Dr Mukesh, aged 24 years, a young medical graduate from Rajasthan had developed a tumour of the right hip bone for which standard conventional treatment is hemipelvectomy (removal of the entire leg). I had tried to save his limb by removing the entire tumour along with the affected hip bone. He did quite well, went back to Rajasthan and became a surgical resident. He did his M.S. in surgery and was looking forward to a successful surgical career. I had a great liking for him. I was even arranging a match for him with a young anaesthetist who had recovered from Hodgkin's disease. I hold that such marriages should take place as the couple would then understand each other well and would live the rest of their lives together, caring, loving and looking after each other. But ill-luck struck Mukesh again after four years. The tumour had recurred with vengeance. Worse, it had increased and spread so much that surgical removal and other medical treatment were not possible and the only available course was to 'hope and pray'. I tried to cosole Mukesh but being a doctor he knew what the future held for him. He kept asking me: "Why me? What have I done? Why should bad things happen to good people?” I had no answer.

I had to break the sad news to his parents.He was the eldest son and all their hopes rested on him. It was shocking but they took it courageously. Mukesh lived for six more months. Toward the end, his condition became very bad. His parents wanted that if he should die, he should die in his own home in his native place. I made all the necessary arrangements for medical help on the way, should it be needed, Mukesh was taken in an ambulance to the railway station on his way to Rajasthan. But he was not to complete that journey. He breathed his last at the station itself.

During all these difficult times, Mukesh, his parents and myself had come very close. They were like members of my own family and used to stay with me. I was with them all along and shared their grief. They sincerely felt that I was a great moral support to them and would somehow wreak a miracle and save Mukesh. I had to tell them about my limitations and they ultimately understood. I helped to make all the arrangements for Mukesh's funeral as they were strangers in Bombay. They waited for me for the performance of the last rites because I had been held up in an operation and was delayed.

The only thing I could do in Mukesh's case was to cheer him up and instil hope till he lived and to be close to his relatives in their bereavement. Yet, Mukesh's case has left indelible imprints on my mind and his oft-repeated statement: "Sir, do something, I want to be your assistant and later become a surgeon like you” keeps ringing in my ears.

I do not consider death as a failure. Patients do understand the gravity of their problems and the limitations of the doctors and of medical treatment. In such cases, it is the attitude of the doctor and his approach that count. He has to be human and sympathetic, not necessarily apologetic.

Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar.