National Doctors' Day: 5 Doctors Talk About Saving Lives, Seeing Death And Solving Challenging Cases

By: Rukmini Chopra

Published On: June 30, 2018

On National Doctors' Day, Impact Guru interacts with doctors, and asks them about their daily encounters with challenging cases and what keeps them going, in what’s easily the most difficult profession in the world. 

#DoctorsForGood

Doctors For Good is our community of select, expert doctors from across the country who are working with us to make healthcare accessible to all with the power of crowdfunding. This series is to highlight the day-to-day experiences and bravery of our doctors who are on call to save lives 24x7.

The media portrays a rather glamorous version of a doctor’s life. From Grey’s Anatomy, to House M.D, to ER, there have been ample television shows as well as films that have shown the hectic lives that doctors lead. But the reality is different as well as an exaggerated version of what we see on our small screens. From working long hours, to compromising on personal/family life to performing challenging surgeries and encountering tricky cases, doctors truly replace the duty of God.

On National Doctor’s Day, we interact with doctors about their medical journey,to show you the real turbulences and satisfactions of being on-call to save lives in an attempt to acknowledge the daunting dedication and work of some of India’s top doctors.

Dr. Amit Thadani 

Amit Thadani.jpg

Dr. Thadani is a general surgeon at Apollo Spectra Hospital, Mumbai

Saving a life for the first time

“I conducted an operation in the middle of the night with the patient’s feces spilling all over me”

We treated a middle-aged patient who had ruptured intestines and multi-organ failure. I remember operating on him in the middle of the night with four liters plus of the patient’s feces spilling all over me. We struggled for days thereafter to nurse each failed system back to life, spending sleepless nights next to his bed to micro-manage his condition, until he finally recovered completely. 

Saving life for the first time 

“We treated a child with a massive head injury.” 

A 10-year-old boy was brought in an unconscious condition to the emergency room with a terrible head injury, almost in his last breaths. We quickly put him on ventilator support. We had no clue about the extent of the internal injuries in his brain as he was not stable enough to be shifted for a CT scan, and had to go only by calculated guess work. Over the next ten days of very hard work, the child started showing some signs of recovery and was eventually taken off ventilator. One month later, he went home, still somewhat incoherent but on the way to recovery. Three months later he returned, a perfectly normal child.

Facing death for the first time 

“We lost a 20-year-old girl who had jumped off the roof of a tall building.”

She was brought to the emergency room of the municipal hospital where I was still just an intern. We struggled to save her, but unfortunately, she died within minutes of arrival. I declared her dead to her friends, which was quite traumatic for me as well as them. When I turned back, I saw my co-interns practicing placement of an endotracheal tube in the deceased patient’s throat so that they could perfect the procedure for saving other patients brought in a critical state. That just about sums up our profession. You have to put every disappointment behind you within minutes and move forward to try your best for the next patient.

Emotional attachment with patients 

“We call it empathy rather than attachment.” 

To understand your patient well, you inevitably have to form a bond with him/her at an emotional level. We call it “empathy” rather than attachment. The bond lasts at least for the duration of treatment. Some progress to friendship and camaraderie beyond work, most end with the treatment. And we keep moving on.

Maintaining a work-life balance 

“The truth is, that we are afraid that are patients will go elsewhere.”

To remove time for personal life, one has to let go of some amount of work and be at peace with it. Doctors can and should be able to do it comfortably. But the fact is, we are afraid that our patient will go elsewhere if we do not see them out of turn, and that is why we end up working long hours and weekends. Doctors too, like the average corporate employee, are giving up quality of life for some additional income. It’s tough, but it has to be done. 

Dr. Purneema K.

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Dr. Purneema K. is a critical care specialist and anesthesiologist at Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore.

Treating a challenging case

“I treated a cancer patient who was 24-weeks pregnant”

I came across a 35-year-old lady who was a cancer survivor and she had taken treatment for Lymphoma. She came to us  suffering from breathlessness for two days. After conducting tests, we found out that her cancer had relapsed. The challenge was that she was 24-weeks pregnant. She was put on ventilator as her condition was critical. We aborted the child to save the patient’s life. She was discharged after a week and is now currently undergoing chemotherapy. 

