Ghost to the Rescue
The 100 years old general hospital in South India was named King George after a British ruler. Like Hindu temples built on hill tops, the hospital was built on a mountain top makes it visible from far distance. Down the hill, just a short walking distance is Bay of Bengal, perhaps the cool ocean breeze was a consideration in selecting the location for the hospital. The original hospital building was built with rock passant so as all the other city buildings like tax office, municipality office and even the high school, all built during British era as if the same architect designed all these buildings in town.
The general hospital was built to provide free treatment to the public and train doctors. Patients travel long distances from distant villages to see specialist doctors at the hospital. Many past physicians and surgeons that served at the hospital were on the list of ‘who’s who’ in the field of medicine in the entire state. The medical school attached to the hospital was known for academic excellence and rigorous hands on training. The medical and surgical residents work long hours to gain as much experience for their own benefit.
In the outpatient department, it is not uncommon for patients to wait for long hours before they can see a nurse and much longer if they could see at all a doctor. The poor patients have no choice but to wait since they cannot afford treatment at the private clinics just outside the public hospital. At the hospital entrance, security guards allow enough patients to fill the outpatient hall for the day only making exceptions for emergency cases. Sometimes, the security guards act like God in separating who would get in and who will stay out.
Scores of doctors employed at the public hospital also have their own private clinics just outside the general hospital readily offering personal treatment for the patients willing to pay a hefty fee. This is in total contrast to the ambiguous free treatment poor people get at the public hospital after painful waiting for hours. Just outside the public hospital were large bill-boards listing dozens of doctors in private practice.
The environment around the public hospital was anything but serene with heavy vehicular and foot traffic and vendors, particularly during visiting hours in the morning and evening. Vendors line up at the hospital entrance to sell fruits and healthy snacks to people visiting their loved ones in the hospital receiving treatment. Adjacent to the hospital were several hotels and lodges to cater visitors to the hospital particularly those that come from far distances with the patients.
Nearby every hospital has a place of worship. The deity in the Hindu temple near the public hospital was one of the incarnations of God Vishnu. The temple priest performs special prayers specific to medical students to perform well on the tests and patients to get well. The students and the patients’ relatives keep the temple priest busy conducting prayers and temple coffers full with donations.
During monsoon season when sky is always grey though no rain in sight, the weather could be stuffy under hot sun even during late evening hours. During such an evening, a mother brought her 8 years old girl complaining severe pain in her right thumb to the emergency room. They waited for hours before they get to see a nurse.
“where it hurts?” asked the nurse.
“Right here,” the little girl showed her right thumb. When the nurse tried to hold her thumb to examine it closely, the girl cried with pain pulling her hand away. The nurse begged the child to allow her to examine promising she won’t hurt her. The girl’s mother also begged the child to show her thumb to the nurse. The child reluctantly stretched her hand showing her swollen thumb.
“What happened to your thumb?” asked nurse feeling the thumb delicately.
“I don’ know, it was swollen and hurting badly for the last one week,” the girl was in tears.
“We will take an x-ray of your thumb to see what is hurting, OK,” the nurse led the girl towards the X-ray room while her mother was waiting outside.
The mother and the girl waited for few more hours to see the doctor, now it was well past midnight. The girl fell asleep on her mother’s lap.“The doctor will see you now,” the nurse came out to take mother and the girl to the small examination room. Dr. Kumar, a soft spoken, small statured man with curly black hair and brown skin was 1st year surgical resident on duty
Dr. Kumar placed the X-ray on a brightly illuminated view box to examine it closely while the girl’s mother was looking anxiously standing holding her child.
“Are you playing with glass pieces?” asked Dr. Kumar still looking at the X-ray.
“No,” replied the girl holding her mother’s hand tightly.
“Are you sure, think again, I see a very small glass piece in your thumb,” the doctor looked at the girl expecting an answer.
“Well, few weeks ago I played with broken glass bangles, I did not felt any pain at all then, but after a week, the thumb started to swell and pain to get worse,” explained the girl.
“That explains; the glass piece in your thumb has to come out; using a little procedure I will take them out here,” Dr. Kumar explained.
“Is it a big operation?” the girl’s mother looked anxiously.
“No, not at all, we do all the time, I will do it right here once we set up what I need to proceed, OK, “Dr. Kumar looked reassuring.
