Summer of 1972 – I, a house surgeon in the pediatric ward of Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi, on a twenty four hour duty. It was the night before our emergency day – So the ward was relatively quiet – as most beds had been vacant in anticipation of the heavy rush of admission, the next day. There was just one acutely sick child in the ward with broncho pneumonia who was battling for life. He suddenly took a turn for the worse and died despite all resuscitative efforts. One heavy emergency days – there was no time to think about the dead leave aside console the family or mourn or grieve. Death was common place occurring and turnover was so quick that before one could even think there was another sick infant there.
The night was different – every one was upset in the ward but there was no time to ponder over his death because the child’s anguished father turned hysterical, became abusive and was on the verge of assaulting my physically. I was saved from being mauled by this man by timely assistance from the nurses and hospital security. The incident was quickly forgotten by the next morning – since after a wash I was back to a hectic admission day with patients pouring in one after another. In the evening around 8 PM I and my registrar stopped for a quick cup of tea in the ward side room and I started to relate to him the incident of the night before.
Dr Anil, my registrar was very upset and said to me “If that man walks into the ward – I will throw him down from the second floor – how dare he assault you, a defenseless lady doctor, ‘grief or no grief’. He had barely finished the sentence when the nurse came running to call us for another very sick child who had come in just then. We charged into the emergency room only to see the same father of the last night come in with another child of his – severely dehydrated and collapsed. Apparently this child was admitted in another pediatric ward of our hospital and this man in a surge of madness and anger had taken him from the ward against medical advice when his child who was admitted in the ward died.
He begged of us to save the baby – he said he could not afford to lose two children in a span of less than 24 hours. We all sprung into action to start an intravenous drip to revive and rehydrate him. There were four of us doctors, trying to put in an IV line in all four limbs at the same time. At the best of times, putting an IV line in a child can be difficult but in a child totally collapsed it is indeed very tough. He called in our paediatrics surgical counterpart to pitch in by cutting open a vein & setting up a line. There was a sign of relief as two of us managed to get two drips started and we got on to the business of resuscitating and rehydrating him – last nights events totally forgotten. Every single ward staff member pitched into help and those who couldn’t help overtly prayed. We all pleaded silently, prayed to god and kept pleading to save his life. We could only try and we were indeed working very hard checking on his biochemical status adjusting his sodium and potassium and gases and pumping life saving drugs into his system.
Three and half hours of toiling and prayers yielded results – he started to respond – and pass urine and the crisis was over. We sat vigil the night through, deputing one doctor only to his care, while the rest of us busied ourselves with other emergencies. The next morning this little boy was sitting up in bed – there was relief wrought on the fathers face. On seeing us he started to cry – we too could not hide our pent up emotions and let tears flow. He fell on our feet to beg forgiveness. We had done only our duty – at least one of his children had been saved – and “god had really helped us that night”. – Dr. Promilla Butani (5/7/1996)