Another Brick in the Wall

in Life Beyond Medicine/Medcetera by

This is a repost from my old blog. Something happened today morning to remind me of the fact that as medical students we go through some of the worst times in our lives, and it never pays to give up in the struggle for life. I am trying to mask the identities and changing the names and stuff, but anyone who knows me personally will easily now what I am talking of here. In this post I am trying to honor the memories of some of my friends. Please do not interpret it in any other way. Thanks.

Another brick in the wall, then, that’s what we are, aren’t we?

suicide_by_edouard_manet_1877So, just another brick has fallen out of the wall. Another snapshot in the family album has become a matter of the past, another roll number marked off the scrolls and the rosters, another family torn asunder. Another set of parents, whose lives are forever devastated. But what does it matter to us, the ones who survived? We need to go on. Move on with the stream of life and forget about the lesser beings that buckled under the pressure. We are the selected ones in the battle of existence, the chosen ones of fate, the desired ones of destiny. We should not let the ripples in life’s stream disturb our great and mighty ships of their purpose in life. We should move on within the sterile safety of the stereotyped monotony of our regimented and regularized life.

Well, they say that AD committed suicide a couple of days ago, I say, we murdered him. I say we murdered P before him and G even before that. And well, we won’t of course stop at that, the dark sarcasm of life is too funny for us to avoid. Our sanguinivorous appetites are yet to be sated. The hunger for more flesh, the thirst for fresh blood lies within… satisfied for the time being until the time comes for the next strike. When another brick falls off the wall, another snapshot gets its moment of glory, another life is nipped in the bud, NAY another worthless entity is wiped off the face of this earth relieving us of the burden of carrying about the weaker and we move on ahead, walk along indefatigably along the path to excellence. And the ones that fall by the wayside, why, we should kick them out and pave the path ahead with their bones, LIFE HATES LOSERS!!!!

Let me settle down, my thoughts are in a turmoil, as they have been ever since I saw the mangled remains of what was AD… let me go back in time… not two days, but two years…

After the long and arduous struggle through high school, I made it to the best medical school of the state with another 153 fellows, few of whom, were already close friends with me. I was to come to know most of the rest of them over time, befriend them, be-foe them, love them, hate them, help them, hinder them… in short, make them a part of my life… one of these fellows was a certain chubby, cheerful bloke, GD, a long standing friend, with whom I had battled through the tough days leading into the admission into the haloed circle of medical school. We carried forward the friendship even in to the medical school. Tuitions, classes, bunked classes, idle hours in library, speculations on which girl was better looking, speculations on how good, bad or ugly the subjects were… life seemed to have changed nothing even as my friend and I trod across the threshold of school and into college. As we got integrated into the intoxicating and enthralling life of medical school, we became a part of each others’ life as well. And then came the first hurdle. The First Professional Exams. As I excelled and soared across the hurdle with flying colors, my friend, though not as good, managed a decent result. So blinded was I with my conceit, my new-found status and position of pride and pelf, that I failed to see that my long-time friend was slipping inexorably into the dark chasms of depression. Our occasional talks reeked of gloominess and sepulchral melancholy, but I was, even then, too blind to recognize the symptoms. I dismissed them as the usual “medical student blues”, the routine rumblings of the ravaged mind stressed out under the pressure of medical school. Never ever did I dream that there was a sinister storm lurking under the apparent lull on the surface. Somewhere along the line, the chubby cheeky guy had given way to a gloomier, silent and moody fellow. Yet, we stayed blissfully unaware. Until, one day, when disaster struck… what followed was a three month long tug-of-war with death, which death won in the end. What was left of my chubby friend after it all was an empty shell. The wan smile that creased the corners of his lips even in death reminded me of the ghost of his self that he had become in the days preceding his lethal leap in front of a speeding train. And even as I stood in the morgue, where his post mortem was done, looking on at his disfigured body, his icteric organs, his congested lungs, his enlarged and infarcted liver and kidneys as he was disemboweled with little grace or respect by the attendants, I could not comprehend the entirety of the tragedy, a realization that was to strike me two years later, in another time and place, but eerily similar in its sinister nature.

Two years passed after that. Life was back to normal. We had assumed our own lives as though he had never existed amongst us. Except for the occasional twinge that arose when his roll number, mistakenly, got called out. Or those times when his trademark jokes or comments would pop up disconcertingly, making the atmosphere go suddenly cold as a deep seated remorse ensurfaced and enveloped the time with a sense of unacknowledged grief. But even these distractions got to become few and far between. We were, in short, back in our struggle for existence with aplomb. But then again, life gave me another rude jolt, another shock, another reality check.

