“Make us proud, my son.” His father’s parting words as Raj stepped onto the plane taking him from his home in India to an exciting new chapter in his life.
The Air India flight from New Delhi to New York took 20 clock hours, but Raj felt decades now separated him from the family left behind in his small village. Fighting jet lag on the ride to the University Hospital, he reflected again on his childhood promise to become a village doctor like his grandfather. To the surprise of many, he not only kept that promise, but finished medical school with honors…with only one change to the original plan. Schooling had overwhelmed him with India’s vast medical needs, shifting his focus, so that’s why he found himself groggily climbing out of a cab to start a surgical residency in America.
Year 1: Residency
“Mother,” Raj shouted into the phone. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes! I hear you fine!” Her excited voice had the tinny quality of a bad connection.
“I’ll be home in two weeks! I’ve missed all of you so much. How’s grandfather?”
“He’s well, Raj. The whole family is excited about you coming home.”
“Mother, there’s so much to tell you. I’m helping with surgeries now. I’m learning so much!”
“We’re very proud of you, my son. See you soon.”
Year 2: Residency
“Grandfather, wait till you hear about the new wound care techniques I’ve learned while in the emergency department this year. You’ll be amazed! Tell everyone I’ll see them soon.”
“I’m very proud of you, son of my son.”
Year 3: Residency
“Father, I saw on television the rains are very bad this year. Will I be able to get home all right?”
“Don’t worry, Raj. You just get on that plane. We’ll make sure our future surgeon gets home safely.”
Year 4: Residency
“Mother…bad news. I can’t make it home this year like I planned. I know you want me to do well here, and I was offered some extra surgery time. I can’t pass it up. I have so much more to learn before setting up practice back home.”
”I understand, Raj. You do what you have to do. By the time you return home you’ll be the best surgeon our region has ever seen! We’re so proud of you, my son.”
Year 5: Residency
“How was your final year, my son? Your last letter sounded like you were doing surgery night and day. Can this be? Do they work you this hard?” his father asked with concern.
Raj sighed. “Not quite, father, but it was pretty intense. I’m really looking forward to a break after taking my Boards.”
“We can’t wait to see you, Raj.”
Raj cleared his throat. “Well, that brings me to my news, father. I’ve decided to stay in America a while longer.” Silence at his father’s end. “I know this isn’t what we talked about, but I’ve concluded that general surgeons are needed here just as much as in India.” Rushing on to prevent his father from speaking, Raj said, “And with the money I can make here, I can help the family just as much…maybe more than I could if I was there. You do understand, don’t you, father? I really think this is best for me. And for the family,” he hastened to add.
“Whatever you decide to do, my son, we’re behind you. You must make your own choices in life.” Raj ignored the remoteness in his father’s voice that had nothing to do with distance.
Year 6: Private Practice
“Mother, I just got the message that you called last week. I’m so sorry. I was on a hiking trip in the mountains. There was no phone. What’s happened?”
“Bad news, I’m afraid, Raj.” He could hear pain in her voice. “Your brother was in an accident. His leg was badly mangled. We rushed him to hospital. They had to amputate. He was doing well, but then his leg became infected.” His mother began to sob. “Oh Raj, I wish you could have been here! Your grandfather kept saying your brother would be alive if you had been here to treat him.”
Stunned with this news, Raj began to stammer out an apology.
“Please don’t feel guilty, Raj,” his mother interjected. “The funeral was yesterday, so no need for you to rush home.” She paused. “We’re still very proud of you, my son. Call us when you can.”
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