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The mystery of the disappearing gift

The seminar was over and we were coming out of the room. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw my patient and his son in the walkway. The son’s face lit up on seeing me and we exchanged smiles. His father, who was 71, managed a smile too.

My patient was a retired bank manager. He loved golf and had developed a routine of spending time with his friends over golf. Cancer struck in 2006, and he underwent the whole gamut of surgery, radiation and rehabilitation. After 12 years it came back, the cause for the hospitalisation.

I had operated on him about two weeks back. The surgery had gone better than anticipated. Needless to say, the recovery was fantastic too. Today he had come for a routine post-operative visit.

I took him to our dressing room and commented on how pleasantly everything had transpired. As a doctor, I have to stress the positives, iron out the gloominess of a recurrent tumour. The biopsy had not yet come in, and we could not be guaranteed of a complete tumour removal. Still, we could well hope for a confident report.

The son opened the black rucksack he was carrying. Out came bundles of imported pens and chocolates, all branded and beautifully wrapped. He then generously offered, “Doctor, please take them all. We request you to distribute these to your assistants and all the people who helped during his surgery.” I was overwhelmed.

I have often thought that out of the myriad medical specialties, reconstructive surgery is a thankless profession, in terms of patient satisfaction. Patients, destroyed by tumour or trauma, want their normal selves back. It is the minimum that they expect — themselves, just themselves. The version of themselves, just before the accident, or the day before diagnosis of the big C. In most cases, reconstruction disappoints them, we return to the patient a different version of himself — an improvement from his diseased state, yet a compromise from his healthy past. By the time they come to terms with this new version, the doctor is forgotten.

Hence, rare is the patient who brings a gift. My day is made if I receive a single card, a thank-you note or a best wishes letter. A pen is superlative. Not even once in a year comes the box of chocolates. So indeed, a rucksack full of identically wrapped, branded pens and chocolates was like a truck hitting an alcoholic.

I thanked them profusely. I told them that even though personnel from three departments and a host of people were involved in the surgery, I had only one assistant. Which meant two pens and two boxes of chocolates. But they would not take all of those back, no way. So we began negotiating. I lost and ended up with four sets of pens and four boxes of chocolates.

I didn’t know where to keep all of them, so I went back to the seminar room and kept them there in a corner. The wound dressings hardly took any time. My patient was relieved that the stitches were out without too much pain. They again generously offered the entire rucksack and anything else which they could do to better the hospital services.

The banker had spent five years in the United States before settling for good in India. Both of his sons were educated abroad. While one stayed back, the younger son came home and lived along with his parents. I had not come across such gentle and smiling people for quite some time, and it was disarming.

They left and I was soon busy with more patients. But I could not forget that I had to distribute the gifts. So I called my resident and asked him to drop in by the seminar room when he was free. He came promptly and we went in. All the while, I was calculating in my mind, the nuances of distribution. How should I distribute these? Pens for some residents; chocolates for others? Who among the residents did I really like? To my surprise, there were three sets there. Three pens, beautifully wrapped, and three boxes of chocolates. I counted again. Three, not four. It wracked my brain. Maybe they gave only three. No, four; we had a negotiation. I did put all of them in the seminar room. Maybe I got confused when they handed it over.

My resident was delighted. I did not have the heart to spoil his happiness by airing my confusion. So I complimented him on the stitching he had done, and told him how the scars were healing well. He left the room and left me still wondering.

Who must have come in the seminar room during the intervening minutes? How could someone pick one pen and one box of chocolates and leave the rest back? As if noting was touched at all?

Generally, when I lose material things I try to leave the whole episode behind immediately. And with a positive takeaway that whosoever had taken it deserves it anyway. Who am I to stop people grabbing at collectibles that they somehow believe is theirs?

Even then, I could not help admiring the refinement in the art of stealing. Gee, I could not even be sure I was robbed!

jerryrjohn@hotmail.com


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Printable version | Jun 16, 2021 7:04:30 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-mystery-of-the-disappearing-gift/article26688509.ece

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