3: Chances Are…
Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!
Khanak sat up with a start. It took her several seconds to get her bearings. She had been having a rather pleasant dream. She was strolling along a river cuddled up to a very handsome man with a strangely familiar face. It seemed as if they were in a foreign land, someplace very romantic and he was whispering sweet nothings in her ear. He had been about to kiss her when the beeper had gone off. She glared at it as it lay on her bedside table.
Khanak was in the call room of the hospital. She had just joined the staff as an attending three months ago. Being a conscientious young physician, she had made it a point to spend her nights on duty on site. After graduating with top honors she had chosen to study further and had completed her Doctor of Medicine degree in General Medicine six months ago. Her mother had urged her to settle down and get married but Khanak had refused saying that her life had just started and she needed to establish herself in her career. “Besides mommy dearest,” she had told her. “What does your daughter lack? I am smart, young and not bad to look at I hope, except for my dark circles. But those can be easily hidden with makeup. And with my credentials, I can have anybody I want. So don’t you worry. Eligible boys will line up on their own!”
Her mother had laughed and indulgently shaken her head. She was very proud of her eldest child. But a mother’s heart could never stop worrying.
Khanak sighed and dialed the number on the pager; “This is Dr. Agarwal.”
“Dr. Agarwal, it’s Mr. Gupta in Room 3. He says he can’t sleep and would like a sleep aid!
But then he has the lights and the TV on.”
“Tell him to turn them both off. I’d rather try that before giving him something that might make him stop breathing, him being so incredibly obese. Try to make him understand. I know you can.”
“Yes Doc, I agree completely. I will talk to him.”
Khanak smiled. The nurses liked her and that was a good thing. Or else they would nag her all night with little things. Some PR always helps. She lay down again and tried to recall her dream when the pager went off again; “It appears I have to cancel my date with my Prince Charming!”
“Dr. Agarwal, can you please come up to the 4th floor? Mrs. Kocchar in Room 16 is having trouble breathing. She can barely speak; I’m really worried about her.”
“Is she having any chest pain? Did you do an ECG?”
“No Doctor, she is not having any chest pain. But I will get an EKG right away.”
“Okay, please also get a Chest X ray. I’ll be there in a few.” Khanak grabbed her coat and rushed to the 4th Floor that was devoted to the cardiac patients. She took a quick look at Mrs. Kochar’s chart and reviewed her EKG. Fortunately, it did not show any changes. But her blood pressure was up and her oxygen levels were low. She went into the room and saw a very anxious lady in her mid-sixties who was sitting up in bed and breathing hard. She was clutching at her oxygen mask and a man who appeared to be her husband was standing beside her looking equally anxious and worried. Khanak introduced herself and asked if she could examine Mrs. Kochar.
Mr. Kochar looked relieved while his wife could only nod. Khanak efficiently examined Mrs. Kochar while quietly asking her a few questions following which she reviewed her Xray. Then she said; “It’s nothing to worry about. There is buildup of some extra fluid in the lungs and that can be easily fixed with medication. Since Mrs. Kochar has just suffered a heart attack these things are a common occurrence. She has to be careful and watch her salt and fluid intake from now on.”
“So she doesn’t have pneumonia?” asked Mr. Kochar.
“No she doesn’t. She should start feeling better soon. I’m here all night and will come by to check on her before I leave.”
Khanak walked out of the room relieved that it had been a relatively easy problem. She glanced at her pager as it had gone off again.
“Mr. Bansal is dying. His family wants to speak with you. Can you come by?”
Khanak knew 80-year-old Mr. Bansal very well. He had been trying to die for the past few days after suffering a massive stroke that had affected most of his brain. His family had been in shock and had refused to come to terms with his bad prognosis. But after much discussion they had finally accepted that living like a vegetable on machines would have been unacceptable to him. It was best to let him die with dignity.
Khanak saw the entire extended family gathered his bedside and his poor wife, herself very frail silently wept holding her husband’s hand. He seemed at peace and unaware of his surroundings. He breathing was irregular, a clear indication of approaching death. Khanak went to Mrs. Bansal’s side and quietly reassured her that her husband was not suffering. Her two sons and daughter sat at his bedside as he slowly breathed his last. It took almost an hour but Khanak remained in the room. Mrs. Bansal hugged her and expressed her gratitude.
