Translation of a piece by Mazyar Mahdavifar

Best Researcher in the World
By  Ari Siletz

The following piece by freelance journalist Mazyar Mahdavifar was broadcast on radiokoocheh internet radio a few months ago. Finding his story-telling delightful, I contacted Mazyar who kindly gave me his permission to freely translate a transcription of the work into English. A translator’s apologies in advance to Mr. Mahdavifar

*** *** ***

It was around the 1370s 1380s period when we finished the theory portion of our studies at the university and entered a hospital as medical students. They divided us up into groups of ten and sent several groups to different hospitals. Some went to Hezaar Takht e Khaabi, some toFarabi, and some to Raazi. I, along with some of the groups that were supposed to do rotations in internal medicine, ended up in ShariatiHospital. Since this hospital has so many different wards, each of the groups could only choose from three or four of the available specialties. As is customary we consulted past students to find out which of these wards would be most useful to us and more importantly which programs could be completed with the least amount of headaches. What ward doesn’t have roll calls, which has the easiest exams, which has no early morning patient calls, which has the least pain-in-the-neck professor, or in our own parlance, which were the most “benign” wards

The advices contradicted each other to some extent, but the alumni were unanimous on one point: Even if it should mean that you fall behind a term, make every effort to avoid the hematology ward! They said the head of that ward is a doctor who is super high-strung and terribly strict. No one has ever managed to take a single unit with him and come out in one piece the first time around. He is a big man with a bald head whose voice sends shivers down the body of any critter. The most fundamental law in the hematology ward of Shariati Hospital was that it is impossible to learn anything about blood in 15 days, and for this reason every student must flunk two or three times in order to learn at leastsomething

I brought this up with a few of the students who had endured the program and discovered that if I was lucky my 15 days at hematology would fall on a period when Dr. Ghavamzadeh wouldn’t be around. They said he spends half the year in Iran and half the year overseas. Cutting to the chase, I decided to do whatever it took to avoid this infernal ward even if it meant coughing up some cash. Tradition had it that students would swap their easy assignments for harder ones if properly rewarded. Finally the selection day arrived and it turned out that no one was willing to trade for the hematology ward no matter what. Finally the issue came to drawing lots, and needless to say I ended up being sent straight to the hematology-oncology ward

Nevertheless, I hoped that perhaps my stay at the ward would fall on the half-year period when Dr. Ghavamzadeh was abroad. I asked around but no one knew. The next morning I went to the hematology building still with a thousand hopes because the night before I had prayed and offered a nazr that Dr. Ghavamzadeh would be away on a seminar somewhere. Those hopes were dashed the moment I entered the ward. Dr. Ghavamzadeh had climbed the stairs into the building an hour earlier than his students and was waiting to meet the new rookies

When I saw how he looked, I laughed inwardly, telling myself this guy doesn’t seem like he can even say “hello” in English. He looked more like the bad guy in the movies, and if I saw him in the street I would never suspect he was a medical man. He didn’t even have a stubble beard so that one could say he had been promoted because of his political connections. Giving my conspiracy theorizing a bit more of a workout I concluded that he comes to work clean shaven so that no one will know he is a loyalist who doesn’t deserve his post

I was still deep in my musings when suddenly a yell from the Doctor sent tremors down my body. Apparently he was talking about a patient I was supposed to be in charge of. He had asked which student was assigned to this patient, and I had been too busy musing to hear him. So he had looked up my name on his list and was bellowing it. You can figure the rest of the story from there

This was the beginning of two hellish weeks. The only two weeks during which dread of the professor made me go to the hospital in the afternoons to check on patients just in case there was some new development in the condition of said patients between one morning and the next that I would miss in my report. If that happened, I would be facing the Doctor’s abuse, because when it came to the patient’s welfare he humored absolutely no one, much less students and interns. We even saw him angrily throw out an established professor from a patient room–right in front of everyone–for negligence in a procedure. Those two weeks went by in slow misery, and even though I didn’t flunk the first time around, I stayed loyal to the anti Dr. Ghavamzadeh and the hematology ward protest movement. Until the last day as a student whenever someone asked me for advice about the hematology ward I repeated the same horror stories that had been passed on to me and sermonized at length against Dr. Ghavamzadeh and his ward. Ignoring my personal experience of getting through the rotation in one try, I still explained that it takes several rounds to get through the ordeal. Somehow it made me feel better to see the panic in the eyes of my classmates

Many years have gone by since then. Each of us went our separate ways to different lives. Many of us circumvented a career in medicine altogether and many of us did not. But no one in our group ever returned to that accursed hematology ward. Doctor Ghavamzadeh has carried on as the head of the ward and perhaps continues to strike terror into the hearts of his students.

Yesterday I read a piece of news. A piece that wouldn’t normally appear noteworthy among all the other bits: “Doctor Ardeshir Ghavamzadeh, leading specialist in oncology and blood diseases has won the 2012 Distinguished Service Award from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research

Sadness gripped my heart as tears welled in my eyes. I felt sorry for a man so great, yet whose own students had no idea who he was. I felt sorry for us who never appreciated his worth. I felt sorry for myself who had judged him on his appearance. I was sorry that during those two weeks I did such a poor job that he had to yell at me several times

Quite possibly Doctor Ghavamzadeh is still the same large-framed, bald man whose booming voice sends shivers down the bodies of even his colleagues. Likely he looks a bit older and still the object of his students’ profanities and damnations. And perhaps students still wish they would not end up in the hematology ward, and even if they did it should happen when Doctor Ghavamzadeh is on the other side of the planet. Perhaps, still, when he walks down the street no one knows that he was the first in Iran to perform a bone marrow transplant operation. Perhaps even his close relatives don’t know that the hematology ward he manages is one of the most successful in the world. And I do wonder, does anyone in Shariati hospital even know that Doctor Ghavamzadeh has been picked by the world as a distinguished scientist of the year.