I was on vacation from med school and decided to go to a local hospital just to observe and try to learn something. I was extremely interested in eventually specialising in Neonatology so I decided to spend a week at the NICU. The first few hours of my first day were spent staring at the cute, tiny babies in incubators, going through their charts and watching mothers come into the rooms and look at their babies, sporting looks that were a combination of unconditional motherly love and a dash of concern for their newborn babies. The ward was almost silent except for the soft, continuous beeping of the machines and the voices of the nurses speaking gently to the newborns, both working very hard to keep the babies alive and healthy.
The tranquillity of the NICU did not last long and a baby was rushed in from the labour room and everyone was trying to figure out what was going on. The consultant walked into the room, took one look at the baby and gave a DNR (Do-Not-Resuscitate) order. She came towards me and told me to look up Thanataphoric Dwarfism and other DNR cases in Neonatology. My naive, young medical student self stood there confused, trying to understand why the consultant had given such an order. This was the first time I had heard of DNR cases and it seemed completely counterintuitive to me. Wasn’t the whole point of being a doctor to do anything and everything possible to save any patient’s life?
After she left, the father of the baby walked in by himself and I could see the distraught look on his face. He looked like his entire world had come crashing down and I had to tell myself at that moment that I had to be “professional” and that I absolutely could not cry in the hospital. We had been taught to not become emotionally attached to any patient and adopt an “It is what it is” attitude but this particular moment tested my ability to do so. To make matters worse, the consultant decided to use this baby to teach a few of the new doctors how to intubate. It was absolutely horrifying to watch this poor baby being used for educational purposes without anyone’s consent. I wondered whether the detachment of emotions from patients to keep doctors sane was what had allowed them to go this far (too far in my opinion), that the baby could not even be allowed to die a peaceful death.
I learned later on that he and his wife had conceived this baby after almost a decade of trying and unfortunately this baby did not survive more than a mere couple of hours. This made me think about how unfair life is and how healthcare professionals are expected to not show emotion even in the face of such horrible situations. This eventually also let me come to terms with the fact that doctors are not miracle workers and that there are some situations where waving the white flag is the right thing to do. I came out of this situation with a completely different view of the medical field and I am yet to determine whether that’s a good or bad thing.