Padmanhab Singh drew the short straw. That meant it was his responsibility to tell Mr. Ramden about the unforgiveable cock-up during a recent surgery. The dyslexic error from the junior doctor unintentionally marked the wrong leg for amputation in the surgery notes, resulting in the non-gangrenous leg of Mr. Harry Ramden being sawn off.
Several days of whispered clandestine meetings in the hospital’s basement boiler room, resulted in the decision to finally tell the misfortunate patient about the error. Fearful of retribution from the man notoriously known as the Knifeman of Kolkata, the suggestion was made to draw straws between the surgeon and the error prone intern to decide who would be the one to brave a face-to-face with him. Doctor Singh, aka Padman, was in his first year of probationary residency at Kolkata General Hospital and had triggered the hospital’s worst case of malpractice in its nearly two-hundred-years existence. Not only was it a complete comedy of errors, but it had also been perilously performed on the most feared man around. The decision settled, Padman exhaled sharply as the patient’s pre-surgery notes were shoved into his abdomen, while fearful doctors made their hurried escape from the basement room.
“But what do I say? How do I tell him?” Padman’s words echoed.
“Use humour, Padman!” Came the fading voice as it made haste. “Laughter is always the best medicine.”
Making his way back up to the ninth floor, Padman loitered nervously around the nurse’s station, pacing slowly back and forth, trying to come up with a spin on the hospital’s dilemma. The worry of a lawsuit was secondary to what the hospital administrator feared Mr. Ramden would do to him, his staff, and possibly the entire hospital, so Padman had to choose his words carefully. Ramden’s reputation was not limited to simple knife crimes. He was the biggest drug kingpin in Kolkata, purportedly capable of many frightening ways of retribution – like the scalping of a rival that encroached his territory, and the demolition of a local police barracks when the police chief would not turn a blind eye to Ramden’s activities. Surviving the blast, a second attack was ordered on the police chief, who ironically, lost an eye in the separate incident. Retrieved at the scene, the eye has been continually displayed in a pickle jar on Ramden’s office trophy shelf for all visitors to see that he is not a man to mess with.
“Humour… okay, perhaps a joke to break the ice,” Padman encouraged himself. “… If only I could remember one right now…”
With the patient’s file tucked under his arm, Padman straightened himself up, took a deep breath and confidently marched on Room 902, where he was abruptly stopped by two beefy men stationed on either side of the ward’s door.
“State your business,” the gold-toothed, curly-haired bodyguard demanded.
“I have the results of Mr. Ramden’s operation,” Padman answered while clearing his throat.
“You’re not his regular doctor,” noted the second guard, taller and better dressed than his colleague.
“No, that is correct on your part. Doctor Patel is on a house call and has asked me to look in on his patient.”
With a nod of a head, the door was pushed open, revealing a generously sized room populated with two beds facing each other from opposite walls, either side of Padman. Similar in bed coverings, it was difficult to see which of the two patients within was the one missing a limb, so Padman consulted the clipboards attached to the foot of each bed.
“Where are the names? All I see are patient numbers,” he commented out loud. “No, you idiot, they’re bed numbers… This patient looks like he’s been through an ordeal. It must be him.”
The unidentifiable patient comically looked like Boris Karloff’s version of the Mummy portrayed in the old black and white horror movie. Swathed in bandages that wrapped around his torso, arms, and head, he looked at Padman through the slitted eye opening, watching and listening in anticipation for any empathetic words of comfort.
“Good morning, sir. My name is Doctor Singh,” he began with confidence. “I have the results of your recent operation.”
A muffled response from the patient hinted to the perplexed junior doctor that the bandages might be protecting a possible broken jaw injury - inhibiting him from effective verbal communication.
“Please… try not to talk. What I have to say is difficult enough, as you are not my patient, and I only have limited details within these notes in your file.”
Nervously retrieving a pen from the breast pocket of his white coat, Padman pointed it toward the patient’s feet.
“It pains me to say… sorry, pain is a bad choice of words… What I mean to say is that on short notice, I have been chosen to relay… sorry, no… short is also bad terminology for your condition…”
The patient – now growing increasingly impatient – started to grunt and mumble incoherently, as if to say, “Get on with it.”
“Yes, yes. Forgive my running around the marigold fields…. Look, I have no other way to say this but… on behalf of the administration of Kolkata General… I would like to humbly apologise for a huge mistake on our part in relation to your recent operation.”
By now, the patient’s eyes were almost bulging out of his head pleading for the bumbling fool in front of him to get to the point.
“…Due to a clerical error, uh… it appears that we… when I say ‘We,’ I actually mean the hospital and not… Look, I’ll just come straight out with it and say that the leg that was amputated… was… the wrong leg.”
The confused cold stare returned from the patient’s eyes was mistakenly interpreted by Padman as a form of mild shock, so he tried an obscure approach to his explanation.
“I know this comes as a huge surprise… I don’t mean in a good sense, but in a Oh, you’ve caught me with my pants down type of surprise, like a combination of horror and disbelief.”
Trying to imitate both emotions at once, he was distracted by the patient’s eyes darting back and forth from him to the foot of the bed and back. The ocular-strained search by the patient looking for the existence of both feet amused Padman, who thought that he was being mimicked.
“I know, right…? That was a very good impression, sir.”
Repeating the action more vigorously, the patient sped up his eye movement before Padman eventually caught on.
“Oh, you want to see your…? Uh, perhaps that might not be a good idea at this moment in time. Seeing the loss of a leg can be terrifyingly demoralising and psychologically damaging. Perhaps I should ring for the hospital psychiatrist?”
A cacophony of grunts, muffled yelling, and tears flowing down the side of the patient’s face, convinced Padman to secede to his demands.
“Okay okay. It is against my better judgement, but let me raise your pillow a little, so you can see better.”
Pressing a button on the bed’s arm rest, Padman slowly raised the upper part of the bed hoping for a comfortable viewing height; however, it only succeeded in the patient ending up in a forward lean, staring at his own midriff. Unaware of the patient’s awkward position, Padman turned to look through the window blinds to the street below, as he introspectively recalled a passage recently read in a copy of Psychology Today magazine.
“Now, please remember you still have your other limbs. The loss of one does not mean the end of your life or career, okay? What is it you do, anyway…?”
Spotting the patient’s abnormal resting position, Padman’s train of thought halted.
“Oh, sorry, sorry! Let me adjust the bed again.”
Fumbling with the controller, Padman caused the dated bed to snap flat down, then spring upright, leaving the patient sitting up unsupported. Noticing a few framed photographs sitting on the bedside table, Padman took a closer look.
“Is this your family? Looks like it was taken at… is that Lord’s Cricket Ground in London…? Which one are you?”
Deadpan eyes remained still, as Padman replaced the photograph frame, then picked up another.
“My goodness, you do like your cricket, don’t you…? The same player is in all these lovely photos… You must be his number one fan…”
The realisation of who the man in the photos was, caused a morphing expression on Padman’s face that slowly switched from smiling into the dumbest looking bury-me-now grimace that only a complete idiot could muster.
“Goodness gracious me. They’re you, aren’t they…? You’re a Cricketer, then? There must be some mistake – unless you have an alternate life other than…”
Wisely stopping from embarrassing himself further, the lightly panicked Padman reacted by immediately positioning himself at the foot of the bed. With a heightened need for clarification, he swiftly jerked the bedsheets from the bed, revealing that not only was the patient in full inventory of both legs, but also his bandages stopped at his waist - leaving him naked from the waist down.
“…I’m so terribly sorry… I thought you were… the clipboard here says you are… no… it doesn’t… I presumed you were… but you’re not…”
The stress from the release of shock from seeing both sets of toes wriggling in open air, caused the patient to pass out, leaving Padman repeating his name.
