“Die when I may, I want it said of me by those who knew me more, and that I always plucked a thistle & planted a flower where I thought a flower would grow,” could be in Abraham Lincoln’s words the best way to describe and define “help.” However, in this era when we are entangled in our own cobwebs of knitting & sewing the true essence of help appears to have evaporated unless it promises a definite return. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labours of others around me, and I must expect myself in order to give in the same measure that I have received; I thought of penning down today something I thought I did out of my regular business of life. To those who are raising an eyebrow in astonishment, it’s the bitter truth of life. Every profession talks to business and to our agony, even in the life sciences.
“Time is money,” is what keeps echoing in our ears since the time we initiate, the first day in our professional lives. Unfortunately, I am yet to understand that in this statement, has time lost its value or has money become quintessential! The person who tends to balance the equation between time and money well is the sole individual who knows the true meaning of “Help.”
The memory of one of my dental camps is still so fresh in my mind. On a bright sunny day with my fellow house surgeons, I set out for a screening and treatment camp at a Palliative Cancer Care Institute in Bangalore. The word “Palliative” was new to us and so we were excited a little more than usual to experience the sight of this place. Our bus stopped and the moment I got down to my surprise; my heart came in my mouth. Numerous cancer ailing patients whose life was juggling between life and death, crying out to God for their last breath as their pain and agony were irresistible. If I could put it in words, it was “Hell On Earth,” in every sense. We were then allotted one patient each for overall oral assessment and treatment to be imparted.
When I approached near my allotted patient’s bed, the patient was not there. After a few minutes, I felt a trembling warmth on my left shoulder and when I turned around I saw a face with a huge exclamation struck between the tortuous course of raised wrinkles on his face. The face that reflected not only the experience of various seasons and fluctuations of life but more than that, hardships of time and betrayal of family in a true sense. He had put his hands on my shoulder assuming me to be his son who had left him bereft in his last phase of life because cancer is not only the disease of an individual but that of the entire family, succumbing to it physically, mentally as well as socio-economically!
Make no mistake it is one of the most significant challenges in our history. I made him comfortably move towards our dental van, examined his oral cavity, conducted ultrasonic scaling and gave him a few lozenges for his reduced salivary flow. His entire mucosa was atrophic. He lost his appetite but more so, interest in his life. When I was about to leave him at the end of my service, he looked at me for a while with eyes wide open which after a few seconds narrowed down with tears rolling down his cheeks as in the past one month there had been nobody to sit by him and even listen to him! The drops of tears appeared really miserable to me who themselves seemed to beg me to say, ”Can you please call my family and make them realize how inconsiderate they are? ”.
I immediately took help of the Palliative Care Institute Director with the help of my faculty and summoned his son. After being reluctant for a while when he realised that his social status was at stake, he agreed to visit his father. At that moment he spoke to me very professionally about his father’s illness and why he could not take our time because he was striving hard to put two and two together in his own life! Fortunately, I could recollect my principles that my mother has installed in me and made him realise that life of a human is ‘humane’ just because we have feelings, emotions, respect, love, care and tendency to help.
When a dying father is longing to hold his son’s hand for a few seconds or minutes, the son should not forget that those are the same hands who clenched his fingers to stabilize his trembling legs in childhood. Fortunately, after that, his son sat beside him and the father who was a victim of prostate cancer held his hands with trembling fingers as if although in last stage but still wanted to shower all his love and warmth on his son. It was a tight and warm hold. Tears drooling from the corners of his eyes wetting the pillow and there was no stopping. As I held both their hands in acknowledgement, I could feel the grip loosening, father’s hands turning cold and to my horror, just after that, his old hands fell into despair! The man took his last breath!
In our daily practices, we treat a lot of patients and send them smiling because I am a dentist by profession. Though this episode will remain memorable to me because I ‘Helped’ or rather ‘Truly Helped’ a patient of mine in taking him through the last phase of his life and helping him reach out to his son whom he had been longing for the past few months. May his soul rest in peace!
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