Thursday, 17 November 2016

Night in the Life of a Doctor …..

"It is a bitter potion by which the physician within you heals its sick self.
For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the unseen."
- Khalil Gibran

The clocked ticked eight fifty-five. The pitch black night loomed long and sleepless before me. Silence would be well appreciated - but the emergency room of the public hospital would not allow such calm. The blaring blood red of the ambulance lights cut the velvet night, hollering sirens screaming almost as loud as the breaking sobs of the family of the injured.

The stretcher was rolled swiftly past me, into the side room of the medical ward. Efficiently, nurses strapped on the face mask oxygen, connected the tubing and set the flow rate. I hurried with the bustle of it all, pulling a catheter-over needle from the pocket of my starched coat. The lady barely moaned as the needle pierced her vein. Her daughter's face was a mask of worry. Her scarf settled disheveled upon her head, her tasbeeh beads held loosely in her trembling hands. Her Surah Yaseen was clutched tightly, as she whispered to me,

“My mother has cancer. “

At age fifty, a lump discovered on routine breast examination was found to be malignant. The cancer had rapidly spread and wasn't simply confined to a resectable area. Six long months had trudged past and her mother, Zaheera, had collapsed that night, breathing heavily. Her cancer had gnawed the life out of her. It broke my heart right there and then. It was my first night call at this hospital, and being still young and untouched by death, this was not a burden that I was ready to bear. I felt a sense of responsibility as a medical student. The thought of standing by as an observer was abhorrent. Resuscitation would give her one more week with her family, a day, an hour - maybe. Surely it would make a difference? This reminded me of the newborn in pediatrics that had died cold, blue and innocent after a rigorous resuscitation - we were helpless. Had the baby lived, she would have been brain damaged from the long duration of hypoxia. The beeping monitors signaling a rapidly dropping blood pressure and heart rate snapped me into the present.

The rest of the family had arrived. Zaheera's husband was at home, also suffering from cancer. My registrar indicated to me that Zaheera was not for resuscitation, and then she moved on to other patients where there was a chance of survival. My own beautiful mother and I recently attended a Talim (muslim gathering) class. We learnt a horrifying fact - a Muslim doctor working in a Muslim country abroad, heading a trauma unit, had reported that in the single year he was employed to work there, not one Muslim person of the Ummah had died with the Kalimah on his lips. He had spoken with a Moulana realising the dire state of our community.

On the doctors last day of work, one man said the Kalimah on his death bed, planting fresh seeds of hope. I whispered to the daughter to recite the holy Kalimah as she stood next to her mother. She chanted it brokenly, racked with damaging fear of the greatest loss, yet the Arabic remained preserved and independently sufficient in its ethereal beauty. I couldn't imagine how her mother would be able to utter the words, given her grave condition.

Her lips were parched, her skin thinned and stretched tautly over fragile bones, barely moving beneath the oxygen mask and withered hands clutching her daughters till the knuckles turned white. Just as she took her last breath, I heard the beloved Kalimah flow flawlessly from her lips, perfect words whispering her last breath as her face lit with the light of Imaan.

The doctor walked in a minute later. I watched as she palpated gently, yet in vain, for a carotid pulse. In the background the low murmur of illness hung heavy against the cracked cucumber-green walls of the ward and the quiet discomfort of other patients rang loud. The broken screams of the anxious daughter waiting outside wrenched at my heart.

My greatest consolation was that her mother had died with the Kalimah, her breath sweet with the scent of Jannah clinging to her, as unseen a Barakah as a pearl hidden within its oysters' shell.

The opportunity to touch a family, to save lives in the years looming ahead of me is as daunting as climbing the tallest mountain without a safety harness. Except I have realized that I don't need one. Allah performs miracles, and just when you think that you might slip, you will realize that your backpack is in fact a parachute. Being able to help my Muslim patients read the Kalimah is as much a safety harness protecting them from falling into the dark deep veils of Jahannum as anyone could give - a gift more precious than the transient health of this Dunya.

By Farrah Dawood
(my personal account)

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