The Surgical Geriatrics

Appointments with two Parsi ladies offer lessons about ageing well—and on your own terms

Gulnar and Armaity had a combined age of 175 years. Together, they were as old as the iconic Sir JJ Hospital that their ancestors had built. Both were in their late 80s and were like each other’s appendages. The two Parsi ladies always accompanied each other for their respective medical consults. Armaity looked like Jon Bon Jovi’s mother, with fair skin and a bouncy salt and pepper bob cut. Gulnar, who was fondly called Gul by her friends (because she kept getting lost on the foreign trips she took with them) was like an adorable, huggable Shih Tzu transformed into a zesty Parsi aunty. They gingerly supported each other onto the chairs in front of me in my consultation room.

“I have had this horrible back pain for the past 20 years,” Armaity told me. “My buttocks are sore, my legs tingle, and I just can’t walk anymore!” she sounded exasperated. I assessed her in detail and told her she had severe compression in her lumbar spine. The MRI she had reluctantly done confirmed the same. “Your X-rays show that your spine is unstable, and we’ll have to fix it with screws if you consider surgery,” I explained. “Surgery at 87 is ok?” she asked trepidatiously. “Only if you want to live to be a hundred!” I said. “I don’t mind!” she exclaimed, her Parsi genes kicked in, “but not in this pain.” “Then let’s operate on you and fix it once and for all,” I proposed. “But people say all these bad things about spine surgery…” she further cautioned. “That’s because all those who’ve had successful surgery are too busy enjoying their lives and don’t have time to talk about how good they feel, but the handful of negative outcomes keep getting amplified,” I reasoned.

“I also have back pain,” Gul intervened. “Do you also want surgery?” I joked. “I’m a surgical veteran,” she told me. “I had an emergency perforated appendix and had to fly back from my vacation in the Andaman,” she started. “Luckily, you weren’t lost at that time, and they found you,” I did masti with her. “Then I had surgery for diverticulitis, where they removed two feet of my intestine,” she said, completely ignoring me and trying to complete her story. “I had a pouch coming out of my stomach for 9 months, which they finally internalized,” she made a face. “Then, I had four dental surgeries interspersed with three falls, where I fractured my nose with blood splattered all over my face,” she animated the scene. “I also had four major hernias repaired, and recently, they found three polyps in my uterus, which they suspected was cancerous, so they removed the whole system including my tubes and ovaries, not that I need them anymore,” she flexed her biceps. “Never a dull moment in my life,” she explained, smiling. “So, for the time being, we’ll avoid your spine surgery,” I confirmed with a reciprocal smile. “You don’t even need one,” I confirmed after examining her and seeing her images. “We’ll put you onto a good physiotherapist and that should do it,” I assured her.

A couple of days later, we took Armaity to the operating room. I drilled out the bone and removed the thickened ligament pressing on her nerves, decompressing them meticulously. We put in some screws and connected them with titanium rods to realign the spine and give it back its native shape and form. “Even though you’ve put so much metal in my body, I feel 10 kilos lighter,” she told me when she came two weeks later for a checkup. “All the pain in my legs has vanished. My back is a bit sore, but I’m sure that’ll go too,” she said with relief. “I wish I had done this 10 years ago,” she concluded, reiterating what most patients say when they have spine surgery after avoiding it for as long as they can.

The elderly are one of my favourite people, because while they are the most vulnerable, they are also the toughest. They have accrued the wisdom and experience of several decades to know what’s best for them. The youngsters who accompany them for a consult are often heard telling them to slow down or take it easy, which, I believe, is incorrect. The older you get, the more active you must be and the harder you need to exercise – physically and mentally.

Armaity thought for less than 5 minutes before she decided she wanted to have surgery. I remember so vividly a 95-year-old man who insisted I operate on him for a hematoma inside his head while his children suggested it was best for him to go peacefully. He calls me every year on his birthday to thank me for adding another precious year to his life. He is 98 now.

