Short Story : The lady who thanked her doctor after her death

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By V.N. Devi

Chaobi is a lady patient like any other, who got married and was ready for a child. She wanted a family like anyone would – she, her husband, and maybe two kids. That was her only dream in life.

Chaobi and her husband searched for the best doctor in town and after being recommended to many doctors by every one of their relatives, they finally decided not to listen or trust anyone else but their own instinct and judgment, and they finally chose their doctor.

Her first visit to this doctor of their choice was not very eventful, nor was she very impress as her doctor was far from the kind and soft spoken person she imagine all doctors should be, but she said to herself that there was something special about the doctor and she wouldn`t change her mind now. She was certain she wanted to meet and consult this doctor for the next nine months.

The doctor reprimanded her on her first visit because when the doctor asked her the date of her last menstrual period, she didn`t remember and had no answer. For a brief moment an instinctive fury rose in her at being scolded by the doctor, as indeed so many other patients have, but she checked and reminded herself that the doctor just wants her to be more responsible. After all, she mused, who else can know better about your own menstruation date other than herself?

The doctor wasn`t angry always. He smiled when her pregnancy test was positive, he smiled when he showed her the image of her baby during her ultrasound session, he smiled when he made her hear the baby`s heart beat. Yes, he smiled every time he said the baby is all fine. He had brought countless new lives to the world, and each was a unique joy for him.

Intuitively he is aware hundreds could have, and probably would have, died if it wasn`t for him. It brings him a quiet satisfaction that in his long career he would have contributed a great deal in bringing the female mortality rate down in his state and the nation. To many he was next only to god because he literally gave a child when they thought they were infertile beyond redemption. Before happy serendipity brought them to him, they remember running around everywhere from temples to priests to tantrics, but the blessing they sought remained ever elusive. It was then the unassuming but kind and generous doctor, not by any trickery, but by the practice of science, granted them their life’s wish.

Some poor people have made it known to him that they think it is by god’s mercy that he exists. If not for the free treatment he afforded them when they were so desperately in need, preparing to sell some of their landed properties, they probably would have been pauperised by now.

For some he was a bad doctor who didn`t give much time to his patients, but for Chaobi no other doctor will do. In the time she has come to associate with the doctor, she has come to learn exactly why he didn`t need to give so much time to all. She now knows with confidence that experience has honed his skills and professional instinct, bringing him near perfection in his vocation. She knows without a doubt that brief as the diagnostic sessions he accorded her and other patients were, he would have learnt and cared more about her pregnancy than herself. She also understands if he had scolded her for anything it wasn`t because he was bad but because he was so careful that he didn`t want anything to go wrong. All he wanted was to bring the baby to the world safe and sound.

Forty weeks went by since her pregnancy was confirmed. Well yes those weeks passed by fast for her, she recollected with a smile of contentment. The time for the great moment was near. Her husband was at a loss. All their relatives gather at their residence. There was plenty of excitement, discussions in anticipation of the new baby to enter their lives shortly.

The husband then thought it was time to let the doctor know his family’s gratitude. He decided to go to the doctor`s house to give him some money, a shirt, a tie, some fruits and a bag full of small tokens of indebtedness.

As soon as the husband entered, the doctor as usual scolded him good-heartedly and told him “I`m happy you came home and that you are concerned about your wife, I will be happy to take whatever you bring and give from the heart, but only if you did so after the child is born”, he said. “Go home. My job was only till here – to get her through the pregnancy. The delivery will be done by the doctor who happens to be on duty on the day of her labour.”

The husband went back with all the things he took for the doctor. He felt a little awkward, but also annoyed that the doctor said he was unlikely to be in the delivery room. When he told his wife, she became angry too. But when finally she was taken to the delivery room, before she even realised it, the baby was out. That`s when she realised what the doctor meant. She knew that those nine months of care that he gave was what was actually important.

What she didn`t know was that the doctor was watching her, checking on her vitals and if she had finally come out of the operation theatre safe, like how he does for every other patient of his, no matter what time of the day or night. If he had allowed anyone else to do the delivery of any of his patient it was because they were doctors too, who were also specialists in their own rights, on duty, who also have delivered countless babies already.

Moreover, the doctor also had his life to live, his wife, his parents, his children to take care of as any man is normally expected to. He also has to make sure his electricity bills, phone bills and all the paraphernalia of daily life are settled, attend different family functions, death ceremonies and friend`s daughter’s wedding… Most of all he also has to take care of his own health. After all he is human too. He needs to eat and have his share of sleep too. He can`t be expected to sit at every patient`s bedside day and night. He sees hundreds of ladies each day and he, as their doctor, has to shoulder the responsibility of monitoring each of them to safety till delivery day.

Two years later, Chaobi was pregnant again and she went to the same doctor without a second thought. She went through the same process but this time after delivery she suddenly felt unwell. She had PPH also called postpartum haemorrhage and she died that day. PPH causes 529000 deaths every year in the world of which 136000 are in India. That day she was one of those unlucky ones. The reason for hers complication was uterine atony or the uterine inability to contract, and the patient over bleeds. Anybody in the profession would know it is not anyone`s fault but the fault of the uterus itself which just fails to respond like any other normal uterus would after delivery.

In her half conscious mind, she heard her doctor`s voice, she heard them taking her to the OT table preparing her for surgery, she heard how her doctor told the nurses to ask the blood bank to send as much blood as needed and to tell them that he would pay for all costs later. She felt his care for her and how much he wanted to save her life but slowly she felt everything slowing down… the voices, her own heartbeats, her breath… Slowly but surely it dawned on her that the end was approaching and there was nothing anybody could do about it. She knew the time to leave her body was upon her.

After she left her body, she finally saw her doctor and the rest of the staff still not ready to give up. They tried until they finally had to stop. The doctor felt shattered though he knew he had done everything he could. It was time to tell the husband. When they told him, he flew into a blind rage and abused the doctor, told him he didn`t do enough, told him that he would take revenge, told him he would destroy his career. He pushed the doctor roughly and violently. Next day he went to the newspapers and cried out to the world about his wife`s death, blamed the doctor and did whatever career assassination he could possibly do against the doctor.

The doctor stood at a corner watching all that was happening and saw his own career and image being soiled so unfairly. He was saddened but remained considerate. He knew that the man had lost his wife which he knew means much more than even his career and empathised with the man. Meanwhile Chaobi’s soul cried bitterly because she wanted to remind her husband of all the care the doctor had taken of her for all those years. She wanted to tell him how much the doctor tried to save her till the very end of her life. She wanted to tell him that the doctor didn`t give up even after she had. Her soul stood in front of the doctor, but she was helpless and knew that the doctor would never hear her. All the same she turn to him and with a reverential bow said, “thank you doctor, thank you for helping me, thank you for all the lives you have saved, thank you for bringing those new lives to the world every day, thank you for just being a doctor for this world.”

PS : There are hundreds of doctors who have stopped working after such incidents, though thousands of their old patients continue to plead them to treat them because they still have trust and faith in them. However such incidents tie up the hands of the doctors and they simply stop working. Not because they in any way think they were responsible for these tragedies but because of the humiliation heaped on them so unfairly by being tagged as murderers.

Doctors are also humans too, this is what many often forget. If the death of a patient mattered so much, shouldn’t the lives they have saved and new lives they have brought into this world everyday matter even more? When doctors see a patient dying, no money or time or food or luxury strike their mind. All that they think of is to do all that they can to save the patient. Doctors are people, not gods whose words are final and absolute. If he could end deaths, they would get the licence to immortality for not just themselves and their families but for everybody in the world.

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