The Surgical Mom

Her fortitude, her belief, her prayer and unstinting love have spurred many a medical miracle. On mother’s day, we celebrate the gift that doesn’t stop giving. 

When I was a resident in my final year of training at the Christian Medical College in Vellore, a malnourished lady onerously walked into the emergency carrying her 6-year-old child in her arms. Blood pouring out from his lacerated scalp had soaked them both. He had been run over by a car close to the hospital, and rather than wait for a ride, she had simply picked him up and run to us. He was unconscious when we saw him. She looked like she was going to follow suit. The ER doctors expeditiously plugged in an intravenous catheter and shoved a tube down his throat to protect his airway, while I pressed on his head with a dozen Gamgee pads to control the bleeding. Once we got the blood pressure up and stabilized his heart, we rushed him for a CT scan. The temporal bone was shattered into pieces and beneath it was a large extradural hematoma, a blood clot between the bone and the dura mater. The underlying brain, however, looked surprisingly okay.

We took him straight to the OT and cleaned out all the debris and rubble of the road from his skin, the stench of dried blood permeating through our masks. We fashioned a skin incision to expose the fractured bone and removed all the pieces. There was a large hematoma underneath the fractures pressing on the brain, which we slurped out in our suctions, and I coagulated the artery that was slit by one of the sharp fracture fragments. For that kind of injury, I was surprised to find the dura intact.

The dura mater, Latin for tough mother, is a thick durable membrane that covers the brain. The dura mater is the mother of the brain: mater, rooted in the universal maa, means mother. The primary function of the dura, akin to that of a mother towards its child, is to protect the brain – and what a fabulous job it does of that. Like a mother for her family, the dura guards the brain’s internal environment.

We put back the pieces of bone like a jigsaw puzzle and neatly sutured the scalp over it. As we wheeled him out, his mother stood there with her anxious hands folded in appreciation. He gained consciousness after a few days and was transferred out of the intensive care. She nursed him with love, feeding him, turning him, and exercising him to ensure he was on his way to a full recovery. Every time I walked into the ward, whether it was in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning, she was awake next to him, one hand of hers literally on his pulse. She took him home walking two weeks later. “A mother never outgrows the burden of love,” said the famous writer Florida Scott-Maxwell, “and to the end she carries the weight of hope for those she bore.”

The deepest grief is also borne when a mother loses a child. One of my closest friends gave birth to a stillborn child, and I held her hand as she had to let go of the life she had loving nurtured within her for months. I lost one of my best friends in a bike accident at 18; his mother’s womb was so scarred by the loss that she developed uterine cancer a few years later, which she’s overcome with the mettle of a mother. One of my mother’s friends lost her beautiful son in his forties to stomach cancer that showed up out of the blue and consumed him in a matter of months. Another of my friends was recently operated for a ruptured appendix and he never woke up after surgery; his mother’s earnest plea was for her to pass before he did, but she is still braving his passing. “Life doesn’t offer happy endings; only the prospect of finding happiness in the midst of endings that will seldom be simple,” I once read somewhere.

If given a chance, any mother would be willing to interchange and take upon herself an ill-fated outcome her child must go through. In a book I was reading the other day, the sole survivor of a plane crash was a little girl whose mother had completely wrapped herself around her. The 4-year-old child was found alive under her mother’s scorched remains. Nature has its own rules.

I vividly remember the time when my own mother had Guillain-Barré syndrome, a viral affliction of the nerves which paralysed her neck down. She was in the ICU, on a ventilator for a few weeks, with everyone involved in her care uncertain if she would make it. Her then 80-year-old mother would trek valiantly each day to the hospital and sit in one silent corner of the waiting room for 12 continuous hours only to return home to attend to her ailing husband. She wasn’t unsettled about whether her daughter would make it and she didn’t question the doctors even when she was given the same discouraging news every day for many days. “I have faith in my God, and I know he will watch over us,” she used to tell me when I asked her why she didn’t look worried, while I trembled with sorrow, bewilderment, and fear myself. She was a stoic lady, having suffered the unsurmountable loss of her first daughter a few decades ago in the infamous Handloom House fire of 1982, and was now on the brink of losing the second one. My mother survived because of her mother’s certitude. When my mother eventually lost her mother, it was the cataclysm of a lifetime.

