The book, meant for general reading chronicles the stories of some of the patients seen by the author during a career of about half a century. It provides glimpses of the trials and tribulations faced by patients and their doctors in their heroic struggles against disease and death. It also tends to project the physician’s handling of the myths and dilemmas about disease management and treatment modalities faced by different patients.
The pen portraits reflected in this fascinating book encompass the lives of Prime Ministers, Governors, Chief Ministers, Judges, highly placed officials, army-men, police officers, newly married couples, precocious teen agers, wealthy men and farm labourers. It is a captivating story of life and living process. Full with vignettes from history, classical civilization, epics and mythology, it is enjoyable to read and meaningful for the doctors, the patients and the care-givers into disease management. A brief synopsis of its contents follows:
- The Childhood Adventures: Life in a community riddled with superstitions about health in a haunted house during 1950s in small towns of Punjab. Medical practice was rather scarce and simple maladies were often handled in medieval fashions.
- Dissection Hall: Vivid scenes from the ‘dissection hall’ of the medical college (Government Medical College, Patiala) during the author’s first year of MBBS in 1966-67. Does the virtual dissection now provide the same attachment with human body.
- Patient with Scalded Palms: Lessons during bed-side case demonstration in the Skin Out-patient department. Was the reason of scalded palms in an otherwise healthy young man
- Labour Ward: Melodrama in the busy ‘labour-room’ of the hospital while witnessing the first delivery by the author during the final year MBBS
- Bhag Singh: A former army soldier who used to brag about fighting with enemy forces and cockroach sized mosquitoes was admitted with cancer. Both he and the doctor were quite afraid of catheterization at night for urinary obstruction.
- Emergency Ward: Facing the first death in the over-crowded Emergency of the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education & Research, Chandigarh in 1972.
- JP – The quintessential Leader or 1975: Story of Jai Prakash Narain during the period of Emergency in India when he was interned in the hospital at Chandigarh. His care was a real challenge for which the author along with senior doctors faced political reverberations.
- Sherlock Holmes: A senior police officer who suffered from a relatively uncommon respiratory disease, was quite reluctant. It was Sherlock Holmes who helped in treatment.
- The two oustees: Struggles and superstitions of two village folks who suffered from chronic respiratory disease, both were displaced from the land where Chandigarh was built as the state capital of Punjab after Indian partition.
- Culture Shock: A young man from Denmark developed illness while visiting as a tourist. Both he and his friend had a tough time in the hospital in the beginning; both got adjusted very soon. On the other hand, Griffth who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was evading law because of drug abuse and trafficking.
- ‘Morrie’ of Punjab: A senior Professor had a chronic muscle disease; his life was almost a replica of the Morrie immortalized by Mitch Albom (see ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’).
- The American Dream: Handling of a friend with asthma in Seattle during Fellowship in USA in 1982-83. He was a tough nut to crack – willfully avoiding treatment for his problem.
- Pickwick Papers: Obese patients with respiratory sleep disorders. The main character like the fat Joe of Pickwick Papers was blissfully unaware of his illness.
- God’s own People: Patients with respiratory problems belonging to ‘below poverty-line’ category faced multiple hardships. Their innocence was often overwhelming and over-bearing.
- Perseverance: A resolute youth was determined to cure disabling emphysema of his grand-father. His misdirected treatment proved disastrous.
- Mr Prime Minister: Visit to Nepal for a medical consultation. The Prime Minister had an exceptional medical knowledge.
- Mountain out of a mole hill: Pleasure of curing small problems which looked threatening to others. But one needs to know the problem!
- Corporate Honchos: Treatment of the rich and the mighty. One of them who suffered from a respiratory sleep disorder was quite secretive about his visit to the doctor.
- ‘If a man’s lungs pant with his work’: Problems of handling two senior judges who suffered from brittle asthma! The severe and almost near-fatal attacks used to develop with an electrifying speed.
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate: Misconceptions about and misinterpretations of non-specific medical tests! The test report was a good excuse for the two patients to repeatedly visit the hospital.
- Teenage Hiccups: Abrupt and angry outbursts of sick teenagers who needed tender care.
- Weakness of the Powerful: The powerful politicians including Chief-ministers and Governors who suffered from asthma or other respiratory diseases were as weak as the ordinary folks. Inhalation therapy was particularly difficult to teach and gullibility was the greatest weakness.
- Marital Woes: Sickness as a stigma for ‘soon to marry’ girls and boys. One young lady who suffered from asthma defied medical advice with serious consequences.
- The Stigma of Inderjeet: Isolation of young Inderjeet for her tuberculosis. She conquered her illness with courage and bravery.
- University Dons: Teachers at the University were generally difficult to convince. Professor Ahuja used to underplay his illness, while several others were over concerned, sometimes about hypothetical illnesses.
- Swami Anand: A pious and spiritual man who imbibed the greatest human values!
- The Devilish Test: Misinterpretation of a simple medical test brought an engagement almost to a break-point. It was the medical counselling which helped.
- Yasin Mohammad: A bear performer who suffered from asthma was quite magnanimous. Petty favours by unrecognizable patients proved to be pleasant, sometimes even embarrassing.
- Barriers: It was difficult to communicate with an old man with hearing impairment. Yet the old man was quite satisfied!
- The Big League: The VIP attitudes of a few senior officers often interfered with good medical management. It was always better to shed the mask of bigness while seeking treatment.
- Holy Water: The Last Wish: A holy priest was afraid of admission in the hospital for the fear that his last wish may not be fulfilled. The medical personnel and the facilities need to respect the wishes of patients with terminal illnesses.
- One More world to go: ‘Not to be defeated’ attitude of a terminally sick patient.
- Dilemma of Critical Care: The real question is ‘When to opt for assisted respiratory support?’.
- Knowledge: Explosion: 21st century – the era of lung transplantation, advanced life-prolonging treatments and internet with a quagmire of information.