Stranger than Stephen Strange

So yesterday I finally made peace with the fact that I was being selfish for being angry and annoyed about the postponement of NEET PG. I realised I was behaving no better than the Kumbh Mela attendees or the Election rally crowds, just on a smaller scale.

This reckoning came upon me suddenly when I realised that I was sleeping in my comfortable and cozy bed at 1 PM on a Saturday afternoon during the nth Janta Curfew in Delhi due to a pandemic which seems to have no end and was a constant battle that my colleagues were fighting day in and out while the world, including me right now seemed to not care, at all.

Yes, my privilege made me wise.

So yeah, I finally realized I couldn't complain about the uncertainty of my future when the whole world is more uncertain than ever.

So with some guilt of not contributing to the situation, a lot of free time in my hands and free space in my mind; I finally sat down to do what every Gen Z individual seems to think is the solution to an apocalypse, WATCH MOVIES.

And this time it was the GREAT MISTER , no Doctor, no Master.


Doctor Strange :)

I can't tell you exactly how many times my jaw dropped seeing Benedict Cumberbatch being Benedict Cumberbatch. But more than that, I was reminded again of the concept of a multiverse. The existence of multiple dimensions, innumerable ones, the continuous yet discontinuous loops of time and the many levels of ourselves that we know exist but just can't prove how and rather why.

After having watched Dr. Strange enter infinite time loops and being completely satisfied by how the movie ended, I was back in my comfortable bed with a lot of thoughts in my mind.

So weirdly, this took me back to a particular place in time, about a year back in the past.

I had always heard my seniors talk about some patients who just seemed to have impacted them so deeply and so much that they remained in their memories years later.

I was posted in the Surgery department during the months of March and April, 2020. Yes, that time of last year when we thought COVID could not get any worse and quarantine was still a novel idea.

I had so many 24 hour shifts in those two months, I lost count.

Due to the pandemic, there wasn’t much patient load in the non COVID wards, where I was posted but we still had to be there, ready for anything that might hit us as an emergency.

I think I saw a variety of patients come and go during those two months, but one of them seemed stuck in that Surgery ward maybe more than me.

Her name was Anita, 48, mother of a young boy, widow and well, like every other mother, more worried about her healthy son than herself.

She came to our emergency the same day I was on emergency duty. She came with excruciating abdominal pain, severe anemia, bleeding per rectum, slight fever and some other complaints, on and off since the past 2 weeks. Now, the situation had just been worsening since the past 24 hours.

When she came, she had very high hopes from us, the kind of hope that scares you. She came with the idea that this was just some infection or maybe COVID which might just be over soon.

We got urgent ultrasounds and X-rays done for her and what came out to be her diagnosis was way worse that she could have imagined.

It was perforation peritonitis, which we later diagnosed as Colorectal Carcinoma in advanced stages of metastasis.

If you know medical sciences, you know this isn’t a pleasant diagnosis.

Due to the severe anemia, I got almost 3 units of blood released from the blood bank and then she was shifted to emergency OT for a very complex, careful exploratory laparotomy. It was a long operation which went on for most of the night. I know this because her son came to ask me many times about her condition.

The surgery went well and she was shifted to the High Dependency Area of the surgery ward the next morning, which was also the time I left for my home.

The following days were filled with giving her multiple blood transfusions, preparing lots of transfusion notes, getting multiple investigations done, listening to every doctor of my unit discussing and reviewing her treatment options, seeing her central line(catheter placed in a large vein) insertion, her central line removal, inserting Foley’s (urinary catheter) , removing

them, talking to her and her relatives, getting to know her family, making them run for medicines we couldn’t provide, monitoring her vitals six times a day, making her understand better about her condition, giving her hope, but not too much, listening to her concerns, conveying them to my seniors and well, a lot more.

This went on for every single day that I entered the surgical ward.

She didn’t know my name but remembered me by face. She’d recognise me even from a distance and signal me with her hands to come and help her, talking was a luxury she could afford only on certain healthier days.

As days passed, a surgical ward emergency became synonymous with an Anita emergency. She started calling me with her gestures more often, each time starting by asking me the same question, “ Doctor didi, main theek toh ho jaugi na? “ (Doctor, I will be fine after this, right?)