Day before yesterday, as I was sitting around doing particularly nothing constructive in the canteen besides killing very essential final year time, a call came to one of my friends’ mobile informing of the attempted suicide of one of their classmates. As one, we rushed to the injury room in the casualty block to find a mangled and mutilated body of someone whom I hazily recognized to have advised about the usefulness of doing a summer research project several months ago. I was not really shocked until I saw the extent of damage that his body had undergone. Having jumped in front of the underground railway system (Metro), he had not only sustained massive mechanical injuries but also terrible electric burns. Like a badly burnt piece of toast, one of his sides had been peppered and charred and one could actually smell the acrid burnt smell of clothes and flesh even over the sterile smell of the hospital that seems to benumb every other olfactory stimulus. But, death, in all its glory, mocked at the impunity of man and his weak endeavors to deny His presence. The overpowering stench of death, or should I say aroma, because it would have been unimaginably painful to live through what he had suffered, pervaded every bit of the room. The whirring air conditioners tried best, but in vain, to cleanse the air. Even as the last ditch efforts to rouse him from his final slumber were abandoned, it hit us like a bolt of thunder—we actually saw him pass off right in front of us, mocking at the uselessness of the science or art or whatever of medicine that we so religiously practice, making a joke of an entire profession, considered to be the incarnation of God on earth.

Another series of distressing activities, meeting devastated parents, arranging for yet another post mortem to be done post haste, another compellingly similar set of events as I forgot where I was—in the safe solace of medical school or the pungent purgatorial morgue… the present indelibly merged with the past as I moved through the well-rehearsed steps of asking the officialties to be closed with perfunctory perfection. It didn’t matter a jot to me that the bloke whose mangled body was being disemboweled inside was hardly known to me, it mattered not that the guy who would become a potful of ashes had ever hardly talked to me, or that there was no better alternative than death for someone who was as badly injured as him. What mattered was he was DEAD. He had died for reasons so absolutely balderdash that one would seem to ridicule the idea had the mutilated body not been present in front of them, twisted into a shape that a human body was never meant to have assumed. What mattered was that he was one of those who fell by the wayside and we NEVER stopped in our rush towards excellence to put forward a helping hand and pull them up. What mattered was that we were as much responsible for his death as probably he was, maybe more. What mattered was that he had killed himself, solved all his transient problems with a permanent solution, but made us stand face-to-face with a number of questions. A number of doubts. And even as the unctuous and placating tones of the powers-to-be spoke to the student body present at the site, about the beauty of life and the uselessness of killing oneself, I could feel the unreal hilarity of the situation. The lip service. The promised mourning next day. The apparent show of grief. The oh-so-familiar official response to the mishap. And then, the forgetting.

What can we do? As I searched around for an answer, waking up in the middle of sweaty nightmares over the last two nights, I felt so weak, so impotent. So useless. Even as I sat on my bed, wiping sweat off my forehead after another particularly nasty nightmare, I wondered what could we do? There had to be a way out. How long do we abandon our fellow feelings, shirk our responsibilities and let people who fall down get stampeded to death by the oncoming hordes of life’s problems. What if, tomorrow, I am the one who has fallen down and desperately seeks a way out? If not for “them” I should at least do it for “us” or even maybe “me”, for if each of us could ensure that we take care of the “me”, the “us”, then the “they” could be taken care of. If we could all chip in with the small things, the bigger things, I am sure, could take care of themselves. I hit upon an idea of a support group, consisting of teachers and more so, students. Students who knew what the hardships were, who knew the value of empathy, who could be approached freely, without doubt, suspicion or fear for a little support. But where do we find such people? Where do we train them to such expertise that they may handle the situation with care and precaution? How do we motivate the behemoth of the Governmental health system into devising such a thing? How? How? How?

And I believe we don’t need that education which pushes us towards death and destruction and makes excellent but absolutely un-empathic practitioners of medicine (they should not be accorded the honor of being addressed as doctors) out of us.

And even as I end, the questions asked by T.S.Eliot still reverberates in my ears:

“The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.”

                                                                   —  T. S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934

Skeptic Oslerphile, Scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research, National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases. Interests include: Emerging Infections, Public Health, Antimicrobial Resistance, One Health and Zoonoses, Diarrheal Diseases, Medical Education, Medical History, Open Access, Healthcare Social Media and Health2.0. Opinions are my own!

0 Comments

  1. It’s all too common in medical colleges. One of my seniors whom I knew quite well, who could be always found in the library, ended his life. The sad part is that not one of our teachers saw the signs of things to come, neither did his friends nor us juniors.

  2. You are very very right . We should surely think up a way to build a strong support system on which medical students – students from any walks of life can fall back to .
    I will be entering medical college early next year and I can very well think of the things I have to be cautious about . Nice and touching post . You really write well .

    Do reply if you can

    • Thanks for reading and caring to comment. I wish you a wonderful transition into the exhilarating experience that is medical school… This has long been a part of medical education… the bane of medical training. I would strongly recommend you pick up a copy of “The House of God” by Samuel Shem and read it in your free time.

      Trust me, when the ardor of med school starts, you will thank me!

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