(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Arrest! Sir… Code Blue!” the nurse shouted. The casualty was full, all eight beds had serious patients, and their relatives waited near them. Every second matters.
“Everyone out” my co-intern shouted. Some moved out, some stayed. Two other interns were already attending similar patients, two of us ran to the arrested patient. The nurse had already started the chest massage. I gave patient the position for inserting the breathing tube, as my co-intern Dr. Ajoy took over the cardiac massage. The senior medical officer, Dr. Hazare, experienced with a lot of medical wisdom, stood near the bed. He calmly gave orders for the last-attempt medicines in such emergencies.
The chest massage to save lives is rather forceful, its force has to reach the heart. The chest wall has to be pumped down 2-2.5 inches with every compression, and this has to be real fast: over 100 times a minute. It looks very traumatic, but it is useless if not done exactly like this. It is quite a disturbing scene for the relatives. The patient’s son kept on shouting “Don’t hurt him” loudly. The medical officer repeatedly asked him and the five relatives around the patient to leave. They refused.
The Medical Officer Dr. Hazare then asked us to stop the CPR. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande
We were baffled. How could one stop the life saving CPR?
The patient who had arrested was from a nearby slum, father of a local goon out on bail, like most goons in India. He (the patient) was in his late fifties, a chronic alcoholic and smoker, with severe liver damage. He’d had excess alcohol on the prior night. That morning, he had had a convulsion, and was brought to the casualty after many hours of delay . An arrogant, drunk, politically supported crowd posing as relatives accompanied him, a common nuisance in almost every Indian hospital.
We continued the CPR. Dr. Hazare went out.
After a direct injection of adrenaline into the heart through the chest, the patient’s heart restarted, and he started to gasp, making some movements. We quickly shifted him to the ICU. The proud feeling of saving a life gripped us. There was no time for celebration, but Dr. Ajoy kept whistling on the way for our midnight tea.
Later that night, Dr. Hazare called us. He was angry, yet calm and smiling, an ability that only the most evolved souls can have.
“Listen, we are in India. Most of the people around us are not only uneducated and ignorant, they are also quite violent and paranoid. Emotional dramas are considered a normalcy. There’s a tendency to shift the blame of delayed treatment and bad outcomes on to the doctors. You were risking your life. If the patient’s heart had not restarted, the relatives could have blamed you, even hurt you”.
“But Sir, they saw that we were desperately trying to save the patient’s life” I argued.
“YOU think so. They don’t know anything about the CPR. They refused to go out. You saw how arrogant they are. These things work only when the outcome is good. If the outcome is bad, the doctor is automatically held guilty. I told you, we are in India. People like to think that doctors are wrong, whatever you do. ” Dr. Hazare said. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande
We didn’t think he was right. Still, we respected him for his wisdom, so we just apologised and went on to deal with the casualty again. It was a busy night, still a very negative feeling about what Dr. Hazare had said kept shadowing my thoughts. How could such a senior doctor ask someone to stop CPR?
Dr. Ajoy went to his room at 5 AM and returned by 7 AM to relieve me. I went home at 7 AM, had a quick bath and breakfast, to return at 9 AM.
The casualty was all devastated, ruins were seen all around. Many doctors were rushing in and out. All beds were empty except one.
Dr. Ajoy was on that casualty bed, unconscious, intubated and with blood soaked bandages on his head. He had many cuts on his entire body. Our colleagues were trying to push intravenous fluids fast into his veins. Dr. Anirudh, another intern with us, told me even as he could not stop crying: “That patient we had resuscitated yesterday evening… he had another cardiac arrest in the ICU this morning… his relatives came down and attacked Ajoy. They said that the patient died because of the forceful CPR. They stabbed Ajay and hit his head with iron rods. Dr. Hazare came and tried to rescue Ajoy, they even attacked him. We were waiting for you. Do you have his parent’s contact?”.
In a state of shock, I could not speak. I reached out for my bag, got my diary and called Dr. Ajoy’s father in Calcutta.
“Why?” Dr. Ajoy’s shocked father asked when I told him Ajoy was attacked, injured and serious. How could the father of a thin built, cute, brilliant scholar ever understand that people could brutally attack his child for trying to save their loved one?
I had no answers. Dr. Hazare’s sentences kept ringing in my brain, I could not utter them. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Eventually, Dr. Ajoy recovered. He is now in the UK. His father came over last week, for a check-up. While leaving, he kept his gracious hand upon my head and said with immense love: “Save many lives beta, but take care of yourself first. I still cannot sleep well due to what happened”.
That night, I stared at the sky, and kept thinking: Actually, this is why no doctor ever sleeps well in India. Saving lives comes with the inherent risk of losing one’s own, and this happens only in our beloved motherland.
(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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