Coming back to work after nearly a month and a half off has been rather like a baptism by fire as the other surgeon (who had been alone for all this time!) has taken leave. Dr. Lurstep Wanshnong, who has been my friend and mentor for the last 2 years here has gone to visit family in Manipur and I am experiencing in a small way all the stress he must have carried for the last month or so. (Of course, the Christmas season is the leanest time of the year in our hospital and so I guess, the best time to be alone!!). But be that as it may, running a theatre with 7 cases in a day after a month of predominantly being seated certainly takes its toll and I now have exquisitely painful knowledge of every muscle and its movement in my body!!
Speaking of Dr. Lurstep, I must say that working with him has been one of the greatest blessings of my time here in Shillong. When we were first asked to work here, it was because there were no full-time surgeons here. So I was quite surprised when we arrived to find Lurstep, who had joined a few days before me. And looking back over these two years, I realise how much I have grown both professionally as well as personally through his influence. Though much more experienced than me, he has always treated me better than I deserve, even with respect. He has held my hand for procedures I had never even seen before and given me full freedom to innovate some new procedures of my own. His humility and generosity have often surprised me as they go completely against the norm of surgical hierarchy. And during our long hours in the operation theatre, we have had wide ranging conversations on life and faith that have helped shape some of my own previously immature ideas. Had I been alone here, it is possible that these 2 years may not have been such a blessing to me, especially professionally. But God put His angel here to inspire, encourage and sharpen me and for that I will always be grateful.
I was thinking of angels because of an experience I had today. A patient had come from a far-away village complaining he had a fish-bone stuck in his throat. Our ENT surgeon is also on leave and so he was sent to me. As I examined him in the OPD, I had a feeling this was more of an upper-storey problem as he said the fish bone moved around every day! I took him to the operation theatre (more to satisfy him than anything!) and had a look into his throat with a laryngoscope, but could see no bone. I cheerfully reassured him and wrote up some placebos and was just packing him off when my dear wife popped in to say hi. I laughingly told her the story and was just leaving when she called me back. There was a huge lymph node in his neck that I had completely missed! The classical mistake we are always warned of, but I had forgotten! The red-herring symptom hiding a more sinister problem. As I did a more detailed examination and aspirated his gland for our pathologist to look at, I was silently saying a heartfelt prayer of thanks. Had not God sent His angel out of the blue (it is not often that I have the joy of my wife's presence in the OT - she is rather too busy for that!!) to point out my mistake, the poor man would have gone home and the possible cancer that was lurking somewhere inside would have progressed unhindered for who knows how long.
They are all around us. the angels who enrich our lives, who bring out the best in us, who lead us on the right way. They are often unsung, for our ego often prevents us from acknowledging them. Sometimes, we even fail to perceive their vital role. For man has made independence a virtue and forgotten that it is in interdependence that we find our greatest strength. My life is full of angels - the sweet lady who comes for an hour every morning to help with the dishes and the clothes, the young boy who found out we had come back and started bringing the newspaper again even without our asking, the kind OPD lady who translates for me without ever complaining why I have not yet learnt Khasi after 2 years here, the staff of the hospital who smile with real joy when they see me (I must confess there are also some whose faces convey that their feelings on seeing me are not necessarily joy!!), the team who makes our Friday Fellowship so special by their effort and involvement..... These are just few of the angels in my everyday life. I am so grateful that my precious wife reminded me of them by her simple act of keen observation today..... I pray that I will not forget them so easily again.