(Continued from Infected II)
Lucy decides not to break the news to Julius immediately. She decides to wait until morning. She will pass by his isolation room on her way home at the end of her shift. That will also give her time to compose herself. She has seen many of her patients die in the course of her career, but it is always heartbreaking. Some of her colleagues believe she should have gotten used to it by now, but she simply can’t.
At first she struggled with that reality, and at some point she thought she was not fit to be a doctor. Until she met a retired Spanish doctor called Louis, who had been a celebrated heart surgeon until his retirement. That was seven years ago. She was attending a medical conference organized by Amref. On the second day she happened to share a lunch table with Louis, who was one of the speakers at the conference.
As they got talking, she mentioned her challenge to him, and he told her something that she has never forgotten.
“Listen, Lucy. I was a doctor for fifty five years before I retired last year. But up until last year, I struggled with the death of my patients. Why? Because I wanted them to get well. And that is okay. In fact, it is a good thing because it ensured that I would do everything within my powers to prevent the death of a patient. What I didn’t do, however, was to allow myself to grieve too much, because the emotional burden would be too much to bear. So I formed a routine. Whenever one of my patients died, I would lock myself in my office and have a good cry. Then I would come out with the emotional burden lessened, and ready to tend to the living patients.”
This is advice that Lucy has been following religiously, and it helps. After leaving the ICU unit, she walks quickly to her office and locks the door. Then she starts crying.
Julius knows that something is wrong immediately Dr. Lucy enters his room. There is something about her calm demeanor that looks off.
“How are you feeling this morning Julius?” she asks, and he knows instantly that she is steering conversation away from his wife.
“Is my wife okay?” he asks, without replying to her question. Lucy is used to this. She always tries to break news of death gently, but sometimes the people receiving the news know intuitively what is coming. For such people, experience has taught her that beating around the bush only makes the situation worse.
“I am sorry Julius, but we lost her. I wish I could have done more…”
“It is okay, doctor. We both know that you did more than you should have in the circumstances. I am the one who failed Grace. At the time when she needed me the most, I failed her. Maybe I did not deserve her. But she did not deserve to die. I should be the one in the mortuary.”
Tears are flowing down his cheeks.
“Don’t judge yourself too harshly, Julius. From what you told me, I think you did your best. You took her to the clinic and when she got worse, you brought her here.”
“I should have brought her sooner. She had COVID, didn’t she?”
“The COVID test will take about forty eight hours, but I am almost sure it will be positive. The others are all negative, including malaria.”
“Grace tested negative for malaria? Did the medicine work that fast?”
“No medicine can eliminate malaria from the system within a few hours. Chances are high that she did not have malaria to begin with.”
“So I really did fail my dear Grace. I should have insisted that she comes here. I should even have used force if necessary. If I had been more firm, my Grace would be alive.”
There are many things that Lucy feels she should say to stop the self-flagellation, but from experience she knows that it is pointless. Julius is processing grief, and there is nothing she can do to stop it. Impulsively, forgetting all the safety measures issued by the government, she moves closer and sits on the edge of his bed, then stretches her hand and squeezes his. While she still has her mask on, she removed the gloves as she left her office at the end of her shift.
They sit like that for half an hour. When orderlies place breakfast outside his door, Lucy goes and brings it in.
“I am not hungry,” Julius says stubbornly. “How can I be hungry when my wife is dead?”
“Think about your children, Julius. They will be heartbroken when they learn that they have lost their mother. But do you know what can be worse than that?”
“Nothing can be worse than that.”
“Of course there is. Losing their father too will make the situation far much worse of them. If you do not want to eat for you, then at least do it for your children. You need the strength to fight the virus so that you can go home to take care of your children.”
That seems to convince Julius, and he takes a bite.
“I really do have COVID.”
“Why do you say so?”
“This food tastes like cold metal.”
The hospital director is woken up by a furious call from the Governor.
