I sit at my desk at 1 am in the morning trying probably for the hundred and first time to write something after a long hiatus. The last 100 attempts did not get me beyond “the” but today is going to be different because inspiration came to me as clear as day.
It will be two years next month to the date I finished my internship. The past two years have been, rocky to say the least. While the world was battling a pandemic, my colleagues fighting on the frontline, saving lives, I stayed at home to prepare for a MCQ exam that required 10 months of my absolute dedication and grit. 10 months turned to two years because the rest of the world pressed pause, and I like a soldier left out of war, consoled myself that I would be of greater help if I got into a residency program. Well that is a story for another day.
As I sit alone my thoughts wander to the darkest corners of my mind, wondering if I have forgotten all the skills I had learnt during my rotations. While I have learnt many a biochemical reactions that take place to process an amino acid and the electrophysiological basis of the numerous ECG strips I had learnt only to interpret during my internship, I fear I have forgotten actual medicine.
While that may or may not be true, the memories of my days as an intern are still vivid. Some fond memories have a place in my heart and this is a story of one of those.
I remember I was posted in the casualty, and it had been an unusually busy day. Amidst the flurry of patients requiring sutures, a bed pan, a prescription to go, a grumpy child, an annoyed old lady and so on there was a patient with head trauma. Neurology had cleared him and I was waiting for the neurosurgery resident to come take a look at his scans. Promptly, he finished OT and came to the ER and asked to see the patient. As I was assigned to the patient, I pointed him in the direction and moved on to talk to the next patient who came in.
As I looked up to take stock of the chaos around me, I saw the neurosurgery resident talking to the said annoyed old woman across the room. I hurried up to him thinking he had the two patients confused, the patient requiring a neurosurgery consult was after all a guy! I waited for him to finish explaining to the old lady about a certain procedure and just as I was about to interrupt him, he proceeded to draw a stool and sit at her foot end. “Sir”, I whispered, “the head trauma is in bed 7.” Nonchalantly he looked up and said “Yes I know, can you please draw the curtains around her?” I did. He then catheterized her, while I assisted him, completely bewildered.
He got off his stool, smiled at her and said “Hope you feel better now. Your doctor will be with you shortly”, and walked off to write notes. Obviously, at this point I was too invested in this to let it go with the thought of this was just him helping out another resident in the middle of a busy ER.
Innocently I asked “Sir why did you catheterize her? You’re not in Urology”. Without being the least bit condescending he replied “ I don’t know or care which department she has come looking for, all I know was that she is unable to pass urine and I care about that. Do you know how painful it is to not be able to pee? No matter what department I work in tomorrow, if a patient tells me they cannot pee, it is my duty to put them out of that misery as soon as possible.” And with the same calm demeanour he gave me orders for the patient in bed 7 and walked out of the ER.
In that moment, I wasn’t blown away by his skill or the fact that he had done a but mundane procedure that I have myself done countless times. On the contrary, it dawned on me how causally he had handled the situation. As though it was an obvious thing that didn’t warrant another thought.
What he did was so the most basic, the most normal deed ever. I looked at the old lady, not so annoyed anymore. She was answering the resident’s questions patiently. I can bet anything and tell you the neurosurgery resident’s day would have been insanely busy. Ward rounds followed by a long OT followed by multiple emergency calls, and then round up on his post ops.
He could have very well seen his patient only and gone about the rest of his busy night. He could have told any of us interns to follow up on the old lady. But he didn’t.
With his one ordinary act, he put the poor woman out of her misery and impressed upon me the essence of what it means to be a “good” doctor. Often times we hide behind our titles; “Oh she’s not a surgery patient” “Call neurosurgery, not neurology” without pausing to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Not all heroes wear capes, some come to the ER after a long day of work and do justice to their profession.
As I embark upon a new journey, my residency, I pray to all the gods( both old and new) , that I may do my job well. But also do that little extra deed, go that extra mile for patient care. For our job as doctors, is not just to treat the disease, but in the words of my Alma Mater, it is also to comfort and to heal.