I am a Neonatologist. I am a doctor who works with newborn babies. Most of my work is inside an Intensive Care Unit with fragile prems, sick babies struggling to breathe and monitors beeping all around me. As usual, today I saved a lot of lives
I return home, unmask, shower and plonk down onto my sofa with my overjoyed daughter. With a twisted smile on my face, I think about all the lives I’ve saved today. My deft fingers, practised hands, quick thinking brain and tireless feet have once again given a second life to many…. and all that within those 12 hours that started as I skipped down 5 flights of stairs from my home and ended when I trudged tiredly back up those same stairs.
Hmmm…maybe I’ll be honest and say that all those lives were saved in a much shorter span of 30 minutes. These life-saving 30 minutes were not spent in the middle of an NICU amidst the sounds of monitors and the hiss of oxygen with medications orders shouted out. This is the 30 minutes I spent on the driver’s seat of my little Hyundai sedan as my wife and I shuttled to work and back.
As I turn on the ignition after putting on the seatbelt, I do a little visual examination of the driveway in front of me and watch this little child ride slowly past me on his tricycle. The maid who is supervising him is busy gossiping with a colleague in the safety of the steps 10 metres away. I wait without changing gears and wave to the child as he persists with pedalling till he delivers himself to the maid triumphantly. Once again watchful expectancy has saved a life. I drive out revving up to a speedy limit of 15 kmph on the narrow rumbling paths inside my residential quarters, while the doc behind me decides that he has to attend to an emergency. He swishes past me honking and swerves beside the little child who now jumps into the maids arms, briefly halting all gossip.
Three minutes later, I wait behind doc-in-a-hurry as he plans his strategy to get past the oncoming cow. Meanwhile, a scooty rider weaves between us, ignorant of the sauntering cow. I catch his eye and use international sign language to warn him of the incoming cattle threat. He stares in disbelief, but stops in time – just as the buffalo grazes past his front wheel and says a quick moo greeting, leaving no damage to man or rubber or metal. No-one gets lynched. It’s a win-win-win-win-win-win situation.
After a brief gridlock, we go merrily on our own ways. A teenager runs across the road in a hurry and the happy sound of screeching brakes ensures that he reaches the other side of the road with no blood loss.
The bus barrelling down the narrow road decides to overtake the sputtering autorickshaw and comes right in front of me. His brakes were last used 1 hour ago and the probability of the driver using it again is 0.91% with 95% CI [0.62, 1.31]. My arms twist the steering wheel about 1000° and my foot carefully presses the brake to let me scuttle to a corner of the road. A squealing dog jumps out of the way and gives me a few precious inches more to move away from the squeaky bus that niftly sneaks past with 3 inches of gap all around – much better than dragging my Hyundai and me 3 kilometres on its bonnet.
The cyclist acutely decides that he has to meet his long lost friend across the road and suddenly turns in front of me. My thenar eminence crushes the horn pad and I make a slight, deft turn of 10° of the steering wheel with my fingers and cancel that meeting with his friend – postponing it to another day instead of shifting it to another dimension.
The cool-dude biker has his helmet on the fuel tank in front of him. He’s probably protecting the most useful and expensive thing he has – petrol. And he exposes the less useful and, arguably, less expensive thing he has – that head of his. With a cheap mask clinging to his chin and a smart(er-than-him) phone cradled between his tilted head and neck, he revs on the wrong side of the road which he claims is his territory. A little nudge of the steering wheel single handedly moves my car a few inches away from his territorial march trajectory. He nudges his handlebar on my rearview mirror instead of crushing his skull on concrete. I blurt out an urgent order in exasperation. The dog on the side of the road pees – more out of fear than to compete with territorial claims.
The phones get smarter as the pedestrian looks skyward and slowly trudges across the busy road laughing as his friend cracks a joke through his earphones. A sharp, precise dose of the horn brings his gaze back to earth and he reflexly jumps onto a nearby puddle. He expels out a sample of his vocabulary for all to enjoy on their early morning drives. Generally, it is better to have wet feet than a bloodied face, but he doesn’t care.
The 2 metre wide autorickshaw squeezes into 1 feet of space between the median wall and my car. The 14 people in (and on) it brace for a tumble. A rational, protocol driven, evidence based mix of accelerator, steering wheel and indicator inputs quickly widens the space from 1 feet to 2.0001 metres. All 14 reach their final local destinations with a bit of unquantified viral sharing.
Several more routine procedures are done with no screening and generate quite a bit of aerosols from the exhaust pipe. My dash cam audits the footage and statistics at the end of every month and gives a clean bill of health to all those involved. I don’t get a chance to follow them up and, thankfully, most don’t come to me for a review visit on the road. Every scratch and scuff on my car has a story to tell, but nobody will listen to it.
As I curl up in bed, I thank God for another uneventful day. I drift to sleep and there are no monitors beeping in my dreams; no honking, no metallic crunches and no sounds of engines revving. Just the peaceful sounds of dreams I enjoy, but never remember.
I am a Neonatologist. I work in an Intensive Care Unit. And today I saved a lot of lives.
I’ll leave you with 2 videos – one of the usual Vellore Mayhem and the other of a relaxing highway drive with some added music.