Dr. Anna

Dr. Anna
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
He picked up the knife and started cutting the brain. A pinkish-buff coloured real human brain.
Those nerve fibres which may have conducted zillions of thoughts every day: of love and joy, pain and sorrow , grudges and pride, wisdom and fun during an entire lifetime, gave away to the sharp, cold, scientific cruelty of a steel knife.
Three real human brains were kept in the tray in front of us. Seven of us sat near that table. Dr. Adi, the professor who secretly regretted being an Indian, was all prepared to show others their place. One lecturer, who had gathered enough medical experience to shut up, and four of us resident doctors eager to learn but scared by its vastness sat on one side of the table, facing Dr. Adi.
Dr. Aasha was the incharge of this brain cutting session, once every month. The brains from difficult or undiagnosed cases were preserved after a legal post-mortem / autopsy, and the whole case was discussed from onset of the disease till end. Then the brain was cut open and studied.
Anna, my co-resident from Kerala, was unusually disturbed that day. It was his first session. He did not answer any questions at all, and patiently digested the taunts, including regional bias comments, by Dr. Adi. As we finished and came out, Anna went to his room and slept. I woke him up at about 8 PM, and we went for dinner together. He was not himself yet.
Tall, hefty, dark, bearded. Reddish eyes. Clean, dry, well groomed. Slightly imposing personality, but very aloof. He never spoke about his home or family. People were either shocked or scared whenever he spoke. His whole basic thinking process was out of the box. Something mysterious stood out about him: he never became emotional. His speech was almost robotic, devoid of any feelings. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
That night, we went for our customary rounds after dinner.
I didn’t know what to say. He lit his cigarette. We sat on the huge staircase in front of the OPD complex. “Are you missing your family?” I asked.
Fixing his red scary eyes upon a faraway streetlight, he replied:
“I did not want to tell this to anyone. But my father was killed by a local rebel group in front of me when I was 12. They tied our family to the trees and killed him with swords. I saw my own father’s brain then. That helplessness took away all my life’s feelings. I don’t know who they were. My mom never talked to anyone again, she passed away shortly after that,. Whenever someone speaks with feelings now, I think it is no use. Whenever someone talks of great things in life, I feel that no one can predict life. We forget the obvious. We keep on running mirage after mirage, losing what we have right here. I so much wish I had spent a few more moments with my father!”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
I had no answers. Stunned, I kept him company. As we started to walk back to the hostel, he said “That is also why I have decided not to marry. Why should someone suffer the blackhole of pain I carry in my mind?”
This bombed my already insomniac night.
So many dreams, so many ideals. Am I living the right life, giving up too many small available pleasures in search of something unattainable? I meet most people having too much, still running after too much, still blaming others for their stress, and worst, making their families pay the price of their greed for more.
A few days later, during one of the sessions, Dr. Adi taunted Anna again: “Weren’t you an all India entrance top ranker? There are so many students from your state who joined this year! Did you all give up studies after admission?”
Calmly, Anna looked straight in Dr. Adi’s eyes. In his scarily robotic tone he said: “Sir, you are cutting the brain and teaching us every time that all the brains are more or less same. You of all people should know that if our brains end up in this tray together, it will be difficult to tell which one belongs to you or me. I respect your knowledge and want to learn. Your sarcasm does not help students like me”. Dr. Asha, with the hidden feminine ability to douse fires, started to describe the already cut brain as if nothing had happened. Never again did we hear Dr. Adi being sarcastic. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande.
Anna continued to study hard, helping others. He regularly donated blood for admitted patients. He spent most of his time in the wards, even when off duty.
I continued to be affected by his story, worrying how can one overcome what he had seen? One day, when an old patient said to him “You are like my son”, Anna held his hands for a long time. The old man did not know the context, but kept on patting Anna’s back, just as a father would. For the first time, I saw Anna becoming emotional.
Later that night, as he lighted a happy one, he came out of his shell: “I know this memory and its pain will never go away, it’s like a forever knife in my heart. No amount of money can relieve me of it. No enjoyment upon earth will erase it. The only moments when I forget myself are when I treat a patient: I have to stop thinking about my own problems to understand the patient’s problems and solve them”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Like most doctors, I knew this well. The only way to dilute one’s own pain is to share someone else’s. So what if some people think all doctors work for money! So what if every other patient suspects the doctors to be tricksters, and less ethical than themselves!
Anna has a small hospital now, named after his father, in his own village. Right where his father was killed. He has chosen to live exactly at the spot of maximum pain, like at the epicenter of a perpetual earthquake. I had heard many stories of immense agony, suffering and bravery, but none like that of Anna. Many ask him why he didn’t avoid that particular location. His answer is just like him, stunning!
“If I don’t have guts to face my fears, I don’t have a right to live”.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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