Fillers An incident which changed my medical life

Something to celebrate

BMJ 1999; 318 doi: (Published 12 June 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:1609
  1. Suresh Pathak, general practitioner
  1. Romford, Essex.

    It happened over three decades ago—1963 to be precise, the year that I became a doctor. That year the Medical Council of India decreed that six months of internship were to be completed before the one year as a house officer, a total of 18 months of preregistration jobs. My first was on a surgical unit.

    A friend and I decided to celebrate passing our qualification by cooking a special meal in the doctors' canteen, and by contributing equally to a quarter bottle of rum, priced six rupees, which was all we could afford. My ward duties were from 7 00 am to midday and 5 30 to 7 00 pm. I arrived at the ward for the evening shift. It was quiet and there was little to do. My eyes were fixed on the clock; my mind in eager anticipation of the rum.

    I then heard the lift coming up, and from it emerged a trolley carrying a frail old man of about 65 years. He had been seen in casualty with suspected intestinal obstruction. It was 6 35 pm. I took the appropriate history, examined him, clerked him in, and put him on a drip. Then, to my delight, the clock chimed seven. I was about to leave the ward when again I heard the lift coming up. I was by the ward door with my white coat in my hands when I saw our professor of surgery walking towards me. He asked me if there had been any new admissions. “Yes, sir,” I replied, and told him about the old man. “Let's take a look,” he said. I accompanied him to the bed and presented the case. He was impressed with my presentation and diagnosis, which had been made by the casualty officer and not me. He looked at the x ray films. Then he asked, “Have you sent his blood for grouping and cross matching?”

    Summoning up my courage, I said “no.” I pointed out that my duties ceased at 7 00 pm and that the night senior house officer would be able to take care of it. He glanced at the clock over his half rim glasses and said, “Of course. It's gone 7 10. I am sorry I delayed you. Run away, my boy, and enjoy the evening.” Concealing my delight, I was about to leave the ward when he called me again. “Tell me, young doctor. What would have happened if instead of this poor old man it was your father? Would you have sent the blood for the necessary investigations?”

    His words and his manner struck me like lightning. I was speechless. The bottle of rum no longer held any pleasure for me. The next thing I knew I was collecting the blood and cycling off to the blood bank. I secured two bottles, returned to see my chief performing the operation. I was third or fourth assistant in the operating theatre. We finished at about 3 00 am the following day when my chief said, “Well done.”

    We enjoyed the rum the next day, when it felt that we really had something to celebrate.

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