This was followed by her questions about my family and mine about hers.

On most days, I didn’t want to answer her. I didn’t want to tell her no one knows because the metastasis is going everywhere and there is hardly anything that can be done beyond an extent. My answer to her was usually on the lines of, “My seniors are trying their best.”, “I am here if you need anything.”

When she was first admitted, she was almost in the category of the “Ouch!Ouch!” patients. The ones who would scream even before needle had touched them, the ones who would cry even at the sight of medicines, the ones who would scream at us for not being able to do the magic they expected.

But overtime, Anita became one of those “Do whatever you want” patients. She would expose her arm even before I asked her if I could prick her for an investigation, she gave her consent even before knowing what procedure we wanted to, she got her IVs without a single sound or squeal.

Ideally, she was just becoming a more complaint patient but actually she was becoming a more hopeless one. She started calling me less. She saw me sitting idle in those wards at night as she was getting her blood transfusions, awake and I was looking out for any reactions she might have.

I didn’t have to sit there to watch her transfusions, I just thought it would kill me if anything worse happened to her because I didn’t notice or help or stop the transfusion on time. I couldn’t have that on me.

She knew I used to sit there because of her. Her family often told me to sleep, reassuring me they would inform me if she needed anything.

I had taught them how to take her BP and spo2 and they were pros now.

But I just couldn’t get myself to leave, even though I knew I should.

It was on one of these nights when she again needed a transfusion.

I was annoyed because of the continuous 24 hours. None of my co interns had any critical patients and I was still here, like every time. Anita had started becoming more silent, day by day. She hadn’t asked me the “question” in some days.

She knew it was getting worse and so did everyone else, doctors, nurses and her relatives.

I spent the whole day running around the hospital doing annoying jobs of getting investigations done. But by the time it was evening, I started thinking about how this frustration had been counterproductive, to say the least. How this ugly feeling was literally of no use to me and was getting in the way of how I feel about my job and myself. Something shifted and I thought I will spend the rest of the night not complaining. Being more empathetic, patient, listening to any concerns and trying to solve them without lashing out, doing the ever so frustrating runner jobs while listening to music and just not thinking about how much it annoys me and how tired I am from this twenty four hour on calls.

So that night, I sat there again.

Giving Anita another FFP and whole blood transfusion, preparing her for a re-exploratory laparotomy(revised surgery) .

I knew I had to be patient and calm today, that’s how I chose to be that day.

I talked to her while changing her IV sets, smiled at her while measuring her pulse and reassured her family while I was taking her BP.

I knew I had to keep disturbing her the whole night before her surgery and it was best not to be bitter to her then.

That night, I got to know Anita even had a daughter, a year younger to me and very smart and beautiful. She was far away in a village in Bihar, preparing for her entrance exams.

It was around 5 AM in the morning when I went to take her final blood sample to check how much better her Hemoglobin levels were now.

As I was adjusting her central line clamps, I heard the same familiar soft voice again, saying the same words in the same tone, “ Doctor didi, main theek toh ho jaugi na? “ (Doctor, I will be fine after this, right?)

I knew, in that exact moment, what had happened. She hadn’t said anything since a long time. She knew and she saw it on our faces when we talked about her on the doctor’s table that time was a precious commodity for her. She knew her relatives were scared, she knew her children could not suffer another loss. That night, as I decided to be positive and reaffirming, something between us connected and gave her the same hope I had given myself.

The same thing which made her comfortable enough to signal me to come talk to her earlier. The same thing which had made me wanting to stay awake all those nights. The same thing which made her come to the emergency, the day I was posted there. The same thing which made her family offer me food and tea, every single day. The same thing which lies within us so deep, we know it exists, but cannot recognize.

The same thing which made Dr. Strange come back from the Everest to the Kamar Taj even though he didn’t know much about his powers.

I don’t know how to name it but I think it’s also what got Anita through her surgery successfully.

I went to the surgery ward for a few more days after which I was posted elsewhere.

But one day, two weeks later; I went to that ward again and saw her, still the same paleness across her face, the same small built and soft voice, surrounded by the new interns. She saw me and smiled.

I smiled back, tears in my eyes. I knew she was stuck here and I knew she knew that too.


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