This had to be done... There aren't enough cynics around


In my first ‘night duty’ in medicine as an Intern, I was not all that scared. If you had been around the obstetricians long enough, they would have instilled a false sense of confidence in you. It had more to do with their lack of it more than anything else. There is a medical adage which goes:

<text missing for fear of the author being called a misogynistic male chauvinistic p..person>

That day, almost every patient was stable. But there were two men that stood out and interestingly, both shared the same name. Since the MCI has strict directives regarding naming patients, we are going to call them Mr X and er, Mr X… Here’s hoping that the name is caste-neutral and religion-neutral for fear of offending anyone that can be offended for the sake of being offended.

While the first Mr X (Mr.X1 from hereon) was a man in his mid-fifties, the second man was a lot younger. Since the Government’s initiative to eradicate poverty is to make the poverty line like Ajit Agarkar’s batting Average, they were not ‘poor’ by government standards. Mr X1 had been in the ward for a long time. He was comatose. Mr X2 was a chronic alcoholic who had come with oesophageal varices.

What was striking over the few hours I stayed in the ward was the devotion of each of the wives. While the care with which the elder of them tended her husband was beyond the scope of words, the mere sight of the younger lady, who was probably younger than me, sitting with her husband- who was now hurling abuses at everyone thanks to his alcohol withdrawal syndrome, holding his hands, trying to calm him down and reassuring her 3 and 7 years old daughters that their father would be playing with them soon was just...warm… Sadly, in the ‘ward’ death was always lurking around utterly unbothered by warmth and love.

There was this period between 6.30 and 7.30 where an intern will be alone as it was the change of duty time for staff nurses. And it was at this time that upon administering an anti-biotic and the antacid, did Mr Y (a man whose complaints were probably political) have an anaphylactic attack. As I administered the antidote and rushed fluids to keep his volume replenished, I did not want him to drown in his own saliva but I had no idea as to how the ‘suction’ apparatus started (the 'on' knob was broken). That was when Mrs X1 stepped in.

Having been in the ward for a month, she actually knew how to get the apparatus kicking. Just as she was telling me how to turn on that weird looking cylinder, the PG arrived and within minutes, the nurse did too. Mr Y was revived and we came to a conclusion that it was the anti-biotic he was allergic to. It was not rare for an attack to occur even after a normal test dose. What we learnt later was that this man was visited by the health minister. Thankfully, he was well and since none asked the entourage to remove their shoes, we were not arrested.

Later that night, Mr X2 had a bout of hematemesis. As we pumped blood and other agents to help him hold, the wife was crying in a corner, being consoled by Mrs X1. Eventually, he was relieved, symptomatically. While I couldn’t sleep for one moment on the first duty, it was an intriguing day where I learnt a thing or two not just from patients. Although I did have a dozen duties in the two months, none of them was as memorable as my very first duty.

Every day for the next 2 months, I saw Mrs X1 take care of her husband who was never going to be the same. She had hope, even on the day it was decided that he would be discharged. She left with the same smile Mrs X2 had left with. I hoped that her fate would also pan out just like her young friend's. I had met Mrs and Mr X2 a few weeks later while visiting my Psychiatry Professor; he was now a regular in the de-addiction programme and was doing fine as acknowledged by the proud blushing wife. They thanked me, (Why?, I have no idea. In fact I remember being slightly pissed off at him for spoiling my sleep, although I didn’t quite shout at the poor guy) before promising that they would give their all to make on of their kids a doctor.

Sadly, most medical stories don’t necessarily end with a ‘happily ever after’ card. A few days after being discharged I heard a nurse say, Mr X1 had passed away. I couldn’t imagine how the woman I so admired coped up with the demise of the husband for whom she cared so much. True, she knew the reality of the situation. But that alone doesn’t prepare a person to handle death of a loved one.

Mr. Y was later warned for 'absconding' from the ward and returning drunk a couple of days later. Despite his threats of 'bringing down the hospital', he was discharged. A few months later, upon readmission, Mr Y was found to be allergic to the antacid.

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