As I passed by, I saw her look at me. She was in pain. I knew it from the way she was writhing in bed like a worm. She did not call me but from the look on her eyes I knew she was inviting me to go look at her. I moved close, my heart beating hard against my chest wall. I asked her name. She is Nina (not her real name). I quickly go through her file and realized that she is suffering from TB. The chest x ray is not so good. Half of the left lung is swimming in a fluid. I don’t know what to do, so I stared at her and her at me. I smiled. She smiled. And then she showed me a bottle of water. I uncapped it and helped her with drinking. ‘Thank you, ‘she murmured calmly.
Just before I left, the registrar in charge arrived.
‘Are you her relative?’
‘No, I am a medical student, Level three,’
‘So, as you can see this is Nina, she was referred from Magadi, we are draining fluid from her chest,’
I nodded emphatically. I was listening keenly. I knew he was going to tell me more about what I was seeing.
‘Ever heard of empyema thoracis?’
‘It’s a common pathology in patients with Pulmonary TB, go read about it.’
I knew it was something to do with fluid in the thorax. I wondered why a lot of things in medicine were coined from Latin. I guess it was a way of making it sound sweet to the tongue. But to the body, it was not any sweet.
When Nina’s relatives came to see her, I walked towards the window and leaned against it. I did not want to disturb. I saw her relatives comforting her. I saw love. Her children hugged her tightly and for a moment her pain went away.
As I left for home, I waved her goodbye; she waved back and told me to come again. Outside, one of her daughters secluded herself from the rest. She stood there on the corridor, tears welling down her cheeks. She could not bear with the fact that her mother was lying on bed, losing vitality with each passing day. I wanted to cry with her. I could not. It would cloud my clinical judgment. I wonder whether my clinical judgment would even count. I am only a student. And so I reach for my pocket, I unfold my handkerchief and wipe the tears that are falling from my eyes. I look around to see whether any doctor saw me. I would be labeled a coward, a weak species of a doctor. A nurse saw me. She went away too fast. I felt like calling her back and telling her, ‘Look, my eyes are dry, I did not cry.’