The Surgical Irony

What does it mean for a doctor to be afflicted with the very affliction they have spent a lifetime treating?

“He noticed an unusual tremor in his hand while operating, and that is when he decided to get himself an MRI, as soon as he finished the surgery,” a friend informed me, speaking about a mentor of mine whose scan revealed a high-grade brain cancer. “For someone who was operating on a tumour the same day it was diagnosed in him, it must have been devastating,” he deduced. My mentor was a renowned brain tumour surgeon, crisp and meticulous in extricating tumours from every crevice of the brain, as he had over three decades. I trained with him a few years ago in North America and we operated for long hours together, me tiring much earlier than him, and I was exactly half his age. He was kind and gentle and revered by all those whose lives he touched.

“It is a sad day indeed when one of our own falls victim to the disease we fight daily,” another senior colleague commented in an email, encouraging the neurosurgical community to send prayers and healing vibes his way for a speedy recovery. It made me wonder what it must feel for doctors to be afflicted by the very affliction they’ve been trained to treat. We know every single hidden truth of that ailment, and more often, the focus is on the negative than the positive, especially if the diagnosis involves a malignancy. We know what can go wrong with surgery, the side effects of radiation and chemo, and, worst of all, the finality of the outcome. And in addition, we are surrounded by colleagues who know the exact same things and yet infuse us with an indestructible spirit of hope, the one we are all expected to portray.

Knowing what we know about death and dying, it comes as no surprise that most doctors would not be willing to undergo the surgery we so effortlessly prescribe to our patients. We know enough about modern medicine to know its limits. And if we have a choice in how to go, we will choose to go gently – not with a tube thrust down our throats and someone thumping on our chests trying to revive a failing heart. I know of a doctor who has had the words DO NOT RESUSCITATE tattooed across his chest.

I wonder what it is that afflicts doctors with the very thing they aim to heal in others, and how it affects them when it does. How does an eye surgeon live the last few years of his life having gone blind? How does a movement disorder specialist come to terms with debilitating Parkinson’s? How does an obstetrician deal with her own miscarriage or a psychiatrist with his own bipolar? How does a spine surgeon recover from being paralysed from a large disc herniation or a vertebral fracture? And yet, it seems harmless and okay to poke fun at a urologist dealing with his own erectile dysfunction or a proctologist who has an anal fissure.

It is possible that there are spiritual laws at play here. There must be a deep karmic attachment to what one desires most in life, and the only way to be truly free is to be completely annihilated by it – a little bit like being in love, isn’t it? That is why when doctors survive an illness, they value the suffering of their patients even more. That is why when anyone survives a critical illness, they view life from a different perspective. Leo Tolstoy once famously said, “One must put oneself in every one’s position. To understand everything is to forgive everything.”

Dr. Madhuri Behari, once the head of the Neurology department at AIIMS, had a stroke while on rounds and was immediately given a clot buster from which she thankfully recovered completely and is still active in practice. In contrast, Dr. Jagjit Singh Chopra, another illustrious neurologist, suffered a stroke while moderating a session at a neuroscience conference; he succumbed in his own ICU, after battling complications of the attack for over a month. Dr. Sorab Bhabha, a benevolent neurologist, passed away from motor neuron disease at the still flourishing age of 52.

The Dr. Ernest Borges road was named after one of India’s greatest surgeons, who spent his life treating cancer at the Tata Memorial hospital; he was struck by carcinoma of the stomach, the very disease he worked so hard to alleviate. Dr. Katy Dinshaw, a leading radiation oncologist who was the director of Tata Memorial Hospital for over a decade, died of cancer herself. Dr. Arun Kurkure, a highly respectable and well-known onco-surgeon, passed away after a two-year struggle with colon cancer. Dr. Nitu Mandke, an eminent city cardiac surgeon, died from a massive heart attack. Legendary cardiologist Dr. BK Goyal, who headed the department at Bombay Hospital, succumbed to a cardiac arrest. Dr. KT Dholakia, a towering orthopaedic surgeon, died after a prolonged illness that resulted from a fracture. The ongoing pandemic has sucked the air out of several intensivists and pulmonologists who fell victim to the virus.

