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PGIMER Chandigarh

DM Gastroenterology

1976-1978

It was the spring of 1976 and I was working as a Lecturer in Medicine, Medical College Srinagar. For further pur¬suit in knowledge and to harden my clinical, teaching, and research skills, I wished to go for higher studies. My first choice was to join cardiology and accordingly applied for DM in cardiology at PGI Chandigarh. I also applied for DM Gastroenterology (my second choice) lest I don’t find a slot in Cardiology. I reached Chandigarh on May 31, 1976, and the next morning (7 am) appeared for DM in¬terview in Cardiology and was selected. In the afternoon interviews for DM Gastroenterology were to be held and I made a casual appearance. I faced Prof. P. N. Chhuttani, Director of PGI Chandigarh in the interview. A visiting British consultant (now a friend of mine) who joined the interview contested my answer to a question about the ideal management of “Zollinger-Ellison syndrome”, a tumor of the pancreas causing stomach ulcerations. Prof. Chhuttani in his characteristic dominating style shouted at me “Boy, can you prove that you are right”. I asked for a “Gastroen¬terology book” and was accompanied by an attendant to the Library. I marked the page and the lines of the book confirming my correct answer and gave it to the interview committee. The members of the committee including the visiting consultant “were stunt and kept quiet”. I felt that I had annoyed the committee members and felt appre¬hensive of my selection in either specialty in the Institute. The next morning the selections were to be announced with the Director & Dean of the Institute in the chair. My name figured as a selected candidate in Cardiology and Gastroenterology and the Registrar of the Institute asked my first choice. Before I could ask for Cardiology, Prof. Chhuttani answered: “Boy, you are joining Gastroenterology, and Cardiology seat can be offered to the next candidate”. I had no courage to contest a decision that changed the course of my career. At the same time, I was shocked to be a favorite of the person whom I thought I had annoyed overnight. I did not un¬derstand the reason for this at that time. I joined DM Gastroenterology on June 16, 1976, and at 7.55 am entered the PGI (Nehru Hospital) corridors to attend the morning meeting. I saw Prof. Chhuttani rush¬ing to attend the meeting just ahead of me. In the corridor, a sanitary person was sitting ideal and had left some part of the floor not cleaned. While rushing in the Corridor he instructed the sanitary to clean the floor. The sanitary quickly went into action which lasts for about 30 seconds and again went to take a rest. Prof. Chhuttani while mak¬ing a right turn at the end of the corridor looked back and saw the sanitary person sitting without cleaning the floor. He rushed back towards the sanitary person. I thought he got angry with the odd behavior of the sanitary person who could be in trouble. I moved out of his way and want¬ed to see the scene. What Prof. Chhuttani did shocked me as well as the sanitary. He took the shovel in his hand and cleaned the part of the floor which was dirty. Sanitary per¬son felt on the feet of Prof. Chuuttani but he after cleaning the floor quickly rushed to attend the meeting. He did not talk to the sanitary. I was flabbergasted.
At noontime on that day, I went for lunch in the up¬per cafeteria and stood in the queue to collect food. Just behind me, I heard the voice of Prof. Chhuttani and I looked back and saw him and Prof. B.K. Aikat, Dean PGI Chan-digarh in a queue to collect food. As a mark of respect, I moved out of the queue to let them take food ahead of me. They objected softly to my action and waited for their turn to collect food and after collecting food, sat on a table in the open hall. It surprised me. A senior of mine remarked that if Director & Dean eat good food in their offices, how can we get clean food.
On Monday that week, the liver pathology meeting was held at 5 PM. Again I saw Prof. Chhuttani sitting in the first row of the meeting waiting for the meeting to start. The meeting started in time and a lively discussion follows on liver pathology slides of the previous week. Again on Wednesday morning, I saw him on the third floor on the hos¬pital to conduct a grand round and all students and profes¬sors of the Institution were rushing to keep to the time to join him for this activity.
Next week I was under a lot of social and political pressure to release the dead bodies of two brothers without autopsies. These brothers had ingested some unknown herb from a local healer in Kurukshetra and died from liver failure. The department of hepatology was particular to understand the pathogenesis of their disease and as to how did this herb cause this disease and the only way would have to conduct an autopsy. I received phone calls from few Ministers of Govt.: of Punjab and finally a phone call from Chief Minister Punjab himself to release the bodies without autopsies. That evening I was tense and anxious as to what to do. In the evening an attendant in the Library of the hospital came rushing to me and told me that Direc¬tor PGI (Prof. P. N. Chhuttani) wanted to speak to you on phone. This made me more nervous and I received this phone call in a disturbed state of mind. Prof. Chhuttani spoke to me as to what is the matter of the autopsies of these 2 brothers from Kurukshetra. I gave him the details. He told me that the Chief Minister has talked to him and re¬quested him to release the bodies without autopsies. I was getting ready to tell him that I am going now to depart¬ment to release the bodies. However, the next sentence of his surprised me. He in his usual dominating Punjabi style told me to “release the bodies only after a proper autopsy”. He dropped the phone after speaking this sentence. I stood wondering by the side of the phone as to what he told me to do. I asked for autopsies of these brothers and these were done with all the pressures from political circles. What followed from these autopsies was so revealing that these cases were discussed in many clinical rounds of the Institution and were published in a reputed international journal.
Very soon I came to know and work with Prof. P. N. Chhuttani more closely. I assisted him in running his weekly clinic and it was a treat to assist him. He kept a very strict schedule in attending his clinic. With his patients, he maintained a meticulous sense of respect, pro¬fessional relationship, and was keen to listen to them and talk to them. After 3 months a faculty member of PGI told me whether I wanted to join the faculty of the PGI as a lecturer or Assistant professor. I got surprised at this as I had joined PGI as a DM student. I told him how it is possible as I am working as a student in PGI Chandigarh. He divulged to me that Director PGI has studied my CV and knows my qualifications and he has instructed him to explore this possibility. I denied the offer for personal reasons but wanted to understand the genesis of this offer. The faculty member gave me a detailed history of PGI and went at length to tell me how Director PGI (P. N. Chhut¬tani) has accumulated excellent physicians and surgeons of the country and those working in the West in his faculty and how much pains he has taken to keep high standards of the faculty on the rolls and has never succumbed to po¬litical, social, religious and personal pressures.
Over the years I rated PGI Chandigarh as one of the finest Institutions of the Country and World for patient care, research, and teaching. Thousands of doctors have trained from this Institution and have spread all over the World and have kept high standards in their dealings. The Institution has maintained high standards of working over the decades. All this happened by “dedicated and meticu¬lous works” of stalwarts like Prof. P. N. Chuuttani. He and persons like him have become “role models” for his stu¬dents to follow. If any Institution in India fails to come up to the standard like PGI Chandigarh, I believe it is due to “fall shorts” of its conceivers and those at the helm of the affairs from time to time.