Every morning at 8am, while most retirees are still sipping their morning coffee or taking a leisurely stroll, Alla Ilyinichna Levushkina is already in her clinic attending to patients, and by 11am, she would be taking on surgeries for the day.

For the petite surgeon who will be turning 90 this May, there is no slowing down.

“I work and everything,” she said. “I have nothing to do in retirement.”

At her height of 1.44 metres (4 feet 9 inches), Alla, with the aid of an assistant, will stand on a small platform while she performs the surgeries; it affords her a vantage view of the patient on the operating table.

Single and devoted to saving patients, the surgeon from Moscow has performed over 10,000 surgeries in her 67 years of service, and keeps a track record of zero fatalities.

Recently, she was awarded the prize for the best doctor in Russia.

"There are people I saved many years ago when nobody else wanted to perform an operation on them. And I did that and they are still alive and have grown up children," she said.

“I work because it’s interesting to me, and also because I like to win. I like to help people achieve remissions.”

Medicine was not her first choice of career

Alla had wanted to be a geologist but after reading a novel about doctors, she was inspired and switched to read medicine at the Moscow Medical Institute, where competition for admission was intense.

Securing a place was tough, and surviving in medical school was challenging for her.

“Once a month the medical students could depend on getting a bottle of alcohol, we would run to the market and use it to barter – half a litre could get you a loaf of bread.

“We only survived because we split everything between us in the student halls,” she recounted.

“My parents, who barely had enough to eat themselves, sent a few potatoes from our village in Ryazan. Other students shared their salo [cured pork fat] and grains. That’s how we managed,” Alla shared.

She also told of how one student brought a huge fish which was eagerly enjoyed by her classmates over several meals.

“It was incredible! We dined out on it for a week and then made soup from the bones we had gnawed on until they shone.”

To her, the tough times did not deter her but instead made her more determined to be a surgeon.

Being a surgeon is a lifelong commitment

She specialised in proctology, a field which she believed not many would choose during her time because it would involve working with bowel and rectal problems which many thought was too messy to handle.

But to Alla, being a surgeon is more than a job.

“Doctor – it is not just a profession, it’s a way of life,“ said the surgeon who lives in a studio apartment with her nephew and eight cats.

“Why else would the surgeon live, if not to work?"

When she is off work, she will be busy with the task of caregiving – caring for her disabled nephew.

As for her impassioned vitality and vigour, she said, “‘I didn’t find any secret to longevity. I just eat everything, laugh a lot and cry a lot.” MIMS

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