Last week Google (Google Doodle) celebrated Espresso Coffee Machine inventor Angelo Moriondo’s birth anniversary. This brought me back memories of a coffee machine in the USA.
I was never much of a coffee drinker. But at the teaching hospital in Bangalore where I worked from 2006 to 2017, coffee in between surgeries was an enjoyable ritual. Our surgical list used to begin at 9 am. At 11 am sharp, a kettle of coffee would arrive at the surgeon’s lounge in the operating theatre complex. Whoever was lucky enough to be free at that time would treat themselves to a chipped plastic cup of lukewarm coffee along with some gossip with colleagues. By 11.30 am, the kettle would be empty.
In 2011, on my first visit to the United States as a surgical fellow, I was amazed at the sheer luxury of the operating theatre complex at the DMC Harper University Hospital. The doctor’s lounge resembled a café at a 5-star hotel – sofa sets, recliners, about a dozen computer stations, and a huge flatscreen LCD TV (most of the time showing baseball). A far cry from the 10 by 10-foot niche off the corridor back home.
On a table in the lounge was a large coffee-maker, and a tray of cookies and donuts. The coffee-maker was so complicated that I had to initially take the help of a colleague to figure out its working. Thick 300ml sized paper cups, with sleeves of corrugated cardboard so one could hold it comfortably, a snap-fit plastic lid with a spout for an opening (which I could never manage to drink through), cream in tiny thimble-shaped containers, white sugar, brown sugar, Sugar-Free sachets, disposable wooden stirrers. There were options to make six different types of coffee, several varieties of tea bags, and even hot chocolate. In addition, there was also freshly brewed coffee in an electrically heated glass kettle to keep it hot. And all this was available 24×7!
In the first week, whenever I was free in between surgeries, I went to the lounge. I made a cup of steaming hot coffee, took a cookie (I didn’t like the donuts), and sat by myself in a recliner, observing all the goings-on in the lounge.
Over there, surgeries used to begin at 7 am and usually wound up by 3 pm – the residents worked hard (their days would begin before 5 am), and the consultants worked independently – their interaction among themselves and with residents was cordial but professional. As an international fellow, I had free rein – I was treated very well professionally, but not much opportunity for friendly interaction or socializing.
Within a week, I had tried all the varieties of coffee and cookies – and even began to understand a little baseball.
By the second week, my visits to the surgeon’s lounge slowly reduced. By the third week, I only went to check my email (these were days before smartphones and mobile data). I decided the cup of coffee I had along with breakfast before leaving my guest housing was more than enough for each day.
I came back to Bangalore on a weekend a month later. Monday arrived and I was back in my own operating theatre. Since I had not posted any surgery of my own, I was guiding a resident to perform a mastectomy. Just as he finished, and I scrubbed out, there was a gentle tap on my shoulder from behind. It was my colleague and close friend. I looked up at the wall clock – it was 11 am.
Less than five minutes later, I was in our tiny doctor’s lounge, sipping lukewarm watery coffee and catching up with friends from different surgical departments. I enjoyed my coffee after a long time.