Khanak left the family in a somber mood and thought again that death was indeed a part of life. If only we knew of what lay on the other side perhaps we won’t be too afraid to face it. She glanced at her watch. In just another couple of hours her shift would end. Maybe she should take a nap or she’ll be driving home a zombie. She reached the call room when the overhead page system went off—
TRAUMA ALERT EMERGENCY ROOM 1, ALL ATTENDING STAFF REQUESTED TO RESPOND AT ONCE.
Khanak thought; Oh no, not now! This is going to take hours. Maybe I can just pass it on to Dr. Krishnan when he comes in. But then how about my reputation? They will boot me out at the next opportunity!
Then a little voice spoke to her; “Khanak what about your conscience? Remember you have taken an oath to do your best? Giving up already?”
She took a deep breath and headed toward the ER.
My head is dizzy; I want to throw up. I can’t open my mouth. My lips are stuck. Where are those bright lights coming from and who are those people all in white and those sounds! Maybe I’m dreaming. It is a nightmare; a most horrible sci-fi movie! Ouch! That hurts! Get away from me! What’s that thing in my arm? No its real. I am living my nightmare! I can’t breathe! Please help me! Can anyone hear me?!
“Looks like he’s waking up doctor!”
“Get a CT head, chest, abdomen, pelvis and spine STAT!”
“His blood pressure and heart rate are rising! He’s fighting us!”
“Put him in four point restraints and administer 4 mg Morphine IV and 1 mg Ativan. He must be in pain, And move him to the OR for an exploratory.”
“Calm down sir! You had an accident. You are in the hospital and we are all trying to help you!”
“What? Hospital? Accident? No I am fine! Where is Megha my niece?”
“You don’t worry about her sir. She will be fine. You are the one who is hurt.”
“But you are not listening to me! Stop now! Get away! I need to see her. I need to make sure she’s fine!”
“Sir to stay still! Boys hold him down!”
“No!” His vision began to fade. I’m falling asleep. No I can’t. I need to find Megha.
Meanwhile at the Khandelwal House:
Dadi and Madhavi (Shantanu’s mother) were pacing anxiously along the main hall of the house while Khushboo was sitting on the sofa wringing her hands.
“I didn’t think it was a good idea for Shantanu to take Megha out this late but she insisted. Lately she has become very stubborn and is misbehaving a lot. It’s all dadi ma’s fault. She has spoiled her like anything!”
Dadi glared at Khushboo but didn’t say anything.
“Sunil had to go on a tour and Akshay hasn’t come home yet. Is this a house or a hotel?” Madhavi lamented. “Khushboo did you call Akshay?”
“Yes, mom, he said he was on his way half-an-hour ago. He is completely oblivious to what goes on at home or the hardship his wife goes through to bring up his daughter!”
“Khushboo this is not the time for starting your usual rant! Megha and Shantanu haven’t returned and it’s raining CNT (for cats and dogs. Madhavi liked to speak in abbreviations)! I hope they are alright.”
Just then they hear the front door banging open and Akshay hurried in. “I just got a call. Shaan’s car was involved an accident. They have been taken them to the hospital.”
Madhavi almost collapsed in shock while Khushboo ran to Akshay, with a look of guilt on her face; “My baby! Please tell my Megha is okay!”
He said trying to keep his worst fears in check, “Everything will be fine, no harm can befall our Megha and Shantanu.”
Khanak saw a group of doctors and nurses gathered near the trauma room. She asked Dr. Deepak Mishra, a surgery fellow about what was going on. He had been her batch mate in medical school and now was a fellow in Cardiothoracic surgery. He was smart and confident and a little too arrogant for Khanak’s liking.
“Looks like some rich brat with a fancy car with a little girl crashed into a divider on the highway. Sounds as if he was trying to avoid running into a truck that was going the wrong way. Stupid fellow was drunk! They have them both in there. The guy got pretty badly bashed up though he was strapped in and the airbag did deploy. I was thinking I was done when this came in. Now I have to wait and assist my chief if he wants to take him to the OR. What horrible luck!”
“Oh no!” Khanak exclaimed. “Is the little girl okay?”
“Apparently the man was smart enough to put her in the back seat. She’s conscious and looks fine. She’s in that room over there;” he cocked his thumb in the direction of the adjoining room. “By the way what are you doing this evening?”
