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ICU Seventeen

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ICU Seventeen
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
11 PM. Just as I finished my OPD I received a call from the ICU resident doctor: “Sir, you have a call from ICU seventeen”. I was tired and exhausted, feeling feverish that day. I was not on call, so could request them to send this call to another neurologist who was on call.
But it was ICU seventeen. I hated going to that cabin, my legs dragged heavy, my mind exploded, but I had to. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
I went there, assessed the middle aged lady on the bed. She was already on a ventilator, had been unconscious since after a head injury. She had been knocked down by a speeding drunkard while crossing the road. This was day two. Examining her, I found feeble signs that indicated that her brain was not dead. . CT scan showed many injuries to the brain. I told her relatives –the husband and the son- about this, and also explained them the uncertainty and unpredictability of outcome.
“Shall we continue the treatment or let go? We are not rich, we can try only if there are good chances of her survival” said the husband and son. The husband was visibly fatigued with the situation, the son was talking to me without looking up from his iPad.
 
“Although the outcome is unpredictable, in my opinion, you must continue to try. This is not yet a hopeless case”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
As expected, they were unhappy.
They wanted quick answers that would either guarantee a good outcome or enable them to bank upon a doctor’s decision to withdraw life support which would make them guilt free. I did not want to hurry a decision for their convenience. My first duty was to protect the patient’s life, not to cater to anyone else’s expectations. A doctor who does not respect life in all its depth has no right to be a doctor. Especially in case of an unconscious patient, a doctor’s responsibility peaks, and sometimes he/she has to even struggle to convince the family to continue treatment. Notions like “dead patient kept on ventilator in ICU” created and catered by some stupids add to this situation. ICU expenses are indeed high. In such a scenario, any doctor who advises to continue treatment in a hope of saving life is indeed suspected to have “financial” motives.
But even that fear was below my duty to the patient. I told them that in my opinion they should not withdraw life support. I told them to continue to try.
 
“Doctor, what would you have done if your mother was in her place?” asked the son, looking up with a cunning expression from his iPad.
The explosions in my mind restarted. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
In this same ICU seventeen, just a few weeks ago, I had witnessed my mother’s death. For three days and nights, my own colleagues had fought to tackle the umpteen complications that took away my dearest, and I stood at the door, telling them: do whatever you must, try your best, but save her. In her earlier life, mom had always wanted to live, live longer, and be with her family every moment at any cost. There was no reason for me to presume she did not want to survive. From Geeta to Bible, ever sacred book has advised “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Medicine or law aren’t yet wiser than that.
I am a middle class doctor myself, not rich. I could not afford prolonged treatment. But I was willing to even sell myself if it was required to make my mother survive, even for a day more. She would have done the same for me, even more. There is no age and illness when a mother would want her child to die, and as her dearest son, it was upon me to become her mother when she grew old.
 
One cruel night took her away. I will never overcome that feeling of standing in the door of ICU seventeen, with the resident doctor and nurse, both crying too, tried to wrestle out my mom from the claws of death. That cabin, that door, that corridor brings back those moments. I cannot show that upon my face, I am a doctor. I work at the same hospital, see these places almost every day, and carry on what I must. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
I paused to contain the agitations in my mind, then replied.
‘Yes, Sir” I told the son of the iPad: “I am suggesting you exactly what I would have done for my mother”. Still trustless, he continued fingering his iPad. His father sat clutching his head. They continued the treatment, but bitterly.
A week later, she opened eyes. In ten days, I received a call again “Sir, can we shift that lady out of ICU seventeen? She is fine now, conscious and oriented, accepting orally” the resident doctor asked.
 
“Yes please”, I replied, not without a tear. We couldn’t get my mother back, I will never recover from that memory, but we had defeated death in the same room! © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Every doctor has had such experience: illness, death and extremely disturbing memories associated with it. They still have to keep their calm and continue to try for their patients what they could not achieve for their dearest ones. It is mostly taken for granted: that doctors have no feelings, that it is so routine for them to see pain and death that they are not affected by these anymore.
 
It takes a grand courage: that of a brave soldier, to be able to walk again in the corridors of death that have taken away one’s dearest people. The same diseases, illnesses, problems affect doctors and their families too, we fight them, we win or lose, but we come back to the battleground again, every day, to protect every single life we can.
Therein lies the pride of saying “ I am a doctor”.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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A Medico’s Last Certificate

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A continuous beeping filled up the air in the ICU. Over twenty hearts kept making rhythmic sounds, the nurses kept on silencing the false alarms that rung every now and then, and informing us about the ones that needed attention.

