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The surgical devotion

Updated on: 26 May,2024 06:56 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dr Mazda Turel |

A couple unable to imagine their lives away from each other challenge death and destiny

The surgical devotion

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Dr Mazda TurelHe brought his wife to the hospital in a deep coma. They were both in their late sixties. I was called to see them in the ICU. “She was absolutely fine when she went to work in the morning,” Sarosh uncle told me with a dazed look. “But when she got home for lunch, which she does every day, her speech was a little slurred and she was talking gibberish, which is very unlike her. She complained of a terrible headache in her temple and couldn’t complete the conversation we were having and collapsed,” he narrated. “I rushed to find her unconscious. Our family physician and my sisters got her here,” he said, limping from a bad arthritis of the hip that he’d been ignoring for years. He told me that she had been a breast cancer survivor for 18 years. We had noted her blood pressure to be 240/110.

“Did she smoke?” I asked. “That was her only vice,” he revealed. “About 15-20 cigarettes a day for the last 35 to 40 years. “Otherwise, she was the life of every party: vibrant and full of energy. We’ve been married for over 30 years and there has never been a dull moment,” he volunteered information. “But she never smoked in front of me,” he interjected. “She knew I didn’t like it, so she would smoke in the kitchen, or if we went on a dinner date, she would excuse herself,” he told me with a look in his eyes that spoke of when they were college lovers. 

I examined her to note that she was completely paralyzed on the right side. She didn’t open her eyes even to deep pain. No sound from her either. The CT scan showed an 8 cm haemorrhage in the left temporal lobe, the area responsible for speech, language, and memory. “We have two options,” I tried to explain. “Either we don’t do anything and let her pass peacefully, or we remove the hematoma and see to what extent she recovers, knowing that she’ll never be normal again,” I said softly, bluntly but lovingly. “Oh my God,” he replied, unable to fathom the gravity of the situation, several thoughts probably coursing through his mind. 
“Being an editor myself, I’m an avid reader of all your columns, and you’ve saved so many people who were almost dead,” he said, searching my face. “We always try our best,” I put my arm around his shoulder, “and sometimes we win, but sometimes we don’t,” I replied, feeling almost like a fraud for not being able to deliver for someone who had come to me with such hope. Over the next hour, we went through the entire spectrum of possibilities, from death to a persistent vegetative state to assisted living to the uncertainty of predicting to what extent she would recover. I was ambiguous about whether her speech would recover or if she would remember anything. “We have so many things we still want to do together,” he told me. “I would be completely devastated if anything were to happen to her. We are all we have,” he lamented. I asked him about his children, and he said that he hadn’t wanted kids and she was ambivalent. “I had often asked Ketayun who would look after us when we are old, and she used to say that we’d always have each other,” he said, a solitary tear running down his face. “Can I accompany you inside the operation theatre?” he requested, explaining, “I would not like to leave her side. I’ll sit in a corner and won’t be in your way. I just want to sit and pray while you’re doing the operation,” he kept adding sentences, hoping I’d agree. I convinced him it would be best for him to wait right outside, and that we would be done in a couple of hours. 

We finally operated on her and removed the large thick blood clot that was compressing the vital structures of her brain. The tense brain was soft again. As we wheeled her back to the ICU, I told him I was happy with the surgery and the nature of the brain at the end of it. “We’ll have to take one day at a time,” I told him as I signed off. He secured special permission from the hospital management to sit next to her 24/7. When I went for my rounds the next day, he was praying over her. I was so deeply moved by this man’s love for his wife. “Why don’t you get some rest, Sarosh uncle; this is going to be a long haul and it might wear you out. You have to be fresh and fit so you can look after her,” I tried to explain. “In fact, I was going to request you for something,” he said to me. “Can you please arrange for me to have a shower in the hospital? Because when I went home yesterday to change and shave, I was stricken with a profound grief of having left Ketayun’s side for a few hours,” he shared, wearing his heart on his sleeve. 

We arranged for him to be comfortable around her in whatever way he wanted. Over the next few days, we were able to get her off the ventilator and she began opening her eyes. She could not speak because she had a tracheostomy tube in her windpipe, but she was beginning to move her right leg. Every time I walked into the room to see her, she would break into an enormous smile, which thrilled Sarosh uncle to bits. “She’s making great progress,” I told him, as he adjusted the speaker that played healing sounds in her ears.

“Do you know, she’s taken such good care of me,” he told me on one of my daily rounds. “I often have these dizzy spells, so she used to constantly remind me to drink water. And if she knew who I was with, she would remind our friends to make sure I was drinking enough water,” he said with gleaming eyes. “‘I live for you,’ she used to tell me. ‘And you are my life,’ I used to reply.”

I went home that day and told my wife I loved her. She probably wondered what was wrong with me. I narrated this story to her. “They seem like a special couple. I would love to meet them,” she said. She met Sarosh uncle and Ketayun a few days later, when we had arranged a special musical evening for patients and their relatives in the hospital cafeteria so that they could forget about their worries for a moment. “I must have done something phenomenal to deserve a wife like Ketayun,” he told her then. “I also must have done something to deserve my wife,” I told him, leaving out the ‘phenomenal’ bit, as all of us laughed a little after three weeks of rigor. As Sarosh uncle and his beautiful wife Ketayun left our hospital to continue further rehabilitation and physiotherapy elsewhere, I couldn’t help but remember the famous Russian poet Sergei Yesenin, who said, “In this world you can search for everything, except love and death. They find you when the time comes.”

The writer is practicing neurosurgeon at Wockhardt Hospitals and Honorary Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at Grant Medical College and Sir JJ Group of Hospitals

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