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Life in England beyond the surgical wards ( Part 1)
Rathin Datta FRCS (England, Edinburgh & Glasgow).FFIMS (Athens)
Life in England beyond the surgical wards ( Part 1)
PHOTO : Snow covered Royal College of Surgeons, England

It was 1962, month of December when snowing was so much that proverbial white Christmas came to England. It was 1 to 2 feet deep outside the hall where we danced and sang the Carol to welcome the Christmas. In England – it was off duty during the Christmas and Boxing day but kept myself busy in the Causality and the OT helping the other surgical colleagues who were on duty and were overwhelmed by the Surgical and trauma cases streaming in.

I, though not on duty enjoyed sewing up injuries .There would be cases due to drunken driving, or just fall in the street etc. Remember the gentle man who  forgot that what he was walking through was not an open space but his own decorative glass wall put more than  hundred odd stitches to repair the innumerable deep cuts that he had all over his body. He required 2 pints of fresh blood transfusion.

I returned  to my formal duty on the 27th starting with night duty i.e. 8 PM to8 AM next day   slot was joined by Dr.John Lennin,Registrar of Nephrology and Staff nurse Roberta. Introduced ourselves, we would be on duty in the trauma-emergency for the night.

John had a brilliant career, would take the final MRCP next month and then would specialise in Nephrology. He is engaged to a bright doctor and proposes to marry after he clears his finals, they had a wonderful Christmas.

Roberta had an Austrian father, grew up in Wein [Vienna], moved to Britain to live with her mother who was English, both her parents were doctors. Roberta was the prettiest girl around, had a busy Christmas, carried her mistle toe and did full justice to the mistle toe. She had three young man [all doctors] lined up, wanted our advice .We informed her that we could not probably do it as this would break our heart. She was pleased, which woman does not appreciate little flirt. She offered us more coffee.

I was in UK to qualify as a FRCS and train to become a qualified surgeon had no marital problem to report, But bad people behind me would say that I was married to Surgery and had two girlfriends i.e. 1. The Barretta Rifle and 2. The very pretty, the Green Mini Cooper, the sports car.

Around mid night a old lady was wheeled in. She was in deep coma.The GP had sent her in as a case of Acute Renal Failure. Patient was anuric for 2 days. We had our doubts, her skin colour was'' muddy’, the picture did not fit into the diagnosis of a Renal Failure. There was no way to confirm as the lab would not open till 7AM.John was senior, his decision was to give the benefit of doubt and start Dialysis. Roberta was the expert in dialysis, she suggested "Peritoneal Dialysis “till the morning. Done, but the patient showed no improvement, she was steadily sinking.

8 AM daylight flooded in and to our horror we saw the patient was deeply jaundiced as diagnonised in lab. Reports arrived to confirm very high degree of jaundice and liver failure and also secondary renal failure. Diagnosis of severe hepatic infection, probably viral was reported. The lady died within hours.

Post mortem was on the next day, we three attended postmortem showed deep yellow coloured shrunk liver. The pathologist informed that liver infection was of viral nature and highly lethal. It was acute yellow atrophy of liver [acute viral necrosis of liver]   and were we careful?

Knowing what it meant, we three hugged each other, eyes were moist. We can only   wait and pray.

Hospital board was considerate. We three, who it was thought were badly exposed to the lethal infection in course of our duty were granted off duty with full salary with advice to expose ourselves to fresh air as much as possible. For three of us together it was trips to Parks/ Gardens/sea shores. In ten days we became very close till on the 11th day Roberta fell ill and showed signs of jaundice.

Roberta had handled the patient most and came down with Jaundice on the 11th day of the exposure, which rapidly progressed; she was dead on the 10th day of onset.

I still remember her teary eyes prodding me  to pray to our Indian Gods  to save her,  It was our Lord Krishna  that she wanted me to pray to  .One of our  Indian lady anesthetist   had the "Gita"  and read for hours daily on her bedside till the very pious girl died. Roberta was one of the prettiest among the girls that I ever saw and of a very sweet nature, She was part-German (Austrians are of German origin) and part English [mother was English] spoke English with a sweet lilting austro-german  accent, which made her more attractive, she was a devoted Christian had the Bible under her pillow always was sorry to see her go.

