It was a busy morning at hospital, ICU rounds were exhausting. Going through the fresh reports of each patient, planning and modifying the treatment after discussion with the team and finally counselling the families of the patients, filling the family meeting forms. While all this was going on, I got a call from the OPD that many patients were in waiting.
I rushed to the OPD and entered my chamber keeping my eyes on ground, avoiding eye contact with the waiting patients, as I felt guilty of keeping them waiting.
First patient entered the OPD, occupied the chair and with a throbbing smile said, “you will be my healer”. His eyes were hopeful. I took history and examined him and went through his previously done investigations, his x-rays and CT scan pointed towards the ominous – “The Lung Cancer”. I tried to tell him a lie that it was something treatable and he need not worry. But as my lips lied, I felt he tried to read the truth in my eyes. I could see paleness growing on his face, his eyes seemed questioning me, “Is life drifting away”?
There was a strong history of tobacco smoking, tilting diagnosis towards the Emperor of all Maladies. It looked like a metastatic disease. Jotting down the diagnosis on the prescription was like writing a death warrant. But the diagnosis was with a question mark at this stage, there was a remote possibility it could turn out to be some other disease.
We decided to scope his lungs, I called the nurse and asked her to do all preparation for the bronchoscopy, fortunately for us patient was empty stomach. He looked worried, left OPD with the nurse and I got busy with rest of the patients.
Post lunch we scoped his lungs, when the worst came true, I could see a violent tumor, full of rage eating up his airways. We took a biopsy from the lesion and sent it for labs. But I was almost sure it was cancer. I explained the findings and the diagnosis to his family members and left for the post lunch OPD, after finishing OPD it was time for evening rounds.
I could see sun setting across the ward window, the light embracing the darkness. It was almost dark when I finished the day’s work, preoccupied with anxieties and unknown fears, I moved towards the parking, I just wanted to accelerate and get away from the hospital premises.
As I was about to enter my car, I heard a voice, “Doctor Saab are you leaving”, as I turned, I saw the morning patient standing and smiling, a smile full of Zen, his eyes gleaming. Something had changed, he no longer looked fearful in those moments.
With a smile he said, “I am a teacher doctor saab, I am a physics teacher, I have been teaching through out my life, how could I forget our days are numbered on the earth”. He paused a little, “you know sir our planet is moving at a speed of 82800 km/hr. in this universe, it is like a space ship, when one reaches his station he has to get down”.
He got lost for few seconds then continued, “People here spend half of their lives fighting for things which are not worth”. He then asked me how many children I have, I replied him two, a son and a daughter.
He smiled, touched my shoulder and said, “Give them my love, I will pray to God, they live a long life and follow righteous path”. He then walked away and vanished.
I stood stripped in that moment, material became immaterial, my anxieties and fears evaporated.
Not only he taught me, he healed me.
As I reached home, I hugged my kids and planted his blessing laced kiss on their foreheads.
He never came back for follow up, I have no idea when he reached his station in the universe, but I am sure he left this spaceship without any sorrow or fear and with dignity.
Puneet Tyagi M.D.