Lost Soul

Gray, Donovan

Lost Soul

Arun was my organic chemistry lab partner back in pre-med. I didn’t mind the organic chem course work, but I sure hated the labs. As far as I was concerned, pouring foul-smelling hydrocarbons from one beaker into another for three hours every Monday morning was sheer torture. During the first month students worked solo, but after that we were partnered up. Fortunately for me, I got to work with Arun.

Which adjectives best describe Arun? Intelligent and well-organized would probably be first out of the gate, followed closely by soft-spoken, generous and athletic. He had a dry sense of humour and an impish grin. One thing’s for sure – he was the best lab partner a slacker like me could ever have hoped for. I’d usually show up five minutes late, flop down beside him at our work station and ask what was going on. He’d take a break from pipetting the methyl-ethyl-whatever and patiently describe the experiment I was supposed to have read up on over the weekend.

“Cool,” I’d reply. “So, what do you need me to do?” I’m pretty sure the only thing he ever needed me to do was stay out of his way, but he always managed to come up with some little job to keep me busy so the instructor wouldn’t realize what a useless twit I was.

In the fall of 1983 Arun and I were both accepted into the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. I didn’t see much of him during the first two years of the program, but on those occasions when our paths did cross he seemed fine. Halfway through our third year we were all promoted to the rank of “baby clerk” and dumped on the wards. The sudden increase in pressure proved too much for some, and a handful of my classmates imploded.

Arun was one of the first casualties. There was no warning - one day he was with us and the next he was gone. Rumour had it he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Back then my friends and I thought schizophrenia was just an exotic word that lived in psychiatry textbooks, not something that could actually reach into our world and touch us. It didn’t seem possible. We should have sought him out and offered moral support, but most of us were too busy trying to stay afloat ourselves to worry about a fallen comrade. The general philosophy of most medical schools in the 1980s could probably be summarized in three words: Sink or swim. As Arun sank, the rest of us continued dog-paddling ferociously. No one looked back.

Over the years there were sporadic Arun sightings. Once a classmate had a meal at a restaurant and Arun waited on his table.

Occasionally someone would bump into him at a movie theatre or in a grocery store. Having a meaningful conversation with him became increasingly difficult as his thought patterns grew more tangential. Each encounter left one with the distinct impression that he was slowly disintegrating. It was as though tiny fragments of his personality were breaking off and floating away. Eventually, Arun became withdrawn and dishevelled-looking. Poor Arun, we’d say, as we hurried to our next clinic. We should go visit him. Then one of us would get paged and we’d race away to deal with the crisis.

A year after completing my training I moved to northern Ontario. Things got even busier for me. I started a practice, got married, became a father… . Life was good. I forgot all about my former lab partner.

Last summer we moved back to Winnipeg. Over the Christmas holidays we were invited to a friend’s house for a Boxing Day brunch.

Seven of my former classmates were there. While our children chased each other around the house we gathered in the kitchen and reminisced about our years in medical school. All of a sudden I remembered Arun.

“Hey,” I said, turning to our host, “when’s the last time you saw Arun?” His smile froze.

“Didn’t you hear?” he asked. “Arun left home depressed one day last March and never came back. They pulled his body out of the Red River six weeks later. He drowned.”

I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, Arun.

In memory of Arun Sud (1963–2004)

Arun’s family would like to hear from any of his classmates or others who knew him while he was a student. His family can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].

A scholarship fund has been set up in Arun’s memory through the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society. The scholarship will be awarded to a student with a mental illness pursuing university or college. Anyone wishing to make a donation can contact the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society at (204) 786-1616, email [email protected], or regular mail: 100 - 4 Fort Street, Winnipeg, MB, R3C 1C4.

Theme: Death and Dying | Décès et le mourir
Theme: Physicians | Médecins
Theme: Relationships | Relations
Theme: Teaching and Learning | Enseignement et apprentissage

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.


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