Dr. Sonal Kalia
Years ago, during my MBBS second year, I had to travel once in a night long bus ride and to ensure
safety my mother requested a saintly looking elderly lady to sit with me instead of sitting next to her
husband. The shabbily dressed scary guy who had noticed a girl coming to sit with him now had an
elderly gentleman next to him. I thought I would sleep peacefully while seated with such an
affectionate looking woman. But the woman started asking me about how medical sciences were
taught to us.
I was tired and was just looking forward to taking a nap but her intelligent questions surprised me.
She asked me if I had started learning to treat patients. I told her I was a second year medical
student and had just begun learning to examine patients in paediatrics and ophthalmology – and in
the ﬁrst year there was no contact at all with patients. She said do you want to become a good
doctor? I answered yes with a yawn wanting to say “Aunty please sleep so I can attend morning
classes and actually increase my chances of becoming a good doctor”. She said “I am not a medical
teacher beta but want to teach you to treat the person and not a part only”. She asked me to touch and treat patients’soul as well as the body.
I felt like running away to my original seat because becoming a doctor of the human body is so
seemingly difficult and she wanted me to treat the intangible human soul as well. How do you even
examine the soul? Is there a 15th edition of Harrison’s principles of human soul?
But she went on that often humans smile in pain and some can’t smile despite any pain and that’s all
caused by one’s soul. She said everyone has a story – someone who will come to you for pain in
abdomen may have lost her young son in war and is consequently in grief for him. I hope you
become a doctor who sees the full picture. That made bit of sense to me also but I was counting
hours left to sleep also. I was an immature 19-20 yr old thinking of how to ace the examinations and
get highest marks. She went onto speak of emotions, God, faith, family, circle of life, love and such
topics. I tried my best to understand her words as she went on till we almost reached our
destination. I told her that I was thankful for her life lessons though due to my age I may not have
comprehended them fully.
In the ward posting that week, we met a patient with a liver disease on road to recovery. Despite
being emaciated and yellow with jaundice he was smiling and cracking jokes in the local vernacular.
The very next week we had our viva voice ward leaving exam and I thought I’ll note that patient’s
details in record ﬁle before the test. On reaching his bed I learnt he had died few hours ago. Feeling
slightly numb I walked out and saw his young daughter cry. My eyes welled up and I called home to
just speak to my parents who encouraged me to read a book or watch a movie and to divert my
mind. They told me as doctors we’ll face more instances of fragility of life and so we have to be
compassionate yet braver each moment. It shouldn’t affect our efficacy in next patient when we
practice later because we have to do our best for each patient.
Their prudent advice made sense and I walked up to a nearby book shop in the lunch break. My eyes
rested instantly on Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. I bought it to read after classes.
That day after dinner I spent several hours reading Tuesdays with Morrie Schwartz. As I read I
remembered the lady who had kept me awake all night exhorting me to become a better doctor.
The life lessons given to the author made sense and I vowed to stay close to my family instead of
chasing the American Dream the USMLE way. I knew I wouldn’t become a doctor of the soul along
with body but at least I could try to see the feeling side of a patient’s ailment and try to understand
I tore the picture of the expensive German cars that adorned the side of my bed as I realised that
these weren’t the right ultimate goals. Not to say I won’t attempt to buy the car but associating
happiness with it seemed frivolous. Reading that book, I realised the value of time that we have left
and how to attempt to maximise it with beauty and positivity instead of holding onto grudges. The
importance of letting go small things and holding onto bigger things dawned on me. I smiled and
cried while reading that book.
That night in 2004 changed my perspective about lot of things. I wished to have such a teacher some
day but didn’t want him to die with a slow disease! The concept of living funeral became endearing
because everyone says good things about the recently deceased, then why not say them when the
person is alive? We all crave for appreciation and the soul or heart is more important than the
physical body is what I understood with great clarity. Simple chapter titles like love or perish remain
in my heart forever.
The lady in the bus wanted to emphasise that to the budding doctor within me but Mitch Albom
etched that on the heart and soul of the person that I was. I won’t say I became an overnight saint
but my cutting edge competitiveness softened a bit and I started seeing the emotional side with
more lucidity than before. I started looking at the long term impact of smaller things and my
reactions started changing slowly over time. Just accept who you are and revel in it is so profoundly
I re-read the book in 2011 during challenging times and the wisdom of the book helped me make
decisions that gave much more happiness than holding onto negativity could ever give. “Dying is
only one thing, living unhappily is just another” is so impeccably true. Saying that this book is a gold
mine would be an understatement. It not just touched me in indescribable ways it changed me over
time. I am deﬁnitely a much better doctor after understanding the beautiful life lessons therein. Love
is how you stay alive even after you are gone is something we all know yet how many are willing to
create that kind of love?
I just hope one day I can pass on the lessons learnt from Morrie and my legacy has that kind of love
and positivity to those around me. Like professor Morrie I hope I can dance as if no one is watching ,
love as if I have never been hurt before, sing as though no one can hear me and live as though
heaven is on earth!