Deepika was finally home after a long day at work. Rather, long would be an understatement after what she went through today. Working shifts lasting more than 24 hours, conflicting priorities and difficult decisions were all routine for her but today was different. It was longer than the day she waited for her final result at college juggling nervy phone calls with her friends and seniors but things used to turn out fine those days. She was physically and mentally drained and could hardly feel her body. Her feet seemed to know where she was headed. She walked through the rusty channel gates making just enough sound to wake up the sleeping security guard. She vanished into the dark before he could wish her. She began to regain her senses as she walked the deserted corridors of her hostel. The tube light was still flickering as it did two days back but Pepsi recognized her foot steps and started to wag his tail as soon as she reached the third floor. Pepsi was a dark stray dog with white ears she had petted and loved to feed. Spending few minutes with him was not only enticing but de-cluttered her soul. He must have been missing her as she was away at work for two days but Pepsi was used to it. She was too tired to reciprocate his delight and unlocked the door straightaway. She flung the keys on the sofa and headed directly for the kitchen. She had not eaten anything the whole day but she could feel it only now. She grabbed some noodles, put it in the pan with some water and set it on simmering gas stove. The room was gloomy and quiet as it has never felt. She could hear the ticking clock and water bubbling on the stove. The silence was making her edgy. She went for the basin and splashed some cold water on her face. It mellowed her down but she knew it was not going to get better this easy and turned to the kitchen again.
She brought her noodles to the dining table contemplating how she had dreamt of saving lives and making a difference with the knowledge she earned after years of hard work. How she was full of hope and energy when she became a doctor. But little did she realize that things were going to be this onerous and her skills will be tested by the deadliest of diseases. Swati’s pallid face kept flashing before her eyes to disconsolate her.
It was a normal day at work for Deepika when Swati had presented to her emergency two days ago. She was breathing heavily struggling to find some air. Deepika rushed to attend her at once to examine her. Swati’s blue-grey eyes were fixed on Deepika’s face pleading to be saved from this indiscernible demon. Deepika will never forget those blue-grey eyes; the most beautiful she has ever seen. I was only after two long hours that Swati could be stabilized and shifted to the intensive care unit for further treatment. It was too early to know what had happened to her but in all probability she was allergic to peanut butter. She had fallen sick immediately after having a sandwich her aunt from California had made for her. She remained well for the next 36 hours or so in the ICU but then she started deteriorating. Swati had succumbed to her disease after fighting for two days. Deepika was as devastated as her parents and relatives. There was something that instigated a connection stronger than just doctor patient relationship between the two over these two days. Deepika had worked day and night to save her but when she thought Swati was out of danger she started sinking. Deepika couldn’t believe Swati was no more despite all the hard work. All her skills, her teams’ efforts, state of the art machines and most advanced medicines couldn’t stand more than 2 days before god’s own will. Envisaging how fragile human beings are and how the almighty doctors are reduced to mere spectators when god is the one making plans.
She couldn’t digest that there was nothing more she could do. Skeptical if she had done something differently, could she have been saved? The noodles were now cold and stiff but still looked better than her jumbled thoughts. She prayed to god to not have to tell any parents that their kid is no more and sank into her bowl of cold noodles. Controverting with her inner self she suddenly felt a jolt through her body. She could not let it happen ever again. Pledging it to herself she jumped to her rickety computer sitting beside a huge pile of books and started browsing through her large collection of e-books, publications and what not, looking for one little breakthrough leading to her deliverance. The one thing she could have done better to save that child, the thing that might save more lives and to be sure if there was any. After an hour of surfing through the words she had already read multiple times, she couldn’t find anything. She had always been a brilliant student and a good doctor but she was willing to believe that it was her fault and if it was, it shall never happen to anyone else. But she had been taught well at one of the best medical college of the country.
Looking for answers she soon found herself discussing the technicalities with her friend over online chat. She told her how the parents were in a daze to hear the news. They couldn’t control their emotions and started to abuse the hospital and blaming the doctors for their loss. They even became violent and smashed a glass window. The nurse barely missed a broken glass. She was aggrieved to see them like this but was too shattered herself to be able to console them. She had worked day and night for two straight days to save that kid and it was unfortunate to have lost her. Why people don’t understand that it breaks us too, she said. Deepika may be living alone in doctor’s hostel but she is a mother too. Her two years old stays with his grandparents and she visits them on weekends and holidays. She could imagine how calamitous losing a child could be. And Swati had her kid’s eyes; the blue-grey ones glistening with innocence. She missed her baby so much at this moment and couldn’t wait for the weekend to hug him tight and shower him with all the love and kisses. But She was content that he was safe and must be sleeping comfortably with his monkey piku.
Buried in her thoughts she was about to retire to bed when a notification popped. It was an email from her senior from the hospital. It was an odd time for a communication from him. She opened it wondering what might have happened.
She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life–the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build–begin to crumble around her.
She had been suspended for not being able to save that kid. Rather accused of killing that kid. She was aghast and couldn’t believe her eyes. It was the most absurd thing to think after all that has happened. She called him immediately but he hung up. Before she could dial again a message popped on his phone. It was from his boss and only said, “see the news”. She opened the news website right there and the episode was all over the news and social media. She was being called a murderer. Everybody had become an expert overnight to give an opinion on a specialized field like medicine. The people who didn’t know her or even the details of the case have already decided the verdict and their comments were disheartening. She fell like a stomping willow onto the chair. After a decade of studies, years of practice and doing everything she could, she was suddenly a criminal. A murderer! The word echoed in her head as her veins were throbbing with all the blood from his heaving heart. She was muddled and didn’t know how to react. Should she be enraged over the absurdity of the situation, curse the system or blame herself for choosing to become a doctor in this thankless society.
This day just doesn’t seem to get over. She was hoping it turns out to be a bad dream but it didn’t. She had turned into a criminal from a meritorious pediatrician all in a day’s time. It just struck her that she may or may not come out of this mess but one thing was certain that her son is not going to be a doctor. She wouldn’t want him to put his life and career at risk for people who don’t deserve him. She was in mishmash and her seniors and the hospital administration have given way to political idiocy. She had fallen prey to the negative branding of health sector in India. It is a pity that our own people are losing faith in the health system. In a country where a person is innocent until proved otherwise, she was already a criminal.
She sat staring at the screen. Thinking about all the time she worked hard, the sleepless nights, the countless exams she went through but all in vain. She closed all windows on her computer to wrap it all up but there it was, the wallpaper staring at her face. Looking at the wallpaper on her desktop, her heart sank deeper. It was her graduation day picture with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam sir himself. She was beaming with pride, big smile on her face and two gold medals around her neck. It was a proud moment for her single mom. She can never forget the look on her face when she joyfully handed over the degree and the medals to her mom. Suddenly she came back to this dreaded moment and wondered how she would feel now. But she knew in her heart that even if the world would turn against her, her mom would always be there by her side. Just the thought of it comforted her and gave her strength to fight like her mom would want her to. It was a little late to call her now because if she hasn’t called her yet herself, she must be fast asleep unaware of any of this bedlam. She left a message to her mom saying “I am fine. Love you mom” and moved to go to bed. She knew it would not be easy to get some sleep out of these grubby thoughts but there was nothing else she could do. She had to gather energy for the coming fight. She put the pile of books onto the chair, opened her blanket and lay in her bed staring at the roof. The train of thoughts refused to stop but she was too tired to try not to sleep.