This first of July, we celebrated something called Doctor’s Day. There was an unusual outpouring of love and affection for doctors this year on social media, most of it because of COVID. We were thanked profusely for soldiering the coronavirus war we’ve been fighting, and transiently made to feel like superheroes. And then, as it always happens, a few doctors were beaten up over the next couple of days for a patient who was brought in dead at some hospital and could not be revived. When we are not dying from the diseases we treat, we are dying from injustice and inhumanity and undignified violence – in our country at least.

This year, let’s choose to change things around. Like the famous quote goes, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Don’t curse us; as you can tell, we are already adequately cursed. Instead, pray for us. Pray with us. Pray that we get better in our ability to treat you. Pray that we always do the right thing. And, if you can, spare a few moments and say a little prayer for my mentor as well – a noble man who spent his life healing others. Prayer, if done sincerely, has the capacity to transform, harmonize, and rejuvenate.

“Men die of the diseases which they have studied most. It’s as if the morbid condition was an evil creature which, when it found itself closely hunted, flew at the throat of its pursuer,” wrote a surgeon in a story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who gave up the practice of medicine to write stories (for which he was more highly paid) and who, thankfully, died a natural death.

I wonder if I will die operating or writing. Either way, I’ll have a table to lie on.


71 Comments on “The Surgical Irony
  • Dr. Akanksha Sharma says:

    This was such an emotional read. Beautifully written! Appreciate how powerful this is. It speaks for many doctors out there who haven’t been able to find the words to convey their feelings.

  • Dr Indu Bansal says:

    This is a heart rendering piece. Such a sensitive issue touched so gently. My prayers and best wishes for your mentor and wishing that no doctor has to ever see such hard times. Wish we could heal everyone with a magic wand.

  • Dr Ferzin Elavia says:

    Sad but true, excellent write up

  • Supriya Correa says:

    Mazda, if we go just by the love your patients and the community has for you, the lives you have saved and the blessings and goodwill you have earned, you will live a long and magnificent life.

  • Chanda says:

    Dear Dr. Mazda,
    You’ve truly given us this Sunday to ‘THINK’.
    This time, your article got me so emotional, involuntarily shed tears.
    Thank you Doc!

  • Vipul shah says:

    Dear Mazda sir………..

    Very well written with number of examples the
    Sensitive subject of what’s going inside the treating
    Doctors mind …..

    Anything can happen anytime has direct karmic theory as rightly referred by you sir …..
    I am not happy about last two lines at all …….
    Please write very positive about your good selves Sir……….. please

  • Hiten dadia says:

    Dear sir,
    Awesome just don’t have words to explain
    Keep writing it throws lot of light on things we don’t see or realise

  • Manoj MALKAN says:

    Excellent article on Doctors’ lives and miseries. You are absolutely right saying that Doctors realize patients’ pain and discomfort Only when they themsepass thru that stage. I know what a mild Covid 19 infection has done to me.

  • Dr shailesh mehta. says:

    Very well narrated the reality of a life ..
    With examples.
    We endlessly advise and treat our patients,
    But when the disease strikes us, very few of us realize that ..we are more vulnerable to the disease than anyone the amount of stress a doctors life is tremendous.during the course of his practicing years.
    Well done ..Dr turel!

  • Khyati says:

    Dear Doctor

    May you live long.
    We should be thankful for everyone we have around us and everything we have.somewhere we forgot to be grateful and covid wave made many people realise it.

    Today’s article really a “Point to Socho”

    Prayers for all.

  • Leah G says:

    My Dearest Dr Mazda,

    Thank you for another touching piece of writing. May your beloved mentor find the right kind of healing for themselves.

    Thank you for shedding light on this issue of which I’m unaware. I read somewhere that (as I paraphrase) “whatever you focus on grows”. Could this be a spiritual contributory factor? Of course we’ll never know for sure but there we are.

    I will remember doctors in my daily prayers forthwith.

    And in perfect Dr Mazda Keki Turel style, you end your piece humorously! Thank you very much Dr Mazda.

  • Anjali Patki says:

    A bit dark but also a true observation. As a child, my grandfather’s dear friend, cardiologist Dr Date would visit our home each Sunday with his red bowtie and great personality. And when he expired of heart attack, as a child I wondered how. Only maturity made me realise, doctors are human too. Wishing you, Dr Mazda, a long, healthy, happy life. And may we keep enjoying your articles for years together.

