The curious case of fetal heart rate

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By: Dr Dhrubajyoti Bora

During our first year ragging days one of the most irritating and inescapable tasks given by the hostel seniors was the drawing and writing on their practical books. Those seniors who had idled away their valuable time in the former period of their respective MBBS courses were the most troublesome seniors for the first year boys. In the days when they could’ve easily completed their practical books they used to play truant from the classes, gossiped in the tea stalls on the road winding around the backside of the main college campus, played cards throughout the nights, partied frequently and when the notification of the examination was declared, they felt anxious because before them the study course seemed like an insurmountable Mount Everest.

With the exam only three months away, the cunning seniors on war footage picked up those first year boys whose handwriting and drawing was good. But as there were plenty of hostel seniors, the ones whose handwriting and drawing was the worst couldn’t escape from their clutches. ‘’Do it as early as possible, I’ll give you a treat,’’ they used to say. Though during those periods sitting before the reading tables only to copy or draw on their practical books was tenuous, yet it had certain advantages. The once bustling hostel immediately and astonishingly became quiet. The fear of being summoned at the unexpected hours at night ceased dramatically. We could feel a certain amount of relief. During those ensuing exam days, some seniors appeared from nowhere whom we’d never met since our entry into the hostel. The hostel had many anecdotes related to them. The other seniors used to say they just came to the hostel only to sit in the exam. Going to the classes or wards wasn’t their cup of tea. Once the examination was over, they vanished instantly, and even their shadows couldn’t be seen until the next examination time.

Though my handwriting was pathetic, I too was picked up by a senior one day. Rajesh da, as I remember calling him, was a sturdy boy, with a thick moustache, a face roughened by acne and a rough voice. Usually he never troubled the juniors without any valid reason, but those stupid enough to face the wrath of his hand, never forgot how dangerous he could become if needed. His physique and appearance carried that respect. He told me to sit in his room and ordered to copy twenty gynaecology cases from his practical book from another senior’s. But to my dismay, the handwriting of the ‘’to be copied’’ book was so illegible that I had to ask him a number of times for confirmation. He corrected me every time with a soft tongue.

During that time the whole medical college was in great tension. A university student had died in the ICU and the university students had vandalised as well as assaulted some of the doctors. Raged, the medical students also assaulted them in return. Immediately an unseen tension erupted. Medical students even feared going to Pan Bazaar in the fear of being accosted by the university students. Hostel seniors feared that they might come at midnight to take revenge. Some of my friends who had local guardians fled without thinking about the consequences. As I had none, I had to stay at the hostel and thus was picked up by Rajesh da. When we, the first year boys, met at the dining hall or at the classes, we discussed the dangers of being in the hostel and everyone of us was waiting for the right moment to flee from the hostel.

It was 7 pm and I was in Rajesh da’s room, writing his practical book. Rajesh da was reading in his bed, inclining on the wall. At one moment, Rajesh da went to the washroom leaving his door slightly open. His room was at one end of the 2nd floor and from his reading table; a few steps of the staircase coming down from 3rd floor could be seen. Just then, I heard some hurried footsteps bounding downwards, and it abruptly stopped before the room.

‘’Hey, do you want to go with me?’’ said a whispered voice.

‘’Where?’’ As I looked up, I saw Subhendu at the doorway.

‘’To my uncle’s house,’’ he looked timidly towards the other end of the corridor.

‘’But I’m writing Rajesh da’s practical book!’’

‘’Leave it; you can finish it later,’’ Subhendu said, adding “If you want to go with me, please hurry.’’

I thought the offer was good for a helpless first year boy like me. So I left Rajesh da’s room immediately, leaving his practical book open in excitement, and reached Subhendu’s uncle’s house after an hour. We stayed there for two days after which I decided to go back to the hostel. The fear of not telling Rajesh da about my leaving from the hostel kept haunting me and I thought the more I stayed away from the hostel the more vulnerable I would become after reaching the hostel.

As it was expected, as soon as Rajesh da got the news of my arrival, he called me to his room. He thundered, “You moron, where have you been these days?’’

I behaved like a tamed cat before his fury. I gazed down, without explaining anything. He stared at me with his blazing eyes, which I once spotted while looking up at him briskly. When his rage lessened, he said, “OK, I’ll not slap you, but you’ve to finish my book tonight. This is your punishment.’’

By the time I finished writing his practical book, it was around 4 am. I could feel my fingers jammed up and eyes burnt. As some of the medical words were unfamiliar to me, I just followed the curvatures of the words from the copied book.

I thought it was over, but no. A few days later, Rajesh da summoned me to his room once again. On seeing me, he shouted aloud, “You bastard, you’ve downed my reputation before my professors. Why didn’t you once ask me, huh?’’ He was stammering, “In place of ‘fetal heart rate’ you wrote ‘fecal heart rate’, why you are so stupid?’’ Rajash da kept on cursing me with his obscenities and here I stood silent, drained, thinking it would be better not to pay any attention to what words he was using to scold me.

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