“Mr. Ramden, are you okay…? Mr. Ramden, please respond… MR. RAMDEN!”
Padman studied him for any sign of response, then as if the room suddenly opened to the heat and humidity of Kolkata, Padman’s skin crawled with beads of sweat as a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, reacted to an evidently disturbed and menacing male voice booming a response from directly behind him.
“Over here, you idiot…!”
There are moments of clarity in life that sometimes result in a deep intake of breath held in anticipation. Like when your favourite sports team is sixty seconds away from winning a trophy, or a debatable decision just made that produces instant regret. This was that moment for Padman. Standing with his back to a potential ender of life, he was acutely aware that the man in bed Two had been silently listening in to the earlier misdirected conversation. Fortunately for Padman, that same patient could not have seen his extended grimace and closed eyes. The mouthed expletive shaping his lips had also been shielded from view. With a dire sensation of mortified dread, Padman forced a fake smile to his face, then bravely turned to retrieve the clipboard chart from the foot of Ramden’s bed. Taking a quick study of its notes, he involuntarily let out a nervously enlightened exclamation of “Oh… you are in bed Two,” then cautiously approached the exit side of the bed. Pulling at a drawstring, Padman carefully raised the mosquito net covering the bed and secured it in place.
“Good morning, the real Mr. Ramden… You may have overheard me tell Mr. Uh…”
“Every word,” came Ramden’s gruff interruption.
“Uh… It is with the greatest of ah… sincerity, that I must apologise on the behalf of uh…”
“Save it,” Ramden interrupted again. “Where’s the moron that did this to me?”
“Oh, Doctor Pat…tel?”
Too late to prevent himself from revealing the name of the person that wrongly amputated Ramden’s good leg, Padman outwardly exhaled a puffed cheek-full of nervous air, while inwardly berating himself.
“Patel,” repeated Ramden. “…Conveniently out on a house call, is he?”
“Yes sir, uh, Mr. Ramden… sir… he uh… won’t be returning… today... I’m afraid.”
“When will he be returning?”
“…It is my understanding that he is taking some uh… immediate leave… after that.”
“So, the butcher doesn’t even have the meatballs to apologise to my face, is that right?”
“To be quite fair to Doctor Patel, it wasn’t entirely his fault…”
“Not his fault,” Ramden again repeated like a parrot. Padman just shook his head in a combination of movement that bordered on something between affirmation and denial.
“So, who is to blame, then?”
“…Uh… I ah… Sir… I must declare that I have the displeasure of a confession to make,” Padman whispered, wishing he was somewhere else.
“I didn’t quite hear you. Could you come a little closer, and repeat that?”
Padman inched his way closer to the bed, while hanging his head and averting his eyes.
“You see, sir. I have a condition called Dyslexia, and I sometimes get things mixed up,” he blurted out in rapid cadence. “Doctor Patel gave me his hand-written notes to put into our new computer database and I mistakenly marked the wrong leg for surgery.”
“I see,” said Ramden in a controlled and calm voice. “You’re telling me that the fault lies with… you?”
“…Uh… yes, Mr. Ramden, sir.”
What started with a low rumbling sound, rapidly built up into a mass of grunting energy heading towards a deafening outburst of expletive insults bursting through the back of Ramden’s throat. His face turning beetroot red in colour, alerted Padman of the approaching onslaught. However, at the very point of vocal explosion, Padman remembered the fleeing doctor’s words of wisdom from earlier that humour was the best medicine. Deciding in that exact, pre-fate determining moment that he would impart the findings of the updated notes he read moments ago, Padman suprisingly halted Ramden’s forthcoming outburst.
“It’s not all bad news!” He quickly shouted.
Ramden’s eyes bulged with pent-up anger and emotion, his withheld breath one exhale away from verbal Armageddon.
“Yes, the bad news is that we indeed took the wrong leg. Oh yes, indeed!... But, after all is said and done, there is some very good news to be heard.”
