ByÂ Dr Bhavna Mittal:
It was yet another day at the Oral Medicine & Radiology Department; another day of the same old boring questions- does the pain increase on having cold water? Does the pain exacerbate at night? Any history of medical problems? I grudgingly took yet another patient inwardly cursing the receptionist for loading all the cases on me.
I repeated the same old questions verbatim. The patient was a middle-aged woman in her early forties. She seemed perfectly healthy and had come for a routine check-up. The nib of my pen was on the form, the hand holding it in a state of urgency to write — “NO RELEVANT MEDICAL HISTORY/PATIENT IS DIABETIC AND IS ON MEDICATION”. She replied calmly — “You see I was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years back, I have had radiotherapy and chemo and the cancer is now gone”. She seemed to say the last four words with mixed feelings of relief and joy while her eyes reflected the pain and the suffering she had gone through. Having been a dental student for four years now, I was accustomed to hear about patients’ diseases with a straight face and with no second thoughts. But cancer still shakes me up, I hear the word and flashes of a painful death come before me. The hopelessness of the disease perturbs me. There must be some reason why the C word is spoken about in hushed tones and has been aptly called ‘the emperor of all maladies’. So now I looked at my patient with much more than a casual interest; I noticed her hair were very short probably because of hair fall due to chemotherapy. She was no longer another middle-aged woman to me, she was now an epitome of bravery, an amazon who had seen death up close and personal, had suffered, fought and emerged victorious.
She looked right into my eyes and said —“Actually the reason I am here is because I’m scared. When I was getting my radiotherapy, there was this fellow patient who had a toothache, she ignored it and although the breast cancer subsided then, she developed cancer in the mouth 2 years later. I want to take all precautions. Please check my mouth very carefully”. I assured her I would do my job well while at the same time I hoped I wouldn’t miss any finding. She had a single occlusal pit and good oral hygiene. I personallyÂ took her to the Operative Dentistry department, reassured her that all was well and left.
As I walked back to the OMR department – in my mind flashed the sight of me taking the Hippocratic Oath on the day of my graduation. That day I fully realized my responsibility while at the same time I learned to cherish life and the joy each day brings. Each day as we deal with everyday problems we forget that despite the hardships we endure, we must be gracious enough for the only asset money cant buy — good health. That day dated – 16th march 2009 was just another day and yet so different.
Somewhere between the everyday pressure of medical education and the repetitiveness of cases and conditions, we clinicians forget what made us choose the career where you put others before self. That is what this profession stands for.
I made this entry more than two years back and stumbled upon it today. Since that march of 2009 when I was an intern, I have opted for an MBA in healthcare and am now in my second year. I don’t practice dentistry now and probably never will but I shall always be associated with the world of health care delivery. It’s because of incidents like the one above, I know I can never imagine being a part of any other industry but healthcare where say what you may, patients will never be customers and more often than not they will teach you a thing or two about life while you are busy trying to save theirs.