To Err is Human (2)

 To Err is Human (2)


My first story is that of a young man, 36-years old, whose indomitable spirit enriched my life. He was suffering from haemangioma of the liver, a dreaded blood vessel tumour of the liver which, during excision, can almost exsanguinate a patient as there is torrential blood loss during this surgery. He had been opened up earlier in Calcutta by a very eminent surgeon who on discovery of this dreaded though benign tumour had promptly stitched up the abdomen, not wanting the death of his patient on the operation table.

In those days, we did not have ultrasonography or a CAT scanner nor had we access to the Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technique, any of which could forewarn a doctor about the nature of the disease before he undertook surgery.

The patient's misery had been compounded by his rapidly growing abdominal girth, due to the growth of the tumour. He finally came to Bombay and approached Dr A.V. Baliga, a fine man in addition to being a very eminent surgeon. An astute clinician, Dr Baliga painstakingly explained to the patient that there was a 50 per cent chance that he would die on the operation table as a result of heavy bleeding, that was likely to take place during the surgical procedure. If Dr Baliga thought his explanation, couched in gentle terms, would dissuade this burly young man from getting operated, he was sadly mistaken. On the contrary, the young man became more firm in his resolve to get the wretched tumour out of his system so that, God willing, if he survived, he would yet again live life to the hilt. Quality of life was more important to him and he urged Dr Baliga to take up the challenge. He even said that he did not mind dying in the hands of the great surgeon.

Finally the surgeon, the anesthetist—that is yours truly-the nursing and blood bank staff unanimously decided to operate.

On hearing our decision, the young man went back to Calcutta to bid a final adieu to his near and dear ones. He gently made them accept the reality that perhaps they would not see him alive after the surgery. His bonhomie was so infectious that the entire team geared itself up for the big event. Everybody wished to do their level best to mitigate his suffering. Finally, on D-Day, a tumour weighing 3 kg and 300 gm was excised and about 10-12 pints of blood was transfused into his body. Contrary to all expectation, surgery and anaesthesia were uneventful. Next day when I went to see him in his room, I was sent into fits of laughter. It was such a rib-tickling scene! Our patient had clumsily propped himself up on the bed, adroitly maneuvering his I.V. infusion tubes so that did not come in the his game yes, he was playing a game of cards with some visitors! There was not a trace of discomfort or anxiety on his genial face, no mumbling or grumbling about the 1. V. tubes or the indwelling urinary catheter. He was full of cheer and thanked me profusely for my professional services.

In a lighter vein he confided that he now had a very major problem on hand! Prior to surgery he had wished a final goodbye to his near and dear ones what if they thought when he called on them that they were being visited by his ghost?

Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar.