Leader of the Team - 1

Leader of the Team  - 1

DR V.N. Shrikhande

As a Resident in 1956 I attended a lady who had a fracture near the wrist. Setting this fracture is a routine affair which is done by young Residents. As she was being wheeled to the Operation Theatre she said: "Doctor, I do not mind even if I die!” I commented humorously that death does not follow a fracture in the wrist but she did have a cardiac arrest under anaesthesia. She was revived by external massage to the heart by giving vigorous thumping movements over the breast bone. The heart started beating again and she recovered completely. The pain in the wrist had disappeared but she complained of pain in the chest. This was due to fracture of the ribs during the heart massage. I have always discouraged my patients from talking about complications and death: I tell them to cultivate a positive outlook that they are going to get well.

I distinctly remember an example of positive outlook when I operated on a gentleman of around 70 for lung cancer in United Kingdom. One lung was removed and it was found that the disease was spreading to the other lung. No one believed the patient would last for a long time. When I went for my night round I was surprised to find him reading a newspaper. Before I could address him he asked me: "Doc, how are you?” I could not hide my surprise. He told me that he was feeling fit enough to take a walk should I ask him to do so. He then said that the secret of his fitness lay in his having practised yoga for 40 years. He went home even before his scheduled time of discharge and he was well at least for six months after the operation. I am not implying that will-power alone can guarantee long life in advanced cancers and crippling ailments, but merely pointing out that it helps in speedy recovery and improves the quality of life.

Many patients choose an auspicious time for getting operated. I personally believe that for good work any time is auspicious; bank robbers and smugglers have to choose time! Some people hold that one should not embark on an undertaking on the day of the New Moon, but some others just as firmly believe in quite the opposite. I intentionally did an operation on a very close relation of mine on New Moon day just to prove the point that I practise what I preach.

I was once called to examine a boy with a severe attack of appendicitis at night. The appendix had perforated and there was evidence that the pus was spreading through the abdomen. I told his relatives that the boy should be operated without delay but I was told that the day was not auspicious and that I should wait till the next day for surgery. I had to convince them that the new day starts at the stroke of midnight and no do they believed, at 6 a.m. next morning. By the time the patient was admitted  to the hospital it was already about midnight and the operation was done. Had we waited till the dawn of day, it might have been too late. The point was not in ridiculing age-old beliefs but in giving them a suitable twist to meet the immediate needs.

I had once operated on a man who had developed an abscess of the pancreas, which is serious. He underwent three operations which is not uncommon in such cases but a time came when everybody felt that the patient had lost the battle. I explained the gravity of the situation to be patient's relatives. But they did not appear disturbed because an astrologer had told them that the patient is passing through a bad phase but that the worst would soon be over and he would be returning home within a few days. I told the relatives that I would be happy to be proved wrong and the astrologer right. To our great relief and surprise, the patient did show signs of improvement after four days and went home after two weeks. One of the patient's relatives was a doctor from abroad working in intensive care and even she had felt that the condition of the patient was at one time very critical.

I am not trying to imply that a horoscope is more reliable than the sound judgement of a doctor. In most cases, a doctor is proved right, but I remember this particular case because of its rarity. The patient's relations showed great courage because of their implicit faith in astrology. I have never consulted any astrologer before planning surgery. It would be ridiculous to go by good muhurats. It is the disease that dictates treatment, not the planets.

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