Nothing in this world can be a better teacher than life because when life teaches you something it not only makes you learn but it also changes the whole outlook. I am an oncologist working with one of the best hospital of the country. My typical day at work includes meeting atleast 10-15 cancer patients daily. A few of them lucky, for whom cancer gets diagnosed in the early stages but for majority it gets detected pretty late hence dipping the chances of survival even further. I have been in this profession for more than 15 years now and I have seen many patients losing their battle to cancer. As a doctor, I and my team try our best to cure our patients but medical science isn’t that much equipped yet that we cure all of them and send home.
Aman’s case was a little exception to the facts and the practices. He came to us when he had just turned 24, he was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer of white blood cells. This type of cancer is a rare occurrence for an Indian, it is typically a disease from the west.
Like any cancer patient, Aman too broke down hearing this. He was just 24 years old then and like any youngster he too had some dreams about his job, his life partner, family, friends and life in general. I can imagine how it feels. It is like ‘Death’ spray painted on the canvas of your dreams. More than the death this feeling is even more painful but he was a very strong character. He recollected himself and came to my clinic and said in that guyish style “Doc, I want to live. Please do whatever you can I’ll cooperate during the treatment but I want to live.” There is nothing better for a doctor than a patient who is mentally strong to undergo the cancer treatment and someone who wants to live despite all the pain and hardships. Over the next few weeks Aman underwent multiple sessions of chemotherapy. His body was responding to the treatment though he had completely gone bald.
Three months later he was declared cancer free and discharged from the hospital.
Life is very harsh sometimes, Aman started to feel those symptoms again after a couple of years. This time it was Stage 3 of the cancer. His treatment was started again with more chemotherapies and even more painful procedures, procedures which are actually more painful than the death itself. I saw his health declining at a rapid speed but he was always smiling. On his special request he was given the room in which windows open to the foot hills with a great view especially in the rainy season. All the time he used to do something on his laptop, sometimes smiling and singing with himself and upon enquiring he would wink and tell you that he’s dating a girl from Dehradun. He would then tell you a joke on the long distance relationships and start laughing.
One day he was in severe pain and even the injections of the painkillers weren’t good enough. He called me in his room and asked,
“Doc, by now we’re good friends and you bloody even know about my relationships and personal life (with a wink). On that note of trust, will you answer my question with utmost brutal frankness?”
I could see that question coming, I said, “Yes Aman, ask anything”
He said, “What are my chances of making it doc.. please be honest.”
I replied with the face lowered, I wasn’t able to make an eye contact with him this time, I said “10 percent..”
He said Ok and closed his eyes. “I want to sleep doc, please switch off that light when you leave.” he said.
I left for home after that but next morning when I reached hospital it was a complete ruckus. Guard on the entrance told me that a patient is missing and they fear that he had fled. When I asked the patient’s name he said “Doctor Sir, he was some Aman from the cancer ward.” After hearing that I should have been very worried for Aman but it wasn’t the case, instead I was happy for him somewhere.
From this whole Aman fiasco, I’ve learnt a very important lesson that no medical college or books can tell you. I learnt the lesson of empathy. I am not saying that as a doctor we don’t do enough, we do everything to cure our patients but all the time we were just concerned about what medical science says. Not saying that every time we can cure a cancer patient but we can surely heal the trauma he’s going through and in those last days that healing touch does matter a lot. It reduces that mental pain the patient goes through.
5 months later, I received a letter at home “From Aman Bhatt”
Hey Doc, apart from my family and friends you ‘re that other person I wanted to say ‘Bye’ before I leave and in the most probability I’ll be gone by the time it will reach you. Dude, I always used to bug you with the Ruskin Bond stories in which he has described Dehradun and Mussoorie in such a beautiful way. It was raining when I fled your hospital and came here and trust me it’s even more beautiful than what Ruskin Bond could actually describe. There’s not a better place to die than this (a wink).
And dude remember? I used to tell you about that girl from Dun. I have sent a couple of pictures of us together. Isn’t she so beautiful, as gorgeous as these hills in the rains.
And Doc, don’t get senti after this. You did what you can but when I got to know that my chances of survival are minimal that’s when I decided to die differently. I did not want to die in a hospital room, with 100s of bulbs flashing on me and in front of a helpless team of hospital staff looking at me.
I wanted to experience death in a different way. I wanted to date death before I actually die.