25th May 2020,
The shrill ringtone of my phone jerked me out of my slumber. My junior resident (JR) was calling from the emergency room (ER).
”Sir! A 25 year old homeless male has come in with pain in his abdomen. The X-ray shows gas under the diaphragm.” This is a surgical emergency which would require urgent exploration in the operating room (OR). Without waiting for her to finish I rushed to the ER. Quickly donning my Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), I examined the patient. Upon further enquiry, it was revealed that he had been brought in by another homeless person. He had already been refused by other hospitals as his COVID-19 status was unknown and the patient needed emergency surgery. Patient was deteriorating rapidly- we had to act fast. Within the next thirty minutes, his blood investigations and most importantly his swab for determining his COVID-19 status were taken. I glanced at my watch which read 4:00am. I knew that fast-tracking the COVID-19 testing at this odd hour was going to be a herculean task. My JR ran all the way to the COVID-19 rt-PCR lab which was nowhere in the vicinity of the ER, wearing her cumbersome PPE, and carrying a large ice box in her hand for preserving the swab. The swab result would take a minimum of 6 hours, we couldn't wait that long. We proceeded for surgery without knowing the COVID-19 status. Patient was shifted to the OR and as the COVID-19 status was not known, all of us- a team of four surgeons- had to don our PPEs. After incising open the abdomen, we realized the surgery was going to be harder than anticipated. With bated breath we proceeded and once the last skin suture was taken I looked up at the clock. The surgery had lasted for 6 hrs. I appraised the rest of my team, the same exhaustion decorating all of our faces and sweat adorning our PPEs. My colleague collapsed in a chair, albeit with a smile on his lips and satisfaction in his eyes. Then I turned to my JRs, both of whom were beaming with pride. We had been working in the wards for the last 36 hours, but this moment made up for all of it.
This feeling of having saved someone’s life, while risking your own, is unparalleled. The sense of triumph that is achieved on being able to save at least one life amidst this chaos, is inimitable.
Today, I finally understood why they call this a noble profession.
About the author:
Dr Hemant Jawale is a third year general surgery resident at Grant Medical College & Sir JJ group of hospitals, Mumbai, Maharashtra. He is also the head writer of a Facebook page called “Deep sea treasure -doc thought”.