Of ecstasy and agony : Cancer Research, Statistics, and Treatment

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Of ecstasy and agony

Pradhan, Rashmi R.

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Cancer Research, Statistics, and Treatment 6(1):p 88-90, Jan–Mar 2023. | DOI: 10.4103/crst.crst_15_23
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Mumbai. Mayanagri. The City of dreams. Medical Oncology. Tata Memorial Hospital.

It could not get better than this for a doctor who had yearned to study medical oncology in India, but just when you begin to believe that you got an impeccable deal, life throws you an unexpected curveball.

Let us take a quick trip down memory lane. I hail from Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, located in the eastern part of India, by the Bay of Bengal. While I was pursuing my postgraduation in internal medicine, I was inclined toward two subspecialties—medical oncology and gastroenterology. This was during a time when most of my contemporaries and seniors did not have an affinity for oncology. They spoke loosely about the branch, calling it a “boring and morbid” specialty. I witnessed that seasoned consultants from various specialties give unscientifically grim prognoses to newly diagnosed patients with cancer. Such casual death sentences coming from reputed doctors did not augur well for the patients. Their families never sought proper and timely advice from oncologists because they had been told that cancer treatment would be costly and a cure was not possible. I do not completely disregard the fact that there was some truth in what they said, but sweeping statements should never be made in medicine, or for that matter, in science in general. Despite all this, as time went by, my interest in oncology did not waiver. Of my own accord, I started seeing patients with multiple myeloma, and the more I observed, the more confusing it got. I even followed Dr. Vincent Rajkumar on Twitter, but thankfully, rather than diminishing my passion, the cases augmented my interest in oncology. I remember how I foolishly bought the 10th edition of DeVita’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology just 3 months before the 11th edition was published.

When the results of the first round of the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test Super Speciality (NEET-SS) counseling were published, I went into total shock and disbelief. I had never expected that I could become a part of the Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) in Mumbai. As I was working as a senior resident in general medicine and then for a few months in medical oncology, my preparation had been erratic and not up to the mark. Soon after the results of the first round of counseling were published and the initial euphoria settled, I started the process of looking for a house in Mumbai. Knowing that the training would be rigorous and the working hours long, I thought that it would be best to find a house close to the hospital that would eliminate the need to commute in the maddening Mumbai traffic. Furthermore, I needed a fully furnished house because I presumed that I would not have the time or the energy to shop for my new nest.

I got in touch with a few close friends who I thought could help me secure a flat in Mumbai, and I was told that I first needed to find a trustworthy and diligent broker. After dillydallying for a few days, I zeroed in on one broker who had already secured a good flat for one of my acquaintances. The interesting thing about him was that he used to address himself as, “Tata ka Broker,” because apparently he had clinched deals for innumerable TMH doctors, which gave me some confidence in an otherwise daunting situation. He assured me that he would get me a house as per my specifications.

Lo and behold, within a day or two, he started sending me pictures of flats near TMH. I would pass them on to my sister, wife, and friends. Many were summarily rejected. There were a few flats that we liked, and we finally decided to go ahead with one of the shortlisted ones. I was asked to pay the token amount immediately lest someone else might snatch it from me, as was the trend in this megacity. I got in touch with the house owner. He had recently bought the house from the original owner. He asked me to pay the entire security deposit in a couple of days, which I refused. Through the broker, I communicated with him that until the agreement was signed, I would not pay a big sum, especially since I was a thousand miles away.

On his part, he asked me to pay a portion of the security deposit. I acceded to his request. All was agreed upon, and it was decided that he would hand over the keys on January 12.

When I informed my broker that I would be arriving in Mumbai on the night of January 10 and spending the night at a close friend’s house in Borivali, he suggested that I stay there until January 12. This would prevent me from having to apply for the TMH hostel for just a few days and pay for the whole month. The idea made sense to me, and my friend was more than happy to accommodate me for a few more days.

With a fear of the unknown and a faint undercurrent of excitement, I reached Mumbai as planned. The next day, January 11, I proceeded to TMH to complete all the formalities of the admission process. I was asked to meet the Head of the Department of Medical Oncology. He congratulated me and wished me well for my training. When I told him that I was scheduled to shift to a house near the hospital in a few days, he magnanimously permitted me to start my training after I had settled into my new abode. I was asked to join on January 16. I was elated to have gotten four additional days to sort out my situation.

The next item on my itinerary was to meet the broker and the house owner in the flat to sign the agreement letter and pay the outstanding security deposit. After exchanging pleasantries, we got down to business. I toured the house and pointed out a few deficiencies that needed to be addressed before I moved in. I noticed that though the house owner was not exactly terse, he appeared somewhat nonchalant, which was a subtle red flag that I ignored. He mentioned that he had another offer for me. He told me that if I paid the rent for an entire year upfront, he would do away with the security deposit. I politely ignored this dubious offer.

The agreement was signed according to the terms that had been agreed upon previously, but then he informed me that it would not be possible for him to hand over the keys to me before January 16, because there were no auspicious dates before January 15, and he would not be able to perform Griha Puja (traditional housewarming ceremony). I was in a quandary. I was supposed to report to work on January 16, but I also did not want to take possession of a house that needed restoration.

