The year was 1997. We were already into the final term of our first year MBBS. Almost an year had passed and I still hadn’t made any progress. I was low on all fronts- academics, socializing and motivation. I had almost made up my mind to quit the course; MBBS just didn’t seem to be my forte. The curriculum in itself was stressful. The subjects were only three, but each seemed to branch out into innumerable divisions and I found it impossible to split my attention into these innumerable channels. Anatomy, by far, was the worst. To me, it was as dead as the cadavers that stared vacantly at us in the dissection hall. It was all factual and my attention and memory failed miserably. Biochemistry was probably not as dead, but I still couldn’t figure out how it really fitted into the larger scheme of life! Physiology was a subject I neither loved nor hated. More importantly, I found it difficult to adapt to the monotony of the lecture classes that filled the hours in college. All my 12 years in school, I was tuned to innovative and interactive teaching. Teaching was all about inspiration, creativity and thought process. My teachers had always breathed life into the driest of subjects. And here I was, a medical student, watching all my teachers take away life from the study of life! While all my classmates held on to every word that spilled out of the teacher’s mouth, I switched off and drifted away into some dark, hopeless corner from where I didn’t want to be woken up. Finally, I made the decision- I would quit. It was my mother who advised me to give the final exams and then consider quitting. It seemed fair- I had managed to stay put for almost an year; another couple of months wouldn’t matter. I would give the exams and see how I felt. In all probability, I would still want to quit. Besides, I was certain that despite the department’s best efforts to pass me, I would flunk anatomy. So it was only a matter of time. I had already started dreaming of my freedom.
And then the miracle happened. It was the first class of ‘Central Nervous System’ in Physiology. I saw this relatively young professor walk into the lecture hall and as he walked on to the dais, I could tell even from the manner in which he walked and the way he carried himself that he was a miracle. When he faced us and addressed us, I could see that beneath the curtains of his eyes, there lay a beautiful, fascinating world that he would unravel to us. He introduced himself as Dr GU.
I was right. Central nervous system (CNS) unfolded before us, right from the heavens. It was almost as if the Creator himself had descended onto earth to teach us CNS- that fascinating circuitry within each one of us that drives everything in us. To this day, I find myself in awe of this field of life; I think it is the Creator’s masterpiece- unparalleled.
The classes subsequently were a phenomenal sensory experience. It was like drinking in an enthralling movie. We were oblivious to everything else except for the world we were being led into. It was addictive to the point that my hatred towards anatomy increased (save for neuroanatomy)! Dr GU introduced us to the beauty of Guyton’s textbook of Physiology. Truly, that textbook is a compilation of observations that does complete justice to Physiology, for at all levels of the knowledge it delivers, it retains the beauty of creation. I would often lose myself into its pages, and then when I closed the book, the book refused to leave me. It would always transport me into its mystique, captivating world from which I never wanted to return.
It was Dr GU who also introduced us to Eric Seagal’s ‘Doctors’. I think every medical undergraduate student must read this book for I can think of no other book that depicts the inner lives of doctors with as much sensitivity. The book inspires and it instills courage and commitment to what is one of the most demanding professions in this world. An old, worn-out copy of this book was circulated amongst all of us. I still remember how the book transformed me. By the end of his classes, I was no longer the same; a metamorphosis had taken place deep within me.
I shall not lie about my exams. I cleared all the subjects, but then I cleared anatomy only because of the goodwill of the department. As for Physiology, though I didn’t score extraordinarily, the spark in me had been rekindled.
That was the turning point in my life. Never again did I look back. The rest of my undergraduate years were full of passion, happiness and zeal. When I graduated, I thought of every other specialty except for Physiology.Primarily because we all graduate with the desire to practice medicine. So my paths did deviate, but then they eventually led me to where I am today. At some point, there was this yearning for what I had always loved the most. Physiology was my first love and it always would be. When I enrolled for postgrad in physiology, I e mailed Dr GU, thanking him for helping me discover what I was truly cut out for. He is based in Canada these days and continues to research on epilepsy.
Today, as I teach, I hope to pass on the spirit that was passed on to me by my teachers. Teaching is an art. The greatest teachers are always the ones who become oblivious to their own existence for they become one with the subject and all that the student sees is the subject unfolding in front of him, in all its intensity and beauty.