To be honest, pathology was never my dream speciality and like many others I took it ‘by chance’ and ‘not by choice’. The very first time I entered the pathology department of the most renowned institute of India, the irritating and pungent smell of formalin along with a huge notice board mounted at the entrance with the name rolls starting from the Head to the junior most drew my attention. Among the various designations I was surprised to see something new to my knowledge and that was the “pool officer “ and going with the literal meaning, like everybody I too thought it to be someone who was in charge of a beautiful swimming pool within the campus! Our head gave a brief idea of our duties and responsibilities as a junior resident and told that we may have to work approximately 18 hours per day and it could be stressful, however he also mentioned that soon all our pain will transform into pleasure and tension into passion!
The department had to name a few, histopathology, neuropathology, cytopathology, immunohistochemistry, renalpath, image analysis, cytopathology, fluorescent microscopy etc, but the one I was hesitant enough to enter was the pungent smelling ‘grossing room’! This room was the largest hub of formalin which gave the entire department the unique odour. The room was a small one , without air conditioners and had 3 dissection tables, a bone cutting device and numerous shaggy containers filled with formalin and grossed organs, arranged in shelves all throughout the room. I promised myself and prayed for the same that I would never ever handle those boxes ever in my career , but my prayer went in vain when one my senior colleague ordered me to open one of the boxes and start grossing the surgical specimens. To my wonder there were multiple small tissue pieces in those offensive containers and I was reluctant to touch them when my senior ordered me to hold it and start describing the organ of origin and assured me that those tissue pieces were non living and not going to bite me and allayed my anxiety. For a strict vegetarian like me , who was always away from those non veg looking like pieces , it was disgusting! Later on I discovered them to be morcellated pieces of fibroid. Gradually with passing days grossing room became an important part of my life. While grossing the mastectomy specimens I was told that they were the ‘bread and butter’ of a histopathologist’s practice , which was very true which I realised later on in my career.
Every morning during my first year of residency started with a bouquet of approximately 100 H & E stained slides, waiting to be seen by the reporting consultant followed by an intense academic discussion which for a person like me from a peripheral medical college was literally too much but to our professors these were just the tip of icebergs and histopathology was much more vast than what I actually thought.
One of the most thrilling experience happened when my phone rang up at 1 am for an autopsy. I was excited and went to perform my first autopsy with my senior colleague holding two buckets in my hands , one containing 10% formalin and the other had 40% formalin. I had to enter that place which I always wanted to avoid and that was the mortuary! My heart was sinking seeing the dead newborn and I wanted to run away from there. My senior helped me to cope with this situation and I learnt that a part of my job was to identify the cause of death in such unnatural cases so that we could prevent such deaths in future.
The experience that I acquired in pathology department was not just limited to the subject, it also made me learn all aspects of medicine and healthcare. I learnt to overcome my fear and weakness. It helped me grow as a person and as a diagnostician. The branch which was not my choice was now my strength. My journey in this institute called AIIMS helped me rediscover myself!