Sunday, May 31

It never gets easier

It was early this morning. Or late last night, depending on how you count days. Around 0200 hours, give or take ten minutes. Most people were either asleep, getting home after a late night show or a session at the latest clubs, or surfing porn behind closed doors, with the lights turned off. I was wide awake longing to be asleep. I just came back (to the hospital) after grabbing a quick dinner at McDonald's Ampang Jaya. Before that I was drilling holes in people's skulls. I knew there was a patient who deteriorated an hour past midnight in our ICU. I knew there was a possibility I had crawl into the blue OT attire again, to open up the patient's skull, to take out the bone, the blood, or whatever that was making him more ill than he already was. Sounds routine, doesn't it? The patient has not quite reached sixteen years breathing the air we're all breathing. I have about twelve years on him, and God willing, I may see more years passing by. But he won't. In the time I'm writing this, his life force is barely a flicker, ready to be snuffed out. I wasn't the one who admitted him, nor was I the one who operated on him. I'm simply the doctor managing the ICU where he happens to be treated. I had the opportunity to explain to his father about his condition. I told him that his son, the one on the bed that looked much too big for his still form, with all the tubes and wires connected to him like a grotesque parody of a sci-fi novel, was in bad shape. But he's still young. There's hope. There's always hope. That was on Friday, before I went home after work. Fast forward to Sunday, 0200 hours. About eighteen hours into my call. The same patient deteriorated. Where was the hope? Out with whatever dreams he had before that freak twist of fate that landed him on the ICU bed, dying. What happened to him in the first place? No, he wasn't riding a motorcycle, doing whatever stunts teenagers these days are doing. He didn't play truant during school hours. He was playing soccer with his friends. Witnesses said a flag pole fell onto him. His family kept asking me whether there was a possibility someone hit him at the back of his head. I may never know what happened. But whatever happened definitely wasn't his fault. Life's unfair that way. I offered to inform the family. I knew it was going to be hard. I spoke with the father earlier. I saw some of the relatives. In a way, I had a fleeting glimpse into his life. His father was working night shift, so his elder brother came. I led him into a room and took a seat facing him. How do you tell close family members that the younger brother is already brain dead, that only his heart is pumping independently? How do you tell them that the sixteen-year-old will not live to see another day? I chose to tell the elder brother straight on, without pretense, without medical jargon. I spoke as softly as I could, as slowly as I could. I paused to let the words sink in, and saw the change in his face. I saw the hard set of his jaw, the tears welling in his eyes. I saw his denial, I saw his anger. After a minute of silence, I broached the subject of organ donation. I hate myself for doing it, but it had to be done. The patient was a suitable candidate for it. Naturally, from the look on his face, he was not going to listen to anything else from me. I laid it there. I told the brother to call his family members, to say their goodbyes, to be there with the patient as he fades away, with their prayers and their blessing. He asked me if there was anything else we could do. I told him the truth. There wasn't, other than to ease his passing. The patient's mother stopped me at the door on her way in. She asked me what was happening with her son. I told her he was dying. She turned and headed his direction. I stood by the door long enough to see her sit down by his bed, her head and shoulders slumped. I went into my room and lay on my own bed, trying to absorb the enormity of the words I just exchanged with the patient's family. I heard the elder brother talking on the phone, telling other family members one by one that his brother no longer was. Before I knew it, a few drops of warm tears rolled on the bridge of my nose and cheek. Maybe I was yawning at that time. If I was, I couldn't recall doing it. This morning, his blood pressure was unrecordable. His heart was still beating, but weak; it was a flutter compared to the stomping of mine. I did the only thing I could do: I whispered the syahadah into his ears before asking the nurses to call his family in. This time his father was around. I told him it would be anytime soon. I asked him to guide his son, to ease him, to be there in his final moments. He asked if his wife could come in. I nodded and asked the nurses to provide them with a few books of Yasin, and a couple of chairs. I asked for them to draw the curtains, to give the family the scant privacy we could afford them with. Life goes on for me. I reckon I'll be facing similar situations, like I did before this. But the same is not true for this particular patient. Nor will it ever be the same for the family he's leaving behind. I cannot even attempt to imagine how it is for his parents, to see him slipping away from their embrace. I sincerely hope, I sincerely pray, that my family and friends will never face this nightmare. May it never touch you and yours, whoever is reading this. This is dedicated to the patient. His family loves him, deeper than the roots of the earth, but Allah loves him more. Al-Fatihah.