While studying medicine at the Medical College in Kottayam, I had to rotate through various clinical departments before taking the final exams to qualify as a full-fledged doctor, and then, had to do a year’s internship before actually becoming, what people call, an ‘MBBS doctor’! One of my teachers in Internal Medicine, then an assistant professor, was unfortunately affected by Kleptomania, an obsessive-compulsive disorder, as psychiatrists describe the disease. People affected by this strange disorder cannot, despite themselves, control the urge to steal anything, for reasons other than personal use or financial gain.
I realised I was at the receiving end of my teacher’s illness during my posting in Internal Medicine when I found one of the oldest editions of Hutchison’s Clinical Methods, which my mother’s sister had given me, missing. As a medical student, she had used that edition. Older editions of textbooks were crispier and to the point, and therefore, more enjoyable to read than the latest and modern books.
That book was a veritable ‘Bible’ for all the students training in Internal Medicine. I was indeed proud to possess that book which had an archaic, yet special value. I used to take it in a briefcase which students of Internal Medicine always carried. After one of the bedside clinics tutored by the assistant professor in question, I found my precious little book missing from my bag. I did not go on a hunting spree, as I knew who would have taken it. I dared not ask him, fearing dreadful consequences (others in my batch had lost far more costlier stethoscopes and books in the course of their stint in Internal Medicine). I was one among several other medical students who desperately wanted to pass the strenuous course and be done with it. I did not want to incur the displeasure of an assistant professor, who could turn out to be an invigilator in the practical exams, usually a nightmare for Internal Medicine students, even without an invigilator cheesed off with you!
After being through all the clinical departments and successfully clearing the final exams, it was my turn to do a year’s compulsory internship which was the norm. As an intern too, I was required to rotate through all the major clinical subjects of Internal Medicine, General Surgery, Obstetrics and Gynaecology and their specialties.
After a night duty at the casualty ward, as an intern posted in Internal Medicine, I decided to drive home the next day. My friend and unit mate, also hailing from Cochin, wanted a lift and so, decided to accompany me. After filling petrol, which my old Maruti 800 had been thirsting for, I decided to check the air pressure in all the tires, including the stepney. To our horror and utter dismay, we found the stepney missing! I dared not go on a long drive without a stepney in perfect condition. My friend hit upon an idea. He suggested that we first enquire about the missing stepney with the drivers, who are employed with the medical college. My car was parked in the parking lot just outside the casualty ward where I had been on night duty.
We headed towards the drivers’ rest room, with my heart pounding. Lo and behold! To our relief and puzzlement, we found the missing tire resting safely against one of the walls of the drivers’ rest room. Upon enquiry, we were told by the drivers that the assistant professor of Internal Medicine had opened the boot of my car the previous night, and freed the stepney from its moorings! Not knowing how to take it away, he decided to entrust his booty to the care of the drivers on night duty for ‘safekeeping’.
It was then that I recollected that the assistant professor was, in fact, present with me at the emergency on duty the previous night. Thanking the good drivers, who honestly took care of my missing stepney — albeit on the ‘recommendation’ of the assistant professor, if it can be said so — I fixed it to its allotted slot in the boot of my car, and drove off quickly to have its pressure checked, just in case!