March 23, 2015

Together from the start...

They say we can repress certain memories if we want to. I sometimes wonder if that is really possible at all. How does one forget to remember?
Perhaps we can jumble up our fix them in order of preference, pretty much like a jigsaw. Change the sequence, shuffle the deck, do what you want--some memories just fail to leave you. They become a part of you.

One of the most memorable moments in my life revolves around my best friend, Rashmi. It's rather bizarre, the way we became friends. I was the shy intern, she was a senior resident.
It was during one of my postings. I was doing my internship then. Dr A.K, a senior consultant in the department, had just returned after six long years in the United States. Suave, smart and American accented, he was the talk of the whole department. He was in his early fifties, a perfectionist in his work, and a seemingly mild mannered person. We interns did not have to interact much with him, except for the rare occasions when he decided to hold group discussions.
I had a very good impression of Dr A.K until he started calling me to his cabin a little more frequently. Initially I would ignore this, but as days went by, I started finding his behavior a little odd. Amidst sniggering co-interns and embarrassed patients, he would compliment me on my attire. He would ask me to leave aside my case history and assist him in another case. I was aware that his behavior was getting really weird. Besides he was a senior consultant, and a person of his caliber did not usually take interest in teaching interns. But those were the days when I was naive enough to believe that decency has something to do with age, and that all men your father's age must see you as a daughter (now I know better). Hence I would go to his office when called and listen to what he had to tell me (usually an elaborate textbook concept that did not need any explanation but would consume a lot of time) This happened for a couple of weeks.
They say every girl/woman possesses this innate gut instinct that alerts her of anything fishy. My intuition warned me to stay away from Dr A.K. I started bunking clinics on days when his unit would take ward rounds. I exchanged duties with interns from other departments. I feigned headaches. I avoided him like the plague.

This went on for several days until all hell broke loose the day Dr A.K asked the peon to examine a new admission and present the case to him. The memory still manages to get my blood boiling. I remember me stepping into his cabin with the patient. He asked the patient to leave and told me that he wanted me to present the case without the patient. (This was when the warning bell in my brain went on) As soon as I started reading from the file, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat, and called out to the peon outside, asking him to shut the door on the pretext of the OPD being too noisy and not allowing him to concentrate on the case. With the door closed, Dr A.K got up from his seat and walked towards me. There was something about his smile and the look in his eyes that made me shudder.  Alarm bells were clanging in my head by then. My palms had turned sweaty, my pulse was racing. Without thinking any further, I made a dash towards the door.
"Sir, I have forgotten one of the case sheets in the OPD," I said, pretending to shuffle the papers in hand.
Before the a**ehole could even respond, I pushed the door open and scurried away.

That was when Dr Rashmi Kamath stopped me. Dr Rashmi was the senior resident in the department, the only female resident amongst a group of six doctors. Looking at my face, she had sensed something was wrong.
"Is everything alright?" she asked me.

It was then that I couldn't bottle it anymore. Fear, panic and anger were bubbling within me. I burst out into angry sobs.

"Shh...Let's go to the canteen. We can talk there," she comforted me.

While at the canteen, I narrated the whole incident. I also confided in her about my decision to leave internship midway. I had three more months in that department, and Dr A.K would make my life hell. He would see to it that I get an extension....especially when I insulted him by dashing out like that. I panicked. It was better to quit voluntarily...that way I still had a chance to complete my internship elsewhere.

That was when Dr Rashmi told me about her experiences in medical school, of the pressures she had to undergo during her internship year, of the discrimination she had to face being the only female in the PG batch.
"You can't run away like that. You will meet a Dr A.K in every college. You got to stand up and fight. Every step from here on will be a new battle. You will meet people like these at every step. Don't give in, and more importantly don't give up," she said.

The next three hours saw both of us talking like sisters...old friends. Dr Rashmi was no longer just a senior resident. She had become my guide, my confidante, my buddy. She told me she had faced a similar situation due to which she had lost a year. She said she had been a coward, she did not want me to be one. She told me she had realized her mistake a little too late. One year was spent reflecting on decisions, sorting priorities and organizing life.

"Quitting is always the wrong decision. Winners never quit," she told me, as we were just about to leave.

I was feeling better after having spoken to her. I had finally opened up to someone who seemed to understand what I was going through...who had once been there herself.  Dr Rashmi's encouraging words lit a spark of positivity in me. Dr A.K was in the wrong, I did not have anything to be afraid of. I would not give up, I decided.

As we re-entered the hospital corridors, Dr A.K crossed our paths. A wave of nervousness hit me. Perhaps I still needed time. He still managed to unnerve me. Dr Rashmi noticed that. Holding my hand, she went up to Dr A.K.

"Hello Sir. I have been noticing you are taking special interest in our intern batch. I would want to relieve you of that burden. From tomorrow, they will present their cases to me. I hope that is okay with you."

"Er..uh..Y..Yes...why not?" Dr A.K fumbled. His gaze shifted from me to Dr Rashmi. It was his turn to be nervous now. Her choice of words had made him realize that she knew more than he wanted her to know. He knew she was capable of complaining the matter to the dean.
I, on the other hand, had regained my confidence on seeing his displeasure. Dr Rashmi had convinced me that I was not alone. We were in this journey together.

Years passed, but that day's memory is still fresh in my heart.
Today, I am far more bold and self-assured than I once used to be. I have come a long way. Life has taught me to stand up for what I believe in, because nobody else will. I have learned to face my fears, fight my own battles. I have learned to never allow my faith in myself waver.
Dr Rashmi and I are still the best of friends. We lean on each other for professional and personal advice and suggestions, just like best friends should. We are still together in this journey.

Thinking back, it is never the advice that we depend on people for. It is their company that provides that small little nudge that is required to push our life back on track.

And just like that, a life long friendship is born...

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