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FIVE LESSONS AT FIVE (PART 3)

Sometimes back I was invited by my alma matter to the annual convocation cum freshman dinner. While thinking on what remarks to make, I thought of reflecting on the first five years as a consultant and what life lessons I have learnt that may resonate with a new consultant setting out for work. That speech did not happen, so my thoughts remained as thoughts. In a month or less, I got into a conversation with former schoolmates on the sidelines of a scientific conference. One of the stand out observations was how time was flying since we have been out of training. 

‘ I cannot believe it has been five years!’, I said. 

‘I cannot believe it is already 10!’, another observed. 

I got back from that conversation wondering, what are the lessons I have learned on the surgical streets during those 5 years? 

I christen them five lessons at five, what young consultants would love to hear as they hit the ground running

3. BE THE HUMMING BIRD

Sometimes we get overwhelmed with how small our deeds are.  

“I am a mere clerk,” a staff once told me. Unbeknown to them, that desk was the critical conduit of all my patients. Without someone contacting patients and directing them to come to surgery after insurance approval, the very skilled surgeons will have no work to do. 

How many times have we said, “That one is only possible if you talk to the CEO”?

There are numerous times I have worked into one office or the other and found demotivated staff whiling away at the desk. Or some having left their jackets as evidence of their presence in the premises. 

Every time time such a staff will be quick to blame the government for not doing enough. But to a rural folk from the furthest corner of the village, besides the assistant chief, you are the only other government to them. 

Sometimes it is no because we hate working. It may be because we feel that the people with more power should do more. We wish we had the power to move the mountains. But with such an approach, there may not be much irrespective of the power we get. This is because our challenges and problems are commensurate with our ability. The more powerful you get, the more challenges you will be given. Because by the time problems are brought to your desk, there is no one else along the line who could handle them. 

It is in moments when we feel that our acts are inconsequential that we should be inspired by the story of the humming bird. The story is told of a forest that catches fire. All the big animals step out and stop yonder and watch as their home is gutted down. But not the little hummingbird. The hummingbird flies away, dips itself in water, flies back and flips drops of water on the burning fire. The elephants, buffaloes and giraffes laughed at the hummingbird. 

“Ha ha ha. You cannot achieve much trying to put out the fire that way!” 

The hummingbird replies that it is doing the little it can, the best way it can.

The mantra turned cliché has it that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. 

When each one of us does a little thing very well, it is those many little things done well that compound into a system success. And that repeated over time gives rise to a company culture, a people ethos. 

The guard at the hospital gate may be looked down upon by some people. But those are the people who do not know that the the guard is the first Public relations officer in a hospital. 

In the book “Cutting for Stone”, the author depicts a scene where a senior surgeon (Dr Stone) constantly asks a very tough question to surgical trainees. Eventually the character who answers is a brilliant young surgeon who has blood relations and prior reading of the author’s work. 

Question: What treatment in an emergency is administered by ear?

Answer: Words of Comfort 

It does not take a celebrated surgeon to look a terribly scared mother carrying a burned child and tell her, “it will be okay”. That can look like a drop in an ocean of  consultants and professors of surgery, but it means the world to the patient. 

Doing the little things the best we can might not sound popular. But in the grand scheme of things, that is the real ebb and flow of life. When everything is done and dusted, when we retire to our beds, what remains around with us is our conscience. 

You know you can always peacefully sleep at night when you know you did “the little you could, the best way you could”. 

‘If you think you are too small to make a change, try sleeping with a mosquito’, so said The Dalai Lama. 

About the Author

Dr. Stanley Aruyaru

Dr. Aruyaru is a Consultant General and Laparoscopic Surgeon and a Healthcare Manager. He has solid experience in managing busy surgical units and leading clinical teams to deliver in the lines of quality health provision and evidence based surgical practice.

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Expect nothing, live frugally on surprise. - Alice Walker

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