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'A good doctor is a good human being'

Monday 13 February 2017

Dr Akmez Latona in the operating theatre
'I felt I had made a difference': Dr Akmez Latona in the operating theatre.

“Tell me my son will be OK”. I felt tears in my eyes, and tried to hide them, while trying to answer. What could I say?

In this guest post, Dr Akmez Latona - originally from Mauritius - tells the story of his time in the emergency department at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, and of the importance of keeping humanity in the picture as a doctor.

At the age of 18, I left my family and home in Mauritius to study medicine. It has been eight years of persistence with ups and downs, pursuing a medical career and choosing to train in emergency medicine. I love emergency medicine.

Last week I looked after a young man found by his parents unconscious at his home, presumed secondary to a drug overdose. On arrival at hospital he was critically ill with persistent seizures.

In the resuscitation room the team and I intubated him to protect his airway and treated the seizures. Whilst the emergent care was being delivered a throng of relatives amassed in the waiting room.

Close to fifty people gathered around the trolley as we moved him to the CT scanner. Their distraught cries pervaded the usual serene calm of the scanning facility and continued until we were able to return to the resuscitation room.

Post CT, and with airway and blood pressure support, the young man stabilised. I set up for a central line and began to reflect.

I sincerely wished he would get better, but this was far from guaranteed despite the best treatment. I hoped I was providing the best treatment that it would make him as well as he was before all of this.

'It was a painful scene to watch'

Procedures complete, his extended family were able to come and see him in the resuscitation room. His mother looked shattered, drenched with emotion, doing all she could to hold herself together.

His brother wasn’t able to hold himself upright and had to sit down on the ground. As the procession of loving family members rotated through the room, I witnessed an entire family’s grief.

It was a painful scene to watch, but I was also a part of this. His mother grabbed my hand and pleaded "tell me my son will be OK”.

I felt my eyes tear up, and tried to hide them, whilst trying to answer. What could I say?

This young man had a poor outlook. He had lost basic reflexes of his limbs and brainstem. The initial CT was suggestive of hypoxic brain injury.

All those hours on the floor, all those lines and needles and procedures when he had arrived, all these devastated family wanting him restored to health. My own heart yearned for him and his family.

I had done my best, but now I could only pray for him.

I believe a good doctor is first and foremost a good human being who genuinely cares for his or her patients.

The love for humanity, stemming from a heart that wants to do good is what defines us.

'His mother came to me and gave me a big hug'

In the five to ten years to become a specialist, we acquire so much knowledge and skills to be able to practice safely. What makes the difference to me is caring - being passionate about healing and alleviating suffering.

So what did I say to his mother?

I put my arms around her and comforted her. I told her that her son was being looked after in the best possible way. I had cared for this man and for his family. My emotions had shown.

My consultant approached me a little later, reassuring me that it was good to have emotions – it showed one was alive and still cared.

Later, as I transferred him to the intensive care unit, the mother came to me and gave me a big hug and thanked me for everything that I had done to save her son’s life. All the people around clapped their hands. It was one those rare and wonderful moments. I felt I had made a difference.

Working in emergency medicine has made me realise that life is fragile. One of the worst feelings is to lose or the immediate fear of losing a loved one. I see this daily. We see this daily.

These experiences have shaped who I am as a person, and have made me a better human being and a better doctor.

I try to be a beam of hope for those at their most vulnerable, those relying on us to make important decisions with them, for them and about them. To be passionate about helping the sick, to cure where possible; to alleviate suffering often and to comfort with compassion, always.

Reflection over, I took a few deep breaths, washed my face, walked back to the next resuscitation room, introduced myself with a smile and started assessing a trauma patient.

I do it because I love it, I do it because I want to and I do it because to me, this job is sacred.

This post originally appeared on the Life in the Fast Lane blog.

"To me, this job is sacred": Dr Latona spent the last year in the PA Hospital's emergency ward.

Last updated: 23 August 2017