Sunday, 12 February 2012

How I Got Fired From My First Job

I was fired from my first job for being too sincere.

This is likely to be a somewhat puzzling statement, so let me explain.

My first job after graduating from dental college was as a staff dentist at the Ramakrishna Mission Polyclinic (the Ramakrishna Mission is a Hindu monastic order with a presence in numerous countries) in this town. I was the second dentist – the first was someone I’ll call Sam, a former classmate of mine (though never a friend) from school who’d gone to some fifth-grade dental college in Bihar and who was hardly interested in his job. He was, and I’m not making this up, incapable of distinguishing between a deciduous and permanent molar tooth; I’ve watched him extract the second under the impression that it was the first. I’ve watched him grind up an antibiotic tablet and put it in an infected tooth in the name of treating it. No, I am not making any of this up. And it was significant because there was only one dental chair and I had to wait for my turn after he finished his specimens (including chatting to his friends who turned up to gossip in the guise of getting treated).

He was also appallingly lazy, unwilling to work, and – as I discovered later – actively trying to get me fired. The monk in charge at the time was someone I’ll call Soumrajyananda (that was not his real name – all Ramakrishna Mission monks take names ending in –nanda after the take their vows – but nor was it the name under which he was known). Soumrajyananda was a nice guy, relatively speaking; also one of the last of the well-qualified monks, computer-literate (something of a rarity at the time), qualified to drive a medium-sized truck, and with at least a working knowledge of construction. He also had little tolerance for bullshit, so he didn’t give any credence to Sam.

Sam finally got himself fired after insulting the Ramakrishna Mission in front of a specimen who he didn’t know was a devotee of the Ramakrishna Mission, and after that I was in sole charge of the clinic; which was something of a mixed blessing, even if it did free me from Sam. It was a mixed blessing because it wasn’t at all easy to do the work I was supposed to do.

At that time (I’m talking about the mid—nineties) the dental clinic was new and, to put it mildly, primitive. How primitive? Let’s say that as a student, I was using more sophisticated equipment. (Fellow dentists will know what I’m talking about when I say that the chair had a cord-driven latch-type handpiece, no suction, no three-way syringe, and no light-cure unit or ultrasonic scaler.) I didn’t even have an assistant; during the course of treatment I had to mix filling materials and between specimens I had to clean and sterilise the instruments by myself – quite apart from the paperwork.

Ah, yes, there was the paperwork. I had two registers, one (which I had to demand before I got it – apparently they expected me to keep the details in my head) for appointments; the other one was for a daily accounting of specimens by name, age, sex and treatment done. At the end of every month I was expected to make out and submit a report which broke down the specimens by sex, treatment, repeat appointments, new appointments and so on. I never could find the reason for this report since it never seemed to make any difference about the way they handled the clinic.

This was the procedure for handling a specimen (it’s significant because it had a direct effect on how I ended up being fired). A specimen would come to the registration desk, and buy a treatment card. He or she would then (according to his or her own description of which kind of doctor he or she wanted to visit) be directed to one or other of the various physicians, homoeopaths, the dentists – only I after Sam was sacked until, as I’ll describe, two more were appointed later – the radiology clinic, or whatever. Suppose a specimen came to me, and needed a filling. I’d have to – after entering the details in the register – make out a requisition slip for a filling. The specimen would go back to the reception desk and pay the fee for the filling, then return to me, and show me the receipt; only after that was I able to do the filling. It was the same for every bit of treatment. If I ran out of, say, anaesthetic or filling material, I’d have to go to the office and ask for more. As the number of specimens increased, obviously, these trips became more and more frequent.

You can understand that this was hardly the most efficient way of doing things. It worked OK in the beginning because there were hardly any specimens, but after Sam left and I began working as I thought someone in my position should work, the specimen count began shooting up and up and up. In the beginning there were maybe five specimens a day, and I’d read a novel in between. Within a year I was handling twenty to thirty, including surgeries and root canal work – and all of it, one hundred per cent, alone.

Now, by “day” I mean “eight am to twelve noon”. Those were the official working hours, six days a week; but since, as I said, I was working far beyond my capacity to comfortably handle specimens I used to find myself still hard at work at two in the afternoon. Most of the time I was so exhausted that after work was over I’d just sit and rest for half an hour before the four-kilometre walk home. I was walking home because I couldn’t afford any personal transport; there was no bus which went more than halfway, either. I was being paid, for all that work, two thousand rupees a month. By comparison, now I earn more than that in a single day, and even then it isn’t enough. And since many of these specimens couldn’t come later in the day, and they all wanted appointments in the morning before going to work, I ended up going to the clinic by seven in the morning so I could sterilise all the instruments, get everything ready, and start working on them by half past seven or a quarter to eight. I’d usually have to leave home by six-thirty.

