Human Stories: We Operate On The Family Without Anesthesia!
I remember as a resident doctor doing post-graduation in obstetrics and gynecology there was this lady senior consultant of ours who always had her anger on the tip of her nose. We all used to be terrified of her and many would run helter-skelter on seeing her. Once while I was doing some post-operative routine work in the wards I heard a big commotion near the operation theater door. She was shouting at the top of her voice. Inquisitively, I went closer to find an old man standing in front of her trembling and with folded hands as if pleading for mercy. She was blasting him. It seems she on coming out of the operation theater on finishing some difficult surgery saw something unsavory. There were beedi (a thin, Indian cigarette filled with tobacco flake and wrapped in a tendu leaf tied with a string at one end) stubs littered all around plump near the door of the Operation Theater. I did not need a minute to understand what must have happened. The man must be smoking those stuffs and had thrown the stubs around him. The lady must have seen the litter and the flare followed. She didn’t leave till the old man literally in tears collected all the beedi stubs and threw them in the dust-bin. Tidiness restored – all well – the lady left with a gleam of victory in her eyes.
We had nearly forgotten the episode when in the evening after all teaching sessions were over and all had left I went back to the post-operative ward to complete the remaining work. There I saw that old man sitting or rather squatting on the floor, near a young woman patient who was seemingly operated. He was holding her hand as the patient may move the hand and thus dislocate the needle of the running saline drip. He had totally stoic face. He was looking out of the window staring vacantly at the dark sky. I quickly pulled a stool for him so that he could sit a little more comfortably. He looked up at me and as he sat on the stool he just sighed. He spoke nothing.
“Have you had something to eat? “ I asked. He didn’t reply. Wasn’t the answer obvious? Tea and biscuits were arranged. But he seemed to be too scared to take it. He was so clearly hungry. I sensed the fear that was doing rounds in him again. His silence spoke loudly while he did not utter a single word. He was too afraid to eat in the hospital ward. He was also too frightened to leave the hand of the patient as he was strictly instructed not to move. Having reassured him I arranged a peaceful corner for him outside the ward in some privacy and got on with my work. After about half an hour or so deeply engrossed in my work I felt someone was staring at me. I looked up to find that old man. He was peering at me from the window. As I looked up he smiled gently and in Indian tradition folded his hands as if to say “Thank You” and went back to the patient. I left him in his space.
After a couple of days I could see the man in the hospital compounds now visibly relaxed but still very silent sitting in the corner waiting for the gates to open and the visiting hours to commence. I walked up to him and just placed my hand on his shoulder making it as comforting as possible I asked; “How is your patient”. He replied “She is much better now”. “Who is she?” I asked. He said “She is my only child, Sir. She had torn her uterus (rupture uterus – very serious life threatening condition). We were tossed from primary health center to the referral hospital and from there, here. She was operated here and is now saved Sir”.
The entire picture was now so clear: This man’s only child – his daughter was on death-bed that day. She was getting operated. He was facing a real possibility that what would come out from the operation theater would be simply her body. He must be in unimaginable, indescribable stress. In that stress he must have smoked one beedi after the other. Little did this simple man realize that he was in a hospital and therefore not supposed to smoke or make the place dirty! Did it matter? Do such rules matter at such critical times? No they don’t. He smoked away in sheer agony - at the prospect of losing his only child. We the doctors on emerging from the operation did not care to tell him what the situation was. Instead we blasted him – after all he had made the hospital dirty! He had smoked in the hospital.
I have never forgotten this incidence in my life. I know that as doctors when we operate on a patient we are not operating on one human being but on the entire family that is waiting outside. The agony is – the patient is anesthetized so he/she doesn’t feel the pain. But the family is not under anesthesia and undergoing a mental surgery all in consciousness and pain – lest we forget! Would a gentle word have been out of place?