For the 25-year-old male doctor, the thought of a lifetime working with young children and infants was the last thing on his mind. General medicine, on the other hand, seemed fascinating. But a friend advised him that the field of paediatrics held much promise and career development potential. More than a decade of practice later, Dr. Mandar Bichu, a paediatrician, is extremely thankful to that friend.
"My outlook on life changed after I switched to paediatrics," says the Sharjah-based physician. "It's not something that happens overtly, or in one fell swoop, but it happens gradually, over a period of time."
The first challenge lay in getting in touch with his own emotions, to develop a language of the heart that would enable him to really see and understand his young charges who could not communicate their problems to him in any spoken language.
As paediatricians, we have to make a diagnosis based on the face of the child, and to be able to do that you have to be completely attuned to them, to their moods and their worries, their joys and sadness, and in the process of that attuning is when you change as a person," says Dr. Bichu.
And although a sick child can present one of the most sorrowful sights in the world, Dr.Bichu finds his reward at those times."When I'm treating a young one who is crumpled up as the result of a high fever, and two to three days later you see him again and he is bubbly, smiling and active, it gives you such immense satisfaction," he says. "You never see that kind of drastic change in older patients. Children wear their hearts on their sleeves, that's what makes it much more rewarding than any other field."
The waiting room in Dr. Bichu's private clinic is almost like a school science textbook showing the stages of development. There are newborns, toddlers, school-going youngsters toting lunchboxes, all the way up to the pre-teens he sees them through all the stages of their early life, practically watched them grow up.
And how has his life changed as a result of working with children? He is happier, it seems, probably far more than he would have been in any other speciality, for the simple reason that kids are born comedians, and their antics never fail to lighten up his day.
"It can be the simplest of things that can make you smile," he says. "Like when you tell a child to stick out his tongue so you can check his tonsils. The under-fives don't have very good coordination, so sometimes they stick their tongues out and close their mouths at the same time."
"What I have learned from the kids I work with is that a person at any age should keep the child in him alive always," says Dr. Bichu. "Children find joy in the small things in life, and their purity and innocence is really something we should learn from. We become so bogged down with needless anxieties and responsibilities that we forget to appreciate the small things."
Anyone who really observes children and spends a lot of time with them - not just in a professional setting can learn a great deal from their approach to life, and their priorities, he adds.His work with children has also taught him another important truth: that people are the same, no matter what corner of the world they come from.
But his proximity to children has also left him with stunning realisations, not all of which are softness and light. Children are a gift of God, he says, but they are in the hands of humans. Like sponges, they absorb everything around them, and too often he has seen cases where children are constantly given the message that life is a struggle and they should act accordingly, turning into premature adults in toddler's clothing.
"Children pick these things up automatically, it doesn't have to be in your speech, it can be in your overall attitude," he says. "It's