IT was an unusually quiet day of December. Because of the fuel scarcity, the roads were nearly deserted and vehicular movement almost grinding to a halt. It was quite boring waiting for patients to come. I sat in the reception watching TV with my staff.
Clutching her one-year-old baby in her arms, a young, unkempt woman with a forlorn look on her face, was led into the reception area by her apparently weary husband.
From the way she followed passively without stumbling, I knew she must have been blind for a couple of months. Her husband sat her down in one of the chairs in the hall and proceeded to the receptionist for the registration process.
My attention shifted to Mr D. who had come for follow up. Our eyes met and we exchanged greetings. I went into the consulting room expecting him to follow me immediately but it took another two minutes before he came in. As usual, we discussed a little bit of politics and current affairs.
Suddenly his demeanour changed. Looking very serious, he asked, “What is wrong with that young woman?” I replied, “How would I know? I am yet to see her.” I followed with a veiled warning, that even if I knew, in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath that I took, he should not expect me to discuss her problem with him.
Shortly after, it was the woman’s turn to see me. She narrated how she had gone blind about two months earlier and all the places they had visited in search of a cure. They ended up in a church and after three weeks of prayers, the pastor advised that they visit an eye clinic.
She was totally blind and could not see light in both eyes. The optic nerves at the back of the eyes were severely damaged.
She needed some expensive radiological tests but how would she find the money? I was pleasantly surprised when there was no objection or complaint about the costs. She returned the day after with the test results. They were all negative, leaving me with just my clinical findings.
My eyes went to the husband, then my patient and her baby. Their clothes were dirty. The baby wasn’t malnourished but was clearly on the way. Her husband was tired and I could see, was on the verge of breaking down.
The strain of looking after his son, a blind wife and at the same time making a living was telling on him. Except help came from somewhere, they could all be dead in no time. Where would help come from?
I was jolted from my negative thoughts when she said in a mellow and appealing voice, “Doctor, please help me so I can help my son and my husband.” How would I break the news to her; that medically, the case was hopeless; that such extensive and severe damage to the optic nerves were, as far as I knew, irreversible?
“But you are not God,” an inner voice told me and asked, “What would you have done if she had come much earlier?” I hurriedly scribbled some prescriptions in her file and called the nurse to ensure the medicines were dispensed even if she had no money to pay.
One week later, again, I was sitting in exactly the same position in the reception when she had visited the first time. She was still clutching her son, but walking slowly in front and her husband behind. “She can see!” I said to myself in a muffled voice, in total disbelief.
As I was about to get up to attend to her when, as if on a cue, Mr D came in too! “Mr D. you don’t have an appointment here today, do you?” I asked. “No,” he answered. “I’ve just come to leave some money for the treatment of this young woman…”
He stopped dead in his tracks as he lifted up his eyes to look at the woman. He exclaimed, “She can see! Doctor, she can now see!
Unknown to me, on the very first day, just before Mr D. came into my consulting room, he had given the husband a tidy sum of money and promised to leave more at the reception at a later date.
This explained the reason for his visit. And by sheer coincidence, he had met them again. The young woman can now see clearly. The trio – wife, husband and son now look well fed.
She still comes regularly for follow-up but I still cannot say what went wrong. This much I can say: a miracle happened during the Christmas season.