Barely breathing (My patient has died Part 2)

Kindly make it as raw as possible…”

Joy said, as she asked me to write down my experience with death as a medical student .

A statement which I found easy to attain because I see the topic at hand is as raw and bare in and of itself.

A topic which takes you the viewer through a rollercoaster of emotions and at its end, leaves you bewildered at its sudden arrival and departure.

The frightening aspect of this event is that it’s never described by the one experiencing it but rather than the audience viewing, hearing and at times, smelling it.

I for one was plunged into the whirlwind encounter of death at a tender age of twelve with the loss of my father to the grips of what they call bowel cancer.

It was at that time it hit me how mortal and fleeting we are as man but only in an abstract form, as I had not been a firsthand witness to my father’s last breath.

Upon joining med school I was beaming with naivety, ignorance and gusto on what it is to be a doctor since I had the sole pseudo knowledge of what death is through the loss of my father.

Death on the other hand had more up its sleeve to show me. It was third year; I walked into my assigned ward with enthusiasm completely ignoring my colleagues who were camped outside the ward dreading to enter the unknown.

The waft of faeces with the musk of sweat hit my nostrils and made me shudder at what was in store for me. I still mustered the courage to walk to the nurse at the front desk and ask with my calm baritonesque voice,

Is there a doctor around who could show us around the ward?”

The nurse barely looked up and pointed with her bic biro to the left where a young doctor seated on what seemed to be a picnic table.

I approached the doctor; her skin was caramel soft and teeth pearl white but her eyes told a different story, dull and sunken, are all I could read from them.

Before I could even utter a word she flew past me and went straight to the nurse, my ego biting at me at how easily I was ignored. When I finally caught her eye and begun to speak another nurse tugged her from behind swooping her to one of the ward rooms.

I followed cautiously behind and saw a flurry of hand motions, tubes being placed and ultimately a blanket being thrown over a motionless body.

I stood their perturbed at the flash of events, the young doctor finally spoke to me and simply said,

Go read your Hutchinson’s I don’t have time to talk. ”

That was it. My colleagues and I were sent out of the ward. I for one, still confused at what I had witnessed, walked back to class wide eyed and taken aback.

The weeks went by but the brute memory of what I saw on my first day of clinicals was still gnawing at my soul.

“How could death be so abrupt?”

Scenario 2:

It was a hot and stuffy afternoon in my ward at Kenyatta Hospital. My two colleagues and I were about to head for lunch break and were at the cusp of completing our clinical history at the female section.

I couldn’t help but hear the patient next to us begin to cough and gasp for air. I barely turned to look at her, just hoping it was just a passing irritant in her lungs. This was not the case. Her gasps became more erratic, her cough more violent and deep.

Upon turning to her, my face fell with shock, she was a petite girl barely of high school age. Her skin was pale, tears slowly streaming down her face from exertion. She haphazardly pushed her gas mask away from her face and looked at us without words but with a stare of resounding fear covering her face.

I rushed to call the nurse on duty who quickly dashed to where the patient was.

She’s in respiratory distress we have to do chest compressions.

She pointed at one of my colleagues and ordered him to begin the chest compressions. At first he looked awestruck at the order and slowly began what looked like gentle pats on the patient’s chest.

The nurse couldn’t correct him as she was already rushing to call the doctor on duty and get the resuscitation bag.

Again, here I was watching the flurry of hand motions occur. The sounds around me fell silent as the phenomenon of death began to creep in.

When the nurse had returned, it seemed like a day had passed. The doctor’s face was distraught at the scene. My colleague was pushed away and we then saw what true chest compressions are;the doctor pushed down on her small frame as if wanting to break both her ribcage and the bed she laid on.

The nurse slowly but surely pushed air into her small lungs. A quick palpation of her wrist and it was confirmed another victim had fallen to death’s scythe.

There I was still standing wondering was this event I just saw real. I genuinely to this day can’t explain the emotions one goes through when witnessing death.

All I can say is those feelings entrench our memories of how fleeting we are and how vital it is to take a breath, you don’t know when it could be your last.

Guest writer: Kamau Gachegu

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