Saving a life for the first time

“We saved patients suffering from OP poisoning”

When I was doing my internship at Mysore Medical College, we were given a case of  OP poison (poisoning caused by Organophosphates such as insecticides, medications, etc) patient , and they are usually kept under observation for 48 hours. After 48 hours, the patients had gone into a respiratory depression. We managed to save them by giving them an anti dose. That was the first time that I felt that I have been instrumental in saving lives. It was an exhilarating experience at such a young age. 

Facing death for the first time

“It was devastating to lose a 1-and-half-year old baby”

In my post-graduation years, there was a case of a 1 and a half year old baby that had swallowed a peanut which had entered his lungs. The baby was already in distress and by the time the family brought him in, it had been four days since the incident. The parents were villagers and knew no better. We had just two to three minutes to take out the peanut from the baby’s lungs.

We almost had it but at the last moment, the peanut got pushed further down and the baby ended up suffering from a cardiac arrest. We tried reviving the baby but it didn’t work and we lost him on the table. It was a very disturbing experience, not just for me but the whole team. 

Emotional attachment with patients

“Since I became a mother, I have become more emotional”

As you progress in life, have children of your own and see life, that’s when you truly understand the depth of a patient’s misery. As a mother, I am more emotional now, especially with the patient’s mothers. I can relate to their pain when they see their children suffering.

Maintaining a work-life balance

“Kids end up suffering because of our profession”

It has been very hectic for me to take care of my two kids and do this job. I have a 10-year old daughter and one 5- year-old son. I wake up, get them ready for school, go to work, come back and then go for a night shift. I remember I had to leave my 5-year-old and go to work, so naturally, kids end up suffering because of our profession. But ultimately, it’s the satisfaction of saving lives that keeps us going.

Dr. Biswanath Gouda

Biswanath Gouda.jpgDr. Gouda is a specialist in Hepato-Biliary-Pancreatic Disorders
Bariatric Surgery, Laparoscopic Surgeryat St. Elizabeth Hospital, Mumbai

Treating a challenging case

“I performed a  surgery on a woman that weighed 120 kilos.”

The lady had a lot of hope of recovering from cancer and getting back to her normal life. Plus, she had approached several doctors but they couldn’t treat her due to lack of funds. She came to me and it was challenging to convince her that she’s in safe hands.

We performed a laparoscopic gastrectomy on her. Because she was short, it was more difficult to perform the surgery on her. During the surgery, there was bleeding, so that was challenging to stop. She also had diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, which made things harder.

Saving a life for the first time

“I performed surgery on a small girl’s face.” 

There was a small girl that had fallen in school and had hurt her face. She was bleeding profusely. I  performed a surgery on her. And after she healed, she came back after a month, and gave me a painting which read, ‘Thank you doctor for making me look beautiful again.’ That is something I will always cherish. We save lives everyday. Some patients come in with a trauma, and we have to operate on them right away.

Facing death for the first time 

“She used to ask me everyday to ‘let her go.’”

A woman had come in with a multiple liver abscess(a bacterial infection). She was from a very poor family and couldn’t afford anything. She worked as a househelp. We managed to keep her in the ICU under observation and start her treatment. But despite all our best efforts, she couldn’t be saved. Every morning she used to ask me to ‘let her go.’ And I used to keep telling her to have hope, and that she still has life to live. I felt very heartbroken when she passed away. 

Emotional attachment with patients 

“In India, we are not just involved with patients but also their families.”

There’s always going to be an emotional attachment with patients, to some extent. In India, we are not only involved with patients but also their families. Once they get better, they come and greet us, thank us.

But as doctors we have to keep our emotions at a professional level where we just greet patients and not get involved more than that. 

Maintaining a work-life balance

“My family life  does get a bit affected.” 

I try hard to find a balance but so far I haven’t been able to. We hardly have any social life. It’s once in three months that we meet up for family dinners. Otherwise work takes majority of our time. I have two daughters so giving them time after work is my only priority. My wife is also a doctor so it makes it easier for me to carry on with work because she relates to the profession. If it was someone not from the medical background, it would have been very challenging. 

Dr. Madan Mohan Reddy

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Dr. Reddy is a Orthopedic surgeon at Apollo Hospital, Chennai

Treating a challenging case

“I performed 4 surgeries on a 68-year-old man.”

