It was early and hushed in contrast to the normal brisk activity. There were three of them, one on each of the half landings in the hospital. I was quite alone as i climbed the stairwell and was faced by these paintings after each flight. There was a subtle undercurrent to their arrangement that i could not immediately catch. A whimsical idea slowly formed as i stood getting my breath at the top.
I wondered if they had been arranged so on purpose by some thoughtful person or it had been by accident. They showed the various facets of a doctor’s professional life. They seemed to be a chronicle for those who had grown old in this profession and at the same time suggestive for the fresh doctors. A door slightly ajar, as it were.
The first showed a doctor bending solicitously over a decidedly grumpy patient reclining on a luxurious couch. The doctor was well dressed and in a coaxing attitude. It clearly denoted the leisurely calm of everyday practice. There were no surprises, the cases tomorrow would be just the same as today and a hundred yesterdays. The doctor would learn many practical skills needed to deal with every eventuality that could possibly arise. He would observe human nature in all its forms as patients come and go. He could assure every patient truthfully that he would do his best for them and easily put in as much effort daily as he wished to. There would probably be small rivalries and challenges, failures and victories.
On the second landing a doctor stood doing an operation with several other people, in an attentive circle around him. A depiction of an alternative to practicing medicine, ie research and teaching. Most aspiring doctors may discover an overwhelming interest in the basic sciences of medicine and branch off very early, while others may always research along with practice. This facet shows a world within a world where doctors engage on diverse subjects to develop new techniques, instruments, automation, and drugs. Other subjects like physics, statistics, information technology, biology and others mingle to form vast new horizons for which humanity races.
Teaching is an art and in medicine where so much depends on experiential learning, an exceptionally important one. For instance when a doctor puts the stethoscope on your back and asks you to take a deep breath he is listening for one of four sounds. All the eloquence of angels cannot explain these sounds in words recognizably, a teacher has to make the students listen, explain their significance, explain the course to follow. It requires patience but some people may find it more rewarding than practice and most teachers claim that they learnt more from their students than all their time in college. Some have a natural aptitude while others are a student’s worst nightmare. It is important also to make well structured evaluation tests because here you need to not just know the facts but recognize signs and symptoms when you see them. For some it may be simply a change of pace. A passing on of skills to people who impress them with potential.
The third painting depicted the doctor in his harshest element. Three doctors stood among a row of patients lying on the floor. It was the scene of war or epidemic. The doctors have to work beyond all imagination, there are huge number of patients, limited resources and no rest. The doctor here will wonder bitterly where the medical supplies go? He will not be able to reassure them that he would do his best for each because there are so many of them. He will get cases beyond all human aid and watch lives slip away. He will consult seniors only to get hopeless answers. He will have to make tough choices and work beyond the limit of his strength and go through the depths of anxiety, despair and struggle. He will also see a callous side of human nature, self pity, selfishness. But he will also see some miracles. Here previous everyday worries seem trivial and life a grim business. People will amaze with their hardihood and patience and understanding in the face of adversity. And he will never be the same again.
Those paintings were really windows into possibilities for the prosaic white coated cogs in the machinery of the hospital. A rainbow released from a raindrop.