We had kept the cake in the doctor’s room, we were waiting for the right moment. It was well past midnight, we had all wished Dr. Steve a happy birthday, but the ICU was full and busy, we waited for an opportunity to cut the cake.

A very old Parsi man, just recovering from a massive heart attack, was not maintaining his blood pressure. As his alarm sounded again, we rushed to attend him: Dr. Steve, myself and our nurse Ms. Divya. As we adjusted his intravenous drips, he asked us our names. He was funny, and always made us smile in spite of the deadly shadows that surrounded us. When we told our names, he smiled. “See, there’s a Hindu, a Christian and a Parsi happy in this small 10 by 10 room, but they cannot all stay peacefully outside in this big country!” .. Dr. Steve, always interested in one-upmanship, smiled and said, “If you want, we also have a Muslim and a Sikh doctor outside. Shall I call them in?”

With the typical instant Parsi wits, the old man replied “Arrey no no bawa, all our ********** (I did not completely understand that word) political leaders will die if people from all religions come together”.

It was difficult to say whether we were treating his heart attack or he was treating out tired minds. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The CMO called, there was a new patient coming up, a young lady in respiratory failure due to pneumonia. As the nurses prepared the new bed, Dr. Steve took down notes from the CMO. Ms. Divya was one of our most efficient and agile staff nurse. Very beautiful and brilliant, she took responsibility upon herself with a passion that would put to shame even some doctors. We all knew that there was something going on between her and Dr. Steve, but both of them kept mum. I knew for sure though, because Dr. Steve had once confided to me about this crush he had upon her. However, overwork always suffocates personal life in a hospital.

The stretcher rolled in, noisy with calls of panic. The patient was gasping. Urgently shifting her on the ICU bed, Dr. Steve intubated her. She coughed a lot, and both Dr. Steve and Ms. Divya were showered with blood stained secretions. Dr. Steve had his mask on, but Ms. Divya had not had the time to put hers on. He angrily shouted at her, while adjusting the patient’s tube, to wear her mask. I finished securing the IV line, and started pushing in the emergency medicines. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient was a young lady, who had suddenly developed fever, cough and cold. On the second day she had become restless, was admitted in some nearby hospital, but as she continued to worsen in spite of treatment, she was referred to us. It was a viral pneumonia, an extremely invasive and dangerous viral infection had started filling up her lungs with fluid and blood. Just as her oxygen levels improved, she developed an irregular heart rhythm: viral infections often cause severe damage to the heart, a condition called myocarditis. In two hours after admission, the lady died. Horrible moments followed, telling her broken husband and stunned kids that she was gone forever. Completing the formalities and paperwork, we returned to the grind: we were medicos: there’s no choice for us to sit down, panic, repent, mourn or run away.

No one was now in a mood to cut the cake. No one even spoke about it. Next night, Ms. Divya bought another cake, and we all silently wished Dr. Steve a belated Happy Birthday.

Jutst ten days later Ms. Divya developed fever, cough and cold. The same deadly virus, most likely. We all panicked. Dr. Steve took leave and attended her, as her family was far away in Kerala. She had come to Mumbai to earn enough for her family. In spite of all efforts, Ms. Divya passed away in just three days. The faces of her elderly parents and younger brother became one of the worst memory-scars in our lives. Shortly after, Dr. Steve developed the symptoms too, but survived.

I took him out sometimes, to bring him back from the pit of depression and shock that he had sunken in. One evening, when we sat silently on Marine Drive, he said, “I will never have a Happy Birthday again. You know, Divya’s family has no support at all. I have decided to help them out for some time, till we find an alternative”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Staring at the ocean, I kept wondering: In this country, where crores of rupees are thrown almost every other day for even miniscule achievements in cricket and cinema, where millions are spent from public funds upon the useless travel, security, meetings and social dinners etc. luxuries of the super-rich MLAs and MPs, where billions are spent by every political party in elections, there are no funds for the nurses, doctors and other staff who risk or lose their lives serving their patients. If a bridge collapses and many die, if there’s a major accident due to lapses in administration, there is immediate compensation, in an attempt to seal complaining lips. But if a medico is injured or killed, the best thing our society has to say is: “This is because all doctors work for money, it must be the fault of communication on the doctors part!”

We walked that whole night, along the ocean, silently crying. Sometimes the only solace for a medico is the thought that someday someone will desperately need a good doctor or a good nurse, and not find them around. Many medicos who do extraordinary good to their patients do not get any certificates for what they do. Most don’t care. Because we carry our death certificates in our pockets every day. One last certificate that we work very hard for.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dedicated to the nurses and doctors, medical staff who suffered / died because they served patients, saving lives.

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