By Megha Consul
As a neonatologist, miracles and tragedies are part of Megha Consul’s life. Here she narrates how a profound tragedy charged her with a passion for life.
I live on the edge of life and death. I am a neonatologist and it is my profession, nay, my calling, to bring fragile small babies into the world. What I love about my job is that it is more about nurturing and human care, than it is about the impersonal machines and isolating procedures of intensive care. Being a neonatologist in my small cozy workplace is great most of the time. People I like and admire surround me. My nurses are phenomenal, and together we are able to witness so many miracles, or at least act as a conduit for pretty amazing stuff.
I love to see the little babies that came to us as nothing more than heartbreakingly fragile little bundles, transform into beautiful, sturdy, cuddlesome little humans who are the light of their families.
And yet I also witness my fair share of tragedies – when families have to lose their beloved babies in often the cruellest quirks of fate.
In those moments, often I have nothing more to offer than prayers. And it’s not easy to pray – I am usually overwhelmed with my own guilt and sadness. It is even more difficult as the “person in charge” to keep the distance I am supposed to, because I am a mom too – I am familiar within an inch of the emotions of these brave women that entrust me with what is closest to their hearts. And I do not take it lightly ever!
I had such an intense time this January as I cared for a little bonny baby boy who came into my Neonatal ICU (NICU) for vomiting. The family was loving, and I bonded with them instantly. The mild complaint accellerated quickly into my worst nightmare, as I could not figure out what was wrong. I called here and there, got a million investigations done, but the entire night passed, and finally surgery was the only option. On the operating table my worst suspicions came true as the baby was found to have very little intact intestine left – something had obstructed the blood supply, and the baby now had very little functional gut. The diagnosis was a death sentence as the intestine was too small to support life. Baby looked well on the outside, but he would never be able to absorb the nutrients he needed. Even the surgeon (in practice since the time I had been born), suggested that we not do too much as the baby would be unlikely to survive without a transplant – something that is still experimental even in the best centres abroad.
The parents prepared to take him home as long as he lived, and that became the goal for me. To somehow send him home, despite knowing that all we could offer was palliative care. But the downward spiral didn’t stop there. The day prior to his discharge date, baby developed a further complication as a result of which his tummy now had a gaping hole through which his intestinal contents spurted out when he wanted to eat – which was often as he was so hungry. The skin on his little tummy started to resemble a war zone – he was in so much pain it was unbearable to watch; and I was clueless. I cried so many times in those dark days.
Around the same time my father was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour, and began to undergo radiotherapy. It was a perfect storm. I was overwhelmed! I have been meditating for 15 years now, but this was too much for me. I could not meditate, much less focus as emotions completely engulfed me.
One fateful Sunday I just couldn’t take it anymore and stayed home. Away from the war zone of my neonatal ward, I wanted to withdraw from being a physician, a daughter, from being responsible, from everything.
And then I started to pray. I prayed like I have never prayed before. I prayed for the family in the centre of the storm, I prayed for the little baby who was undergoing the worst sort of distress, I prayed for me and my helplessness, I prayed for my Dad. In that one day I prayed for all of the people I could remember who had ever gone through hard times. I prayed to be told what to do. I said to God – look here, I have no clue how to do this, I need help and fast!
I was honest about my ignorance, and my intense guilt, as also my deep need to help in whatever way I could. I prayed that I somehow, anyhow, be shown a way for the parents to at least get a few days of quiet loving time with their boy who had now turned into a screeching mess with his tummy hurting from pain and hunger. I prayed for wisdom, willing to be receptive to understanding the next step. I prayed to be able to give it my all to bring this boy some peace even if for a little while.
And my entreaties were answered. Little by little, bit by bit, the next day I began being “told” what to do. I found a little bag that I could put on the little one so his skin would start to heal. I suddenly found articles that mentioned similar cases, and how the physicians had resorted to medication that is very rarely used in newborns.
I remember offering this option with this experimental drug to at least try to close the wound while we gave him nutrition through IV drips. That despite my failings, they believed in me was a miracle I still do not understand. And how, gradually, despite everything, the wound began to heal. Those were the best days that the family had – I still remember how they all came together and took pictures of their little one as he looked so beautiful now that he was getting the nutrition he needed. He started to coo and interact with his family, and be contented as he happily fed at his mother’s breast. We had our little miracle – baby was discharged, and could be with his parents with no pain as his tummy healed completely. We had so many deep conversations – about the nature of life and the purpose of all of us being together at the same time in this place and situation.
This story does not have a happy ending. He started to deteriorate as expected – his little intestine could not absorb enough, not even his own mother’s milk. I subsequently saw him many times as the parents came to see me. Bit by bit, he became emaciated, and his life was ebbing out every time he passed his milk unchanged in his stools. I prayed every time for this family that was going through a tragedy so momentous, so huge that my personal difficulties seemed like a pittance by comparison.
He died at home with his parents by his side. I saw them even on that day – though I was not supposed to be in hospital that day. And I cried with them for their little boy, for them, for the hardships they had been through, and the suffering that is such an integral part of their life and mine, in this human existence.
So many months later, I keep thinking how this was as much a test for the family as it was for me. I recall how out of the literally hundreds of workshops I was scheduled I managed to attend only one –“How to take care of newborns and their families in the end-of-life.” I wonder, as I see that of all the physicians I know, only I have been fascinated with alternative therapies, and was very open to allowing a faith healer into the unit as requested by the family. On how, had this occurred before I experienced motherhood, I would have had but a fraction of sensitivity to deal with the situation. On how it was not my medical training but my spiritual one that has helped me give the most to “my” babies.
This was a life-changing incident for me – I have a new appreciation for all the things in my life, and a profound acceptance of what is not. I appreciate the sky and the trees and the clouds, and the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes. I am so grateful for every day I have with my dad. I live in the Now so much more, and have a fervour to do what I can today. This episode of dramatic learning, and my dad’s illness has really brought home to me how ephemeral life is, and my sense of urgency and purpose to do as much good as I can, to live with as much intensity as I can, is more than it ever has been.
In that darkness, and through that difficult time, I learned how to pray. I pray now not like a child asking for treats, but as an adult who knows fully well that I don’t know a damn thing, and that I am loved nevertheless – and that is a gift that I am ever seeking to deserve. I now see prayer as a link that I make to a power much, much larger than myself, an energy field that is omnipotent, and of whom I am but a small manifestation. I am learning that my most powerful prayer … the one that gives me most peace, and the fastest route to purpose, is simply saying:
“Make me a channel for your Power,
Make me an instrument for Good,
In any which way, in all ways
Teach me to bring Light
Into Right Now
I am forever Yours,
And you are always Mine.”
About the author : Dr. Megha is a pediatrician specializing in newborn care . She is also deeply interested in Holistic healing especially with regards raising children.
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