Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Post 3. Spine Chilling Name - 2/ Doctors' Jargon

It is with some reluctance that I look back at those early days when the suspicion dawned on us – my husband Sunny and me – that there was something seriously amiss. We went from genaralists to specialists, in three metros, walked up and down the corridors of big hospitals and medical colleges, hoping against hope that the lesion would be a benign one, or something I had from birth but which had started giving trouble with age and over weight. What can I say about our state of mind in those days? With the terrifying prospect of cancer looming oppressively large ahead, my mind seemed both numb and overactive at once. Uncontrolled thoughts violated every rule of chronology, and back and forth they traveled leaving behind a trail of emotions. Misty images or moments of dark, intense, unbearable anxiety or choking memories took turns to intrude into my mind with a frequency that left little space there for any peace and calm.

But the mind never gave up its efforts to grope its way back to normalcy. Coming out of the little chapel of MMM hospital where human beings prayed with bleeding hearts irrespective of their faiths, Sunny and I exchanged philosophical clichés. I even went into the small internet café there, sent a couple of normal sounding mails to my children and then posted a new blog in which I sought to clarify a few statements in my previous post on the Shipa Shetty-Big Brother reality show which had angered my blog visitors.

But the wait! First for the completion of the bone scan procedure. Then for the report. In all, it took eight hours.

Guess this is how it feels, waiting for the executioner’s axe.

But it is strange, really strange how, even in the face of a grave danger that stares menacingly at you, the mind sometimes gets caught up in irrelevant trivia. For it was then, sitting there in the lobby of MMM hospital waiting for the bone scan report, that I made a totally insignificant discovery, that there was at the disposal of the entire medical fraternity, at all levels, a carefully evolved, euphemistic language register, to refer to/deal with cancer. Some doctors, however, always try to hedge away from the issue, despite the easy availability of these polite, meaningless jargons. This had never failed to tickle me and I, in spite of the horror that filled me, never let go of a chance to tip that delicate balance of the euphemistic tight rope walking they indulged in. May be, that was my way of taking my mind away from the bitterness over my fate. What the heck! Cancer or not, I too have some right to a little fun.
“Have a complete bone scan done tomorrow itself”, said the Specialist, avoiding our eyes.
“What do you suspect, Doctor? ”. That was Sunny, looking as though his world was crumbling around him.
“Let’s see”. The Doctor was seemingly in a hurry to move on to the next patient, a pretext to escape having to answer any more uncomfortable questions.
That little devil which always chooses tickle me at the most inappropriate moments started niggling at me and out popped the question, to even my own surprise.
“Is it malignancy?”
The doctor’s expression was a picture for study. The word was out! Those shadows that had been doing their weird dance around the three of us vanished abruptly at the unexpected entry of that spine- chiller, and in their place emerged, out of the blue, a new horrid, tangible shape which could not but be confronted. The Doctor looked at me in utter consternation and then,
“We’ll have to rule it out”.
Fast recovery, that, I thought. Words. The right combination of words had bailed him out. Once more he dodged that dreaded intruder!. For, he knew, right from the moment he saw the scans, that mine was a case of mets. He had that sharp medical acumen that one associates with a good doctor. He was a brilliant doctor.

I do not blame them for the verbal juggle that’s part of that unpleasant and unhappy portion of their profession. It’s no easy task to tell a patient that she has a potentially fatal disease. “The disease is not immediately life threatening” was how an oncologist put it. I had I consulted him as soon as the disease got that dreaded label attached to it. The whole range of possibilities thrown up by the epithet ‘immediately’ did not help much. And then, there was this other Doctor from a giant metro who looked at my scan films and reports, and pronounced that ‘the horse has bolted, and you can take your own time locking the stable”, meaning, of course, that a couple of weeks’ delay in starting the treatment will not make much of a difference! Of course, we had been warned by the good soul who took us to this specialist that he was a wee bit outspoken, but was brilliant at diagnosis. Well, I agree with him - on both counts.

But a consultation that I would like to put out of my mind permanently is the one with a renowned doctor who looked at me with –well, how do I decode that dead pan expression in his eyes and in his level tone when he answered our anxious queries which were not really devoid of hope? Pity mingled with mild impatience? Controlled mild impatience that creeps into one’s tone when dealing with a person or an issue that is sure to go out of relevance in the immediate future? It was not a pleasant thing to see. Sunny and I came out of his room, each one wrapped in his own thoughts. My thoughts were revolving around my will which I had taken a spot decision to execute immediately.

I suppose the best decision we made was the choice of Dr. V.P. Gangadharan as the oncologist under whom I was to undergo treatment. Something tells me that if I am still around to tell this story, it is because of the Doctor. He assured us during our first consultation with him that “We’ll manage it”. There was no look of pity or that ill-concealed effort at tolerance when he answered our queries. Nor was there a laboured joviality for the benefit of the patient. Here was a person who considered it his hyppocratean duty to use his professional skills to give a patient a fighting chance of survival – and the patient was one in whom the disease had disseminated into the secondary stage.

And this is what a patient asks for.


  1. My mother was a patient of Dr.Gangadharan and everything you have mentioned about him is very correct. Once after my mom finished her scheduled appointment with him, i asked him whether i could ask a few silly questions.He wilingly agreed in exchange for a cup of coffee.
    He was frank enough to tell my dad that he doesn't know how long my mother will last as she was diagonised at stage3 BC. But she did hold on for 5 years which was really amazing.

  2. Yes,it is difficult to face the questions of patients especially if the news is bad.We are trained never to hint lose of hope. Patients [and relatives] take the bad news in different ways.So the policy of most doctors are to tell the least.But blunt questions may require the whole truth as an answer.

  3. @anu
    thanks for visiting the blog
    @ chakaran
    nice to hear the doc's side of the story

  4. I have heard about Dr. Gangadharan and read his book. Today I met him when I had gone to him for a consultation. I cannot express in words what I felt and I pray to the Almighty to give him a really long life to give hope and courage to patients and their relatives and friends.

  5. hi Smt.Kochuthresiamma,
    Greetings!Thanks for the blogue

    I have been in the Net insearch of mail id of Dr.V.P Gangadharan since 2 hrs.This is to send him mail with the details of treatment details of my ailing wife, before I cd take an appointment from him.I want to take a second opinion on wife's treatment at Hyderabad for more than 1 year.wd he do this?
    Can you pls help me, May god bless you for this noble help
    with prayers,

  6. @ anonymous
    can u send me your mail id so that i can send doc's ph no? maybe you can speak to him directly?

  7. would say Dr. Gangadharan is a True Doctor by all means! Living God to all his patients.
    My heartfelt thanks to him to take care of my Father!

    Suchitra Vettiyattil