Therefore, I grudgingly had to agree. I disclosed my predicament to my good friend and continued to stay at her place, perhaps overstaying my welcome. Days passed and on January 15, I asked the broker whether I could shift the next day because I was supposed to join TMH that same day. He was not forthcoming in his replies and appeared to be apologetic, confused, and evasive. I showed my displeasure and reprimanded him.

It became clear that I would not be able to shift to my new home any time soon, but I also could not continue to stay 15 miles away from TMH and commute every day until the owner handed me the keys. In the meantime, my broker informed me that he had arranged another flat for me near TMH. I would need to pay a thousand rupees per night and use it until I shifted into my flat, which he assured me would not be more than a couple of days. I agreed, albeit with a lot of reluctance. I contacted my acquaintance—he stays near TMH—who had recommended the broker to me and told him that I would reach his place early the next morning, keep my baggage, and leave for TMH.

The next day, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning, commuted with 30 kilograms of baggage, and finally reached Parel (where TMH is located). I dumped everything at my friend’s place and proceeded to the hospital.

I was posted in the general thoracic outpatient department (OPD). It took me a good fifteen minutes to locate it. I was a little early that day and therefore was the first doctor to enter the OPD. I had no idea that a Zoom-based class was scheduled, and only after that, the OPD would begin.

Not knowing my ineptitude, a few patients flocked to me as soon as I was seated. I introduced myself to the support staff in the OPD. I told them that I was a first-year resident and it was my very first day at work. They informed the patients that they would be seen only after “bade sir log (“the big doctors”) came.

To my utter dismay, I noticed that there was no cellular network in the OPD. So, I had to walk out of the building into the open air to join the class.

After the class, my colleague and a physician assistant gave me a tour of the TMH software that is pivotal for documentation. It is sophisticated yet perplexing for a newbie but makes life easier in many ways. Thereafter, my seniors came and we got to work. I was slow, cautious, and jittery. The OPD got over at seven that evening.

I had not yet been allotted any inpatient hospital ward duty, and therefore, after having my dinner at the hospital canteen, I proceeded to collect my baggage from my friend and shift to the stopgap residence that my broker had arranged for me. The house was on the 17th floor of a 22-story apartment building near TMH. The living room was pristine, and it was obvious that nobody had lived in that house, but as I entered the bedroom, I saw stuff scattered on a table, a worn-out and filthy mattress folded in the corner, and the wardrobe half filled with someone’s clothes. I found that there was no faucet in the bathroom. Everything in that flat, other than the living room, was repulsive.

I realized how stupid I had been all along. I walked out of the apartment and searched for a decent hotel to spend the next few nights. All I could find was “rooms available for cancer patients.” I was distraught and angry with myself. Just a year ago, I had splurged on a lavish weekend at the Taj Santacruz and had watched the Boeing and Airbus airplanes fly past and touch down from my room, and here, I was walking on the streets of Mumbai at 10 PM desperately searching for a place to spend the night.

Finally, I booked a hotel online, went back to the apartment, got my luggage, and left. It was a decent place but looked inferior to the photographs posted online. I had assumed that I would be staying at the hotel for a few days, but by the end of two days, I realized that I would not be getting my flat any time soon. The house had not been officially transferred to the person who was to rent me the property. The process of registration was going on, and therefore, the “new owner” did not even have the keys to the house. I was appalled by the far-reaching extent of this web of lies.

After I was apprised of the situation, I swiftly applied for the TMH hostel and shifted the next day. I wish I had done this at the very beginning and not found myself in this quagmire. I had a huge argument with the owner and asked him to pay me back the security deposit at the earliest. I accused the broker of dereliction of duty. Both of them were regretful and ashamed, and assured me that they would sort things out at the earliest.

As of now, I am still staying at the TMH hostel at the Haffkine Institute. Because I have a place to stay and am not running helter-skelter for shelter, I have given the owner and the broker a week to figure out their issues and hand me the flat, but ongoing new revelations continue to outrage me. The owner called me and confessed that he had not yet paid an amount of seven lakh rupees to the original owner. Although the original owner had earlier agreed to take the sum at a later date, he had now backtracked and demanded that the money be paid for the deal to go through. People appeared to be lying to me at their convenience. I called off our deal and asked him to refund my security deposit. Now, I have to start from square one again.

Frankly speaking, the first week has not been entirely satisfactory. The transition has been disorderly and tumultuous from the get-go. My life is in a stage of entropy, and this has unfortunately caused great anguish to my family back home. I try to assuage their apprehensions, but it is impossible to fool the people who love you. When I sit back and mull over the past seven days, I realize that I have stayed at three different places and stored my baggage at five.

In the broad scheme of things, my troubles are trivial. Maybe after a few months, I will laugh at all that happened, but these seven days have taught me important life lessons. We should always have a plan B. I did not have one and was made to pay dearly. Not everyone is transparent, and people can be deceitful and devious. I trusted people too easily and therefore bought their stories. I was not assertive enough at the right time and the right place.

Being the Murakami fan that I am, I cannot resist quoting him from Kafka on the Shore—”And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

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