On Day 3, Cassandra’s arms were amputated and taken down to the Pathology Lab. At this point, I was already praying for death to come and give her the relief she wanted. Seeing this innocent girl with her whole life overturned, now lying helplessly in bed, a thin plastic tube passing through her nose hooked to a suction machine to drain the content of her stomach, and another coming out of her urethra to drain urine from her bladder, her body charred to the bone, hearing her moans each day made me pathetic.
Recovery was far fetched and even if miraculously it happens, Cassandra’s life will never be the same with both arms gone and face and body scarred. She would scare people away.
It was even more difficult for me as I was beginning to love the young girl. The emotional detachment we nurses had from our patients that helped us go through our duties with ease without heart pangs were no longer there. I could watch a patient being dissected in surgery without batting an eyelid but now, I found myself wincing as I peeled off the old dressing soaked in saline solution, scared of hurting her.
And I rarely did. Third degree burns never hurt because all the nerve endings were destroyed and the pain medicine eased her pain; all these I knew but I was still afraid.
It was evening on Day 6 that she passed on.
I was about to do her dressings when the words of Nurse Kayira struck me. I realized how inhumane it was to prolong this girl’s pains and suffering. I looked at the exposed body where many holes had been drilled and punched for tubes and felt very low, like the worst criminal on earth.
I lifted the eye patches slowly and shone a flashlight into them. They were dilated and lifeless. There was no indication that she was alive except the beating of her heart. I replaced the patches and sank into a chair, burying my face in my hands and weeping.
That evening, she had an arrest and I watched, standing aloof as the doctors pounded on her chest trying to bring her back to normal.
I wanted to scream at them. Why would someone try to bring this girl back in her situation? But I knew my words would make no meaning to them. Dr. Okoro never believed in euthanasia.
On one occasion we got into a serious argument about it. The patient was an octogenarian who had a stroke and was paralyzed from neck down, unable to move and speaking incoherently. His family seeing his pitiable condition we’re ready to let him go but good old Dr. Okoro continued to pump drugs into the poor man, prolonging his pains and sufferings and of course mounting up bills for the family for weeks till the body gave way.
On one occasion, the man had an arrest and he toiled and toiled till he brought him back, I looked at the patient’s face tight with agony, at the respirator and was seized with a bout of rage that I fled the room to the office to give the doctor a piece of my mind.
“I cannot play God,” he had replied “When he calls, he will go.”
“Oh sir, God called but you refused to let him go. Yes He called this afternoon but you held on tight, snatching back the patient.”
“Sandra, we have a policy to save lives.”
“And you’re doing a wonderful job out of it,” I said sarcastically, “Put yourself in his shoes, will you like someone to do the same to you, will you like someone prolonging your suffering?” I hollered at him.
He did not reply but let his gaze fall to the floor.
“Guess you wouldn’t,” I muttered and left his office, banging the door. I recalled that encounter as I prayed quietly, “Lord, please take her.”
Five minutes later, the doctor straightened up and shook his head slowly. I looked at the monitor. Straight line. Dr. Okoro looked at his wristwatch and wrote on her chart.
“Patient died, pronounced 5.45 pm.”
The body was still and stiff when I touched it. I smiled sadly.
Cassandra was finally at peace.