I said the equipment was primitive. It was so primitive that I ended up bringing some of my own instruments so I could work more efficiently; and I lost all of this equipment when the clinic burned down.

What? Oh, yeah, some months after Sam was sacked the clinic burned down one night, after an electric fire. The electric wiring was too shoddy to have circuit breakers, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise. The entire building had to be reconstructed; I helped in raising funds to pay for that reconstruction. The upside was that I got a slightly more modern dental chair (dentists: one with a compressor and an airotor handpiece, but still no scaler or light cure unit). Soon the new clinic was busier than ever.

Then another dentist – let’s call him Sharad – was employed to “help me”. In practice, this meant that he hindered me more than anything, because there was just the one chair, and we had to take it in turns to do the work, while the reception desk took the opportunity to increase the number of specimens because there were now “two of us”. I found myself coming earlier than ever, and leaving later.

During these days I had other interactions with the Mission people. I helped them to set up a vermiculture unit, and I went out with them on occasion to the villages to conduct dental health camps. Also, I remember paying for a couple of specimens’ treatment since they couldn’t afford it. They never paid me back, either.

Around this time, Soumrajyananda was transferred elsewhere and was replaced by someone I’ll call Bandarananda (from Bandar, monkey; privately I used to call him the Monkey Monk). This creature had neither the faintest idea of administration nor anything by way of ability. Nor did he even have the faintest idea how to behave.

Things rapidly went from bad to worse under Bandarananda. We still had only one chair, but now there were three dentists – three of us competing for that one chair. As the one who had the largest number of specimens, obviously, I had the greatest problems. And there was not the slightest hope of making the Monkey Monk understand this.

I’d said before that each time we ran out of material we’d have to go and ask for a replacement. Bandarananda decided we were using too much, for reasons of his own, so he decided that we should have only say one bottle of anaesthetic at any given moment in the clinic. Once that was over, we’d have to go and ask for more.

And since we were seeing twenty or thirty specimens a day in the clinic, the anaesthetic, and gloves, and all other materials got exhausted at an extraordinarily rapid pace. Usually, I had to make a couple of trips to the office each day to ask for replacements. I don’t know what Bandarananda thought about it, but I strongly suspect that he decided I was stealing the materials from the clinic. He was that kind. In any case, I kept on having to prove that I needed more material before he’d, very reluctantly, give it to me. 

During this time there were other things happening in my life. For one, my dad was in the process of dying of cancer, and I got occasional telephone calls at work to update me on his condition. Also, I was preparing to set up my own private clinic, and Bandarananda was well aware that I’d be leaving eventually. I still believe that this was at least partially responsible for what happened.

One morning I arrived at work, as usual, at about 7 in the morning, to find that the dental clinic was locked. The guy in charge of unlocking the building (an assistant in the pathology lab) told me that the administration had specifically ordered him not to open the dental clinic before eight. So I was waiting, along with the specimens, until the clinic was opened – and then I had to clean, sterilise, and start up everything before starting work. It was almost half past eight before I had the first specimen in the chair.

About eleven in the morning I was called to speak to Bandarananda. Without even looking at me, he informed me that I was dismissed and there was no need for me to come any more. When I demanded a reason, he claimed that I was getting "too many phone calls" and that I was bringing in my own private specimens in the mornings before 8am and treating them with the clinic’s materials. Allegedly, I wasn’t sending them to the desk to get themselves registered. Well, I’d have to be remarkably stupid to have done that, since I was entering all the names in my register, the one I had to maintain to give a monthly breakdown of whom I was treating, and what treatment I was doing. If I was bringing in my own specimens, wouldn’t I have simply avoided entering their names in any records? I mean, that’s common sense, isn’t it?

Frankly, I wasn’t too unhappy at being fired, since it freed me to concentrate on my private practice. It also freed me to tell Bandarananda exactly what I thought of him – which I did, in quite colourful language, and loudly enough so I’m sure enough of the other staff heard for word to have got around. Then I went back to the clinic, finished working on all the specimens, and only then did I leave.

The laugh was on Bandarananda, actually, since most of my regular specimens followed me over to my new practice. And later he also ended up sacking both the other dentists, and getting blacklisted by the dental supply firm which used to provide the materials, so yah boo sucks and screw him too.

But it still seems strange to me that I was sacked because I was working too sincerely to suit him. 



  1. Ironic, really. My experience in a mission hospital was quite to the contrary. Yes, as the sole doctor in a 60 bedded hospital, I found myself swamped with work. But it helped that I had a very efficient support staff. Also I felt that my work was appreciated. I feel that working in a demanding environment actually builds up our work ethic. And in spite of your misfortune with the "Monkey -monk", I'm sure that you had a lot to take back from your experience at RKM

  2. Wild stuff... If someone wants you gone, they can always find an excuse for why you are doing a bad job.

    Even if it's just that you are too conscientious.

    Thought that does seem like the worst of all reasons to get fired...


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