BEING reprimanded was an inalienable part of my surgical training. I was not the sole ‘beneficiary’ as almost all my colleagues were equally at the receiving end. The folklore went that our teachers came through the same grind. They shone so bright professionally because of the culture of a quest for excellence and the capacity for taking admonition in one’s stride.
I remember one of those gruelling days. Four of my friends were ‘partaking’ of the scolding. Their gaze was firmly fixed on their feet as a precautionary measure. The attempted exercise to correct them went much longer and louder than usual. Even for a seasoned recipient, it appeared to be out of the ordinary. I waited for some time and since the drill showed no sign of abating, I shrugged my shoulders and went my way, only to confront one of these fellows later in the day.
‘What happened in the morning?’ I asked. My friend seemed to be oblivious of the occurrence. ‘What had happened?’ he asked. I persisted, ‘This morning… outside the resident’s room… in the male surgical ward!’ He was nonchalant: ‘Today? Where? When?’ His ‘amnesia’ probably stemmed from the rapid frequency of similar happenings. I threw up my hands in exasperation and gave him an understanding glance, even as I was appreciative of his resilience.
That I would stick to the same philosophy once I gained seniority would not be hard to understand. Once in an ICU, I took a novice nurse to task for lack of adequate care for a patient. Not satisfied with the verbal barrage in scolding her, I instructed her superior nursing officer that none of my patients should ever be entrusted to her care. I was inadvertently but blatantly putting into practice the ‘rebuke culture’ of my training and forgot all about this incident thereafter. It would come to haunt me years later.
An exceptionally competent nurse had put in her papers to move on in her career. I felt saddened on learning about her leaving and wanted to acknowledge her good work. Giving her a farewell gift, I complimented her for remarkable competence, compassion and wished her well, only to see her teary-eyed. In the moment of catharsis that followed, she reminded me that she was the same nurse who had been chastised by me years ago. ‘Sir, your intentions may be right but please never say about anyone, “Mera patient iss sister ko nahi daalna”.’ As she thanked me in a choked voice, I was left standing terribly lonely, deeply reflecting whether a spirit of understanding was a better tool than a rebuke.
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