It’s only when you’re forced to face events you cannot control that you realise how slender is the thread of life and how easily and abruptly it can snap. Not surprisingly, that’s also when you acknowledge what a wonderful thing an excellent hospital can be and how amazing are the miracles doctors sometimes perform.
The story that follows happened at the Army’s Research and Referral Hospital (R and R) on Saturday the 26th. Mummy, who’s 97 and had been admitted a few days earlier with a chest infection, was listless and drowsy all day. By late evening she seemed in a deep sleep. Except looks were deceptive.
Around 7.30 I tried to rouse her by tapping her cheeks. It had no effect. Her eyes kept firmly shut. Sudha, the attendant, asked if we should call a hospital nurse to waken Mummy and I agreed.
“My God, she’s gasping,” said Sister Geetha, walking into the room.
She immediately rushed for a hand-held pump and, fixing it on Mummy’s mouth, began to press vigorously.
For us, who had been with Mummy, this was perplexing. There were four of us, including my sister Premila, and we’d sensed nothing wrong.
Only minutes earlier Premila had been holding her hand and stroking her cheek.
“Code Blue,” shouted Sister Geetha to one of the nurses who had followed her. It meant nothing to me. Foolishly, I thought she was saying Mummy was going blue. Except, as far as I could tell, she wasn’t.
Less than a minute later doctors came running down the corridor, portable machines in hand, and within seconds they converted the room into a high-tech ICU. It happened so fast I can’t recall everything. Seconds later we were asked to leave.
Mummy, I subsequently learnt, had stopped breathing. In her drowsy state she had started to aspirate her secretions, which, in turn, choked her. It was pure luck this coincided with my trying to rouse her, Sudha suggesting we call a nurse and Sister Geetha’s fortuitous presence outside the room.
What wasn’t luck was the speed and effectiveness of the hospital’s response to the Code Blue alert. It’s a system designed to instantaneously handle cardiac emergencies which the R and R has recently installed. I’ve seen similar procedures in Hollywood movies.
But to see it in real life, with your mother at its centre, is stunning. Actually numbing. It quite literally paralyses you.
Last Saturday the R and R not only saved Mummy but probably brought her back from the dead. I don’t know how many other hospitals could have done that.
Now, comparisons are odious and I have little experience of private hospitals. However, I’m told they treat patients as a source of revenue whilst asking doctors to make their departments profit centres. Each time a physician pops his head through the door, even if it’s only to ask how you are, another thousand is added to your bill.
At the R and R the patient comes first. The doctors and nurses who took charge of Mummy showed as much affection and care as her children. When she responded to their efforts their relief was no less than ours.
Maybe all hospitals and doctors are the same but I’m convinced the R & R and its physicians are special. But there’s also a wider point I want to make. And I’ll state it bluntly.
Medicine is a truly noble profession. Doctors save lives. The rest of us either exploit them or simply waste them.
The views expressed by the author are personal