Thursday, March 19, 2009

When death comes calling

These incidents happened many years ago.

I was called to see the father of a patient of mine, a seventy-year-old gentleman who was on bed and quite still. One look at him and a quick examination, I knew he was dead. As I knew the son, I took the liberty of announcing the death in front of all the relatives [none of them knew me] gathered around. This led to utter consternation and they just couldn't believe that a man who was hale and hearty a few minutes ago was now dead. The person most affected was the wife and she was so over taken by the shock that she came to me and gave me a violent shove which sent me reeling back. Fortunately her son who was my friend held on to me and prevented me becoming a casualty!

Quite shaken, I told my friend to come next morning and collect the death certificate. Next morning he did not come and I began wondering did the dead man really dead? The dead man’s son came to me few days later and told the remaining part of the gory story. The old lady who did not believe me [the young and inexperienced doctor] made the son and others take the dead body to a nearby hospital in pouring rain only to be told that he was indeed truly dead. The death certificate was issued by the hospital [those days the procedure was less fussy than it is now]

Contrast this to another incident which also happened many years ago. An Anglo Indian elderly patient and friend of mine developed one of his frequent chest pains and I had gone to see him the previous night as he had chest pain. The ECG showed no major changes from the previous one and his heart rate and blood pressure were stable with no evidence of heart failure. He had chronic Ischemic heart disease and I thought this is another of his numerous episodes and came back home after reassuring his elderly wife that all will be well and continue the ongoing medication.

When I went next morning to check on him, I found a collection of friends mostly known to me, quietly sitting and I found that my friend had died in sleep the previous night. The gracious widow took me aside to her kitchen and told me, ' doctor this had to happen, you had long ago told me that George was living on borrowed time, thanks for all you have done for us.’ Seeing me almost in tears, she offered me a glass of wine to make me feel better!

Different communities react differently to death. The first one belonged to a community who are basically emotional and they have to express their grief in a manner which is loud and
demonstrative, where as in the second instance the expression was more sedate. In the first instance I was able to take the histrionics of the relatives in my stride but in the second instance it took me many years to overcome the grief and the feeling of guilt!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Doc, you are such a truly sensitive and caring person (behind that sometimes grumpy exterior:))it's no wonder that we all love you...the ones who run away saying that you're scary don't know what they are missing!:)