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A little admission

In the last few weeks, I?ve had occasion to recall a conversation with my old friend Praveen Anand. ?Medicine,? he?d declare, ?is the most honourable profession in the world?, writes Karan Thapar.

india Updated: Jan 08, 2006 01:39 IST

In the last few weeks, I’ve had occasion to recall a conversation with my old friend Praveen Anand. “Medicine,” he’d declare, “is the most honourable profession in the world”. As an aspiring journalist I’d disagree. He would smile indulgently. But the look on his face seemed to suggest a day would come when I’d change my mind.

At the time he was a young intern at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge. I was an undergraduate at Pembroke College. We’d meet in the evenings and over endless cups of coffee sit down to banter and argue. This subject was a favourite. Sometimes I suspect Praveen brought it up just to tease or taunt me. I would fall for his trap every time.

Praveen’s argument was simple. There is no higher calling than saving lives. It constitutes the ultimate service. In fact, if you pushed him, he’d even say it was the highest form of worship. Saving God’s creations — although a staunch atheist Praveen was always willing to use God in his own defence — was the right way of honouring Him. And doctors, he would declare with a triumphant if at times self-satisfied flourish, did just that.

Usually at this stage of the argument Praveen would reach for his mug of coffee, settle himself comfortably into the armchair and smile sweetly. But that was enough to set my teeth on edge. I wanted to ignore him but couldn’t. Instead I felt he was challenging me to counter his argument and I would recklessly jump straight into the fray.

But how do you diminish the importance of saving lives and boost the significance of writing articles? My tactic was to throw doubt on the motive of doctors rather than the results they provide. They do it for money, I would insist. Or I would suggest it was all a quest for glory. In fact, on occasion, I even questioned whether they look upon human beings as humans; they are work-tools to practice on, I would pronounce, or guinea pigs for research.

“And why should doctors be poor?” Praveen would quickly respond, his passion adding a noticeable edge to his voice. “Why shouldn’t they desire glory? But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they are saving lives. And as for the claim they are using people, that’s just baloney. If they weren’t there those people would be dead.”

Even in my teens I knew Praveen was right and I was only arguing for the sake of it. But what I could not have foretold is that repeatedly in the years and decades that were to follow I would have ample reason to concede. The one lesson I have learnt in life is that good health is not just irreplaceable but its real value is only understood when you’re in danger of losing it. That’s when you appreciate the service doctors perform.

Thirty years ago my sister Kiran had a neurological surgery. The thought of a brain operation unnerved us. Though she didn’t show it, it must have terrified her. But we only realised how much she had come to depend on Prof Valentine Logue, the surgeon, when she showed signs of being smitten by him. Conversely, I knew she had recovered when she started treating Prof Logue like any other doctor.

This cycle repeated itself in the late 80s when Nisha, my wife, was in a coma at the National Hospital in London. Not able to talk to her, the doctors became the only way of understanding what was happening. When they were cheerful I felt hopeful. But if they were silent or reticent I would become crippled with doubt. Either way, their presence was the only assurance.

For the last three months I’ve lived through this relationship yet again. Mummy has been in and out of the Army’s R & R Hospital and her doctors, Col. Verma, Col. Sinha and their colleagues, have become a part of our lives. I’ve seen how much their presence means to her. The smile on her face when they would walk into her room or her insistence that they linger a little to chat reminded me of my teenage arguments with Praveen. Mummy and Kiran — actually even Nisha although the doctors couldn’t save her — prove he was right.

“Happy New Year, Mrs. Thapar,” Col. Sinha said as Mummy left hospital last week. Then, with a big smile, he added “I hope we don’t meet in a hurry.”

Praveen must be laughing.

(A collection of Karan Thapar’s ‘Sunday Sentiments’ columns will be published as a book by Wisdom Tree in January 2006)

First Published: Jan 08, 2006 01:39 IST