The DGO, the diploma in Gynaecology and Obsterics, was a two year program at CMCH with no holds barred.
Alice George , Muneema and I were in the same batch. I was going back to study after seven years. To say that it was a challenge, would be putting it extremely mildly. The Ladies Internes Quarters, the LIQ, had several alumni who like me, had come back to do their postgraduate studies. Most of us were married and had come for our postgraduate training after the kids had grown up a little.
All of us had only one agenda, to finish the course as soon as possible and go home to our families. Nothing else mattered. We suffered the long hours that made no distinction between day or night and the indignity of being yelled at in public in middle age. Obs/Gyn is a hands on speciality and we learned, as we worked. The more we handled, the more we learned. After those two years of rigorous training, excellent training on reflection, we were so tough, we could have handled and survived anything, anywhere.
The friendships we made in those two years were endearing and especially supportive. We would come back at the end of a long day with our tales of woe ,to gather in Gracy’s room, the largest room on the floor and throw ourselves with total abandon on her double bed. Exhausted beyond words , most of us would be fighting hot tears of anger as we repeated every humiliating anecdote to a sympathetic audience making soothing noises.
Guess what happened…..You could be sure that at least one person in the group would have been mauled every single day. To cheer the group the humorous anecdotes would be recounted too , punctuated with appropriate audiovisuals, as some of us could mimic perfectly.
Events would be discussed and laughed at and dismissed as experience. I will never forget what Nirmala a microbiology postgraduate used to say. She would come back livid and say “Grace Koshi said this ……and I said that, mentally….
She said that ….and I said this mentally ….
The comfort phrase , I said this, mentally, was a repartee that became a lifeline that helped us to fend off the humiliation and abuse hurled at us during our training. Technically we had spoken our minds and answered back. Mentally. It was off our chests. It saved our sanity and kept our sense of humour afloat, as we formed a protective band to help each other through the 730 days. Our only fear was the comfort phrase ….said mentally… , the lifesaving repartee would tumble out of our mouths in a weak moment. That would have disastrous with uncomfortable consequences.
Sometimes the male Obs/Gyn bosses would crack really brilliant vulgar jokes that were hilariously funny and we would stare ahead with poker straight faces suppressing every giggle that threatened to escape. If any one of us even smiled, we would be roasted alive when we got back to the LIQ.
Never Never respond to any of their vulgar jokes …was the dictum. Take them home and laugh all you want. Never in front of them. Never. Never. Never. Bite your lips . Do whatever it takes…..but for goodness sake DO NOT LAUGH !!! This was difficult to follow as most of us were genetic gigglers, who needed very little to set us off.
We would start work at 7.30 am every morning , working either in the wards, the Theatre or the Outpatent Dept. At 4.30 pm we would , if we were on duty, pick up our bleeps and work through the night running like headless chicken between the Labour room, Emergency Department, Operation Theatre and answer calls from other wards if they sent us referrals. Most nights were unbelievably, crazy and busy. We never saw our beds on duty nights.
At 7.30 am we would hand over the Bleep to whoever was on duty with a quick recap of what had happened during the night. Rushing to shower and change, we would report to the Theatre or OPD to work through till 5.30 pm, when we would crawl into bed and crash out, often missing dinner, to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to complete an assignment, or to study for a test the following day. . Leave was dirty word and NOBODY encouraged palming off duties. Only death and disaster qualified as valid circumstances for swapping duties.
Sometimes one of the husbands would arrive to spend a weekend with his wife, with or without the kids in tow, at the YWCA Annexe. Saying goodbye was especially hard those days and everyone treated you like Dresdan china , marked fragile, when we returned to the LIQ. Settling back to the routine was enormously hard.
Sam was in the UK finishing his Ph.D. My kids Rekha and Anish, were in Chennai with my Mum and Dad. I used to be miserable and quite reluctant to go back to Vellore after visiting them . All I wanted to do was to stay with my kids. My mum would not hear of it and every Sunday night, she would send me packing, back to Vellore to finish the course. Whenever I threatened to discontinue my DGO in Vellore, Dr. Prabha Jairaj, one of the Professors in Ob/Gyn would persuade me to stay on.
Between my Mum and Dr. Prabha, I finished my DGO and returned to my kids in Chennai. Sam arrived a couple of days later, to take us all back to the UK. Looking back, now that we are grandparents ourselves, we realise how difficult and how sad it must have for my Mum and Dad to say goodbye to the grandchildren they had looked after for two years , despite their advanced years. Without sparing a thought for their loneliness, we just gathered our kids and ran off, without a backward glance.
We were just delighted to be together as a family again.