By Adesida Adewumi MD
Today’s story is unique because it happened to the least expected person, a medical doctor, those mortals life-savers as some patients see us, forgetting that we are mere mortal like them, forgetting that we go through the same life trials like them, forgetting that life does not spare us its troubles because we are medical doctors. In fact I will say dedicated doctors and health workers, like a few other professionals, are more prone to psychological problems than the general population because of human sufferings, trials and frailties we see every day. If you are dedicated and compassionate as a medical doctor, then you must be very strong emotionally not to allow what I call failures to save a life, get to you. It is on this note i tell this story today. I have the permission of Dr. Victor to share this story.
I was on my way to work that morning though I was not feeling too well myself. I was on antimalaria drugs. I would have taken sick leave but many doctors had gone on leave in the department already, so if I went on leave, it would really affect the number of patients we could attend to.
I received a call from one of my patients asking if I was in the hospital so that he could come and see me because he was not feeling fine. As I answered him on phone he noticed my voice was cracking somehow so he asked me “Dr. Ade, you sound somehow like you are not feeling fine”.
“Yes, I am having malaria. I am on antimalarial drugs,” I replied.
He laughed and said, “sorry o so you doctors too fall sick? I thought you people were immune or better still the sicknesses already know you people as their bosses they don’t come near you people.”
I mustered strength to laugh and answered him “we are not gods o, neither are we immortal, doctors fall sick, doctors die,we develop cancers, we develop depression, wee have hypertension. In fact many times it is even worse as many of us forget to do check up on our health every day, every week and every year.
“We do forget our lives, busy saving other lives. We do forget to do even the basic tests until we come down with high blood pressure or stroke or high blood sugar. This is our story as medical doctors. It is unbelievable to tell you that we don’t even have enough time to do exercise and get those benefits that we counsel and educate people to keep doing and get the benefits. A typical medical doctor gets to work at 7 a.m, enters the theatre, starts operation, do like seven operations, finishes around 4 pm and if he is the same doctor on evening call that day, he continues attending to patients till 8 am the following day.
Then he rushes to take his bath in one bathroom inside the hospital and continues that day’s work without going home and no breakfast until later in the afternoon. This is the plight of so many doctors all over the world. Do you know if the call is a weekend call the doctor continues this marathon of not going home till monday evening of following week and may not even get enough good food to eat?”
The patient was really touched but jokingly again said, “wow sorry o, Dr Ade, but you people’s money is heavy alert so it will make up for all the stress.”
I laughed at the issue of medical doctors getting heavy money alerts.
“May be in some countries like Saudi Arabia, Canada or United States, medical doctors’ remuneration and conditions of service are far better than developing countries that are in a sorry state. Local government chairmen in Nigeria will buy a medical doctor with all his family and he will feed them for 10 years without stepping into any office to work. Not to talk of governors, senators or president and their appointees at local, state and federal government levels.
He was shocked. He asked in amazement “doctor, you dont mean it? I think politicians get almost the same amount of money you doctors collect.”
I laughed out loud again and still laughing as I entered the hospital that morning. I ended the discussion with him by telling him “We are like you patients in all ramifications, the only edge we have over you is our knowledge of the diseases and the cure we apply to ourselves but despite this, we still fall like all mortals sir.” The patient actually felt for me. He wished me quick recovery with compassion in his voice..
I got to my office area. Despite my not feeling too well, a considerable of patients were already sitting in the waiting area in front of my office. They were so happy to see me that I had come to save their lives whereas I was struggling to save mine, too. This is the irony of life of many medical doctors. They all heartily welcomed me. Some had even stood up to start telling me one thing or the other before I even opened my door to drop my bag. As I was listening to some of them with side complaints before I started the day work, I saw the matron arranging them, shouting at the top of her voice, same with the the medical records personnel trying to organise and control the crowd. I sighed I said God this is the situation in our various hospitals all over the nation, every day. What do you think it would be when 200 million people wait for 40,000 medical doctors to attend to them. So you can begin to imagine the health gap. It is really heart breaking and shattering.