John was next. He had exchange transfusion, survived, but became a hepatic cripple.

After 3 years when I was returning back to India, went to say Good bye to him -- saw a broken man trying to come back in terms with life. His girl had left him, refusing to live a life with a cripple. (P.S. I went and saw John again in 1970 when I went to   Europe to train in Sports Medicine. Pleasant surprise!!: John had a successful liver  transplant, was back to the profession, and married the girl who nursed him when he was very sick. Roberta was always in our mind, always felt the decision to start dialysis was wrong. Our friend would have been alive if we didn't.

 After 3 weeks of the exposure, it was my turn to develop jaundice. The hospital treated me well.I was  allotted the best cabin to stay with a 24 hour nurse in attendence,later learnt that the Medicine dept had worked overtime tirelessly and had brought me back from hepatic   coma.I was an inpatient for nearly  one month.

I was   granted three month's leave with full pay plus the sickness   benefits which doubled my salary  after my release from the hospital bed.I survived probably because as a trained surgeon I could maintain  a clinical distance  from the patient and received a milder dose  of the infection.

I was released after a month's stay in the indoor, had the offer to stay in the residency as long as wished but decided to move to London and prepare for the tough primary FRCS exam. [Took the exam. and passed the primary during the leave period]

Patel Aunty’s Boarding house in North of London:

An Indian friend had fixed it up for me.I drove in, in my luxury sports car, the green beauty Mini Cooper. The Guest House owner Mrs. Patel  was  every boarders' Auntiji.She was obese, dark and always wore a sweet smile,  was mighty pleased to see me.Nobody ever drove to her guest house in a luxury car/no body with a fat salary of a Registrar ever lived in her house. Immediately I became her 'Beta" and she promised to do everything that was possible, the best room would be mine with heating and with independent bath and toilet. A very good offer. She would  charge a very reasonable rate i.e.10 pounds per week, full board i.e. Bread breakfast & dinner [BBD] with a promise to serve two extra eggs with my breakfast. (somebody whispered she charges the others 5 pounds a week).

It was a large 4-story house in the Gilders Green area of North West London, not a fashionable area, inhabited by the Jewish and the south Asians. Auntiji’s boarders were essentially Gujjus, jobless in search of jobs or   petty employees in petty jobs. Few were students.   

The house stank - smell of cooking with Indian spices was in every corner of the big and ancient house. Every boarder stank.Auntiji would not supply hot water for bathing   without a shilling per bucket which few could afford, so few bathe and freely stank. The whole house was teeming with ill-clad Indians,beds were all over .A room fit for 4 had about 10 beds on the floor,all the corridors were lined with benches converted to beds.The whole house  was full of humans,kept me wondering where the oxygen came from for them to breath ? Doors and windows were all shut because of the intense cold outside.All the men had come from ,mainly India but also from east Pakistan and Ceylon and were looking for jobs or higher education , everybody was with shallow pockets.

My room was big with a clean and comfortable bed, but I had to jump back immediately after opening the door of the bath room-it needed massive cleaning.Auntiji looked after that.

Dinner at night was a Gujju meal, tasty veg meal, tasted well after years of bland English meals of the hospital restaurant. But shock was at midnight when I woke up at midnight. As the light was switched on -- low and behold two men wrapped in blankets without pillows were fast asleep on the floor. Auntiji was called, her apartment was next door, so???  " bechara log jobless hai, kaha jayega thorato maan leo beta"

Next day I spent the whole day in the Royal college of Surgeons  library preparing for the  exam. In the evening returned, to the Guesthouse, tired and hungry, entered my room. My expensive Duffle coat was gone. Shouting, screeming followed but nothing happened, till a Punjab-lad walked in through the main door wearing the coat. He certified the coat to be very good and promised to accept it if I ever wish to gift away the coat.

That was the final straw.

Decided to quit, at the land lady Patel Aunti's dismay, she was very unhappy to see her prestigious and prized customer with the expensive car go.

The librarian of Royal College of England helped me to find a London University flat, centrally heated which I kept till I left England.


[Life at the London University flat later. Every episode of the story is true stories.]


Rathin Datta, FRCS (England, Edinburgh & Glasgow).FFIMS (Athens) 

Padmashree Awardee, winner of the Bangladesh liberation war honour 



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