Anecdotes From Cancer Surgery Practice: Gratitude That Inspires

This is the first in a series of short stories inspired by real-life incidents. Names, pictures, and contexts have been changed to protect the identities of my patients.

It was a day like any other in the Surgical Oncology Out-patient Clinic. I had seen my last patient and packed my bag. Just as I was turning the lights off, I got a call from the downstairs reception that someone who wanted to meet me was getting into the elevator, and could I please wait.

A few minutes later, a wrinkled face peered in at the door and flashed a warm toothless smile. An elderly lady walked into my room and placed a plastic box in my hands.

The old lady starting chatting in Kannada as if we were old friends. I had a vague recollection of having met her before, but was embarrassed that I couldn’t recall when or where.  She told me that her village now has concrete roads, that she voted in the recent election, and that her son has purchased a pair of new buffaloes.  She explained that her grandson now owns a cab in the city, and that she convinced him to give her a ride to Bangalore which she has not visited in many years.

There was a moment of silence.  Then she said “Son, I am over ninety years old now.  When you told me eight years back that I required an operation for my stomach cancer, I was skeptical.  Everyone I knew told me I’ve lived a long life and I should be grateful for that.  Nothing good will come out of major surgery on a weak old woman, that too for cancer.  Call me selfish – but I wanted to live. And you know – these last eight years have been the happiest of my life – I have seen so many things with new eyes.  I am glad I agreed to let you operate on me.  After my operation, I could not come to the city all these years, but today I finally managed to tell you and thank you.”

Suddenly I remembered her – the child-like and timid Mrs Gundamma whom all the doctors and nursing staff had doted on.  We had never heard from her after her recovery from surgery.  Yes, she was older than before – still child-like, but no longer timid! She pointed at the plastic box “These are coconut barfis I made for you yesterday – I can still cook!”

Among the greatest blessings of my profession is meeting regular people with inspirational stories and the priceless life lessons they teach us.


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