Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cut your balls off

Advertently or otherwise we cause problems to others by passing some comments or making some remarks. This happens more often than not with us doctors. Sometimes it is due to difficulty with language and sometimes, due to sheer irresponsibility and occasionally, it is due to how the patients/friends interpret the remarks.

Years ago, when I was a medical student, there was a teacher of surgery. We had a patient who had a painless swelling of his testicle. The surgeon made all of us examine the patient. We were some ten students, and all of us examined him. The discussion that followed was in the language of instruction, English. The final conclusion was that he patient had Hydrocele, a simple problem easily curable by a simple operation. When all this was going on the patient, whose mother tongue was Malayalam [language spoken in the state of Kerala] and who had no knowledge of English, was looking at us with some degree of panic. Seeing him thus, the surgeon who knew some Malayalam told him in a tone of assurance, 'don’t worry, you are going to be alright, I will just have to chop of your balls.’ What he meant was, that he will make a cut and drain out the collected water. But when he said the same in Malayalam, it appeared as though he was out to castrate the poor guy. The patient broke into a sweat and fell at the surgeon’s feet requesting him to do no such a thing and to discharge him and allow him to go home with his balls intact. The surgeon was very surprised with this show of ingratitude. He said again in Malayalam, 'my dear fellow’ why are you so worried; I am just going to cut off’ [meaning make a cut]. At this, the patient began to cry.

One of the students whose mother tongue was Malayalam came to the rescue of both the surgeon and the patient and explained the intent and the surgeon understood the blunder inadvertently made by him.

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