean we feel sad about them, but they must be laughing their butts off, wherever they are, seeing us poor haggled idiots –getting up every day to mushy ‘good morning pictures’ or stale, recycled forwarded jokes on Whatsapp, checking Facebook to count the number of likes for our latest stupid irrelevant uploads….running around under stress for that one new house, one new car, one new wife/husband……
I was in a special position to know two of them as I was the only guy who was a room-mate to both of them (Obviously it had to be the two guys I’m talking about, coz for some weird reason males were not given accommodation options in the ladies hostel. This in spite of some males being around thereabouts most of the time. There should seriously be something like a ladies hostel naturalization/ citizenship option for such characters).
Being roomies with Easaw (that was the correct nomenclature by the way, we never used his first name as a rule) and Ranesh were two distinctly different yet equally fun experiences. Being a room-mate is bit like being married- you get to know all the good, bad and ugly and still end up enjoying the togetherness. You can talk about anything from irrelevant things like studies to important stuff like non-existent love lives.
Easaw had been demonized as a ‘difficult’ room-mate. However it didn’t take long to realize that the poor guy was probably one of the most misunderstood persons around. The thing about Easaw was that he was brutally honest. I mean if I had to deal with a difficult idiot, I would go on diplomatically on the lines of something like “ Dear respected and honorable sir, I know you are not understanding what I am saying, but please could you try to understand what I am saying…..” with a combination of honey and sugar dripping from my mouth. On the other hand Easaw’s approach would be something like “ Listen you idiot, do you understand what I am saying….if not…..” accompanied by a not –so-innocent rolling up of his sleeves to expose his massive biceps….and more often than not Easaw’s approach got work done more effectively. The guy could still makes friends damn easily. Wherever you went with him…railway stations, restaurants, cinema theatres, people would recognize him, smile at him and offer little favors.
Otherwise he was just another regular guy – hardworking, great at sports and very helpful. As far as girls were concerned Easaw was more into his own type…the slightly more than moderately built and nourished kind…his favorite actresses were Kajol and Kate Winslett. I remember because the guy gave me a pretty solid headache after he kept on waxing eloquent on the leading ladies and not letting me sleep after seeing‘Minsara Kanavu’ and the ‘Titanic’ respectively.
Ranesh of course didn’t have any specific likes as far as girls were concerned. Any XX chromosomal pattern was good enough for him. For that matter the guy wasn’t particular about anything I suppose. He was one of the guys who always seemed to be smiling (even under fire from the artillery of good old Dr Sudha). I still remember the day when we returned from a long vacation to see our whole room – mattresses, undies, books (in that order or importance) all soaked from a leaking roof in the monsoons. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown but this nut, my room-mate, was laughing away to glory…this in spite of the fact that his side of the room was definitely more devastated.

Ranesh was one of those misfits…a high IQ guy, a guy who got into the IIT, but ended up in medicine……but happy all the same. He was a genius with anything electronic and proof of the concept lay in the bedside operated light switches he set up in our room, which were absolutely perfect for lazy bums like us. I really miss the good ol’ days in the hostel when we would go to Nelson chettan’s exclusive ‘kattan chaya+ bull’s eye place’ during exam nights, allegedly in order to get rid of our ever present sleepiness. Of course we would come right back and end up snoring away to glory in a few minutes. Over the course of time we developed a kind of tendency to go have a cuppa tea whenever we were having insomnia. Worked perfectly!
I could go on and on with the memories, but like I said, the way I know them, they would both be a bit nauseated at hearing extreme senti of any sort…especially when it is in their own names. To put it simple it was fun being with you guys….but life goes on….. You’ll miss the reunion but the reunion will definitely miss you more…….

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Following your dreams and all that crap...

