What is the worst feeling in the world? Looking at the pulse oximeter on your finger and seeing a SP02 level of 55% in spite of being on oxygen support? Or being this patient’s doctor and having to lie to him that he will be fine? My heart was sinking as I helped my colleague in the ICU fix the BIPAP mask on this patient. He was just 36 years old. After admission to our ward two days back, he seemed to be stable though he was on high oxygen support. We had started him on all the medicines being tried for severe COVID-19 disease. But his oxygen levels started dropping in the morning. We tried dual oxygen support and simultaneously sent out the SOS to all the ICUs. But there were no vacant ICU beds. It was by 11:00pm that we got a vacant ICU bed. But we were late.
At around 11;30pm, I watched helplessly as the young man started to panic seeing his pulse oximeter reading. His brother had to hold his hand down and lie to him that his saturation was improving. I said a prayer for him and went on to lie to him. “Please don’t worry, its improving. Relax. You will be fine”. But I knew it was a lie as I saw his saturation not improving despite the ventilator settings. “Going to intubate him”, my ICU colleague informed after a few minutes. “Ma’am, let’s go back. I am really tired and the ambulance is waiting down to take us back to the ward”, the ward boy was almost pleading me through his sweat stained PPE. He had struggled to push the wheel chair and an oxygen cylinder through the unending maze of the hospital in a PPE in this summer. I nodded and walked out as the ICU team surrounded the patient with the intubation set.
“Ma’am, will he live?”, his friend/relative wanted to know. This man had literally carried an oxygen cylinder over his shoulders as we were unable to find a trolley to transport the patient from the ambulance to the ICU. How do I explain to him that all his efforts were most probably in vain? Hence, I looked him in the eye and told,” The condition is a little serious. The ICU team is doing everything they can. Let us hope for the best.” A little lie. Or maybe twisted truth. The ambulance took me and the ward boy back to the ward. It was 12:00 AM. The road was empty. Yet, the driver had turned the ambulance siren on. Maybe it was a habit for him. Just like it is a habit for us doctors to not let our mind ponder too much about the little lies we tell dying men.
I was going through the patient list on the online portal. And there was a familiar name. But then I noticed the “current status” column…. “Expired on 28/04/21, 4:00 am.”
To whoever is still holding to the belief that “COVID is a myth” or “I am young and strong. Nothing will happen to me.”……He was just 36 years old. And not being able to breath is a terrible way to die. So, stay home. Stay safe. Follow COVID protocols. If not, some doctor will have to lie to you that you will be alright as he/she struggles to help keep you alive.