The journey of becoming a neurosurgeon is a long and arduous one. It is a road filled with hard work and sacrifice that ultimately transforms a school kid into a neurosurgeon! Decades ago, not until late into medical school would one develop a liking for the subject. But usually the field is discouraged, as it is tough with its long hours of surgery, serious and critically ill patients and their often, poor outcomes. But times have changed. Neurosurgery today is a lot safer and predictable. It is strange’, but thanks to the movie world and TV serials, a lot more kids today know what a Neurosurgeon is.
The late Prof B. Ramamurthi, the doyen of Indian Neurosurgery once said these words at the time when I joined the course of Neurosurgery in 2002: ‘Being a doctor is what I would teach you. Learning Neurosurgery is a lifetime’s journey. I would guide you towards it’.
I couldn’t fully comprehend it at that time, as I already was a doctor by then with my MBBS degree. As l journeyed along the path of Neurosurgery, I started realizing the meaning of his statement to be very apt with profound meaning. To be a DOCTOR is more important than being a professional Neurosurgeon. I appreciate the fact that this trait is the one that decides the success of one’s career, and this Success has no universal yardstick. Though it is very subjective and personal. For some, Success can be as simple as earning Name, Money and Fame, honestly it is something beyond all that. The larger picture is about scaling new heights in this great and divine field. Many consider operating in difficult and challenging scenarios is success, Others consider operating in various different scenarios as success. Irrespective of the yardstick that one applies to measure Success, I realized, that being a good DOCTOR with empathy, humility and the appropriate skills set is what a patient and relative would like to see, witness and experience.
Neurosurgery is a vast Infinite ocean with a wide spectrum of work that can give a sweeping array of Challenging scenarios with patients to a surgeon! Boredom due to monotony is never an issue with this profession. This begins with the Brain, which in itself is so challenging that it is an unchartered sea! The spectrum includes the Spinal cord and Spine, The head and neck junction with the skull base adjoining the face, and all the nerves, literally covering the entire topography of the human body. Across all the age groups – from just born babies to the age of 94 that I have operated, and all aetiologies – such as congenital and developmental issues, trauma and head injury, tumour’s, infections, vascular and functional disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, the scope of the subject is so far-flung as to be almost boundless. Mastering it is truly a lifetime journey. The true words of my teacher!
As a subject, Neurosurgery teaches humility. Every Brain is different with different functional potentials. What Neuroscientists have decoded is less than 20% of our Brain. No Neurosurgeon can promise 100% results. As a matter of fact, No Doctor can promise that. When to operate and when to stop (in a surgery) , are two important lessons that experience alone teaches. Being honest is universally liked and being realistic is appreciated the most. The ultimate gratification and measure of success is to see the once comatose or paralyzed patient walking up to you and sharing his day’s experience at his work!
Stressful work hours are inevitable due to the nature of the profession and existing life style. But a good work life balance is as essential as being good at work for sustainability. Ultimately, the efficiency and longevity of ones professional life is decided by this very balancing act in life. My stress busters apart from my family and friends are Astrophotography, travel and biking! Looking up into sky, the visual treat from the heavens is unparalleled.
The heavenly bodies have fascinated great scientists throughout history. It teaches us the concept of Time & speed, while allowing us to introspect. It reminds us about how insignificant we are in the great cosmos. The earth is miniscule in the cosmic dimension. Isn’t it a ridicule that we humans consider ourselves so important? From the depths of operating Microscope to the reach of Celestial Telescope, the scale of insight is infinite, often bringing out a philosopher from within. Travel teaches newness and invents greater realisation in oneself. It teaches us the beauty of various cultures, traditions and colours of nature. It makes one realize that borders and boundaries are a limitation placed on the mind. On the other side, biking on an Adventure bike gives pure Adrenaline rush. The beauty of these passions is that all of these can be combined, as a holiday, giving one, much needed relief and recharging of energy.
To the kids out there wondering whether to take up Neurosurgery or not, I do have a message: ‘It is a divine field, filled with many challenges and gratification, a life filled with adrenaline rush amidst a deep meditative concentration and focus, that long hours bring (while in a surgery)’. It is thus a rare and contrasting combination.