“What part of ‘I want two COVID spots reserved for me at the hospital’ didn’t you understand?” the Governor fumes.
“I reserved two spots for you Your Excellency. We are sending all suspected COVID cases to Beeline.”
“Do you even know what goes on in your hospital? Sometimes I wonder why I put an empty head like you in charge of the hospital. Last night one of your doctors admitted a woman in one of those ICU beds, and even administered oxygen. She went ahead and admitted the woman’s husband to one of the isolation rooms. Tell me, Director; if my sister and her husband fall sick today, will I move around begging those rich fools at Beeline and Meke Mission for a spot?”
“I pray that no one in your family gets sick…”
“I did not ask for your prayers, director. I gave you a simple job to do, and you were too brainless to do it. I can feel you are sleeping. Are you nursing a hangover too? Or is it a cheap prostitute who kept you awake when you should have been resting? I am taking breakfast now; by the time I get to my office I want those spots restored. Get rid of that doctor, remove that man from the isolation ward and find another tank of oxygen.”
“Yes Your Excellency.”
After the Governor hangs up, the director, Vincent, rolls out of bed. His wife already left for work. Vincent hates the Governor, and he hates the fact that he can’t stand up to him the way the former director did. The former director, a medical doctor and a respected administrator called Henry, was fired three months after this Governor was elected. He had been the hospital director for seven years before that, and had been credited for making the County Hospital a fine institution. That is why Beeline Hospital snapped him up days after he was fired.
Immediately after his election, Governor Kinyasa started accusing Dr. Henry of high handedness and corruption. But everyone knew that the truth: Dr. Henry did what he thought was right for the right for the hospital, and refused to be politically manipulated. The immediate former Governor, Hillary, respected that. That is why they had worked so well together; Dr. Henry built the hospital and his reputation, while Governor Hillary took political credit for the hospital’s growth. The hospital was actually one of the reasons Governor Hillary had been re-elected with a landslide.
At the end of his second term, Hillary set his eyes on the Senate. He won the seat easily, and is now Governor Kinyasa’s fiercest critic. Dr. Henry is currently the COO of Beeline Hospital and the President of the African Christian Doctors Association.
Vincent felt inadequate from the day he was appointed to the position of director, which is probably how the Governor wanted it. He is also a doctor, but he has never held any administrative position before this appointment. He is frequently insulted and demeaned by the governor, but he cannot afford to lose this job. This job gives him a sense of pride, especially at home. His wife is an over-achieving mathematician with several awards under her belt. She is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Finance and Administration, at Shava University; she is a favorite to replace the Vice Chancellor when his term expires early next year. She is also a board member of several leading companies.
Vincent has always felt that she looks down upon him, and he feels that this job gives him a measure of respectability at home. That is why he endures the Governor’s insults.
The Governor has a deceiving mien. In public rallies he is a charming orator. He is known for his humor and his kindness. But those who have worked under him know that he is a totally different man in private. He uses all manner of insults when he doesn’t get his way, and he sometimes even uses physical violence.
Vincent calls his deputy and barks orders, then goes to the shower.
Julius is still thinking about Grace when a doctor enters his room. His discomfort has increased considerably. The sore throat has grown into a full blown flu, and in addition to the loss of his sense of taste, he has lost his sense of smell. He is also having a slight headache.
“Hello Julius. My name is Dr. Flavian and I am the head of respiratory diseases at this hospital. I can see you are much better.”
Julius looks at the man. He cannot see his face because he has a full PPE gear. Perhaps those things are reserved for the head of corona department.
“We haven’t met before doctor, so how do you know I am ‘much better’? As a matter of fact, I am much worse today than I was last night.”
“I have seen much worse in these rooms trust me. You are good enough to self-isolate at home. That is why I am discharging you.”
“You are kidding, right?”
“No, I am not. I have already signed your discharge papers. We need this room for more deserving patients.”
Image by Leo2014 from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/face-mask-covid-19-epidemic-4986596/
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