Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Faith, Hope and Love: Conversations from my ward

Some stories from CRH Ward 9...
The author is a medical doctor sworn to protect secrets of his patients even after their death... Nothing shared in this violates this sacred oath.

This is a story about a 26 year old man and his family and of course me, his doctor! It's a story about fighting to survive. It's about Hoping against hope and staying strong despite agonizing reality. When doom looms and hope elopes, when all you do seems pointless and you feel helpless and the odds are against you, it is then that you must have faith and hope! You have to have hope and the courage. 

So I mustered courage and with the diaphragm of my stethoscope placed on his frail chest - barely any skin to cushion my tool, I listened to his chest and the heart sounds and satisfied myself he was not in heart failure. What was intriguing and satisfying was his smile and what came out of his mouth; "What you listened to, is it okay?" Even more intriguing are the next two words and the accompanying smile I'll never forget, "My doctor". 

Here was a man confined to his bed and barely of any flesh. With fistula big enough to admit my glove size 8 fitting hands on his abdomen. Here was a man barely alive yet smiling with pride as he called me his doctor. I can never forget that smile. 

I had been called to see him the night before as he was bleeding from this huge ulcer on his abdomen which communicates with the outside draining faeces and anything the bowel wanted to extrude out. He had a bad enterocutaneous fistula after an operation for perforated bowel from another hospital. His days in the hospital outnumbered my entire stay in Cape Coast. 
It's another day and I had been called to see him again because the nurse on duty who wanted to dress his ulcer saw this huge haematoma that would likely cause profuse bleeding and probably lead to exsanguination should it be evacuated. 

I smile back hiding my disappointment that we had not been able to do much for him. He's so frail he probable wouldn't even last the journey from our center to Accra where he'd probably receive same treatment as we're giving him - Nutritional support, adequate hydration, anaemia treatment and other supportive treatments in addition to the daily wound dressing for the ulcer on his abdomen.

Everything around him seems hopeless and within my heart I feel sorrowful. Sometimes we are reminded of our humanity as doctors by such cases. We are reminded of our empathy, emotional frailty and our own mortality. I laugh uncontrollably whenever the chance for laughter presents itself, ask him irrelevant questions just to take my mind off his sorry state. Yet on this particular day, I'm touched by his smile. As I reflect on him whilst I recline in my bed to rest my hurting back, I feel more touched by the support of his mother and father. This must be the meaning of the expression; 'nothing like a mother's love'. The parents of this 26 year old man have practically abandoned the comforts of their bed for their son. They live with him, watch over him, nurse him and care for him like nothing I have seen before. The will is so strong and hopes high that their son will live. They're illiterate too! They can't understand a word of what the doctors discuss each day; about the dwindling hopes, the frustration and anything dooming the doctors say sometimes. probably a blessing to be illiterate on such occasions because in their 'ignorance', they have kept this boy alive in hope and in enthusiasm and a joyful expectation that he'll soon get well and be out of the place. Such is their blessing - an unwavering faith and an expectant heart. 

I comfort myself with the words that in his misfortune, he's been blessed with such loving parents. In his misfortune, he's enjoyed a mother's love and a father's care as I have never seen before. 
I'm also encouraged in my faith and in my profession - give your best no matter what and you'll be blessed with a smile in the least. How comforting it is to give your all to the patients you have been entrusted with. How fulfilling it is to find that your care and profession is appreciated. On yet another day, this ailing man told his parents in a frail shaky voice, "anytime I see doctor then I get happy". I guess I won your heart with the many smiles and encouragement and the 'conversations' we have. Not so much with the blood samples I take or the Iv lines I set and the drugs I prescribe to relieve your symptoms. 

One night I wrote down these words fearing you'll leave that day; "If you should leave your doctor today, I know you're going to a better place where the Master Physician Himself will be your doctor! I'll comfort myself with the truth that in Heaven, there are no sorrows, no tears, no disease nor death. In His arms you'll be safe forever! God bless you Isaac! You and your family have touched my heart forever!

Now I'm beginning to have a strong feeling that you'll live through this and get out of the hospital soon. Today you asked me if you can start taking soup and fish cos' you miss it so much. Of course anything you want Isaac! I'll be praying for you.  I have faith in a God who heals. I'm hopeful you'll get better. And that God loves us all so much that he answers us!

Two weeks after, you are gone to your maker and I know you are in Heaven. God bless and keep you Isaac. RIP.

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