I've spent the last fortnight in a relatively mildly irritating posting in a unit run by a registrar who until today I'd put down as a moderately effective, watered-down sort of a dictator. A stickler for punctuality, a nitpicking nag, that kind of a person. Not remotely a malicious bitch so much as a typical trope, instead of a real person, I thought. She was often short with patients, frequently snapped at her clueless but kindhearted housemen, relentlessly ordering them to get their act together, she was painfully particular about us turning up in the wards at 7 AM to do blood collections, only if there were just two patients that needed to be tested. The only time there appeared to be anything to humanize her stony countenance was the few occasions when she presented cases to the professors, an activity that in the Psychiatry department involves having long, sometimes really ridiculously silly-sounding conversations with patients. Her histories were detailed and thorough, her cases peppered with witticisms and a somewhat wacky sense of humour, that was decidedly at odds with her otherwise apparently hostile demeanour.
I was glad to be finishing the posting really. Just take her signature and get the hell out of there, I thought.
Then, it so turned out that we didnt really need her signature, the saccharine sweet lecturer and the histrionically entertaining professors were ready to sign all our work.
So, in what felt like a minor coup, we paraded into the office, stamping our own logbooks with the department seal and there she was! My co-interns all thought the best strategy was obviously to not look her in the eye, and simply troop past trying to look as innocuous as possible, as if willing themselves to be invisible cud actually work.
I, however, am more than a little worse at that, and blending into the background wont ever really be a strong suit for me. So, I thought that I shud use that to my advantage and contribute a cheeky parting shot instead.
So, trying to look her in the eye with what I hoped resembled bonhomie, I gave her a big smile and I said, "Ma'am, so we're done with psych. Today was our last day." 'And you wont be able to boss us around any more.' being what was left pointedly unsaid.
She looked at me, as if really noticing me for the first time in that very moment, and to my great surprise, smiled, although sardonically, and said, "Then I guess you're lucky. Do well in your exams." before turning and leaving.
My co-interns gave me a 'why do you always have to do this, Karishma?' look and marched into the office. I, however, realized that I was seeing the woman in a whole new light, and a really rosy one, too.
It dawned on me that she was probably the only rigorously competent person in the whole unit, the reason we were called on for blood collections daily was becoz the sweet but simpering houseman had no idea what bore needle to use, or what bulbs to take, or even which laboratory the blood was supposed to be sent to. That the other gruff but kindly houseman was bad at remembering drug names and repeatedly badgered the registrar for dosages.
That the honey-tongued lecturer often left rounds half-way and the much-renowned professor was on holiday for much of the month.
She was single-handedly responsible for all the patients in the unit and the obvious stress from all that work was probably what made her lose her temper so often.
And I realized what I really felt was not exhilaration at having gotten another barrage of signatures out of the way, but the slightest hint of guilt towards and a somewhat grudging admiration for the woman who delightedly wrote words like 'mendicants' and 'verbose' and 'lotuseaters' on the case-sheets, a woman whose name I hadnt even bothered to ask for all of the two weeks I was posted alongside her.