Bangalore, Karnataka, India
As I tuned in to the announcement on March 24th, 2020 that India would be completely locked down for next three weeks to flatten the curve of coronavirus spread, my heart skipped a beat and then almost sank.
I spent a sleepless night trying to understand my reaction of experiencing a weird void inside me after the announcement. The next day during breakfast, the reason for the sinking feeling became evident: no clinical work for the next three weeks. My life in medicine for the past twenty years has been so deeply ingrained with work and learning that I would not be surprised if I had developed a new kind of gene that could be termed the “happy with all work and no play” gene!
I found myself deeply lost, thinking about how I would live without operating for the next three weeks. I was left with no choice but to plan how I could best use this forced vacation. I spoke to a few of my plastic surgery colleagues and they told me that they were either reading plastic surgery books or attending webinars on plastic surgery. I decided to chalk out my own strategy. I decided to take these three weeks to slow down my life, to rewind and rejuvenate myself, and come back a stronger and better human being. The best way for me to do so was to pursue my hobbies, for which I never had time after starting to work. I tried to minimize my social media exposure to curb negativity, made five paintings, wrote two poems, did bird-watching from my terrace, read four novels, and spent some quality time with my daughter, besides trying to stay fit and experimenting with food. I must admit that there was some initial restlessness while I was trying to implement my plan, but slowly over a week, the weird void gave way to a calm. As I pursued my hobbies and took out time for introspection, I realized that the process of becoming a doctor makes one so work-centric that it becomes difficult to imagine our lives without it.
I was able to give ample time to my daughter and listened to her stories, playing and even dancing with her. My hobbies allowed me to remain in touch with core plastic surgery skills, although in an offbeat way. Painting kept me occupied with planning and thinking out of the box, improving endurance by requiring me to be seated for long periods of time, aiming for finesse and precision, much like operating. Poetry fired up my imagination and improved my vocabulary; bird watching furthered my patience, as many a times the birds flew away just as I was about to click the photographs and I had to wait to get a perfect shot. Besides this, bird watching sharpened my ability to respond quickly.
Lockdown also reinforced a core principle of plastic surgery, of being able to “mold” according to the requirements of the situation. One makes plans, but things may go differently on the operating table, requiring us to adapt and do something very different from what we planned initially.
I enjoyed this brief time of a slower pace in life and its simple but profound lessons. Overall, the lockdown was an unparalleled opportunity to connect with my core self and rejuvenate it, to emerge as a better human being and a better plastic surgeon. The calm that the lockdown has made me experience will be relished for years, long after the lockdown is over. The holiday, even though it felt like a forced one initially, has come to my life as pre-monsoon showers, or “mungaru maley” as they call it in Kannada, with fond memories to last me for a lifetime.
|Figure 1 – A painting of my daughter and me that I started 2 years back but could complete only this year during the lockdown.||Figure 2 – Painting recreating Neelakurinji (A flower that blooms once in 12 years) bloom of 2018 at Munnar, Kerela (Western Ghats).||Figure 3 – Painting recreating Mahamastakabhisheka of Bahubali (a Jain event held every 12 years that was last held in 2018) at Shravanbelagola, Karnataka.||Figure 4 – Painting recreating my birdwatching trip to Himalayas.|
NEHA CHAUHAN, MBBS, MS, MCh, is a plastic surgeon from India with special interest in cosmetic surgeries, history of medicine, and medical humanities. Dr. Chauhan believes that although the current generation of journals are doing excellent in publishing the scientific advancements of medicine, they are missing on the art and the humane aspect of medicine which is as essential as the scientific aspect of medicine and needs to be given due importance. Her hobbies include reading literature, history, stamp collection, numismatics, gardening, traveling, and listening to good music.
Declaration: All above paintings were made by the author during lockdown.