  • Hutoxi Doodhwala says:

    One more beautifully written piece by you Mazda!
    Totally agree that doctors should be treated with respect. I firmly believe that doctors take the place of God on this earth and help heal the sick and ailing .
    May you be blessed with Good Health, Success and Happiness always .
    Will surely pray for your mentor!

  • Upendra Sholapurkar says:

    Very well put the cry of doctors. They are also humans constantly in negative environment affecting their mental prowess. The professionals should try on – off tactic and pursue some hobby/ hobbies. When surgeon or specalist come out of Hosp/ clinic he should forget that he is so & so, till tomorrow.
    Keep writing please- father of a Neuro Surgeon

  • Avinash Karnik says:

    Dear Dr. Mazda
    It was very heartening to notice that you have taken up a very valid and just view point for the entire fraternity of medical practitioners when some of the doctors are abused and attacked by relatives of the patients. The doctors who in spite of doing their best to save the lives of all the patients sometimes fail to do so. Hope we the public, show better understanding and stop blaming the doctors for the death of a few patients. We must understand that doctors are also human beings and not Gods. And your belief in prayers makes you a humble, down to earth human being besides being a very good neurosurgeon. I’m touched to read this article.

  • Marzian Mowji says:

    Some how the irony of the a doctor’s plight is frightening. I am thankful that, knowing what you all know, you still take up the profession. I personally have always had great respect for doctors, especially your father, for treating me and being there when I needed him. God bless you all.

  • Dr Jayant Apte says:

    A wonderful thoughtful article ,
    Goes on to show life is fickle ;
    Does disease take revenge on the specialist ,
    By adding one more in its significant list ;
    How one ends up is queer and devine ,
    Enjoy to carry on one’s duty is ultimate fine .

  • Sarosh Shroff says:

    Thank God for doctors of your caliber, your dedication, your integrity, your compassion, your natural ability to lift up the spirits of a patient who is drowning. Doctors succumbing to the very disease they fight has been established through time. I salute the great men who have persevered in fighting for humanity, in face of long odds.
    In return all your patients and their families can offer you are their gratitude and blessings from deep within.
    God Bless you Mazda and your mentor.

  • Gladys T K Kokorwe says:

    Hmm! So touching. Your article left me so emotional. You guys do a great job. You are very right, we have to pray for you, each one of you.

    You are not cursed doctor, you are highly blessed.
    Continue to do the good job that you do my doc.
    I’m praying for you and will always remember you in my prayers. May God bless you.

  • Dr. gurudutt Satyendranath bhat says:

    As fine a piece of writing as any I have ever read.You should follow sir dr Arthur Conan Doyle and write your book at the earliest.Thank you for this and here’s wishing you a happy long healthy n fulfilling life my friend.

  • dr ashok nyayadhish says:

    Excellent piece of writing and the theme probably we are still puppets of the divine at the end of the day.

  • Dr Vineeta goel Radiation oncologist says:

    Beautiful and honest expression

    Hard hitting

    Very engaging

  • Dr Amar Methwani says:

    Very True.
    The Cause of it appears me that it is spiritual.
    While working in any field at the peak of the work,a negative thought comes in the mind and so he/she gets the negative result.

    So ,I will advice to chant the name of God with light music in the OT, chamber,working place.

    God Bless Everyone

  • Phillie Karkaria says:

    Dear Mazda,
    Excellent, thought provoking article. True to life and had a humane touch. It shows that, in the eyes of the Almighty, we are all very vulnerable. Nevertheless, a touching piece of work. More power to your pen. Keep up your good work

  • Dr. Huzaifa Farzan Khan says:

    Wow.. Such a nice write up.
    Such a sensitive topic so eloquently expressed!
    I will pray for your mentor for sure,
    But you well be there in my prayers always as a friend and as one of the mentors.

    Thank-you very much…

  • Zarine Pastakia says:

    This one cut deep. But then the truth and Madame la Karma often do.

    Yes i remember going to Dr Dinshaw at Tata Centre (Cooperage) for my aunt’s onco radiation sessions. I remember the sentient numbness i felt when i later heard about her succumbing to the Big C herself.
    {{ }}
    Silent scream.

