Back in December 2013, I wrote a blog post about life lessons working in a hospital as a medical officer gave me. So, I thought why not continue that…for as long as I have the stories to share.
I had attended a workshop once and the person facilitating it asked us what we thought was the greatest fear (in general) that people had. Most would think, death. Surprisingly, the biggest fear is the fear of public speaking! Yea..interesting eh?
So yes, death. There are a lot of views and stories about death. Why we fear it, why we don’t like to talk about it (sometimes), what it is and how it affects those who are left behind. These two stories and one lesson that I learned isn’t about any of that.
I was the on-duty medical officer working the night shift in the Accident & Emergency department. The shift had just started and the waiting area was full of people that needed to be attended to. A patient was pushed into the consulting room in a wheelchair. He was fully conscious but in pain. He had been involved in an accident that resulted in a fractured right femur (thigh bone) and clavicle. His friends and family who accompanied him had already decided to take him to a private hospital for treatment and I did the necessary to accommodate the transfer . Mind you, even with both fractures, he didn’t have a scratch on him.
Fast forward a few hours and about a gazillion patients later…one of the on-duty Medical Assistants (MAs, who are the equivalent of male nurses) comes into the consulting room and says, “Boss, bad accident. Police are bringing in the body.”
Now, I worked in a smallish district hospital. The mortuary (morgue) was situated all the way at the back of the hospital. To get there, you gotta walk along not well lighted, very quiet and kinda eerie corridors exposed to the night and all the nightly “visitors” that may be loitering about. I mean, hospital…mortuary…you know? So, if we are lucky enough to have no patients in the resuscitation room (fondly called the resus room), that’s where a body goes for us to examine and do the necessary. That night was such a night.
Fast forward again about 2 hours and another few billion patients, I enter the resus room, say hi to the cops waiting and proceed to take a look at the body. I had never till that day seen the sight that greeted me. The poor man didn’t have a face. The skin and muscles were all there…but he had no skull. It looked like his face had melted…and the left side of his body was a complete mangled mess. Save to say that every single bone on that side of the body had been fractured. And on a piece of paper beside him was some of his brain tissue that someone had scooped up from the scene.
Here’s the thing. Remember that patient with the two fractures and not a scratch on him? Well, BOTH these men were in the SAME car when that accident happened. They were on a long stretch of road when this huge trailer heading the opposite direction decided to over take another vehicle. The trailer had rammed into the car. The passenger in the front survived with the 2 fractures and the horror of what had happened, while his friend, the driver lay in front of me.
A few years later, I was working in the Anaesthesiology department at the same hospital. We “gave gas”, hehe…and looked after the ICU as well. It wasn’t a very big set up but good for a district hospital.
This time we had these two patient lying side-by-side in the ICU. One was an elderly man, thin, tired and with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Ventilated, with drugs keeping his blood pressure steady, and just…you know..not in a good condition. In the bed beside him lay a young boy, healthy prior to admission, no prior significant medical history and admitted for a serious infection that required ICU care. The specialist that I worked with was discussing the cases with me and he said, “I think it’s best we talk to that uncle’s family. Prepare them for the worse and if he does deteriorate and we can’t do anything for him, give the family the option of taking him home so that he can depart in his own home with his family around”.
Yea..you should have guessed where I was going with this story. The elderly uncle made it through with flying colours. He got better and we moved him back to the ward. He went home to his family. The young boy unfortunately didn’t make it.
You know, these two stories have stayed in my memory for so long. It’s been almost more than 10 years since both happened and I can still remember them. Not so much the faces, not so much even the “feeling”…but I don’t know what to call it…the essence of what happened?
Intellectually I do know that we can’t ever predict when it’s our time. I’ve heard stories of healthy people so careful with their life styles dropping dead while out jogging while someone who leads an “unhealthy” life style lives a very long and happy life. I guess actually seeing this and experiencing this through these souls at the time that I did, just made it more “real”. It made that knowledge that I had into something more. It made it an experience and a reminder for me that our lives, MY LIFE is only a temporary thing. It reminds me that I shouldn’t really take me seriously, you know?