“I want to retire early” I announce as I slam the toilet door shut after another cathartic soul cleansing session sitting on the pot. Sitting on the pot often presents me with inspirational and philosophical thoughts…”Mein or meri tanhai” and all that stuff. I am sure that if I sit for longer durations I may end up winning a noble prize or something and at least nobody will accuse me of not straining for success. (Incidentally I am sure Rodin’s ‘thinker’ was doing exactly this when he was posing for the sculpture thing). Wife and kid roll their respective eyes at my comments, which in local sign language means “There he goes again”. Kid goes back to her crayons and coloring books. Wife goes back to her cooking. Life is normal. “ No really…I’ve had enough of this ‘normal’ mundane life” I insist in a slightly louder voice, giving extra stress on the ‘normal’ bit. I wanted to suffix the word ‘married’ somewhere after the ‘normal’ or the ‘mundane’, but getting physically injured was not on my immediate agenda today. “Seeing all sorts of itchy people everyday…yeh bhi koi zindagi hain…zindagi na milegi know?” etc. etc. I purposely keep my glare fixed on my wife. My wife ups the ante with a more threatening and wee-bit more convincing glare . “The patients I mean…itchy ,scratchy patients with skin rashes…not you” I submit meekly.The female glare always wins (old junglee saying). This time the kid does not bother to lift her head. Wife gives a condescending nod to her head and says a very eloquent “OK”, and goes back to her cooking. “It’s OK…people thought Socrates was mad. Only later did they realize that he was just a bit ahead of his times” I continue, not willing to give up easily. “Hmmmph.OK Socrates dear, what exactly do you have in mind” My wife finally takes the bait. “I want to retire early” I announce grandly , waving my hands around for effect “Follow my dreams…live my passion. It’s really the in-thing you know. Try something more adventurous. I want to travel to exotic , dangerous locations. ….maybe try my hand at wild life and nature photography. Maybe start a restaurant of my own….or write a book.….” I ramble on. The thing is that you take any ‘follow your dream’ themed movie, you tend to have the very same job descriptions repeated…the hero always decides to chuck his million dollar per annum job, stock options and penthouse to become a wild-life photographer, start his own restaurant or write a book. I mean the hero never has other simple hobbies like stamp collection, coin collection, rock collection and embroidery/cross-stitching, which were in vogue when we were kids. “If you want to leave me, just say it. Don’t give me the early retirement nonsense” Wives always have this inherently irritating tendency of boiling everything down to the “If you want to leave me” emotional blackmail thing. The 6 year old by-product /collateral damage of our marriage meanwhile looks up suddenly interested and enquires sincerely “ Mama, can I also think of taking early retirement from school?” She sees mama’s furious exophthalmic eyes and meekly returns to her coloring. That’s one lady who wouldn’t be thinking of early retirement for quite some time…and incidentally now you know who really makes the big decisions in this family. “Hmmph” Wifey continues her monologue “ Dangerous places indeed. You are sooo lazy when it comes to travelling…when was the last time you visited my parents? Your in-laws?” My wife was getting into the mood. I also don’t get it why she has to always specifically clarify that her parents are my in-laws? “Not that dangerous….moderately dangerous, but habitable places” I mutter under my breath. “I heard that Mr. Husband…..and restaurant? The last time you tried cooking you burnt the food and almost managed to annihilate my kitchen” Now, though heavily tinged with female exaggeration , this was kinda technically true, but to misquote Edison “'I had not failed. I had just found a few ways that won't quite work to make chicken manchurian” Also please note the point : For the wife its always “my” kitchen , but when we try to completely respect their territorial integrity and don’t bother to enter the kitchen at all they give you all kinds of hell about not helping out in ‘our’ kitchen. “And wild-life photography…you lug around your junk camera everywhere. Let me ask you how many photos of mine are there in that contraption. You ever feel like taking pics of your dear wife?” Her voice was rising like the dollar vs. rupee thing. I wanted to agree with her…I mean with such rare and exotic specimens of wild life in the house, maybe I could have started practicing right here, but maybe I was looking at something a little bit less wild like lions, jaguars and African elephants. Well the big boss had effectively argued with a point-by-point rebuttal and of course won. So my early retirement plans were prematurely