God, Doctor and The Killer Snake.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dattaram started breathing fast and coughing. Red skin, rashes. Pulse 140. BP not recordable. This unfortunate young labourer, bitten by a cobra only a few hours ago, had now developed severe dangerous reaction or ‘anaphylaxis’ to the only medicine that could have saved him: the injection of anti snake venom. I stopped the intravenous drip immediately and shouted at the sister to bring the crash cart. We injected him with the most powerful drug Adrenaline which we had kept ready in a syringe.

He was brought by a friend to the hospital just after 10 PM. His villager friend who had brought him directly from the farm had gone back to bring Dattaram’s family. They were not expected for a few more hours. So the patient was all ‘care-of’ me, then a junior intern at the government medical college hospital. That was the era before cellphones and ventilators in government hospitals. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

Some venomous snake bites cause death by paralysing the breathing muscles, while others kill by clotting the blood inside the arteries. Dattaram was bitten by a paralysing snake, and his eyelids had already started drooping, he was also having difficulty in swallowing and coughing. Other medicines were started to counter the paralysis, but the killer venom was spreading. Time was running out. I started having palpitations. I was to be the active witness to his destiny. The ward was already full, the second intern was busy too.

The only way out was to give him extremely small doses of the antivenom again, gradually increasing the dose every few minutes, till a full concentration dose could be given. This is called desensitisation. I had never done it earlier. If he reacted again to any such smaller dose, there was nothing else to do. This was dangerous, and required a written consent by patient’s relatives. There was none. His pulse was now 120, and his BP was now recordable. I kept reassuring him. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I called up my professor through the ward landline and informed him in short.

“Go ahead, be careful. I will take care of the stupid consent from the medical director. Call me if required” he said.

I went to Dattaram. “Listen, Dattaram, I need to use a medicine against the snake venom. Some patients may may have reaction to that medicine. I will try and do this very carefully, but sometimes it may cause problems. Is it Okay?”

In a hoarse voice, he said with great difficulty: “You are my God. Do whatever you can. Keep me alive atleast till I meet my wife and daughter”. I told him I will.

I started to inject him the antisnake venom doses. First extremely diluted, then in gradually increasing concentration. His blood pressure was stable. However, after a few minutes, his breathing became shallow. He became drowsy. His respiration was paralysed. The snake venom was winning the race. I put in a breathing tube. The nurse started pumping air in his lungs through a rubber bag. I was sweating, thinking, panicking, observing and praying all at the same time. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

He was tolerating the antivenom well. After a few hours, I decided to give him the final big dose again. I restarted the same medicine that had almost killed him a few hours ago.

His wife and daughter arrived. I quickly explained them what had happened, as the lady kept on patting her unconscious husband’s head. The daughter, barely 12 years old, was crying muffled. There’s a state of numbing that comes after extreme shock: that is terrifying to witness. Big city and poverty on one side, hopelessness of the situation on the other. The lady suddenly got up, took out a few ten-rupee notes and extending them to me, touched my feet “I will sell everything we have, please save my kumkum (husband). Look at the face of my daughter. Where will we go without him? You are God for us” she said repeatedly.

I did not crave to be a God, I just wanted to be a good doctor. Shall I be angry that she was trying to bribe me? Never. I remembered what my grandpa had said on the day that I joined medical college: “If you want to be a good doctor, try to imagine yourself in the place of your patient”. I suddenly realised that even though I was not God, in the eyes of this lady, her husband and the daughter, I was their only hope. I have always hated wordplay, I am rather a feelings man. I understood what they meant. The life of every patient depends upon my best effort and nothing less. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Tai, I will try my best. Don’t worry. Keep that money with you. You don’t have to sell anything; we have all the medicines. You can both have tea if you want, this sister will get you some. Let me please attend your husband now.” I requested.

A few hours after that, by morning, Dattaram opened eyes. He met his wife and daughter. By noon, he started to breathe by himself, so we removed the tube. By the time my professor took rounds, Dattaram appeared stable. Medical professors never openly praise students. My professor kept his hand upon my shoulder, smiling. “Too bad, this did not happen on a cricket ground or a film theater, otherwise you would be rewarded with cars and bungalows.” he said with his characteristic red-chilly-smeared wisdom.

When Dattaram was discharged, his wife got me some sweets, and invited me to their village. “Doctor, we are very poor, but I will cook for you the best meal you will ever eat” she said.

Most doctors make a genuine best effort to save the patient: who would want otherwise? Yet sometimes we win, sometimes we don’t. In this case my effort was blessed. I will perpetually be grateful to my own God, praying that he rewards the effort of every doctor trying to save a patient.

As for the cars and bungalows, who has enough time to use them when lives are to be saved?

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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