    Through the years I’ve blessed and prayed for the doctors who’d helped me heal. How some like my cardiologist would say.. how difficult things (and people) were getting 😨.. folks hardly considering Doctors’ needs or state of physical / mental well being.

    I remember my own GP .. a bit hotheaded and outspoken but with a heart of gold ..
    his clinic overflowing with the poor who he’d treat for free or peanuts ..
    For a change i was once privy to HIS woes ..dealing with the death of a precious one.. managing his life n stress which culminated in psoriasis. .
    I’d oft just go see him.. to say hello hear him speak about his annual holiday..

    I called him each year on his birthday (a month before yours)..
    He’d proudly say .. i am 80..something today .. still in good health . Still working..
    He’d be one of the first callers on my birthday. .💜

    In Feb this year i was a bit jolted by the news of his passing. . Diagnosed in Dec 2020 with cancer which snowballed ..
    The thought of this great Healer (who had healed countless seekers of succour) lying alone in a hospi bed in the icu ..and finally succumbing in Feb this year.. killed me.
    Over n over.
    Prayed for his soul peace.
    RIP Doc Nosh ❤

    Another GP i know is a saviour to humanity. . (As are you all😊)
    Esp during these times..wen he risked his life each day .. he contracted covid wen two old people reached out to him (after other doctors refused to come to their home as both had covid)
    Prayers to snatch him away from Yamraj were mercifully answered!

    The list goes on.

    Loved that comment from one reader ..
    Didn’t like the last 2 lines
    And the other.. with all your fine work and our blessings . .you’ll be ok Doc.

    All i know is .. we just have to keep forging ahead and doing good ..
    As much as we can..
    To however many as we can..
    In spite of whoever and whatever befalls us..

    Go on as long as you are able
    Table or no table 😉
    With nary a thought of what is hunting you
    Your bestest intentions n deeds will see you through
    Three chairs for all the Good you do!!!

    ..Hip hip
    hoooMADZUrayyyyyy !

    Repeat thrice !

    Blessings upon the souls .. of your mentor
    And all the others 🪂🌈

    Blessings upon your soul Dr Mazda. .and all healers true!

    May folks awaken and arrow their kindness n understanding to you all too!

  • Sanjay says:

    A sensitive topic dealt with greater sensitivity. Great job Dr Turel.

  • Aspi Aibara... says:

    A few months back..DR GODREJ WANKADIA.. HOMEOPATH…..sent me ur write-up..
    He told me to follow ur write-up..It’s very interesting..
    I received on Whatsapp group..ur write-up..
    It was really a piece of writing…Was wondering ..even Doctors write so emotional.. touching articles….

  • Benifer Irani says:

    God bless and kindness will be rewarded !!


    Excellent! God bless you!

  • Rita singh says:

    A touchy tale doctor.I personally feel what a difficult world it would b if there were no doctors.U r real one , the sincerest in my knowledge , God always bless you for ur sincerity towards those u treat and u,ll never b afflicted by any health problems.I ,ll pray for ur mentor may he get blessings for all the people he cured.

  • Anil Parakh says:

    Very well written Dear Mazda. After reading this article, I remember Dr P K Jhawar, a renowned surgeon at Bombay Hospital, teacher of many surgeons who are big name now, suffered from CA Pancreases . ( ampulla ) We have seen operating him hundreds of same variety of CA. Unfortunately he succumbed to same at USA.
    Being an Anaesthesiologist many time I am confused what is best for me if suppose I required anaesthesia for a small operation which can be done under spinal Anesthesia and General anaesthesia?will I allow someone to touch my spine or safely take GA?
    All your articles when I read – I can make out that you write them by heart not just to write an article. I wish you happy, safe and healthy life and pray healing for all the healers

  • Veena Pandit says:

    What a beautifully penned article! It must be devastating to get the very disease you have helped your patients to conquer. I am an Anaesthesiologist & for my TKR, I could only remember all the things that can possibly go wrong.
    We pray for your mentor. And pray for success for all the medicos. Thanks Dr Turel.

