Impact that Tuesdays with Morrie had on me

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

his story.

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

true.

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!

3 Comments

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  1. 1
    Rahul Khandelwal

    Very well articulated article, its so nice to know someone cares to become a positive minded doctor rather than being another one in the race of lemmings. If you can practice even 1% of what you’ve written (touch even 1% souls in your lifetime of practice), I believe you would achieve much more happiness compared to endless money and riches.
    Kudos for your thought process, may all doctors be inspired.
    All the best,
    Rahul

    1+
  2. 3
    Jayshree

    Dear Sonal, this time your thought process, your perception left me speechless. I could sense d truthfulness in your description. You talked abt..touching n healing invisible souls not ony oral n visible wounds, about compassion not only ambition, about basic humanity, about love, gratitude,about valuing of relationships than materialistic things, abt forgiveness and appreciation than keeping grudges throughout life.
    U inspired positivity, humanity, love, gratitude, and contentment and happiness.
    And ofcourse you inspired me reading d book..’Tuesdays with Moorie’ as well.
    Your review really touched and portrayed the human aspects (not only in general, but it also showcased you as a soulful, compassionate person as well) and not just the knowledge or intelligence.
    Yess i did enjoyed your review, may be bcoz wht you shared here, u had actually lived tht..n may b bcoz it’s about us humans.
    Thanks…Jayshree

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