Sunday, October 9, 2011

How to save a life.

I got the dreaded bleep at half past 7 in the evening. I knew it was it because somehow it didn't sound like any of the other one million bleeps i had gotten before. This one was different. This one went on forever, like a fire siren. And then a voice boomed in "Emergency in hospital ground! Emergency in hospital ground!"

For a split second i was frozen in track, unsure of what to do next. But then almost by pure instinct alone i started running. I wasn't entirely sure where i was running to, but i knew i had to get there fast. Whatever important thing i had been doing just a short while ago now seemed relatively unimportant. As i ran, i could hear myself cursing under my breath. "Shit. Shit. Shit! Why now?" Not that the patient in question had any control over when his poor heart would stop beating.

And then i saw it. A crowd of doctors and nurses in a flurry of activities, huddled over a man in bed. It was like a scene from Grey's Anatomy.

Only this was real. This was not some make-believe play.

I started chest compression as soon as i could slip in between the scurry of people at his bedside, in the vain hopes of getting his heart beating again. And if you think doing CPR is glamorous, i will tell you here and now that that is not the case at all. My first chest compression had the man spurting out his stomach content all over us. Green bits of undigested food which smelled anything but pleasant. It almost made me sick myself. (please don't judge me).

But i didn't stop. A man's life was at stake. I berated myself in my head 'Are you even human? How could you be thinking about something as trivial as how bad his puke smelled at a time like this'. So for the life of me, i kept pumping and pushing, giving it all my worth. 12 minutes in, there was no pulse. So I kept going. At 20 minutes, I could feel sweat trickling slowly down my forehead. But still, no pulse. I swapped with another doctor once or twice when i got too tired, but most often then not, it was me at the chest compression duty booth. Eventually, I could feel my arms going numb, like ants crawling from the tips of my fingers up to my elbows. My rhythm started to slow down, the force of my chest compression barely legitimate enough to be called a decent CPR.

By then it had been a good hour, if not more since he went into cardiac arrest. The specialist looked at me and shook his head. "You can stop now," he said, and proceeded to call the time of death. There was a moment of silence as everyone stood quietly by the dead man's bedside. Neither one of us actually knew him in life, but there we were at his deathbed, honoring his passing.

It was sad, but such is life (and death).

A wise man once told me that you're not officially a doctor until you've had your first kill. And so it goes that on that fateful day, I passed that rite of passage all doctors go through - to see a life slip right through my fingers and being as helpless as any mortal to do anything about it.

On that fateful day, I finally became a doctor.