Preminder dived into Dr Neela’s eyes, there was no resisting that merry twinkle, a wholly infectious smile, beginning over the incisors and stretching into her petite, pearl studded ears. “You are a most healthy sample Ma’am, no diabetes, no blood pressure, haemoglobin is twelve plus, you are into quite a bit of physical activity, don’t worry. Just let’s get this pre-anaesthetic check-up out of the way and we will schedule your surgery. “
The patient gathered up her papers and backed out of the doctor’s room, marvelling at the brilliant young professional, “So much joie de vivre! What an amazing woman!”
Quiet as a graveyard, the hospital stretched around her. There was sombreness to patients milling about in the waiting areas and the dispensaries. Even the cafeteria smelt introspective, knitted brows hunched over plates of food. People sat in a common shroud of silent acceptance and grim fortitude.
Images of Dr Neela’s smile kept Preminder company on her trudge to the parking lot, “I am lucky to hit upon such a positive gynaecologist. It is a minor procedure. I am in confident and upbeat hands.”
At a social event later in the day, Preminder could not stop talking of her happy doctor and the affirmative energy she exuded. “Woman troubles anyone? Neela is your saviour,” she urged her friends. There was interest, ears perked up; this was after all, the retired uterus community. Hot flashes, post-menopausal abnormal bleeding, generic fatigue were their staple diet of conversation.
It wasn’t until five days later, having completed the oral medicine dose, that Preminder texted Neela, asking for the tentative surgery date. There was no response. “That’s strange! Neela is a very prompt and courteous doctor,” Preminder cast about for possible reasons other than an ongoing operation or an outpatient visit or a ward round. “Doctors keep terribly busy,” she decided to wait a day. But the silence extended into the long Easter week end and then beyond. By now, a peevish cloud had begun to gobble up Preminder’s good natured acceptance of Neela’s preoccupation, “How can a gynaecologist take off on a pleasure trip this long?” she grumbled to herself. “There are alternatives available, we can go to another hospital,” her husband suggested. But Preminder had taken to this doctor and would not hear of trusting another.
“Ma’am, yours is not a medical emergency. We can perform the procedure when convenient,” Neela had assured her, she recalled. And so the wait turned into a month long drag. Life put Preminder on the roller coaster that it invariably does and before long it was time to move out on a transfer. In that all too common panic of gathering up the most one can, when leaving a city, thoughts of Dr Neela came bubbling up Preminder’s busy head like flotsam. “Better get this done here before moving to a new place.”
Preminder placed the call. “Dr Neela? Ma’am, you mean the late Dr Neela?” the voice at the other end echoed out and amplified back in over Preminder’s stunned ears. She slumped into the sofa, her hand stiff on the earpiece. The hospital receptionist had handed the phone over to the supervisor. A politely impersonal tone was launching into an explanation, “Mrs Preminder, I am so sorry to inform you that we lost Dr Neela to pancreatic cancer this Friday past. We can schedule you with another gynaecologist.”
“Pancreatic cancer? I had no clue, she was so full of life,” her new doctor smiled gently at Preminder’s agonized incredulity across her table. She waited for the words to wash the distress away before holding out a metal badge. It had ‘NO CODE’ embossed on it. Preminder turned it over with a frown as the doctor spoke, “Some of us in the business of saving lives choose to die differently Ma’am. This here is a wish expressed, negating any CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Neela had done her paper work. She did not want any chemotherapy, radiation or surgical treatment.”
Preminder couldn’t believe her ears, “But how could a doctor not want the care she administers others?”
“You are right Ma’am, Neela had access to the best oncologists but she wanted to go gently, knowing modern medicine’s limitations. No heroics, no life support, no futile care for her. She chose to manage her pain and spend time with her family, dying in peace, at home.”
The two sat in silence for a while. “She used to say Ma’am, that the state-of-art of life’s end is death with dignity!”