I always wanted to come back to India. Shakuntala and I were already talking about it. When Birlas offered me the job to set up their super-specialty hospital dedicated to cardiac surgery, I was ready. I came back in 1989. Heathrow to Howrah was such a change, both in terms of protocol and aftercare. The first two months only went in training the nurses and the doctors. One of the doctors surprised me by saying he didn’t know babies could be affected by heart diseases!
I always wanted to specialise in paediatric surgery but many colleagues tried to dissuade me, saying the outcomes aren’t good or that I would never make money… The idea was never to make money but to save lives. Outcomes? The world’s safest surgeon is the one who doesn’t operate. I wasn’t going to let a 1% failure rate prevent me from operating because 99 out of 100 times we were saving lives. No other job can offer that satisfaction.
I still remember the first time I performed open heart surgery on a nine-day-old baby. It was, 1992. We had rewritten medical history, marking the beginning of paediatric cardiovascular surgery in the country. I was so happy and proud to hold that baby…Amma told me she had rushed to see me on television with the infant’s family. That day she couldn’t stop smiling…I had ticked off a life goal…
She was one of the reasons I became a doctor. It was a Saturday afternoon. I was trying to build a car with match sticks when my aunt from Bombay came to visit us. She was telling Amma about this wonderful doctor, who had saved her kid’s life by performing a couple of surgeries, without taking any money. “The world is a better place because of people like that doctor,” Amma said. Those words lingered…I wanted to be like that doctor…to make the world a better place and become somebody that Amma admires.
Making the decision to become a doctor was easy, but going by my academic record, it was pretty ambitious. I was an average student, who pulled out the books just