Three months later, Gulnar and Armaity walked into my clinic again. Armaity was limping and back to using the walking stick she had given up. She barely managed to seat herself onto the chair before lamenting, “I was doing so well after surgery, but one day, while I was taking a walk in the garden, this silly giant of a dog chasing a ball dashed right into me and I toppled over.” She winced in pain while I examined her. “Doesn’t look like anything’s broken,” I said, “but we’ll confirm it with an X-ray.” They came out to be clean. I gave her a few pills to take away the pain and asked her to come back in a few weeks.

“Give me also some medicines, na,” Gulnar, as usual, intervened. “All my friends are taking medication and I’m not taking a single pill. I feel left out!” she made a Shih Tzu face. Both Armaity and I looked at her as if she were cracked. But, then again, we are Parsi; if we don’t have some idiosyncrasy, we aren’t doing justice to our genes. “Give me some memory pills!” she requested. “My friends call me Gul Golmaal because I keep mixing up stuff.” I gave her some multivitamins to go through in her last decade.

Another three months later, the duo were back. Armaity had no stick and Gulnar was beaming. They looked like they were reverse ageing. I was amazed at their spirit, which they passed on to me both literally and metaphorically; they handed me a bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky. I pulled it out from the bag to take a look and reminded them to do what the bottle says. “What?” they asked. “Keep drinking?” “No,” I said, although I knew that was part of the reason they were so full of life. “Keep walking!” I pointed to the label. “You’re our Santa,” they thanked me, “and the best gift you gave us this Christmas was our health back.” “Happy New Year!” we wished each other, while doing a group hug, and I added, “May you both live to be a hundred!”

“I’m going to write an article about the both of you,” I warned.

P.S. Gul and Armaity are my mother’s friends and their names have intentionally not been changed, so if you see them on the street, or at CCI, or Willingdon, you can doff your hat to them. I promise you will recognize them from my description.

33 Comments on “The Surgical Geriatrics
  • Supriya Correa says:

    Adorable. National Treasures.

  • Dr Krish Sridhar says:

    Great writing – and reading!!! Waiting for next Sunday – Krish Sridhar Chennai

  • Arun Pushkarna says:

    This is such a wonderful description of a delightful encounter with these two lovely ladies!
    I am actually looking forward to bumping into them.
    Great Xmas and New Year gift, Mazda!
    I actually feel that I have two new gregarious and joyful friends in my life now!!

  • Dr Sujata Bitla says:

    You are a unique gift to your patients!

  • Zarine Talati says:

    Haha, nice one Mazda! The elderly are most vulnerable but the toughest is so true. well said!
    Ps: Right at the start by just looking at the pics I wondered if these were your mom’s friends ! Love their spirit !

  • Chanda says:

    What a lovely beginning of a lazy Sunday. Excellent Dr. / writer/ comedian/blessed Mazda.
    What a wonderful person your mother is to have such lovely friends.

  • kersi Naushir Daruvala says:

    Wow the old you get the wiser you become, hats off to these two wonderful women. I hope I meet them in parsi colony some day, Wishing them a long happy prosperous life. HAPPY NEW YEAR 2024.

  • Vispi mistry says:

    Mazda, this is the best story i have read yet in this xmas season. What an inspurTion they are to this 71 soon to be 72, friend of yours. Cheers and as you adviced tgem i too shall keep walking.

  • Bruce Blewett says:

    Excellent article Mazda – you are 100% right – the older you get the harder you must exercise both physically and mentally 👍😀😀

  • Dr Mahavir Gajani says:

    Very Well written Doc. Literally i could imagine them, the way u have described their personality 😉

  • Mrs. Quaghe says:

    Thank you for another fantastic and exciting article from Dr Mazda. We will keep walking as you advised.
    Happy Sunday. Martha Quaghe, Abuja Nigeria

  • Natwar Panchal says:

    Excellent article Dr. Mazda

  • Zerick Dastur says:

    Good one Mazda. A convergence of humour, medicine and Parsis in one place. Enjoyed reading.

