There comes a time in the life of every surgeon or anaesthesiologist, when suddenly out of the blue, he encounters the death of his patient on the operation table. The death could be due to a pure surgical miscalculation or an inadvertent anaesthetic mishap. Whatever the cause, let me assure the reader that both the surgeon and the anaesthesiologist feel the weight of loss acutely, more so when the patient happens to be a hapless child. I personally feel that such a calamity is just a reminder to me that under no circumstances can I fill God's shoes. One such untimely and very tragic death was that of the grand child of one of our former High Commissioners to Ceylon. This new-born baby was suffering from Hirschsprung's Disease (Megacolon) for which an initial colostomy was done. Hirschsprung's Disease is a disease in which there is gross dilatation and hypertrophy in pelvic colon, a part of the large intestine. There is also narrowing in the distal part of the large intestine, thus leading to intestinal obstruction, constipation and abdominal distension. In a colostomy, the colon is brought out surgically through an artificial opening in the abdominal wall in order to relieve the intestinal obstruction.

The colostomy done, the child was taken up for corrective surgery one year later after a careful pre-anaesthetic evaluation. However, during the course of surgery, the child suddenly sustained a cardiac arrest-my heart almost came in my mouth. We tried our utmost to revive the baby but it was futile! Destiny had played a cruel trick on us. I felt drained.

What do I tell the High Commissioner and the parents? Finally, I mustered enough courage and went out of the Operation Room into the lobby where they were anxiously waiting to have a glimpse of their precious baby. I think my emotions were so transparent that they immediately sensed that something had gone awry. They looked anxious and on hearing the tragic news, they were shattered. The grandfather, our ex-High Commissioner, accepted this ghastly verdict with equanimity that befits a sage. A few years later the same grandfather brought his second grandchild to me for a surgical correction! All I wish to state is that when a doctor is honest and sincere and when he has done his utmost to save a patient, the relatives get the message—they do not go berserk when faced with tragedy. They do realise that a doctor is human with all the human shortcomings; somewhere, sometime, a human error does creep in, howsoever unpardonable it may be!

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