Posted in Musings

Wounded Healers 

“When Parvaneh gives him a look studded with a long line of question marks and exclamation marks, the doctor sighs again in that way young doctors with glasses and plastic slippers and a stick up their bottom often do when confronted by people who do not even have the common bloody decency to attend medical school before they come to the hospital.”

This one sentence amused me more than anything else in the wonderful novel ‘A Man Called Ove‘ by Fredrik Backman. It has everything to do with the fact that on multiple occasions, I too have been that very young doctor (sans glasses) with a stick up my bottom who grows exasperated when the illiterate patients in front of me can’t comprehend the complications of a cerebrovascular accident or even pyelonephritis. Of course, the frustration was always fueled not so much by their ignorance as my incompetence in making them understand. But what truly amazed me on reading this was the realization that this phenomenon is not localized to our part of the world, with our overcrowded public hospitals and overburdened health system; that this is indeed a global phenomenon!

I remember my mother once warning me about how people go into medical school as humans and come out as robots, hardened by exposure and oblivious to common suffering. I looked at her then skeptically, but I realize it’s true – somewhere between dissecting cadavers and running around sleepless writing endless case notes, our souls crack from numbness; when frustration mounts it enlarges to a chasm that separates empathy from the methodological, the functional. And easily enough everything starts irritating us. ‘Wounded healers’.. the term stays with me a decade after reading Erich Segal’s Doctors. 

Rising violence against doctors in India is a direct outcome of the same. Patients no longer lie docile when shows of irritation are meted out. Miscommunication is no longer pardonable. Time and again, the newspapers are filled with tales of health providers being manhandled for what is perceived as inadequate treatment. It is in times such as these that I pat myself on the back for opting to specialize in a non-clinical subject.

Neither side is to blame, really. It’s always lack of proper communication. Here’s hoping that both parties soon learn to empathize with the other’s plight in the future. Only then can we expect the untoward incidents to show a descending trend.

Posted in Musings

A Tribute To Letters

My best friend and I write letters to each other.

We met for the first time close to 8 years ago via a mutual pal and our friendship ran an interesting course alongside the rapidly changing social media trends of the twenty first century, with Gmail as our starting point, evolving through text messages on our emoji-free Nokia phones,  Orkut, Facebook, Hangouts and finally Whatsapp. It was some months ago that I received his letter for the first time. It was a nice surprise, to say the least. He suggested that we ought to “use technology to share lives, but letters to share thoughts”. I agreed.

It has been the most wonderful experience. Technology keeps teaching us to make things simpler, easier, aiding us to the point where we cease to be self sufficient, till we become utterly helpless without our little gadgets. Phone numbers and birthdays are no longer remembered, and addresses never jotted down in memory. The success of enterprises like Twitter and Inshorts is evidence of our rapidly shrinking attention span. Emoticons replace words and make conversations all the more easier to the point where we forget how to converse in real life. Emails and texts are constantly checked and responded to; any delay in delivery makes us tense, anxious. There is always the need for instant gratification.

Introduce into such an existence the endangered, if not extinct, art of letter writing and you’re blown away by what it entitles. A letter I post typically takes four days to reach him, and there are the four days till his reply gets to me, bringing my wait up to a little more than a week. A side effect is that we tend to forget the original content of our respective letters and once in a while an envelope gets lost in the mail, but other than that we enjoy being in a time lapse, as he puts it. There is something fascinating about pouring your heart out onto a piece of paper and letting it fly away unguarded into the world. In an era based on passwords and end to end encryption, I am sending him my thoughts unrestricted, with the possibility of them being intercepted or destroyed at any point, but also with the possibility that they will reach him unharmed.

I cannot help wondering about the times when this was indeed a necessity. Wives awaiting word from their husbands at war or at work in distant lands, children writing to their parents from boarding schools, intimate letters passed covertly between lovers.. How exciting and frightening at the same time! The wait was not only agony, but also hope; the prospect of having some more days to live in the happy notion that the ones you care about are safe. Harsh realities took their time to rock your world. I am reminded of what Celine tells Jesse at the cemetery in Before Sunrise about how, if your loved ones do not know you’re dead, it is like you are still alive in a way.

Writing to someone is very different from having a conversation with them. In his words, you are entirely on your own, unaided by cues or interrupted by opinions from their part, free to put your point across with much greater clarity. In every day conversations, we often wait for our turn to speak/type rather than listening to the other; writing gives you a means to effectively do both. And when the writing involves letters and not electronic mail, it becomes extremely personal.

Pale blue sentences in ink written in a running hand gives me a mental picture of him sitting on his bed or at his table, and his hand moving over the page, punctuated by thought. I sense his mood from the curve of his signature. I know the words he struck out, the mistakes he made in spelling and grammar and the places where he rambled, for they are not erasable or auto corrected. They help me understand the real him a little better.

Letter writing is a lost art that needs to be revived at an age where communication is so easy and the world brought so close together by technology that we are beginning to lose all perspective.