  • Marzin R Shroff says:

    Mazda Turel, the maestro behind this surgical saga. With a scalpel in one hand and a pen in the other, you transform your patients’ journeys into stories that leave us in stitches—both from laughter and surgical precision. Bravo, Mazda, for turning the operating room into a stage where health meets humour!

    And while at it, a message for Gul and Armaity – Move aside, Marvel; we’ve got Gul Golmaal and Armaity, the Surgical Avengers! These ladies make life’s hurdles look like a sitcom. Forget capes, they conquer with sass and a sprinkle of surgical wisdom!”

  • Farokh Bharucha says:

    Mazda Turel you really are an excellent Dr. as
    well a writter also .
    God bless you

  • MANOJ MALKAN says:

    Parsees are full of life and positive attitude. They will face all adversities with courage and smile. No wonder they have such long life.

  • Anil Karapurkar says:

    Mazda I enjoyed your article. Some geriatrics are grumpy. Both your grannies had the Parsee zest for life. I had expected them to share the Johnny Walker with you

  • Cusrow Sadri says:

    Excellent article once again Doc. Brought tears in my eyes. I loved the pic of the 3 colourful young ladies with glares on top 😜😆👍

  • Anuradha Karnik says:

    Dear Mazda
    This article has truly warmed the circles of my heart! Inspiring and brilliant! Keep it up

  • Anuradha says:

    From Anuradha

    A typo error
    . It’s cockles and not circles. Sorry

  • Virendra Lokhande says:

    Sir, you are really great. Hats off to these old young ladies, their positive approach towards life.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New year.

  • Rita singh says:

    Dear doctor, a really enjoyable and inspiring read just before Christmas and new year,specially for senior readers like myself. Loved both ur aunts.

  • T George Koshy says:

    Beautifully written..loved reading it..merry Christmas and Happy new year to you and your family too Mazda..

  • Setu Ram says:

    A feel good story Dr!
    I bet they loved Jim Reeves 🙂
    Merry Christmas!!

  • Dr Ketan Desai says:

    Mazda, Beautifully narrated. You are a professional writer. Enjoy reading all your blogs!

  • Dr. Rafat Ansari says:

    The best part of life is to help the oldies live that lil extra where they wanna enjoy life like never b4! That bot is what makes u sooo sooo special.
    Stay blessed doc!
    Happy blessed December!

  • Muralidaran C says:

    Nice article … Very inspiring and beautiful narration…
    I always have a thought how to handle my old age..
    After reading this article felt good..
    Thanks and regards
    Dr.Muralidaran C

  • Goitse says:

    What a beautiful humorous story 🤩🤩 encouraging for some of us getting to those ages

  • Mahomed Mukadam (Mac) says:

    Dr Turel, thank you for sharing another gem. I feel a certain kinship with both Gulnar and Armaity with their combined age of 175 packed into my 75 years 😃.
    My family always felt that I’m accident prone but I soldier on, like one of the two lovely ladies you so eruditely described.
    Have a great Christmas and a fulfilling 2024. Hoping to meet you in person soon

  • Ben Gurion says:

    Charming narration of these sprightly ladies zest for life!!
    Formidable strenght of mind and spirit

  • Vipul Shah says:

    Dearest Dr Mazda Sir …..

    First of all excellent piece on very very senior Friends of your mom ….

    Fortunately I also know both young Ladies personally & had opportunity to travel with them in foreign tour..

    You have nicely & with great enthusiasm attended to their spines & cracked typical Parsee Jokes to make them happy…

    Lord All mighty has given you superb quality of kindness , Good hands & Fingers for Surgery & jovial nature to take 50 % pain away in talking only …

    Be Happy & be blessed sir 🌹

  • Jackie says:

    So well said. These are very old friends of ours
    Enjoyed reading about them

  • Jackie says:

    Super article about two dear friends


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *