Firstly let me make it absolutely clear, I never wanted to be an intensive care doctor.
Trained in the fine aristocratic art of internal medicine, those long hours of sleepless nights getting bleary-eyed watching complicated waveforms on monitors plugged into poor sedated patients with tubes placed all over or piercing big needles into their necks just to find an access to their veins & arteries were never my things.
I loved the cosy comfort of my air conditioned office just managing colds, asthmas, diabetes or blood pressures. Most of the times it used to be a harassed wife just overreacting to a minor muscle sprain and all you needed to do was some good old comforting talks and the patient went home smiling. Life was cool with rare late night wake ups.
Or, so I thought.
One fateful day, one patient changed everything in my life forever.
Mr Gupta was not exactly a patient that any doctor would like to treat. Obese, Diabetic, hypertensive and a regular smoker, he was so irritatingly difficult to get through and communicate. I gasped every time he called to fix an appointment.
Yet when his wife called that night at one a clock complaining that he could not breathe and pleaded me to help, I could not stop myself from rushing to the hospital.
This was the year 2002 & intensive care units in my hometown of Jaipur ,then were rather archaic structures with only the basic monitoring equipments and hardly any facilities to manage acute emergencies like the bilateral(double) pneumonia my patient was suffering from.
So I reached the hospital a bit bleary eyed & dazed only to be shocked out of my casualness by witnessing Mr. Gupta literally gasping and fighting for breath, his face ashen & swollen, his hands and feet cold and blue.
It was obvious that if he was to live, this patient needed to be immediately put on a ventilator.
Now ventilators, mostly dreaded and even infamous amongst the masses, are machines that supplement and at times even replace a person’s breathing in advanced cases of respiratory failure or shock. For the machine to deliver, you have to put in a thick tube (intubate) into the poor man’s trachea, a task that needs a certain amount of skill and training both of which I lacked.
Government Medical Colleges then, did not usually have facilities of ICUs and intubation was a skill that only an anaesthetist acquired in the operating room. We internal medicine graduates hardly had any exposure to this art
As fortunes would have it our Mr. Gupta was in for a real hard luck. Neither me, his treating physician nor the junior resident on duty that fateful night knew how to intubate or to manage that big bulky machine,( almost the size of a washing machine)called the ventilator. For the next 4 hours all three of us kept struggling, Mr Gupta with his breath and We doctors with his airway.
No treatment that we tried worked. Ultimately in the wee hours of morning Mr Gupta lost the battle & succumbed. I spent the next hour trying uselessly to console his hapless wife whose sobbing reverberated for a real long time. Never in my life had I felt so helpless & frustrated. I stood there the entire night like a moron running from post to pole but nothing in my training of last ten years could help save my patient’s life. Was it for this day that I spent so many nights mugging those complicated Medical books? Was it for this day that I prided myself in wearing the white coat? What fun was it to manage a figure of blood pressure or a blood sugar reading if you cannot stop a preventable death happening right in front of your eyes.
One week of intense mental and emotional turmoil and sleepless nights made me take that decision which changed my entire destiny
I applied and got a chance to work in the Deluxe ICU of a seven Star Hospital at Mumbai and started on my journey not to be a film star but to somehow become a complete doctor. It was the beginning of a new journey….not just into the realms of intensive care but also deep inside me