Saturday, August 6, 2011

There is a Light that never goes out

In our hospital, the fact of life and death going hand in hand is somewhat ironically underlined by the placement of the Labour Ward from the OBGY department along a corridor right opposite the Male Medicine Ward for Seriously Ill Patients where I am posted right now.

While this leaves much room to philosophize, ground reality presents a rather different set of observations to be made.

Four nights ago, on the night of my second consecutive emergency inside of a week, at around 3:30 A.M. approximately, while our houseman and I were trying our level best to maintain some semblance of conscious brain function while struggling to stay awake, two of the 'seriously ill' patients in our ward simultaneously took a turn for the worse.

That I wud have to watch my houseman, in his sluggish although frightened mental state, perform a quick but random triage in his head, did not occur to me while he rushed to the side of the patient on bed number 1, ordering for the intubation tray and the emergency cart. He began what he knew was about to be a failed attempt to resuscitate the dying man, when he gave me a sudden deer-caught-in-the-headlights look and as if just then remembering we had yet another dying man to deal with ordered me to bed number 27, and as I began to do what I hoped wud bring about a miracle, he yelled at me to call for help. From the MICU or the EMS, anywhere.

And unless somebody came, he seemed to imply, we wud likely lose both patients simultaneously. Asking the student nurse to hold my mobile to my ear while I was doing chest compressions, I managed to get two very sleepy medicine residents on the other end of the line, both of whom declined to come, citing reasons slightly churlish but wholly practical.

And as soon as I heard the call disconnect, all my slowed-down mind could grasp was, this was it. This was the first patient I wud watch as he died with my hands compressing his silent chest. I wud have stopped when I knew he was not coming back but the look on my houseman's face meant I wud have to keep going. I did it for ten whole minutes before he stopped and it meant it was okay for me to stop as well.

I must have looked really sad or distraught becoz he talked with both sets of relatives himself, I was relieved he'd spared me from having to deliver the news of the death. I walked slowly back to the side-room and lay down on the bed before he entered around an hour later and kindly asked if I was okay.

He said to me, in what he hoped was a comforting voice, "You'll get used to it. It happens all the time, every day. People die and you deal with it. It's strange, isn't it? Their bodies, out there, have everything the same as before, nothing's changed in them. Yet, the force that animates us all, is gone. Just like that."

"How come no one came to help?" I asked him. He sighed and said, "It's late at night, they've got their own work to do. Don't blame anyone. It was my job, anyway." He turned away from me and fell asleep for what little remained of the night.

Outside, in the lightening sky, I heard birds chirping, signalling dawn and a new day. In the corridor outside, a woman was sobbing, loudly at first, and after some time, she stopped, only whimpering now and again. In the next wing, newborns cried as they took their first breath of life.

As I rose to start the morning blood collections, I realized I had learned a new and important lesson. That it takes more than adequate knowledge and good intentions to save a life. It takes luck and random chance. And acceptance of the fact that saving one man does not mean you'll save another the next day.

But life goes on. Atleast, until death intervenes.


Darshan Chande said...

Touching. Tough job it is.

Apart from that, there something about the way you describe it. Can't tell what, but feels nice to read. Some writing in which one can sense the depth and wisdom of the writer. Something like that..

Paige Hadley said...

I just wanted to pop in and say a very very big and extremely hearty thankyou for the comments you've been leaving on my blog. It has been an absolute joy to receive them and it has been fantastic to hear someone else's opinion. So thankyou so much! It means a lot!

pankaj said...

very poignant. most of us are lucky to be spared experiencing the fact that death happens all the time. not so for doctors.

Sakshi said...

You really have a tough job. I remember, once I had joined a NGO for destitute and drug addicted women. I had the toughest two months. I used to choke on my tears every evening as I came back home, thinking about how difficult life is!

You are one brave girl!

Tatterdemalion said...

Very very beautifully written. Stirs up a lot of different emotions. Thank you...

Antara said...

Death is one of the most poignant moments in the lives of others, as many come to realize.

I respect you for the work that you do, it takes an amazing amount of courage to be able to process all of what happens in a hospital. Only a blessed few can do their work well and retain a sense of humanity like you do.

--Sunrise-- said...

This nearly brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully penned, personal and touching lessons. And the fact that the contrasting wails of a mourning woman and a newborn child in the dawn of a new day was not lost on you itself shows a great deal of strength. :-)