I entered my office to drop my bag and quickly checked on my colleague who was on call overnight, his name was Dr Victor. At least, let me hear how the overnight call went with him. Hope he was able to have a little rest. As I got to the delivery room, I saw him running up and down to save the life of one pregnant woman who delivered twins at home and was rushed down to the hospital bleeding seriously. I joined him in running from pillar to post . I joined him in raising more bags of blood to transfuse to the woman. We were rushing her to the theartre, calling Anasthetists, to get ready for the emergency. Everybody was doing all they could in their own fields to save this patient’s life.
Tranfusion of blood was ongoing as we were trying to stop the bleeding. Drips were being given. Drugs to close the womb were being given. We were checking for any tears in her birth canal. Patient started losing consciousness due to the huge amount of blood she had lost after the delivery at home and on her way to hospital. The patient had nine children before this twin delivery. We tried all we could do in the ward. Then we rushed her to the theatre considering the option of removing her womb since all the ways to stop the bleeding didn’t work, our last option was to remove her womb to save her life. As we entered theatre, before we could even raise a knife,she breathed her last. The silence was loud. The sorrow was heavy.Everything came to a halt.
The long silence was broken by Dr Victor crying. He broke down in tears. Everybody’s eyes were fixed on the empathic doctor,who did all he could do to save the life of a mother of 11 but lost the battle.
“Dr. Victor, please stop crying, you did your best for the patient,” I pleaded, but he was unconsolable.
He started telling me all the efforts he made since the patient was brought in four hours earlier. How he had gone to blood bank more than 11 times. How he had run to the Pharmacy to get drips and injection drugs himself to save time. How he had called many other doctors for help for blood donation. The patient took up to six blood bags before she succumbed to death. I held his hands and took him to my consulting room.I counselled him and deeply felt for him.I pleaded with him to go home and rest. The rest of us continued the day work.
As Dr Victor stepped out of my consulting room to go home, lessons came pouring into my mind both from my feeling sick and still working; to the frustration of Dr. Victor not being able to save that woman.
Let me share the lessons with you
Lesson number 1:
Many doctors and other health workers I have met in the course of my training and practice have human feelings. They sacrifice their lives everyday in exchange for their patients. They sacrifice their family time to save other families. May God bless all the dedicated doctors and health workers worlwide, the ones who truly sacrifice daily to keep others sound and safe.
Lesson number 2:
This is my admonition to all doctors and other health workers all over the world: please do your best to save your patients and stay with them till the end if the end comes. There are some battles you will not win, learn to know and live with these. Even if you will love to save all, some will still go because destiny calls must be answered. So, please learn to accept what you can’t change. Learn to let go when the Maker says no, and do not see it as a failure on your part, as far as you have done your best. The best of doctor cannot stop death when God has said the time is up.
Lesson number 3:
Doctors and other health workers, please learn to attend to your own health in order to be alive for your patients. A dead doctor cannot save a sick patient. If you are sick, see other doctors and present yourself as a patient and stop self-treatment. Be taken care of. You also have family whose lives and livelihood depend on you.
Lesson number 4:
Patients, please stop attributing God’s status to doctors and other health workers. They are as human as you. They fall. They fail. They cry. They mourn. They are not immune to any diseases you are prone to. Doctors die of cancer, depression, and stroke, too.
Please patients, care for your doctors, too, especially when they are at their lows. Show that you too care about them.. Doctors appreciate caring patients too.
▪︎ Dr. Adewumi is a Family Medicine consultant, based in Kano. Follow him on Facebook at “FROM INSIDE MY CONSULTING ROOM “; his health page on YOUTUBE and INSTAGRAM @doctorhealtheducation; on Twitter @doctorhealthed1; and on WhatsApp at: +234 (0)806-864-9694. He gives daily education on health plus free daily consultation.