I am a surgeon working in Lakeshore hospital in Cochin, in the state of Kerala in India. About ten years ago, I was felled by a stroke that left the left side of my body paralyzed. This wreaked my career as a surgeon. Presently, I work in the Surgical ICU of the same hospital, tending to post-operative patients. Before my illness, I had the opportunity to treat quite a number of patients, as a member of a large unit that made up one of country’s finest gastroenterology surgical units, headed by Dr. H.Ramesh.
Mr. Joseph (name changed) was admitted with a rare form of inflammatory disease involving his large intestine, causing its rupture. This required emergency surgery. Perforation of the large intestine causes severe infection and dangerous complications on patients. Joseph was not spared. He went through major complications. Infection ravaged his body, already weakened from years of harboring the disease and its treatment. He had to be on the ventilator, costly antibiotics and other costly medications to sustain dear life. The process of treating him took heavy toll on his family financially. As days wore on, treatment costs mounted. Recovery was slow. However, he did show signs of improvement. He was a manual laborer with humble earnings. His siblings and his wife were not well to do. The cost of treatment weighed on them heavily and soon was beyond them. At one point, they could not afford another day’s treatment. They decided to stop all costly treatment. The decision was conveyed to the doctors, who were trying hard to give back a cured patient to his family.
The doctors had no choice but to abide by the family’s decision. Joseph was gradually taken off the ventilator. Costly medications were taken off one after the other. He was sustained with just intravenous fluids and low volumes of oxygen. He remained on this treatment on subsequent days. Much to the surprise of the family and the doctors, he improved slowly, but surely. He was ultimately discharged from hospital with a badly infected surgical wound, which had begun to heal. He left the hospital with a smile, leaving the doctors pleasantly surprised at the miracle that had just unfolded before them.
A few months later, Joseph met the doctors again, this time, with a hernia at the site of his previous surgery. The hernia was quite large enough to warrant surgery. This time, surgery and the post-operative course went off as smoothly as could be.
Months later, he met me at the hospital lift, on my way to work in the ICU. I recognized Joseph, the man who had beaten all odds years ago. His eyes welled up on seeing me. He enquired about my health. He probably must have known about my illness and its aftermath from my colleagues on his follow-up visits. He surveyed me enquiringly, as I was about to get into the lift with my helper. As the lift moved up, I waved goodbye to the patient who was given up by his family for ‘financial reasons’, and who had hung on to precious life through grit and determination, which surprised his doctors greatly. As I got out of the lift, I was convinced that ‘doctors only treat, but it is God who heals’.