The mother and the child sat quietly in the tiny room with curtains drawn though they can hear clearly the noises from patients crying with pain and conversations between the staff members outside the small examination room.
Dr. Kumar asked politely the girl’s mother to wait outside. “It won’t hurt you at all, it will hurt very little when I poke with this tiny needle to numb your thumb, OK,” explained Dr. Kumar.
The little girl started crying in anticipation. After placing a tourniquet at the base of the thumb to prevent blood flow, doctor Kumar poked with the needle to numb her thumb, the girl was laying on a narrow bed with her hand stretched for Doctor to begin working on her thumb.
Dr. Kumar gave a small incision to cut open at the infected area and with a needle explored for the glass piece at the same time looking often at the brightly illuminated X-ray for directions. The bleeding from the site of the incision making it difficult for Dr. Kumar to see the tiny glass piece; he struggled hard to locate the glass piece. Now the doctor was worried considering the time it was taking to locate the glass piece and the amount of blood loss in spite of the tourniquet. He never removed a foreign object before though he observed his seniors doing it. By looking at the X-ray, he thought it would be a simple procedure to cut open and remove it in minutes. But once cut opened, the tissue saturated with blood camouflaging the glass piece though it appear clearly on the X-ray. While he was wondering whether to close it back or explore further, an old man in white coat entered the room suddenly and asked “Do you need help?”
“Well, I am looking at a foreign object, a small glass piece clearly visible in the X-ray but I can’t see or feel it to remove it,” replied Dr. Kumar looking confused.
Holding his eyeglasses with one hand, the old doctor looked closely at the X-ray on the view box and then took the forceps from Dr. Kumar’s hand to proceed to look at the girl’s thumb bleeding profusely. The old doctor plucked the glass piece like a magic and placed in a dish as Dr. Kumar was looking in astonishment.
“You never ever try to remove a foreign object without using fluoroscopy to guide you towards the foreign object, you look at the screen while probing for the object; you can’t find the object looking directly at the site of the incision,” the old doctor quickly left the room the way he entered leaving Dr. Kumar baffled.
Dr. Kumar cleaned up the site of the incision with antiseptic solution and closed it with bandage. Dr. Kumar came out to explain to the mother that everything went just fine and glass piece was removed. “You better be careful next time when you play with glass, OK,” Dr. Kumar patted on girl’s shoulder affectionately.
“We are eternally grateful to you for helping us,” the girl’s mother expressed her gratitude before leaving the room.
Dr. Kumar rushed outside searching for the old surgeon that helped him but couldn’t find him anywhere, when he asked the nurses they just shrugged their shoulders without paying much attention to Dr. Kumar. Then Dr. Kumar ran outside the building searching for him only to see deserted area since it was well past midnight.
Dr. Kumar decided to follow up his inquiry next day with his colleagues. “You know I am trying to find out who was the old doctor helped me last night while I was struggling to locate a foreign object in a little’s girl thumb.”
“What old doctor?” replied a fellow doctor.
“A very old surgeon just appeared and left as quickly as he came to help me,” Dr. Kumar explained.
“Well, let’s take a walk along the corridor , there were photos of eminent doctors worked here in the past, may be you can identify who came last night to help you,” They both walked slowly in the corridor looking at the large framed photos on either side of the aisle. “That’s one,” shouted Dr. Kumar pointing his finger at a photo of man in thick black glasses with almost bald head, the only significant part of his face was his nose that projected out like a sphinx.
“He can’t be,” the fellow doctor looked at Dr. Kumar.
“He was the one, I remember his face very well, the thick black rimmed glasses and the big nose, he was fair skinned and short,” Dr. Kumar still giving more details.
“That was Professor Ramayya, the eminent surgeon practiced until early seventies and died two decades ago. Look at the bottom of the photo,” the fellow doctor moved close to the photo to read loudly “Born 1913 and died in 1993.”
“What? Dr. Ramayya was dead 20 years ago, how? he was with me last night right here in the same building talking to me?” Dr. Kumar was in disbelief.
“Are you thinking what I am thinking,” asked the fellow doctor.
“We doctors don’t believe in ghosts or shall we? I am sure that the doctor that helped last night was the same person in the photo, if that was Dr. Ramayya dead two decades ago, certainly that was his ghost still making rounds to teach doctors in training even during late hours.” The two doctors in training stood still in front of Dr. Ramayya photo still thinking “How that possible?”
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