While more phone calls are made on Mother’s Day than any other day of the year, and phone traffic spikes by as much as 37 per cent on this one single day, let us take some time on this day of joy and celebration to remember the mothers who might not receive that call or the children who have no one to make that call to. “Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be,” Joan Didion observed in her classic meditation on loss.

So, to all the mothers who’ve been through an unfathomable illness or the fading of a child, be gentle and more generous with yourselves. You did more than your duty. To every child who has been through an abysmal illness or the passing of a mother, be grateful to the time you spent together and help carry her legacy onward.

And on a lighter note, if you’re Parsi or Punjabi, Greek or Jewish, don’t worry – your mother will never leave you. Even if you want her to. It’s a matter of lifelong complexity.


39 Comments on “The Surgical Mom
  • Atman daftary says:

    Super sir as usual. Extremely well written. Heart wrenching.

  • Sanjay P Sonar says:

    very touching


    My tears rolls out of my eyes as and when I lost my mom and also if even it was someone else, its because you personally feel for others.
    I don’t understand why is it we realize their love only when you loose them .
    Looks like the Heart and your brain are rarely thinking 🤔 together ❤️.

  • Avinash Karnik says:

    Dear Mazda
    Your this article is apt for Mother’s Day.
    What a way to highlight the efforts of every mother on this planet and superbly entwined with your experiences as a neurosurgeon.
    Whoever reads this article, I’m sure would think of their mothers and the eternal bond between them.
    Thanks a lot for such a heart touching article that silently expresses the gratitude to all the mothers. B

  • jawahar mukhtyar says:

    Superb prose! A great beginning to a beautiful Sunday morning. Looking forward to a compilation of all your work in a book!

  • Meenakshi says:

    Beautifully expressed

  • Vivek Dixit says:

    What a wonderful and sincere essay on Motherhood. While you essay is heart wrenching in places it speaks eloquently of a mother’s love and fortitude. Thank you for sharing this message on Mother’s Day.

  • Shalaka Indap Veling says:

    Speechless and moist eyed ..
    what a heart wrenching essay

  • Tasneem says:

    Awesome as usual. You capture the heart Dr Mazda!

  • Dinaz Shroff says:

    Very heart touching. Got tears to eyes while reading it. Reminded me of my mom.
    Thank you

  • Heman Kulkarni says:

    Dr. Mazda,
    You have expressed mother’s feelings for her child so well. So appropriate on Mother’s day!
    Brought tears in my eyes.
    God bless you 🙏🏼

  • Natwar Panchal says:

    Dil Se Dr

  • Amit says:

    Doctor you are great writer.

  • Zarin Bahmani says:

    Thank you Mazda you brought alive dear brave, courageous Bacha aunty and all mothers who selflessly gave up their all to look after their children. We were blessed to have them.

  • Salima H Ebrahim says:

    Wow doc… A man of many talents.
    So beautifully written.. Thank you for sharing.
    So very true.. Our moms may not be physically present but they continue to live within us…a memory a smile a story relayed by someone 🤲

  • Dr Jayant Apte says:

    Where and when heart and mind are together
    One always remembers the loving mother .

  • Armaiti Mistry says:

    Dear Mazda, thank you for this beautifully emotional write up on motherhood. You hv so gently written about Bacha aunty, Meher, our Darayus n my sister. I am so touched by your sensitivity. God bless you always.

  • Dr. Manasi Rege says:

    Brilliant article sir. One of the best Mother’s Day posts I have read so far.

  • Nadya Hussein says:

    It is definitely the biggest blessing to have and spend time with your mother, more so as a person ages. What a considerate take on motherhood, especially to those who are normally bypassed. The bond between mother and child are universal, even in the animal kingdom, such as with Orca whales. The flight story is so touching. Thank you for sharing.

