How as a doctor I learn’t my lesson of compassion

Say it love or commitment, a woman’s compassion knows no limits. 

An inspiring story straight from a government hospital ward.

The ward is crowded with patients and each bed is being assigned to two people. It was going to be a long and hectic day at work.

Before moving to a government hospital I had worked in private and corporate setups, where the inflow of patients was moderate and believed that a good doctor should always be kind to his patients. Above all he needed to be a good listener.

I tried to be just like that until I started working at IGMC, a government medical college cum hospital at Shimla.

To work in a government medical college as a post graduate student, life can be hell for a 3 year period. Schedules are so hectic that they drain our compassion and can bring an end to our patience.

This happens so often because we never get a chance to complete our work. Our minds are always boiling with thoughts of incomplete work and this is when frustration sets in. Not finding any other way to went out our emotions; many of us simply end up shouting back at patients.

I have to admit that I did experience bouts of cyclical frustration, and it’s a shame. I often become impatient with visiting patients and got annoyed by their constant hum of complaints and questions.

Then, one day, Arvind, a 25 year old, came to me with his wife. He came coughing blood; he had coughed around half a litre blood that morning. He was sick and anaemic.

File Photo Courtesy AP
Photo Courtesy AP

We were suspecting pulmonary tuberculosis as the cause for his coughing blood. Moreover he was HIV positive and was on Anti Retroviral Therapy. His wife had brought him to the hospital all the way from Lucknow.

Treating an HIV positive patient in a government setup can be very challenging. Lack of adequate safety measures , and hurried time schedules increases our chances of getting exposed to blood via accidental pricks when taking samples.

It is sad to admit that treating an HIV patient in the wards at IGMC is a big headache. We just can’t spare an extra minute and give these patients a little more of our attention, owing to the long line of patients waiting for their turn.

So often such patients are neglected. And so it happened with Arvind as well.

We did a blood transfusion to maintain his haemoglobin level, but ideally we should have got an arterial emobilisation, i.e., blocking the bleeding vessel. It is a procedure done by cardiologists in a highly sophisticated Cathlab.

In fact, at IGMC, embolisation is not done for HIV patients – the reasons are unknown.

In a situation like this, we can only do a medical management i.e., to give haemostats, bed rest and blood replacement. We did the same for Arvind, and by the end of two days he started showing improvement.

But, the credits for Arvind improving health was more because of his caring wife.

She was about 20 yrs old and not well educated. May be she had done her schooling, but no college. She was so quick at doing things and very energetic. Her endless energy not only surprised me, but also left me inspired in many ways.

Usually, when such a thing happens to their husbands, women cry and crib, but Arvind’s wife was so different. She never looked dull. She would come to me to explain what her husband was going through; she explained things with utmost clarity.

Most of all, she was doing all this for the man who had not been faithful to her.

Her example, her dedication and concern made me question my own doings as a doctor.

“When she can do so much for her unfaithful dying husband, why can I not do my bit with the same earnestness?”

Her devotion encouraged me and so I decided to help her with as much as I could. I went to a cardiologist to consider him for arterial embolisation, but the consultant half heartedly said they won’t consider him for the procedure if he starts coughing out fresh blood.

Anyways, I knew that now Arvind and his wife would need more money. I called his wife one day, and asked her to arrange a given amount. Being poor, she had very little sources to get money from, but not once did she frown of fumble. She never said “NO” to anything or felt helpless.

Fortunately, Arvind did not bleed for the second time and was not in need of arterial embolisation.

We planned to discharge him.

At the day of discharge there was a shocking news waiting for me. Arvind’s wife got a life time gift from her husband, She was HIV positive too!!

I was perplexed over this knowledge. It was impossible for me to believe that someone in her position was giving everything in the name of care to the person, who is also responsible for her own demise.

I still cannot comprehend her motivation, but I can say that only a female can do this.

“Oh God, how can she care so much for the one who has gifted her a deadly disease, I have no answer to this, but all I can say, only a female can do this.

by Dr SV Sriharshavardhana 

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