  • Dr. Arvind Vartak says:

    Very emotional but true.
    We have witnessed almost all of those you have mentioned.
    I only hope that I don’t die of Burn Ijury. 😁😀

    Best wishes Dr. Mazda for many Progressive years ahead.

  • Lois Juma says:

    This is so touching . I pray that your mentor will be healed by the grace of God. I join humanity in thanking you and all Doctors around the world for all that you do to ease suffering. God bless you.

  • Zarin Jasumani Bahmani says:

    Dear Mazda, this was a soul searing piece, quiet unlike your usual cheerful jottings.
    Will pray for your mentor and for all the doctors who are working tirelessly in these difficult times knowing fully well that they could be the next casualty in the covid list.
    May you and your family lead a long healthy fruitful life.

  • Kashmira Kakalia says:

    Beautifully penned as always.
    Your mentor will be in my prayers.
    Good luck and best wishes always 👍
    Keep writing, keep healing, and continue spreading joy,…

  • sharad vishnu prabhudesai says:

    Very sad but true.Only pediatrician will not suffer from the diseases he was treating!

  • John Doe says:

    Thank you Dr for opening an interesting can of worms. Gives me the goose bumps, having a think about it. Admire your lucid style of writing. It is as clinically precise as it is refreshing and inspiring. Hand on heart, it reads straight out of the New Yorker and hope someday soon, they find you and ask you to be a regular contributing writer.

  • Mahashweta Biswas says:

    Beautifully written article Mazda. Emotional. Prayers are with your colleague & his family, they stay strong together.

    You have spoken for your entire fraternity n yes it was indeed shameful, the life savers were beaten badly which was very disgusting. Take care

  • Dr Hareendra Purohit says:

    Prayers do work. Do what is expected of you as a doctor, give your Best. At least Do not do any harm. Being an Orthopaedic surgeon, I have always felt that it is an opportunity to serve, treat and cure.A doctor is like any other individual, to get afflicted with the disease one treats day in out is a coincidence. My prayer to God for speedy recovery of your mentor

  • Bapsy Bengali says:

    The article was very informative and touching. Doctors are a boon to humanity. This was an eye opener. Heartfelt thanks for all that you do. God bless you with a healthy long life.

  • Anahita Dubash says:

    Mazda God willing you have still a lot of time serving yr patients before you think of a table to lie on!! God bless you and all the Doctors who are the real heroes in this world.


    Speedy recovery to your mentor Mazda.
    Beautifully penned article as always!! Keep writing as you write from the heart to heal us all.
    You are TRULY loved for who you are .

  • Navzer Irani says:

    A true hero amongst men and at such an early age. Written with wisdom gathered by realisation and heartfelt right actions. A rare doctor that u actually want to go to happily.

  • Tozar Heerjee says:

    Beautifully written Dr Mazda Turel. GOD BLESS YOU & ALL DOCTORS.

  • Homi Irani says:

    You bring meaningfulness to the lives of the patients you touch ,
    You are truly blessed ,

  • Bond says:

    Wow !! Just too good . We all need to introspect and rethink our lives as our actions will make a huge difference
    Very nostalgic dr Turel
    Stay blessed
    Hope we can understand each other as human beings and overcome our problems together , making this world a better place and as physicians let’s initiate

  • Dr Milind Shah says:

    A truly heart clutching piece, toned just right to bring a lump in one’s throat!
    Many prayers for your mentor and may he recover peacefully 🙏

  • Dr devang desai says:

    So emotional , but beautifully drafted ! Dr Turel , u made me read it thrice ! To understand it fully , I will have to read it again. !! U gave meaning to everything we do daily . Superb👍👍

  • Dr Harikrishnan says:

    Dr Mazda, Your very sensitive piece of writing, and the equally empathetic responses by so many people, makes me believe in the current generation of doctors in India. May your tribe grow and flourish.

    As a practising surgeon for over four decades, I have seen enough to believe in two things: there is no greater truth than that we treat, He cures. Second, we simply need to carry on doing our best, without expecting any rewards, as the Gita says. Our reward is in the satisfaction we get of having done a job to the best of our capabilities.

    Keep practising, and please keep writing. It is quite obvious you have an excellent flair for both.

  • Dr Prachi says:

    Very well documented !
    Each line sounds practical !

