After a two-day busy outpatient clinic and three hours of flight delay, I had just taken off from the Port Blair airport runway. An announcement echoed from the aircraft microphone asking if there were any medical doctors in the flight. It looked like I was the only one available onboard.
Moving ahead I saw a young couple; hardly in their early 20’s carrying an unresponsive newly born baby girl. The baby’s heartbeat could just be recorded, she appeared pale and motionless. Chest compression and shaking the baby made her eyes open but she was still not crying. I could fish out only a letter from their medical records from the Ministry of India; Government hospital transferring the baby to mainland India for further treatment and a small piece of paper saying she has cardiac and neurological problems.
The parents had no idea how and where to go. The captain came out asking if he had to return to Port Blair airport as an emergency. On my request the crew brought out a portable oxygen cylinder, medical kit and a mask. While I was brought one, it was one that is used for adults and was too big for the tiny baby weighing around 1.5 kg. Time was running out and I had to think fast. The child was being shifted to the mainland because there was no facility for her medical treatment in the Island and diverting her back to Andaman as suggested by the Captain had no meaning.
I offered to try keeping the baby alive till we land in Chennai and requested the Captain to arrange an ambulance with a paediatrician, oxygen mask and other medical paraphernalia to shift her immediately to the nearest hospital once we reach Chennai airport. I placed the baby on my lap, cut out a small tube to get oxygen flow to the nose with handmade equipment converted from a straw and needle tip which I got around me. Ironically the oxygen cylinder got empty in between and we had to replace with another when the baby became unresponsive again.
The situation was tense with anxious crew members and passengers frantically in awe and bated breath. The baby’s heart beat became a little stronger gradually. The mother was crying uncontrollably. Apparently her first baby had died of similar complications. The father was totally confused and was looking blank. I reassured them and had the baby for the entire three hours on my lap stimulating and making her breathe with different techniques I could recall. I was pleased that the baby would survive and felt I have achieved something. Everyone in the flight walked up to check if the baby was fine and congratulated me including both the flight captains.
What touched me was just half an hour before landing in Chennai, an ordinary looking man came up to me from a couple of rows behind and after enquiring about further treatment and cost, handed over rupees two lakhs in cash to the father of the baby seated next to me. He said “take it and spend for the baby.’ The person who gave the money was looking raggedy and simple with torn chappals and dirty clothes. I was taken aback by surprise and overwhelmed. I told him that this condition was going to cost a lot more and the baby can be shifted to a government hospital and I would make those arrangements. I asked him if he knew the parents. I also told him he may not get that money back. However, he insisted he gives the money and held my hand and thanked me for saving the baby. “I can earn this someday again” were the words he said to the parents of the baby whom he had never seen before. The parents didn’t know how to react. I had two lakhs money in one hand and the oxygen mask in the other. We landed and I was expecting a medical crew to come. A middle-aged doctor from a private hospital came with a few paramedical staff. I was prepared to hand over the situation and discussed about what had happened to the baby and what needs to be done. Simultaneously, I had plans to talk to colleagues in the government hospital who can help. He was so arrogant he didn’t want any information from me and remained uncourteous to thank anyone. He was least bothered about what had happened in the last 3 hours and instructed the paramedics to transfer the baby to the ambulance and departed from the scene.
I told myself that he must have had one, busy day! My hands were empty while I left the flight. The smell of the baby was still around me. The arms and lap ached holding the bag and mask; I felt the separation of the baby away from me. The innocence of the child radiated and her sweet face still lingers in my memory. The pupils of her tiny eyes stared at me for three solid hours without any reaction.
Few days ago, one of the patients of Kauvery hospital who had travelled in the same flight, enquired and commended me for what I did and called me a “Hero” which I wasn’t. I wanted to say who the real hero was and this is when I decided to write about this story.
During that three hours of travel from Port Blair to Chennai, I witnessed many things - lack of government policy to shift a baby who had a serious concern, illiteracy, poverty, and lack of knowledge about the baby’s condition by the parents and many more including insensitivity of the doctor, who displayed arrogance and lacked professionalism who just saw this scene as a mere ‘duty’ rather than a service.
In the midst of all that I inferred, I did see a sparkling silver lining in the cloud – both literally and figuratively. l saw humanity. A man who was illiterate; an auto driver who gave his money to an unknown child, showing the God in him through selflessness. I felt like the infant’s tiny heart I was trying to revive in front of this dynamic human being who gave all he had to someone he didn’t even know. A lot of fellow passengers congratulated me while I waited at the luggage carousel. Strangers took selfies with me for the first time in my life.
I still remain curious about who this lovely human being would have been who gave-it-all he had. How many people do we come across in life, like him? This trip is going to remain one of the most important pages in my life’s book. A story with many lessons about living, giving, appreciating and kindness. The man’s words echo in my ears, ‘I can earn this money any day!’ Thus, reinforcing that ‘Money comes and goes, Morality comes and grows!’Wherever that little girl is, I wish her the best and a beautiful life. Her little eyes will remind me of the God in every person!
Article by Dr. G. Balamurali
Head and Consutant Spine and Neurosurgeon,
Kauvery Advanced Spine Centre, Chennai