retired. All the same, just to spite her and show that you can follow your passions even without retiring, I travelled all alone to a not-so-near pathetic supermarket , bought some not-so-fresh pathetic eggs and tomatoes, took some pics of some pathetic looking stray camels on the way back, came back and made a pathetic double omelet and then set about writing this pathetic blog. So there. On a more serious note, it has become kind of trendy to talk about leaving your ‘normal’ routine and go flitting after more grandiose schemes. It’s all very good if you really have the passion, talent and more importantly some financial back-up for you and your family before you jump into the one of the “follow your dream” scams. There are very, very few people who actually succeed significantly after mid-life career switches. Though these success stories are highlighted and bandied around by the media, there are a hundred failures for every success that never get a mention. You can always follow your passion as a hobby on the side….till you are really ready for the big-switch. To quote from a recent FB post from the very talented wildlife photographer Jayanth Sharma ( who incidentally switched from a ‘mundane’ IT job to full time photography “Learn photography so that you can click better pictures first. Please don’t treat that learning similar to a Java or .Net course after working hours that can help you change your job from being a C++ programmer. The idea of a job change has to occur when you are really good in something else that you’d like to do forever. Not quit your job to learn something new that you think you would like to do. Give yourself time and don’t rush to be an idiot”

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The dummy medical student’s guide to the oral examination (viva)

The medical viva exams can be interesting, amusing, out- rightly funny, ridiculous, frightening , horrible, terrible or digustlng….all depends on which side of the table you are on. If you happen to be on the ‘unprivileged’ wrong side of the table (read’ examinee’’), then you really need some special tricks up your sleeves to survive some of the more ominous examiners. There is of course a very simple way to ace your viva exams….study….but studying beyond a point is really ‘uncool’ right? So that’s why you need a lot of plan Bs. Coming up are some golden tips I have learnt from some masters of the viva exams (These are a breed of special creatures who often end up either flunking most of their exams, but somehow come through the viva smelling like roses…while the more educated ones end up smelling like assorted varieties of excrement….human or bull) 1.Empty your bowels, bladders and any other area bodily waste depots before the viva. It helps you relax better. The only bull-shit that you want to extrude should be from your mouth. 2.Dress well, shave/ cut your hair, brush your teeth, take a shower, use a comb, use a deodorant and an anti-perspirant…..I know that doing all these things on a daily basis is very cumbersome and asking too much from a medical student, but what the heck? You’ve got to do most of these things at least once in a blue moon, so you may as well do it on the day of the exam. Subjecting the unsuspecting examiners to the full glorious panorama of your appearance, and bodily odours combine with the over-activity of your autonomic nervous system may just unfavorably tilt that gentle balance between a ‘pass’ and a ‘fail’. I call it the ‘whiff between the cup and the lip!’. Almost every other examiner has this fetish for a white coat, so always wear a well washed and ironed white coat …if you can find something like that in your cupboard. If not steal it from the nerd in the next room who lives in a stupid utopian world where apparently medical school requires discipline, hardwork and white coats . Start with a greeting and a smile….you can even try commending the examiners choice of dress, even if the examiner is dressed like a mutated cross between Govinda , Bappi Lahiri and Lady Gaga. 3.Act knowledgeable – This is the key…from the examiner’s side the logic goes a bit like – “If he looks like an idiot, talks like an idiot and moves like an idiot…he must be an idiot”. So try not to be your true self as much as possible. Wearing a spectacle helps often. Most medical students these days spend more time on the internet and video games than medical texts. So there’s a good chance that you are already blessed by myopia ……If not you can always go for a zero- power spectacle. For every question hesitate a bit, filling the gaps with a few ‘hmms’ and intelligent-looking head nods – the up-down type, not the side-to-side ones (Imagine you are Manmohan Singh giving a press conference., but don’t get too much into the role coz you may end up remaining absolutely mute even if a Richter 9 earthquake strikes the examination hall) . Of course you also have to follow up the ‘hmms’ and ‘err’ with some kind of legible words, otherwise the examiner will identify that you are ‘borderline’ dumb (which you probably are…. but then not getting caught is what we’re talking about right?Capisce?) 