  • Mercy George says:

    Dear Mazda, beautiful post !! Regards

  • Dr Tejal Shah says:

    Heartfelt. Will always remember my mothers as a daughter n I see myself as the mother to my children in this essay. Miss u n love u my dear departed mom n shud learn to cherish n spend more time with my mom present wid me. God gave ne the love of 2 mothers (one by birth n one by law) n I am eternally grateful for this blessing
    Hope I too can shower my children n family wid such unconditional selfless love that I have received. Wish all a wonderful motherhood and or a childhood

  • Dr Sandeep Naik says:

    Touches the core of one’s heart ; as Surgeons we meet stoic mothers and a few who are not, but each one exhibits that powerful bond with her little one, that plays a significant part in the healing process. Anyone who has witnessed the determination of a mother under the most desperate of situations will relate to your musings Dr Mazda. God bless you

  • Jyotsna Vora says:

    Beautiful written .

  • Jasmin Lord says:

    Brilliant ♥️ having lost a mother and several fur baby daughters I absolutely relate and loved the article. In the words of the great E.A. Bucchianeri — ‘So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.’

  • Martha Quaghe says:

    Thanks Dr Mazda for another beautiful and touching message to humanity and mothers especially. We appreciate this honor givens to mother today from you. Cheers

  • Farideh Vakil Murao says:

    A truly powerful piece of writing, evocative and emotional. Yes, its true, all your life your mother stays with you in memories buried deep in your heart and the world seems strangely empty without her.

  • Rita singh says:

    Deepest emotions expressed so simply and accurately. Yes as someone has mentioned we realise the worth of our closest ones only fully after we have lost them forever. So let’s cherish the people we still have with us. Thanx for reminder .

  • Shubha Thatte says:

    Very touching! You end reading while wiping your tears!!
    You end it beautifully. Mother new era leaves you but leaves her substance in you. You many times wonder ‘ I did this so much like my mom :
    But the loss of mother really makes you feel like an orphan. You feel you have lost a part of you!!

  • Mangala Kasawalekar says:

    The article touched my soul…do we have time or make time for this superhuman called Mother or is she taken for granted everytime. She will exchange her life for you anytime…will we do that.

  • Perviz Tarapore says:

    Beautiful, sincere, compassionate and thoughtful
    Always love reading your write-ups.

  • Anjali Patki says:

    Emotional and appropriate on the occasion bof mother’s day. Very nice write up

  • Sushma Sowraj says:

    Hello Sir, like always it’s a beautiful and well written article.

    The way you expressed your thoughts and emotions was amazing. You captured the immense impact that mothers have on our lives and the sacrifices they make for their children.

    As a mother of a 15-year-old boy, I can relate to the important role that mothers play in shaping our lives and the emotional connections we share with them.

    Your personal experiences as a neurosurgeon and a son provided a unique perspective on the love and care that mothers provide, even in the most challenging circumstances.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us.

  • Sunita Jimmy Masani says:

    My relationship with my mother at best of times has not been easy .. but i loved reading your post , made my eyes water and brought home the reality of being grateful to have a mother
    with whom to celebrate the day with, before it’s too late ..

    “let us take some time on this day of joy and celebration to remember the mothers who might not receive that call or the children who have no one to make that call to.”

  • Chanda says:

    Hi Dic, Read your article in parts. Eyes were too moist and blurry to read through at one go.
    This speaks much of the article written.
    Thank you

  • Harsha Bhadra says:

    Amazing words as usual!
    You made mother’s day more precious.

  • Dr Divya Shetty says:

    Tears really started to roll down my eyes… I wanted to go back home to my mom after reading this article.

  • Dara says:

    Dr. Mazda bravo
    Excellant and evrything mentioned is true in real life. I have lost my mother and mother in law. I missed them both but they are looking after and guiding my family and me.
    You write such beautiful stories from your experiences. Ahura Mazda bless you and your family.

  • Dr.Meher Elavia says:

    Hi Mazda,
    I am an avid reader of your articles in Sunday Mid Day,n enjoy them immensely .Hv bn meaning to convey my appreciation to u for a long time now
    Taking the opportunity now.
    This article is one of your best.
    It is straight from the heart,v.moving,must hv left many of us moist eyed.
    Looking frwrd to reading more frm u with my morning cuppa on Sunday.Cheers.!!

  • Dr. Dinshaw B. Garda says:

    Very well expressed!


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