The tale of exchanged bodies

“I think I will apply for the post of Dean” I announced to Naina. She looked at me doubtfully. “It is a highly political post. You don’t stand a chance in the interview. It is said that the selection is already made and the interviews are just a eyewash” was her opinion. “In any case, we are happy that you are a Professor and the Head of a Department. You are doing good work. The salary of a Dean is the same as that of a Professor. Why should you invite headaches from the unions and assorted politicians?” Because the  Dean has powers  when exercised judiciously could lead to a better functioning of the hospital I explained to her. As a clinician, I make a difference to one patient’s life. On the other hand decisions made by the Dean would make a difference to hundreds if not thousands of patients that attend the hospital every day, I added. “Why don’t you consult your Prof?” was her advice.

“Hmm, You want to fly a desk now is it?” was the Prof’s first reaction.” I could never  stay away from clinical work. On the other hand, we need youngsters to step up and take administrative responsibility. But you will have to control your temper with the fools who you’ll meet at every corner as a Dean. Watch out for the local Corporators and MLAs. They can be a pain in the neck and in the regions lower down too. But fortunately there are quite a few politicians who are decent fellows and want to serve people and will support you. But don’t give up on your clinical or teaching work. Make sure that you operate and teach at least once a week. Don’t neglect your students or patients. This will help you to keep your ears to the ground. So you have decided to tide a tiger. Don’t get off or fall off!” He exploded into laughter.

The interview was stormy to say the least. It lasted for more than an hour. I was happy that I stood my ground in the face of severe grilling. I thought that I had flunked the interview. However, I was satisfied that at least the interview was interesting and stimulating.

A week later I was appointed as Dean. Now the buck would stop at my desk.

Being a Dean was a totally different, stressful but enjoyable work. The paperwork that one had to handle was humongous with over  a thousand letters to be answered, proposals to be studied and complaints to be attended to. I had to patiently meet patients with complaints and take action to satisfy them. I had decided that I would not carry a single scrap of paper home but dispose all of them in the office itself, much to the delight of my secretaries.

It was the second anniversary as Dean. I had invited some of my teachers (Prof of course was there) along with the Municipal Commissioner who had retired the previous week. One of my relatives had gifted me a bottle of scotch and I knew Prof was a connoisseur of good scotch. I had just poured a drink for the guests when my phone rang. It was my Deputy Dean who was a month away from her retirement.

“Sir, can you come immediately? There is a mob of people who have turned violent. Several window panes have been shattered. I have locked myself in my office and called the police” There was raw panic in her voice. I excused myself and hurried to the hospital…

There was a crowd of around two hundred people around the Administrative Block where my office was. The mood of the crowd was very ugly. There were no policemen to be seen. The Security Guards of the hospital were struggling to control the crowd. I pushed through the crowd to enter my office. My Deputy Dean was close behind me. She broke down completely. Between gulps and sobs, she narrated the story.

One patient had died due to a heart attack the previous day. His body had been shifted to the mortuary to be handed over to the relatives. When the relatives reached the mortuary, they found to their horror that the body of their relative had been identified and claimed by someone else and had already been cremated! Another patient had died the same day and the son of this man wrongly identified the body in question and taken it away for the final rites…

Three grim looking men barged into my office. I could recognize them: The local corporator, MLA (Member of state assembly) and the MP (Member of Parliament) of the constituency. They were veterans of several agitations, scarred by the ‘lathis’ or canes that the Indian police use so liberally against agitators. My heart sank…

“Dean Sir” rumbled the MP. “We need to act fast or the crowd will get out of control. This hospital has been doing great work but its reputation can be ruined in a minute. There has been sheer negligence on the part of the mortuary staff. They handed over the wrong body. We prevented the crowd from almost lynching the mortuary staff. We will pacify the crowd somehow. But you need to act decisively so as to defuse the situation” I informed him that the Medical Officer in charge of the mortuary and the other staff already stood suspended with immediate effect and that a case of criminal negligence would be registered against them. That seemed to have a calming effect on them. They went out to calm the crowd.

“This hospital is like our second home. Something awful has happened as it does in many homes. We cannot vandalize  hospital property for the mistake of a few negligent persons. The Dean has already suspended the persons responsible and is taking strict  action against them. What has happened has happened. Please disperse now. We promise that the guilty will be punished” announced the MLA. There were some muted protests from the crowd, but they dispersed. The hospital was quiet again.

It turned out that the mortuary attendant was drunk as a lord when he handed over the bodies. I called him to my office the next day. I was furious and berated him for being drunk on duty. “Dean Sir” he told me. “It is impossible to work in the mortuary with death on attendance every moment. The only way to to make it tolerable is to fog the brain with drink” I was speechless…..




Author: drshirahatti

I am a surgeon, specializing in Gastrointestinal Surgery...I have headed the Departments of GI surgery, General Surgery and Medical Education.....I also was the Dean of two large government hospitals in Mumbai.....I like reading about cultures and like to travel....

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