Ramden’s eyebrows tried to positively raise to signal his interest in the good news, but it only managed to puff out his expanding cheeks further. Triumphantly smiling, Padman proudly continued.
“…Looking at your updated notes, it appears that the leg we were supposed to amputate is showing a remarkable recovery and response to your medication…. Oh! I remember a joke now… about the doctor who sawed off the wrong leg. It’s a very funny joke. You see…”
It was at that moment that the world briefly stopped still for Harry Ramden. The meaningless operation had not only robbed him of a leg, it had also highlighted the incompetent and premature decision made well beyond the authority of the blundering, smiling fool stood in front of him. In an eruption that could only be compared to a lion’s roar, Ramden shook uncontrollably in a scorching tempest of anger, screaming insanely. Uprighting himself with a swift movement of terrifying menace, he invoked such a fearsome feeling in the young doctor, that Padman stumbled backwards, inadvertently upping Ramden’s drip delivered pain medication, as his hands unsuccessfully reached for something to prevent him from falling down. With his rear end firmly planted on the floor, he quickly sat up in anticipation of the punishment to come. Oddly, that never materialised. The unscheduled dispensation of medication had placed Ramden into an instant snooze.
“Mr. Ramden?” Padman sheepishly enquired. “…Sir?”
Realising his good fortune, a gentle sense of relief passed through Padman. This was his chance to escape unharmed. Regaining his composure, he quickly stood up, only to sense an additional presence in the room. Cautiously turning, his heart skipped a beat at the sight of two burly bodyguards towering over him. Gulping a swallow of air, he nervously burped it back out.
“What was all that commotion about?” Asked the smartly dressed guard.
Realising that honesty was the best policy, Padman explained the situation.
“I was apologising to Mr. Ramden, who got so very emotional that he must have fainted.”
“What happened to him, over there?” The curly haired guard asked - pointing to the bandaged man.
“Bad news travels fast… I haven’t experienced anything like this since accidently turning off the oxygen supply to the emphysema ward… Please… let me make sure they’re comfortable before you do what you must do.”
After tucking both patients in, Padman willingly presented himself to the two guards.
“So… what will become of me, now?”
The smartly dressed guard looked at his watch, then with a nod to his partner, they turned to leave.
“That’s up to you,” the curly haired guard stated.
“What about your boss?”
“Boss?” The smartly dressed guard’s offensive tone snapped back. “He’s not our boss, he is our prisoner.”
“Prisoner…? Then… who are you…?”
A produced open wallet flashed a police badge at the visibly relieved Padman.
“…What a turn up… If you don’t mind me asking… Who is the man in bed One?”
“Ashwin Varma, the test cricketer… Sadly, his century days are now a part of cricketing history.”
“What happened to him?”
“He wouldn’t take a bribe to hit less than three runs an innings, so a cricket bat was angrily applied multiple times to his head and torso.”
“That’s terrible. Who would do such a thing?”
“…Bed number Two,” answered the curly haired guard.
“It could have been worse,” the smartly dressed guard interjected.
“If it hadn’t been for a plucky groundsman, India would be in mourning. When he saw what was happening, he jumped into his grass-cutting tractor and mowed the assailant down at mid-wicket.”
“Aah, so that’s what happened to Ramden’s legs… I was too busy writing up his notes, that I didn’t see the damage before surgery.”
“Blood everywhere,” recounted the curly haired guard gleefully. “Was hard to tell which leg was worse.”
His earlier vilification now exonerated by the guard’s non-medical observation, Padman regained his composure, retrieved Ramden’s clipboard, then started to leave.
“Well, if that’s all gentlemen, I have some postoperative notes to update… Carry on!”
As Padman exited the room, a query arose with the curly haired guard.
“Should we call someone to check on these two?”
“Not necessary,” replied his more authoritative colleague. “The doctor just left. He knows what he’s doing…”