Musings

The eye of the pathologist

There are things which come with the territory. And others which you are trained for. Being a histopathologist is one such territory.

You are taught to observe. And observe carefully. See what does not appear normal. And reflect on why something is abnormal. You are trained to classify, compare, contrast and then conclude. It doesn’t stop there, once you notice something is amiss, you are expected to describe it as deftly as you can, and then report the abnormality clearly. That’s as simply as I can describe it for the non-pathologist.

And if you expect to be rewarded for this endeavour, you are being foolish. No one who is diagnosed with an ailment (worse if it is cancer), is going to praise you for your efforts. If you eliminate the possibilty of cancer, you might get some blessings. But miss a diagnosis and you will be dissected like the specimen itself. But that’s not where the problem is.

After decades of being in the job, your whole being is attuned to this scientific practice. And it transcends into real life. It changes the way you react to simple tasks in life. Like tasting a new recipe. Did it look like it normally should? Or is there significant variation from the original? Does it taste like what it did at the neighbour’s house, or is something off here too? In the process, you lose the simple pleasures of savouring a dish. And dare you blurt out the variation to the person who made the recipe for you, prepare to be chomped, chewed and digested.

It completely affects the way you go through life. Imagine you are watching a film on the big screen. Your trained eye moves to the background. Something is atypical. Why do the colours clash with the wardrobe of the actors? What’s incongruous? The symmetry of the male lead’s moustache is wrong. The left side twirls a little more than the right. The pleats of the heroine’s saree fall a little too high and show her ankle. And in the tedious process of observation, you have missed the best dialogue of the film. It is the fault of the intense training you have been through.

There is never peace in the head of a pathologist. So, you might be sitting silently in a meeting, but your mind is quietly taking in everything that is amiss in the room: the body language, the tone of voice, the line of questioning, the kind of arguments being put forth. And you are writing the pathology report in your head. Comparing, contrasting and noticing all deviations from the normal.

Don’t be misled by what you see, your brain warns you. Look out for the ambiguous. Everything that looks malignant is not necessarily cancerous. And everything that looks normal might just have a cancer lurking beneath it. And just as your fantastic training demands, you jot down your observations, compare, contrast and invariably point out what is wrong. And then watch the frowns proliferate on the foreheads of your colleagues. What went wrong there, you wonder?

Simply put, don’t expect to win friends. After all, you are a pathologist trained to look out for everything that is amiss.

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