  • Naresh Dr says:

    Truly a inspired write up. It captured the emotions of every doctors When he goes through the health crisis.
    Quite a few may not be aggressive in managing their own malignancy as compared to their patients. In fact , quite a few have accepted the inevitable rather than going through the dreaded chemotherapy.
    We accept the reality and many a times we are at peace at our decision.

  • Mahesh Lalla says:

    Simply beautiful, True and spiritual.
    Surely will add doctors in my prayers from now .
    Had armymen farmers and poor people in my prayers
    Doctors are second to God I guess
    An eye opener this beautifully penned true story
    God bless 🙏

  • Nawaz Homi Marker says:

    Mazda a beautifully penned thought provoking article. Doctors are demi-Gods. The deserve all our respect, love, reverence, prayers and blessings. Best wishes for your Mentor.

  • Gopal Lalmalani MD, MBA says:

    Such a well written piece; hats off to Dr. Mazda Turel. On a spiritual plane, these illnesses afflicting physicians have a karmic basis.

  • Shrutin Shetty says:

    Hey Mazda, you’ve beautifully expressed such a delicate topic. I hope you live well into the 100’s, buddy, so you can continue to pursue surgery and writing, both of which you are wonderful at. All the best!
    Wishing your mentor a healthy and speedy recovery! 🙏🏽


    This write-up is Excellent reflection of untold miseries every doctor .
    Afterall doctors are Human but become more Humane when survive an illness.

  • Mehrook says:

    A beautiful narrative. Truly Heartfelt.
    Best wishes and prayers for your mentor.
    You don’t need that table now. Think positive.
    Keep up the good work

  • Wes Rajaleelan says:

    Brilliant piece buddy !

  • Sarosh Bharucha says:

    Knowing your parents, I’m not surprised at your brilliance.
    You’re “the chip of the old black”.
    Keep up the good work. 👌

  • Dr Ajmer singh says:

    Excellent narrative.irefer to an inspiring case
    Dr inderjit virdi who did PG under me became
    Cardiac surgeon of great repute.carried out 10,000 procedures in his career .mid way
    He under went bypass surgery and continued with cardiac surgery.bypass surgery twice in one year now is engaged in writing his biography.rr

  • Di says:

    A touching article… got me emotional.. wonder why those doctors are afflicted with the illness that they hav been curing in others for so long.. like u said maybe karma or some spiritual laws… prayers for u, ur mentor and all doctors who are working tirelessly n saving countless lives.. delete the last line of the article.. u will live a long and healthy life.. God bless you!

  • Dr.Robert DaCosta says:

    Very well written. Makes the reader pause and take a step back. We’re all in this together and have to live by our destiny. Our prayers for all especially for your mentor.

  • Dhiraj Trivedi says:

    This was touching story. I would like to point here that there is some thing called subconscious mind. In Vedas it is written that see as you think and behave as you think. So I believe all this people will be constantly thinking of their speciality in unconscious mind which becomes reality in life. Though Scientific evidences are not available but we need to think in this direction. Spirituality and switching of on single thoughts is important.

  • Vikash kumar says:

    So touched..have lost my mentor to deadly Ca pancreas.. so I feel connected.. I know the feeling of not being able to do anything for a person you idolize.. my sincere prayers for your mentor.. the hunted attacking the pursuer- so true..

  • Sunita Masani says:

    You are a master craftsman ..
    your words unfailingly bring me to tears, so eloquent..

  • T George Koshy says:

    Loved the ending..remember I told u about my classmate who had MND.

  • Subashri Shivkumar says:

    Beautifully written and heart touching !! I’m always filled with gratitude for all the wonderful doctors who have treated and cured me and my loved ones and so many other patients as well !!

  • Adi Engineer says:

    Wow Mazda, you have outdone yourself. This is a Masterpiece. It is oozing with emotion. The reader feels dumbstruck. May you live long and enjoy a purposeful and satisfying life. USHTA TE ( BLISS BE YOURS)
    😌 Adi Engineer

  • Kashmira Kapadia says:

    Dr Turel both your hands play a vital role as you operate with a knife to heal a patient and simultaneously you also hold the pen in your hands to express thought provoking messages which are emotional and make an individual ponder what is life .


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