Thursday, January 05, 2006

Eating Crow

I made my peace with Nurse Squeaky today. She's one of the nurses on our ward, a little daft and petulant - if I were making a detective movie, she'd be perfectly cast as the dim-witted secretary who scoffs cream buns all day - and we'd fought last week over band-aids. I'd asked for one for one of my patients and she told me they didn't keep any. So I went over to check with another nurse, just to make sure. Squeaky heard me and came over. "Don't you believe me?!" I said I did but it's common practise to use band-aids in a ward and maybe the other nurse had some. "Well, we don't use them here!" she snapped, leaving me wishing for a gun I could load up with iodine bullets and shoot her with.

That was last week.

This morning we were standing around the nursing counter, chatting before rounds. The nurses were busy collecting syringes and vials to do their appointed blood draws. On an impulse, I asked Nurse Squeaky, who was sitting in front of me, to let me do the draws, since I wasn't very comfortable with it. "Sure," she said. And picking up her stuff she took me over to a patient and started teaching me the whole process. How to pick veins, how to tell the difference between veins and tendons, which vials to use for which tests. And all this without the slightest residue of malice from our previous argument.

It was quite humbling.

Later in the day, a patient went into cardiac arrest. A resident shouted the code and we went over to assist in the CPR. Squeaky ventilated the patient while I set myself up over the chest and began performing compressions to try and revive the heart. As I heaved back and forth, pressing into the patient's sternum, I heard Squeaky quietly reciting a prayer for the patient. It was an innocuous gesture and in the frenzy of the moment I'm not sure how many people noticed it but it took me completely by surprise. I'm ashamed to admit it but I simply hadn't thought Squeaky capable of such gentleness. Working with sick patients, you sort of become immune to the emotional catastrophes that affect them and their families. Death is merely the end-point of all possible therapeutic intervention and a signal that your utility has ended. Nothing more. And yet here was a nurse who even though she knew she couldn't do anything for her patient, still had the compassion to offer a prayer for their well-being.

I'm not sure what to say to that. Sometimes, in our more petty moments, we form impressions of people that end up doing a great deal of injustice to them. It's very easy, and gratifying, to do but it ends up belittling our worth as human beings. We miss out on some very rich possibilities of human connection. And that's always something to regret.


Blogger Anjum said...

Wow. Masha'Allah kk, this is an excellent entry. There is SUCH a good lesson in this, and you've written it so beautifully and simply.

1:34 PM  
Blogger Anjum said...

PS - write more about the medicine/hospital part of your life.. it's a very intresting perspective. i know you may not want to write about it because so much of your time is spent there already, but if you don't mind, that is my humble request.. jazakAllah. :-)

1:37 PM  
Blogger Sujatha said...

KK, very true, but so difficult to remember when you are in the throes of an emotional reaction...

10:06 PM  
Blogger Crazed Teacher said...

being a doctor takes himmat , i remember my cousin when his first patient passed away it was as if a part of him had been taken away but it all gets better with time thats what my dad says.

2:27 AM  
Blogger karrvakarela said...

Sujatha: so true but it's more important to be able to see the other person as a human being too . . . easier said than done, though.

Ushi: I had that day today. One of my patients passed away early in the morning, only minutes after I'd had told the family that he seemed to be recovering. When I gave his son the news, the guy, a big, beefy lad, collapsed to the ground. The daughter started screaming in disbelief, "WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?! THIS CAN'T BE TRUE!"

No matter how much cake or potato chip I cram my face with now, I can't escape them.

5:49 AM  

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