Archive for February, 2010


a rose by any other name…

All the talk in the doctors’ room this morning was about the abandoned baby. She was disowned by the mother, an eighteen year-old unmarried secretary, who also refused to name the father. The baby had an open spina bifida and was gravely ill-looking and cyanosed. She would probably not be fit for surgery. A cardiology consult was awaited to confirm congenital heart problems. She also had an HIV infection, a legacy from her mother. She would probably not make it till general rounds on Monday.

Now, it’s been more than ten years since I graduated from medical school in Russia and went forth to save lives in other parts of the world. And ten years since I have spoken the language to anyone other than my wife, usually when we need to keep something from our daughter. As in, “No ice cream, please; the kid’s got a cold.” ‘The Kid’, by the way, has learnt to say ice cream in seven different languages, so that doesn’t work anymore.

Talking about the abandoned neonate on the ward today, I inadvertently used the word for ‘aborted baby’. It was a genuine mistake; the Russian words for both are similar and it’s not often you use either in general conversation. It drew a hearty laugh out of my colleagues, though, and helped cheer us all up. The poor baby was on everyone’s minds. Abandoned after birth or aborted before you are born. By a mother that doesn’t want you.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
(William Shakespeare — Romeo and Juliet II, ii, 1-2)

Make no mistake, I am no “pro-lifer”, I am not against abortions. They will save lives and marriages. There will always be people who either forget contraception or are let down by it. There will always be those blinded by lust or by plain stupidity. There will always be women raped and women abandoned, facing the terrifying prospect of coping with life ‘after’. There are numerous reasons why abortions have to be carried out, both medical and social.

I have a problem with people who think they can get away with murder, literally in this case. Back in my ED in India, I got to see quite a few teenagers complaining of an acute lower abdomen pain whose urine pregnancy tests came back positive. They had never done anything ‘wrong’. They hadn’t known what they did could make them pregnant. And they didn’t want their parents to know, please. So what did she want me to do? To please give her some of those tablets they show on TV. Well, young lady, they are now sold over the counter, at a drugstore near you. You should have got some as soon as you realized that the boyfriend had not used a condom.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on these young people. The basics of safe sex and contraception, I think, should be part of every school’s curriculum. I was taught some sex ed in school, but I remember it as being very vague and did not tell me much that I didn’t already know. And nobody took it very seriously. Indian parents still like to believe that teen pregnancies are extremely rare. They would be surprised if they spoke to a gynaecologist at a busy city medical centre.

Whether by genuine ignorance or crass carelessness, more and more school kids are getting pregnant in Indian cities. What these young people need to be taught is that an abortion has an immense impact on a young girl’s psyche, not to speak of her body. You’re never the same afterwards. I will speak to my daughter about all this in a few years now and hope that she understands. Anyone can make a mistake, especially if she is constantly not reminded of the consequences.

‘Abandoned’ or ‘aborted’? I wouldn’t have made that mistake either, if I had stayed in touch with the language.


food for thoughts

There were so many little things to do around the flat that I had put off indefinitely. So I decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns on a lazy Sunday, did some house cleaning, washed some clothes, went to sleep in the tub. All that work made me ravenous, so I decided to try this restaurant that I’d seen on my way to work. It had mouth-watering pictures of food displayed in the window. Having no idea what some of them were, I decided to find out first hand. This is not about the food, which was okay, or the prices, which were not. They had these twin waitresses taking orders and the sight took me back in time to when I had first landed in Soviet Russia.

There were about fifteen of us on that Aeroflot flight that landed in Moscow. We had come on a student exchange program, enrolled in courses ranging from aeronautical engineering to comparative literature. Oh, and a few of us future docs as well. It was testicle-freezing weather. Of course our Embassy had messed up and there was no one to meet us. We had four words of Russian in our collective vocabulary and thwarted advances from that universal entity in any airport, the pushy cabbie, by equal amounts of “yes”, “no”, “thank you” and “hello”. After a miserable wait of about eight hours and umpteen cups of dishwater tea, the embarrassed Embassy sprang into action and sent us one of their minions. We were taken to a summer camp for Muscovite schoolchildren, which was understandably empty at that time of the year and would double as our base camp. Till they sorted out who goes where. We were to spend another week there.

It was plenty of fun and games at the camp. We were all assigned bunks and given a per functionary tour of the place. It was huge and covered in snow and had a kiosk selling vodka which we could get at through a hole in one of the walls. Vodka in the middle of nowhere, right next to a kids’ camp? Hmmm…

The camp had a tiny cinema hall that showed Soviet movies about the might of Communism and the scourge of Capitalism, with plenty of steaming sex thrown in–to keep the youth at camp interested, I suppose. Every war was won by the Soviet Union and every Western spy was killed, except for the blonde American beauty with the bazooka boobs. She would fall in love with the dashing handsome Soviet Special Agent who would make gentle love to her in a surprisingly plush bedroom with Victorian furniture, which I suppose was allotted only to the most senior of undercover agents. My bunk was freaking killing my back! Anyway, the carnally satiated lady would then change her allegiance towards Mother Russia. The capitalist pigs were wrong; this was the coolest ideology in the world. Plus the hero was kind of cute and grunted a lot in bed.

There was a large mess hall with fixed timings for absolutely unpalatable meals. And identical twins for waitresses, blonde beauties called Maria and Madina with more lipstick on them that at the cosmetics counter of your local supermarket. They had identical breasts that cast a shadow over your table when they came to take your orders. And identical bottoms that would butt into your face when they bent down to place a plate of the most horrible bland purée on the next table. And identical moles on their lips. All the guys in that camp had identical wet dreams every night of their stay.

All those memories came flooding back in that restaurant, and waking up from my reverie, I noticed one of the twins smiling at me. And I kid you not; she had a mole on her lip! I didn’t wait to find out if the other girl had one as well, that would have been too creepy.

February 2010
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