A 68-year-old man came in from Tirupati with chromecille arthritis. His both hips and both knees needed a replacement surgery. I performed four surgeries in total on him and he had such an amazing attitude as well as personality which I believed truly helped him heal. 

Saving a life for the first time

“I saved a lady who was choking.”

There was a lady who by mistake had inhaled something  that had blocked her respiratory tract. I tried a simple maneuver, that we doctors do, to remove that block from her lungs. She was so thrilled and happy to learn that we saved her life. It was the most amazing experience to see that. 

Facing death for the first time 

“We couldn’t save a man who had lost a lot of blood after suffering from a severe fall.”

It is always a miserable feeling when someone passes away. But you have to bring yourself to realize that it’s not you, but something else that caused the death. It was during my initial operative surgeries where this man came in, who had suffered a fall and had lost a lot of blood. We tried our best to save him. But his body wasn’t responding to the treatment we gave him. It was a miserable feeling but it taught me a big lesson.

Emotional attachment with patients 

“I performed surgery on someone who had influenced me as a child.” 

I briefly stayed with her when I was in the 2nd grade and she a great influence on me while growing up. she recently had a hip fracture and we had to do the hip replacement surgery for her. She also had a heart condition. I consulted a cardiologist and he told me that she’s a high risk patient. 

During the surgery, her blood pressure dropped drastically. But luckily, she was still stable. We brought her back to life and she recovered soon after. Today, she is healthy and out of danger.  But because I was so emotionally invested, when I learnt that she was a high risk patient, I was worried about doing the surgery. There are times, when doctors are attached. But we need to separate our professional and personal equations with patients.

Maintaining a work-life balance

“I can perform 10 surgeries a day and I still won’t get tired”

I wouldn’t say being a doctor is hectic because I enjoy doing it. I start off my day at 6 am and end it at 8 pm and I am never tired. I love doing what I do. I tell my kids the same thing. My friends come home and tell me that they would never want their kids to become doctors. And I say to them that even in my  next 10 lives, I would want to be a doctor. 

Dr. Rajeev Redkar 

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Dr. Redkar is a pediatrician surgeon at Lilavati Hospital, Mumbai

Treating a challenging case

“I treated a girl that was suffering from three kinds of cancers.” 

There was a large mass in the girl's spleen and she had to be given anesthesia. It was a challenge to remove the whole mass that was cancerous. We had to somehow prevent the cancer from spreading to other organs. 

Saving a life for the first time

“I have been in practice for  25 years so don’t remember my first time saving a life.”

“But we had cases like a child falling from the 4th floor, a boy getting attacked by a Rottweiler, etc. There are newborn children with complex problems, such as being born without an anal opening. There was a kid who was born with both his  nostrils  blocked. When you are operating especially on newborn kids, you have to be very cautious. There are multiple challenges to tackle.”

Saving a life for the first time

“I have been in practice for  25 years so don’t remember my first time saving a life.”

“But we had cases like a child falling from the 4th floor, a boy getting attacked by a Rottweiler, etc. There are newborn children with complex problems, such as being born without an anal opening. There was a kid who was born with both his nostrils  blocked. When you are operating especially on newborn kids, you have to be very cautious. There are multiple challenges to tackle.”

Facing death for the first time 

“Dealing with death takes a little bit of spirituality.”

There have been incidents where parents have come in with children because they are looking to simply end their child’s suffering. We are not Gods. We are humans and we do the best we can to save a life. But certain things are not in our power. And that time, one should keep their ego aside and accept failure as well. One does get emotional and sentimental. But it’s important to strike a balance. It’s important to not be too happy with success or be too down with failure. What matters is having your head on your shoulders and feet on the ground. 

Emotional attachment with patients

“One does end up being emotional about  children.”

It’s not possible to not get emotionally invested with patients who are children. They are so naive and transparent. 

Maintaining a work-life balance

“There’s always a compromise”

Either you can be a dedicated doctor or you can be a dedicated family person. You can’t do both and there’s always a compromise. 

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A Pediatric Cardiac Surgeon Narrates What It Feels Like To Save Baby Hearts

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