4.Learn a few big words and try to introduce those words into whatever answers you are giving. For example for a dermatology viva – learn a few terms like ‘Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans’ and always say this instead of saying something simple like ‘epilating folliculitis’ ,even though they essentially mean the same thing. So if you are asked to talk about say acne…you could say something like “ Acne is a very common disease, the lesions are similar to Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans, but there are differences, for example Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans looks different, because Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans is somewhat different and acne is not exactly like Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans. Sometimes Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans and Acne can occur in the same person and sometimes Dermatitis cruris pustulosa et atrophicans and acne can occur in different persons also” 5.Steer the examiner towards what you know……the whole funda of the exam as far as you are concerned is to get the examiner to hear what you know not know what you don’t know. So the moment you get a question on some area you know even vaguely, wax eloquently till kingdom comes and if you get a question not even remotely near the little bit you have studied, still try to connect it to the part you know. For example, imagine that the only thing you’re really comfortable with in dermatology is ‘acne’ and the nutty examiner ends up asking some totally stupid question like “ Tell me the etiopathogenesis of psoriasis” ;your answer should proceed on the lines of something like: “Psoriasis is a very common disease- it affects the skin – there is inflammation in the skin- there are lot of conditions with inflammation in the skin – one of the commonest of this is acne – acne is characterized by a block in the sebaceous apparatus …blah , blah, blah”……..rant and rave like a possessed madman for about 3-5 minutes (incorporate all the minute, irrelevant and outright ridiculous details regarding acne that you know) …. at the end of this severe verbal diarrhea, most examiners end up forgetting that the original question was about psoriasis and not acne…and they also end up believing that they’ve just met a future Nobel prize winner in acne . Incidentally make it a point to speak as slowly and clearly as possible, when you’re talking about something you know and speak fast and unintelligibly, like unadulterated gibberish, when you’re in unfamiliar turf 6.Last ditch salvage attempts if things go horribly wrong – cry, bawl,howl, wail (Kind of more effective if you are a girl, but worth trying across genders)..tell the examiner that the previous day you had a life threatening bout of fungal infection of the left groin (be specific and inventive..the old ‘I had fever’ kinda things are too lame nowdays. Don’t say that even if you actually had a fever)…..the sympathy thing sometimes works if the examiner is a bigger idiot than you. 7.Learn to answer some of the trick questions which usually come up when things are not looking so good for you– The examiner may ask you things like “ How much time do you spend daily of facebook and twitter”…don’t jump and shoot something like “Less than 16 hours hours Sir” or complain of invasion of privacy.The best answer would be something on the lines of “ ‘Facebook’…duh….what is that sir?” or “Facebook…is that a medical book? Who’s the author?” DISCLAIMER: All the previous mentioned skill sets have been tried and tested by professionals, I urge you not to try out these stunts in the exam hall if you can do something more simpler, sensible and much more effective….like STUDYING. On a more serious note, it is rightly said that ‘assessment drives learning’. If the assessment process is not valid or reliable, the whole learning process also becomes undone. Medical teachers need to ask realistic and relevant questions – sampled over a wide range of topics within the subject, with the majority of questions being of a moderate difficulty. They should also try to ensure that the marking is realistic. Giving marks too liberally or too stingily really doesn’t serve any purpose. On the other side student have to understand that medicine is a really difficult course and examiners can have their own special peculiarities and idiosyncrasies. You can’ t realistically go around expecting to score a 100% on each exam and neither can you go on cribbing about each exam/ examiner. If you consistently put in really good effort, you will definitely get good scores.