The Unforgettable Compliment
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
All six casualty beds were full, the room was full of noises: nurses, fearful and angry patients, relatives, and wardboys trying to move stretchers and wheelchairs in and out. This chaos didn’t affect my concentration anymore. It was late night, heavily raining, my colleague Deepa and myself were the only two doctors- interns then- in the civil hospital casualty. She was finishing the paperwork in the side room. Behind a curtain, I was trying to remove a metal piece stuck in the back of a kid who had blown a firecracker bomb with a tin container covering it. I started stitching the gaping wound once the metal piece was out and cleaning was complete. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Just then a girl walked in, all wet and panicked, with another small girl upon a stretcher. I recognized her instantly: she was a classmate from my junior college, Ruta. As the patient was shifted to the bed, Ruta frantically shouted, enquiring for doctors. The nurses had already started checking her patient’s vitals. I finished bandaging the stitched wound, and came out from behind the curtain, removing my gloves. She saw and instantly recognized me too. “You are Rajas, right? Remember me? I am Ruta, your classmate.” She started sobbing, now that she met a familiar face. Her sister, about 15 years old, had had a head injury, falling from a bike, and had just vomited. She was woozy, irritable and confused. I ordered an X ray (CT scan was not available in that civil hospital) of her head and neck. IV line was started and necessary drugs injected. I reassured Ruta that her sister was stable, and continued with other patients.
My subconscious kept on playing memories of the past on some deep screens.
Ruta was exceptionally beautiful and vivacious. She had many fans. I liked her too, but there was no interaction: her group unlikely to engage with nerds like myself. They were a group of happy-go-lucky, good looking and muscular guys and stylish, good looking girls. They were mostly into movies, masti, dance, gymming, rides and food. I was not only preoccupied with a lot of classes and study, but also too shy to belong to such a group. Somewhere I envied those boys, they had so much advantage interacting with girls, with all the time and money they had. However, muscles are not my kind of statement, although (Thank God!) I have always enjoyed excellent health and fitness. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Once we finished the junior college, I never saw them. Medical courses hardly allow any time for extracurricular activities. The only silver lining was that there still were beautiful and intellectual girls in the class, and some of them respected and liked nerds too!
As Ruta waited by her sister, I kept on attending the cases that came in. From women in labour to heart attacks in shock, from bullets in the chest to rapes, one night in a casualty shows more pain than many know in a lifetime.
A foreigner couple came in, with their small boy bitten by a bee, he had developed severe reaction, his breathing was obstructed because of the throat swelling from inside. They kept on weeping as we all rushed to inject steroids and other medicines to the child. In some time the kid stabilized. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Then the police brought in a drunk driver who had rammed his Bullet bike into another’s. Our duty was to perform a detailed examination, collect blood sample and opine whether he was drunk or not. I was shocked: he was my schoolmate. He recognized me too. “Raja? Dekh yaar ye log mujhe andar kar rahe hain (Look these people are jailing me) he said, “Tu kuchh kar yaar (please do something)”. This was difficult. He was going to hate me for life probably, but I had no choice. I wrote his report. I felt sad, but there was no time to express it.
A snake bitten farmer and a newly wed woman with over 70 percent burns were brought in almost together, both gasping. Deepa and myself ran around to stabilize them, the medical officer came in too, but the burns woman had arrested just as they entered the casualty. We intubated the farmer, who was sinking, while we struggled to get things right. He was shifted to the ICU upstairs. We started finishing the paperwork. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
It was about 4 AM, now there was a relative calm in the casualty. Sleepy relatives had found corners to doze off. All six patients were relatively stable.
“Excuse me Rajas, Is there a canteen nearby where I can get some tea?” Ruta asked.
“Yes, across the road, in the lane opposite the gate” I replied.
“Will you please join me?” she asked.
Borrowing an umbrella from a ward boy, and informing Deepa, I walked Ruta across the street. We stood sipping the hot tea by the side of the road, under the beautiful rain.
“I have a confession to make” she said suddenly: “I never knew there was this side to life: I only thought my life was to be enjoyed without a worry. If someone had given me a million rupees yesterday to stay up all night listening to other people cry, see wounds and deaths all night, I would have declined and ran away. I cannot stand anyone whining, and here you all are, listening to nothing else, fighting not only death but also expectation, anger and uncertainty. We made fun of nerds like you, and today I meet one, saving lives! I don’t know if I will ever save a life, and here you are saving many every day! I feel how superficial I was! I respect you and what you do. I now think you docs are superheroes”.
We are used to such overwhelmed compliments by patients just relieved of fear. I just smiled. She read my face. ” No, I am not saying this because my sister is admitted today, but because I feel it inside after seeing what happened here”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
I thanked her, adding that it was not wrong to have fun and look good, confessing that medicos often secretly miss those things, none of us gets any time for that.
Needless to say, I walked back thanking God, and feeling proud. This was one simple closure, yet so essential!
My co-intern Deepa gave me the expected wicked mischievous smile when I returned.
“Today the tea must have been very tasty na?” she asked, sarcasm overflowing from a face deliberately made over-innocent.
“Solid” I replied with matching sarcasm; “Oxytocin-Dopamine waali chai thi (It had oxytocin and dopamine)”.
We discharged Ruta’s sister the next day. After two days, I received a handmade greeting from Ruta, in which she had written the most unforgettable compliment I ever received:
“You healed more than what was injured. Thank You!”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Dedicated to all medical students, interns and resident doctors.
Please share unedited.