Khanak glared at him. Bet on Deepak to treat any situation in a casual manner, as if he was changing the tires on his car. He lacked empathy. He sounded cold, almost mechanical, and he had just begun his career. God save his patients!” she thought as she ignored his question and walked into Trauma Room 2.
She saw a little girl sitting on the exam bed. She was probably six or seven. Her pretty pink dress was soiled, torn, and splattered with blood. She had streaks of blood on her face and arms but otherwise didn’t appear to be seriously injured. A doctor and a couple of nurses were trying to talk and examine her but she was resisting them and pushing their hands away. She looked terrified. Khanak’s heart went out to her. She asked one of the nurses if she could help.
“It wouldn’t hurt to try. She hasn’t let any of us touch her and she has not spoken a word since she was brought in. They found her cowering on the back seat, covered with broken glass and blood. It took a while before they were able to coax her out.”
“It’s obvious she’s in shock,” Khanak said as she approached the girl. She also took out a tiny teddy bear which she carried in her pocket for occasions like these. Little children always presented a challenge. It was important to earn their trust and establish a rapport with them before they let you inside the little worlds they have created for themselves. “Hi see you have a visitor,” Khanak said.
Curiosity overcame fear and the little girl said, “Who?”
Khanak shrugged, “I don’t know. I found him wandering outside, maybe you can ask him because he won’t talk to me.”
The girl took the bear in her hands; “Okay, I will try.” She then lost her inhibitions and began talking freely as Khanak gently examined her for any broken bones and internal injuries. Miraculously she seemed unhurt except for a few bruises and scratches.
Khanak said; “He wants to know your name for he’s a gentleman bear.”
“My name is Megha, what’s your name bear?” The girl looked at the doll eagerly.
“His name is Teddy I think. He wants to know you more because he finds you very interesting and pretty. Where were you tonight?”
“Teddy, I went to an amazing ballet called The Swan Lake with the loveliest dancer in it. She looked like an angel, did you see it bear?”
“No, but I would love to. Who did you go with?” Khanak said in a low voice.
“I went with my favorite Shantanu chachu. He is the best chachu in the whole world!”
Khanak sighed with relief, glad that Megha’s uncle had the sense to put her in the back seat. She nodded at the nurse who smiled back. She had been watching keenly.
Megha hugged the bear to her chest and looked at Khanak, “Teddy says he will come home with me. He’s thirsty, can he have some water?” Khanak asked for some water and gave it to Megha, who made a show of offering it to the bear then proceeded to gulp it down. Khanak smiled, noting that she was indeed all right and stroked her fine hair. Megha gave her a wide smile, “Have you seen Chachu? I want to show him my bear!”
“Uhm… let me check,” Khanak said and walked into the next room.
“He is fighting us! Strap him down! Give him another dose of Versed. He may need to be tubed before we take him to the OR.”
Khanak watched anxiously as the nurses strapped the young man’s limbs to the gurney and injected him with the sedative. She stepped up for a closer look. He looked familiar to her but couldn’t place him. He was extraordinarily good looking despite a big gash on his forehead and wild eyes that were scanning the faces around him. They came to rest on Khanak’s and then stayed there, as if in recognition; “Where is Megha, my niece? Have you seen her? Is she okay?”
Khanak smiled, at least she could answer the question, “Don’t worry. She is fine. You were involved in a major accident. You are badly hurt. Please cooperate with us so we can do our best to help you.”
The young man appeared calm now. His eyes began to droop likely under the effect of the sedative. His voice slurred as he spoke; “You know you are the only person who has been able to answer the question I’ve been asking for so long. Thanks Doc.”
Khanak nodded. He looked peaceful as he closed his eyes.
“Thanks Khanak you are our savior! We are going to take him to the OR now.”
Khanak watched as they wheeled him away then she went back to Megha’s side.
Megha’s face brightened when she saw her, “Did you find chachu? Can I show him my Teddy? He wants to meet him!”
“Later. Right now he can’t see anyone.”
Megha clasped Khanak’s arm tight, “But but…I asked him to take me home! I miss my mommy! Teddy wants to go home too, he’s sleepy!” She started to cry.
Khanak tried to calm her down while directing a look of inquiry at the nurse. She said, “We found her uncle’s wallet. It had his card and other information in it. The family should be on their way.”