Disclaimer: This article is an outpouring of emotions following the untimely and unfortunate homicide of one of my students by a deranged patient while on duty at a Government hospital.
Today morning, I was woken by a phone call from a junior colleague (in-charge of house surgeons aka interns) informing me that one of our interns posted in a nearby government hospital had been stabbed multiple times by a patient. She was still alive, but barely so, and I immediately informed my superiors. By then she had already been shifted to a nearby private hospital, and I rushed there with another colleague.
The half hour drive was tense, and I was grateful that there wasn’t much traffic. By the time we reached, she had been intubated and the ambulance had begun its journey to a tertiary care hospital around 60 km away.
A few hours later I received the news I had dreaded the entire morning: she was no more.
By then the news had been picked up by media channels.
Throughout the day there was much milking of the incident by various agencies, institutions, and individuals for vested interests. Everything was converted into a media circus.
Her body was brought back to my institution in the evening. By then there were several media channels, a large police contingent, several political leaders, and representatives of various organizations who had nothing to do with the deceased. Reporters sought ‘bites’ from those present- one spoke to me as well. Her tragic death had by now become a morbid media spectacle.
Eventually, everyone left. I was left with my thoughts once again.
I had known her since the day she joined MBBS in 2016, and had taught her till she passed Final MBBS Part I. It was during her internship posting in my department that she was posted to the Government hospital, and I feel guilty for her death. She was my responsibility. I was supposed to ensure her well-being. Now, I have failed in my duty towards her.
I cannot hide behind excuses and pretend to have no role in her misfortune. After all, she was posted in another institution- a government hospital no less. So isn’t it the responsibility of the government to ensure her safety? Maybe, but she was first my student. I was like her local guardian- didn’t her parents entrust her to our collective care?
Having worked in resource-limited settings and a keen sense of social justice, I have encouraged my students to serve in areas of need. If she were in another state where law and order is nearly nonexistent, I would have cautioned her beforehand. She might also have been more vigilant. Unfortunately, this happened in a state that considers itself as ‘God’s own country’. A state that prides itself on rule of law and a vibrant democracy.
What will I tell my students now? What can I tell my students? Do I tell them that they must be willing to be the next medical martyr? Should I tell them to expect death whenever they are on duty (and prepare for it)? Should I tell them to ignore the hypocrisy and double-standards of society when it comes to doctors in particular and healthcare workers in general? Should I tell them not to expect the system to work for them, or for it to be there when they need its security and protection?
After some time, her demise will cease to be a talking point. The media and leaders will move on to other issues. But this incident will be a turning point in the lives of many young students and doctors. Life will not be the same for me.
I am torn between emotions. Anger, frustration, sorrow, and a sickening feeling of utter helplessness alternate. But what to do?