Surgery classes were a terror. Our blood froze, mouths dried and muscles paralyzed at the thought of going for the weekly mockery that was surgery lectures. Wading through musty, sickness-laden, phenyl swabbed confines of the government hospital, past rusting stretchers with groaning faceless bodies covered with off-white, crumpled sheets, trying to avoid inhaling the stench of urine, vomit, raw wounds and dried blood in the ‘apatkaleen’ department was a challenge in itself. Uniformed Mamas on duty who looked into police cases like suicide and dowry deaths ignored us as we walked past the emergency department. Compared to the sanitized confines of the dental hospital, this was where the real action took place. It was grim, hard-core real medicine, real life and death scenarios playing out without the glamour seen in air-brushed serials on television. The fatigued nurses in their pristine white knee length frocks, tights and caps looked as if they had stepped out of the era of the British Raj. The doctors looked calm despite their surroundings. The one similarity between dental and general hospitals were the paan-stained corners at the top and bottom of every flight of stairs. It was hard to distinguish the paan from blood; it could have been both.
Surgery lectures were held after the daily dental lectures for the day were over. Groups of us students walked in, heads lowered, trying to keep as low a profile as possible. To describe the lectures as a spectacle was an understatement. It was more like a circus performance with us dental students playing jokers for the entertainment of the surgical registrars who stood against the wall at the back of the room enjoying the show as we trembled wondering what new insults would be hurled at us and what comic fun we would provide. Surgery class seemed to attract more students than our usual cohort of 70 something. The aged, ‘experienced’ faces joining us for this weekly session of shame were the ‘chronics’ who had suffered a ‘KT’ in surgery for more years than one.
To preside over the show, the sadist would emerge tall, lean, hunched, bespectacled. With a long finger he would point randomly at one of us. “YOU” he commanded in his quiet, refined voice. That’s it, the humiliation would start.
“What is the nerve supply of back of hand?” he once asked. Shuddering we collectively tried desperately to extract a piece of information that had never been fed to our already exhausted brains. What does the back of hand look like? Yes, there are 5 digits. That’s as far as our knowledge went. How were we expected to know when our anatomy cadaver in first year dissection had no hands at all? Remember, we had only head, neck and torso; no limbs. Of course, we didn’t know. So, one by one we stood, clueless, mortified, embarrassed, blank. Like a pack of dominoes we fell, one at a time; what was left of our self-esteem shattered to a million pieces.