Royal and famous patients. 6. Bollywood star

Royal and famous patients. 6. Bollywood star

A Bollywood mega star was in the news recently, having contracted and happily survived COVID19

Amitabh Bachchan had another close brush with mortality almost 40 years ago, having suffered an injury while filming on location. The severity of his illness led to uncontrolled bleeding, suspected to be coming from an acute stomach “stress ulcer”. I was invited to treat him in an intensive care unit in a hospital in Mumbai (then Bombay). At that time I was working at The Middlesex Hospital in London. We were evaluating a prototype instrument called a “heater probe”, basically a small soldering iron that could be applied to bleeding vessels through a gastroscope.

I packed it up, called Air India, and asked my surgical colleague, Willie Slack, to come with me in case an operation was required. My endoscopy exam did indeed show an acute ulcer with a central blood vessel, like the one illustrated. It is called a “Dieulafoy lesion” named after French surgeon Paul Georges Dieulafoy, who described this condition in his paper “Exulceratio simplex: Leçons 1-3” in 1898. As is often the case with eponyms, it was actually described earlier by someone else (MT Gallard), also in the French literature.

We zapped the lesion and happily (or perhaps serendipitously) it stopped bleeding, confirmed by a repeat endoscopy the next day. Everyone was pleased, but one of the local doctors was nervous. He took me aside to make sure that I submitted a very large fee so that his own did not look excessive. Willie and I were welcomed as heroes by all the Indian staff at The Middlesex when we got home. 

It has been my pleasure to visit India many times over the years. I wrote about  my first one in 1971 in an earlier blog. India now has some of the best doctors and hospitals in the world, and I have just participated (virtually) in a terrific teaching program based in Kolkata.

Reflecting on India, I am reminded about cricket, a passion for Brits and all remnants of the empire. It thrives in India, where you will see kids playing on any open area in the middle of cities and other unusual places.

For anyone with 4 hours to spare I strongly recommend a movie called “Lagaan”, in which pompous representatives of the empire find themselves on a sticky wicket and bamboozled by googlies (note, not google, which now has a different connotation).

A googly is a ball bowled in cricket that seems to spin backwards, for which reason it was also called the “wrong un”. Cricket enthusiasts will remember that Australian Shane Warne was a master googlier. He is second only to Muttiah Muralitharan as the bowler who has taken the most wickets in test cricket. Although playing for Sri Lanka he had Indian citizenship through his forbears. He is famous for bowling the doosra, the opposite of the googly. To explain that I have to step back for those unfortunate not to have grown up with cricket. It is difficult to understand if not engrained in childhood, especially in an English public (AKA private) school.

Unlike in baseball, the bowler (pitcher) aims to have the ball bounce just in front of the batsman. He, or she, can confuse the batsperson by causing the ball to spin from there to the left (leg spin) or to the right (off spin). Batspeople try to judge which way it may spin by watching the bowler’s arm and hand at the time of delivery. That’s the trick. A googly is when an expected leg break turns to the right (off spin), and the doosra is the reverse. Perhaps I should also explain some other common cricket words.  

“Wicket” has several meanings. It is the spread of grass 22 yards long (AKA the “pitch”) on which the bowlers and batspeople compete. It also describes the 3 wooden “stumps” which the bowler is trying to hit and dismiss the batsperson. That would be “taking his/her wicket”. Wikipedia tells me “The origin of the word is from wicket gate, a small gate. Originally, cricket wickets had only two stumps and one bail and looked like a gate. The third (middle) stump was introduced in 1775, after Lumpy Stevens bowled three successive deliveries to John Small that went straight through the two stumps rather than hitting them”. The “bails” are short pieces of wood that are balanced on top of the stumps.

Don’t get me started on the names of the fielder positions. Pity the square leg umpire!


Then there is “test” cricket. You might think it would be some sort of test before the real thing, but no, test cricket is the tops, named I think because it is the most testing, and traditionally lasting 5 days with appropriate breaks for tea.

Early on that was not considered long enough, so some tests were designated “timeless”, on one occasion coming to a close, without result, only because the steam ship was due to take the team back to England from Australia.

Sorry, we seem to have been deflected somewhat (by a googly or doosra) from my story about Amitabh Bachchan. I am sure he must be a cricket fan. Lagaan is one of the few Bollywood movies in which he did not star. Have you seen Slumdog Millionaire? Bachchan has the memorable opening scene. Dev Patel was the star in that movie (as in the the wonderful Marigold Hotel). Who can forget his frequent line “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end”? Sounds a good way to stop……

All part of life’s rich tapestry.

4 Responses

  1. Hrushikesh Chaudhari says:

    Sir…
    That’s amazing…. You have treated Amitabh Bachchan!!!…
    And also I am surprised to see your knowledge about cricket (& also bollywood 😄)
    You are really great sir…
    Inspiration for all of us

  2. Nicky Richardson says:

    Thanks for the cricket lesson. I do seem to have absorbed some of this info from helping to score your hospital staff matches in my youth!

  3. Eamonn Quigley says:

    Great story and loved the cricket 101 piece. Interesting footnote on Dieulafoy who makes an appearance in Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” where he attends to the hero’s grandmother. His performance and, especially, exit from the dying woman’s room are perfect:

    “Dr Dieulafoy may indeed have been a great physician, a marvelous teacher; to the several roles in which he excelled, he added another, in which he remained for forty years without a rival, a role as original as that of the confidant, the clown or the noble father, which consisted in coming to certify that a patient was in extremis. ……In the sable majesty of his frock coat the Professor would enter the room, melancholy without affectation, uttering not one word of condolence that could have been construed as insincere, not being guilty of the slightest infringement of the rules of tact. ……..Having examined my grandmother without tiring her, and with an excess of reserve which was an act of courtesy to the doctor in charge of the case, he murmured a few words to my father, and bowed respectfully to my mother……But already the latter had turned away, not wishing to seem intrusive, and made a perfect exit, simply accepting the sealed envelope that was slipped into his hand. He did not appear to have seen it, and we ourselves were left wondering for a moment whether we had really given it to him, with such a conjurer’s dexterity had he made it vanish without sacrificing one iota of the gravity – which was if anything accentuated – of the eminent consultant in his long frock coat with its silk lapels, his noble features engraved with the most dignified commiseration.”
    (Marcel Proust. Remembrance of things past. The Guermantes Way. 1920/21)
    Eamonn (Quigley)

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