The Girl

Reads: 1172  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 1

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic

I am a doctor, and like all doctors I have had my share of tragic experiences. This is one of them, my first, in fact. A memory from a decade ago.

It was probably 2002, or was it 2001? Was it Summer or Winter?, and in the tropical climate of Pondicherry, is that even a valid question? In the absence of seasons to divide time, to divide a year, to separate memories, how is one expected to provide context to experiences, to give a sense of time? In the absence of seasons, does not one day blend into another, a year into another, eventually life into death?

I don't even remember her name and her face has been scrubbed into an amorphous memory I will never be able to extract from the years that have passed. She-what name should I give her, she, whom I will never be able to completely forget. I'll spare her the indignity of a false name, for are not names the very identity of a person?

She was 19, I do recall that, and she came walking in to the OPD, beads of sweat drying on her forehead, the red "bindi" standing out in contrast to her notably pale skin. She was in stridor, that harbinger of death, that marker of on airway crying out for help and she walked over to me slowly with the gait of someone in pain, with eyes that were bright and hopeful and a body that collapsed on the patients chair, as if the seeker had found her messiah.

I was a second year resident in ENT, in the middle of a very busy day but I was also on call and thus, primarily responsible for all emergencies that day.  She was most definitely one such emergency. Stridor,-I could hear it from the door a few feet away as she stood there while I called out her name in a growing panic and asked her to come to the chair where I sat, beads of my sweat forming rapidly and my pulse rising with a sense of urgency an obstructed upper airway brings that few things can match.

She had had some kind of infection for which she had been intubated a while ago.  I can't recall what exactly. Why can I remember all the names of all the bars in Pondicherry but not this girl's name? We tend to cling on to the happier memories, discarding the sad past , that's probably the reason. We live in an ocean of happy memories, but the past sometimes rises from the depths of denial to shake one to the core. Which is just as well, I suppose. Life could get intolerable otherwise.

Under the glare of the 100W light of my Bull's lamp and under a ceiling fan rotating with a reluctance that had never been fully addressed, I proceeded to check her case notes, do a quick check of her larynx and then rush her to the Ward to wait for a tracheostomy-the only procedure that would save her life and something I was well-versed in, by now a 12 month veteran of the ENT Department. A wheelchair was arranged, for any more needless physical exertion could worsen her condition at any time and I initiated the Surgical Protocol-start Intravenous Access, get an urgent X-Ray of the Neck, inform the OT that an emergency was on the way. Standard procedure, done on automatic, done many times before. Throughout this whole scene, enacted with a degree of control borne of experience but which can mask a false sense of security, she was composed, calm and obeyed all that I was telling her to do, in rapid English that was being translated to Tamil by the posse of nurses who now surrounded her, changing her clothes to the bland whites of the patient bound for surgery, an orchestra of activity, synchronized to precision.

I was not alone, of course. There were two of us that day, two young surgeons with enough tracheotomies under our collective belts, enough confidence to know we were OK, enough humility to realize that sometimes help is needed.

She had a stenosis-a narrowing-of the airway. The X-Ray showed that quite clearly, but it wasn't immediately clear what its extent was. I really don't remember the X-Ray either. The plan was to expose the trachea and insert a tube through which she would breathe, the tube being inserted just below where the narrowing ended, the standard plan for such cases.

She was wheeled in, her father looking on, receding into the distance, as the trolley disappeared into the sterile OT complex, with me pushing the trolley urgently. I never looked back at his face as he must have watched his daughter surrender her fate to two doctors entrusted with saving lives, with returning his daughter back to him. I never looked back, but I'm looking back now, hoping to see his creased, worried face but I see nothing. My memories desert me again.

Inside the OR, things went like clockwork. The incision was made within two minutes and we proceeded to dissect the tissues over the trachea in quick time, scalpel in one hand, a retractor in another, a nurse daubing the small amounts of blood with a sterile gauze and the Oxymeter showing an Oxygen saturation in the 90's.

There was no trachea. Nothing. Well, perhaps a thin cord but nothing that would take a tube, of any size, even an infant feeding tube. The usual OR table talk changed to rushed, hushed, urgent whispers as we cut further down, almost till where the neck meets the chest, desperately trying to get hold of something, anything that would relieve the stridor, which, by now, was audible even outside the doors of the Operating Room.

We cut the trachea. No lumen. We cut again, further down. No lumen. The saturation started dropping. Even as we frantically called for help, which arrived within seconds, she slipped into silence, that sudden abscence of breathing that every airway surgeon dreads. The sounds became fainter, the saturation continued to drop and we could no nothing. The team of anaesthetists surrounding us tried all they could, but she let go, her tired, oxygen starved body gave up.

In the end, we never managed to make an opening.  She died in front of me, my first death in which I had been a participant.

I wish I could recall how I faced her father standing outside, with a hope on his face it was our responsibility to realize, and now, our duty to erase. I wish I could recall what I said, if anything at all. I wish I could just goddam recall her name.

As a new year dawns, I suppose one should be grateful for what one still has, the memories time has been kind enough to allow us to still cherish. But I cannot help rewinding the store of my memories to that day in Summer, (or was it Winter) when I lost my first patient, and today, as I sit back and try to write about yet another year gone by, I think about how life can change, how fast, and in what ways, and I am profoundly grateful I am still here, surrounded by a family I cherish more than life itself.

She will just be "she", the girl who died in front of my eyes, leaving me with a faint, residual guilt I may never assuage. 

I am now 39. But she was just nineteen. Ans she will always be. 

Submitted: January 03, 2014

© Copyright 2021 nishverma. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Kalika K

Hello Nish,
I would like to congratulate you for your amazing writing skills. Despite the topic being so sensitive and technical (with all the medical jargon), you did perfect justice to the memoir.
I could almost visualize the entire scene in front of eyes and had a heavy heart when the story ended.
Keep up the good work!
And I am sure you would are a very compassionate and empathetic doctor. :)

Fri, January 3rd, 2014 1:24pm


Thank you Kalika. Those are kind words indeed. I'm glad you liked the piece.

Sat, January 4th, 2014 2:03am

Facebook Comments

Boosted Content from Other Authors

Short Story / Non-Fiction

Book / Mystery and Crime

Writing Contest / Flash Fiction

Other Content by nishverma

Article / Travel

Article / Memoir

Article / Memoir