Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Letter to My Best Patient

N., I still remember the first day you walked into Ward 4 with madam; we had been expecting you for the prostate biopsy. It was sometime in the month of December, 2009, the 3rd month of my internship. Having not been at the clinic the day you were booked, I did not have an idea of the diagnosis. At 50 you were not a typical candidate for prostate cancer though it was a possibility. I hoped it was not going to be a cancer as I had seen in some other cases.  

I remember madam asking for an explanation of the procedure when I wanted to set your IV line. Actually she is the first patient-relative that ever asked me for such an explanation. I was a bit reluctant to answer her initially but I figured she wasn’t a typical busybody; she simply didn’t look it. Do you still remember what she said when I managed to set the line with one attempt? She said: “One catch!” That really helped to lighten the mood. 

2 weeks later I saw you in the clinic. That was the day you got the news that it was cancer. I can’t remember my reaction when you told me. But if it were today, I would probably not know what to say. You were 50 and ordinarily needed about 15 more years to be considering that kind of diagnosis. It was a rare occurrence at that age. I remember I had to accompany you and madam to the Radiology Department for your CT scan. The Urologist in charge needed to know if the cancer had spread to other organs in your body.

I must tell you now that you never for once acted like someone who had been given such a fatal diagnosis. You were still your jovial self, managing to humour some of the people we encountered at the Radiology Department. The scan result showed that the tumour had not spread. You and madam were happy, I was happy, we were all hopeful.  But then, your health situation started to decline gradually.

You were in and out of hospital admissions. Apart from the cancer, you were also battling diabetes. Madam was extremely supportive. I can imagine that you never stopped thanking God for giving you such a wife. I will not forget that Saturday morning when all your kids – 5 of them – came to visit. They were all bright and cheerful and this did not come as a surprise considering the kind of parents they had. Dr C. was so impressed he said jokingly that he wanted to marry your daughter.

Now I have to talk about the last month. You were in distress because of one of the complications of your illness. Madam was still hopeful that things wouldn’t get too bad. You had 5 young kids to take care of together.  Your father died and after the burial, your condition worsened. I recall madam complaining that for a sick man, you were rather too active during the burial. I understood the attitude of both of you – you wanted to honour your beloved father and she had to take care of her sick husband.

 I was in the last week of my internship and little did I know it was going to be your last week on earth. When I came to visit you in the private hospital where you were moved to because of the strike in the government hospitals, I noticed you were seriously deteriorating. The reason I tried to explain the origin of most of the symptoms you were experiencing was because I felt I could alleviate your suffering by helping you understand that they were inevitable.
You made us laugh during my last visit when you said that you felt like someone who had been injected with a high dose of cocaine. Again I tried to explain how this was part of the complications. I never did ask if all those explanations made any difference to you. Did they?

Two days before my departure for NYSC camp, I called so that I could tell you that I would not be able to visit the next day (Monday) because I needed to run around to get my papers ready. I was basically going to say that I would not be seeing you in a long while since the camp venue was so far away.  I never got a chance to say that. Madam told me that you had joined your father just about 3 hours earlier… I also never got the chance to tell you that Dr G.  said you were one of the best patients she ever took care of. I totally agree with her. You were informed, cooperative and cheerful despite all the pains you had to go through.
Rest in peace N.T. (1960 - July 5th, 2010)

P.S.: I try to pray for you, madam and the kids. I know it won’t be easy for them to manage affairs in your absence.