The Red Badge of Bravery (3)





Heroic deeds and a fighting spirit are not confined to battlefields. Such deeds can be witnessed even in everyday life among ordinary human beings. A person who battles against all odds and faces the challenges thrown at him with determination and will power is in my opinion, equally if not more heroic than a soldier. I have come across innumerable such 'fighters in the course of my career. The first of this kind was a sixty year 'young' patient who, beside being very obese, was also hypertensive.

Mrs Kulkarni (a fictitious name) a long-standing diabetic had already sustained two major heart attacks and used to get recurrent urinary tract infection. She was under the care of my father when one day I was urgently summoned to take her electro-cardiogram. Yes, she had suffered another coronary, her third! She was immediately hospitalised and a week later, asked me: "Will you give me permission to visit the Siddhi Vinayak Temple? I shall go in a car and I am certain the visit will help me recover faster. My parents are eighty plus, do you think I, a sixty years old, will leave them and go 'up' soon? Vijay, the four walls of this room are suffocating me. Please let me visit the temple.”

I understood the logic of her argument and examined her thoroughly—her blood pressure was stable, the heartbeats were regular, there was no sign of cardiac failure. I even examined their car and then, with a fair amount of trepidation, gave her permission to visit the famous Ganapati Temple. Within a few days there was a marked improvement in her condition. Thereafter, in the next few years, she did sustain two mild heart attacks, but recovered rapidly without any residual damage. After every coronary, she made a routine of inviting the consultants who attended on her, for dinner.

Some time later, she developed cancer of her uterus which needed immediate surgical intervention. Knowing her cardiac history, no gynaecologist and anaesthesiologist was willing to take the risk of operating upon her. Finally she called me and asked me to convince somebody to do the job. How she managed to keep herself so calm and collected, God alone knows. However, with much reluctance a senior gynaecologist and an anaesthesiologist did take the risk and she underwent a successful removal of her uterus only to sustain a fall and fracture of her left femur (thigh bone) a few months later. The orthopaedic surgeon decided to treat her conservatively and much against her wishes she was tied to the with traction weights applied to her leg, in order to bring the fractured bony parts in alignment. She was imploring everybody around to set free and to, instead, operate upon her. But her requests went unheeded. During this period I was abroad for two to three months and on my return, when I went to see her, in feigned anger she reprimanded me: "Vijay, where did you disappear all these days? I have been awarded imprisonment and you were not there to bail me out. Had you been here, I could have been cooking some delicious food for you by now”. Soon enough she recovered fully and invited me for the usual ‘Thanksgiving’ dinner.


However, her diabetes kept worsening and as a consequence her kidneys developed an irreversible damage. Moreover, age was engulfing her and she succumbed, but not before putting up a valiant fight. Her will power, zest for life, and positive frame of mind were all phenomenal. I personally feel, we the consultants, should not curb a patient's natural fervour, and enthusiasm - for these are the factors that aid him in overcoming his handicaps. We should, in fact, help our patients in whatever manner we deem fit, to fight heroically.