Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Mourning

Being an anesthesiology resident in the Obstetrics and Gynaecology OT at Nair Hospital was no mean job. There was the routine OT list, the emergencies and the cranky surgeons and sometimes even crazy seniors to handle. But the job has to be done, right and that too with a smile, and we did it.

December 2009, while the routine OT is still on, we get a call, 'Emergency Laparotomy for an unruptured ectopic gestation in the fallopian tube' which means an emergency surgical exploration of a lady who had conceived, but unfortunately the fetus was outside the uterus in the fallopian tube. Fallopian tubes are the tubes which transport ovum or the embryo from the ovary to the uterus. I went to the waiting area to see this lady pre operatively. She looked distraught and strangely familiar. I could not place her, but she was familiar nonetheless. She was past 35 years, and had undergone a tubal recanalisation surgery few months ago. I noted down the rest of her medical history, did a quick physical examination and explained the surgery and anesthesia to her. She knew her baby could not be salvaged, being in a place where there is neither nutrition nor enough place for her baby to grow. The whole point of the surgery was to save her life, lest the tube rupture.

After taking her consent I did something I had never done before, I asked her a question that was too personal-- the reason why she had undergone a recanalisation surgery, or a surgery that involves reversal of a tubal ligation. The answer was obvious... she had undergone a tubal ligation which is, for all practical purposes, a permanent method of contraception. Then for some reason, she wanted to have a child again so late in her life. I was curious to know the reason.

"I lost my son to brain cancer" she said with a few tears in her eyes.

I was starting to figure out why I knew her.... still I persisted

"Where was your son admitted and how long ago did he die?"

"He was here, at the same hospital... He passed away last November"

"His name was Aditya?  I asked her to which she did not reply but broke down into tears instead. I did not pacify her, I broke down with her too into a discreet few tears.

I remembered Aditya very well. He was a 10 year old boy operated for a malignant brain tumour and had died in the ICU a few months after the surgery. He had died while I was posted in the ICU and was on duty. And he was probably the only patient whose death and the suffering prior to that had affected me so deeply,  probably because of his tender age. I remember having shed a few tears for him after seeing his grandmother break down once in the ICU. She was the one who mainly cared for him, with his sister and mother visiting on and off.  While I cried for him when he lived, I somehow did not mourn his death when he died in my arms, in front of my eyes. And I mourned for him the day I met his mother once again, a year after his death.

Being doctors who see death and suffering so often does make us tough but some incidents like these do break our tough outer layers and touch our hearts and make us cry. 

Disclaimer: The kid was not named Aditya. The name has been changed to protect the identity of the child and his family.

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  1. you know whats wierd.. you tend to understand a patient better when you have experienced it yourself

  2. A very touching narrative. Read it many times. And I just feel so bad for the lady . But thank you for posting this.

  3. @ MG... you are right. Any other patient in that lady's place and I would have thought whats the point in having a baby now, you have a kid anyway..adopt one if you must. But here I knew what losing her son was to her..

    @ UK.. thanks so much. I am inspired to write more now...

  4. @ Varsha--> Deaths don't seem to affect me much but a chill ran down my spine when I read that this lady was Aditya's mother. Sure would have been a very emotionally distraughting moment..

    Emotions apart-- Very well written and congrats for getting this story into the Chicken Soup.

    Keep writing! :)


  5. Ouch. How cruel can fate get. Glad i visited ur blog.

  6. After having read your last post I can only think of one of the first Sanskrit sentences I was taught:Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam...It's all connected after all... patients, families, doctors... we should only let the music play with us being in tune...Your human factor made a difference those two times, I'm sure.

  7. A nice write up Varsha !! Keep up !!
    Somehow, didn't quite feel anything. Just like normal. Blame it to our professional attitude. I mean here was a lady who is a Pt and has her own difficulties to live with.
    Actually, its all very situation dependent ya.
    Like yesterday I happen to declare a Pt and before i did, his son (who would probably be say 14 or so) had come to his dad. I knew which was for the last time. Thats when i felt miserable about not being able to save this Pt. and taking a DAD away from SON !

  8. i guess thats the tragic parody of bein a doctor .. you cant be a good doctor unless you genuinely care for the patient, and yet you cant be a good doctor if you care too much.

  9. And thank you everybody for your comments!

  10. I understand how a doctor's life must be..

    But seriously, Varsha - the post brought tears to my eyes..something, which has happened after a really really long time.

    Hats off to your clan!


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