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Dr Ahtzaz Hassan: The small things

It’s funny, the things you remember about the most important moments of your life. Moments that your mind willingly or unwillingly replays so often that the little things, the small details, become inseparable from the moment itself.

I’m sitting in my garden with my father-in-law and my wife.

‘Do you think we could have done more,’ he asks.

He knows the answer I will give is a ‘No’. Just as I know the answer I will give is a lie.

Only I can see her tears

‘No, Dad. I don’t think we could have done more,’ I reassure him.

He shakes his head sadly and mutters something about it being God’s will and sips his tea.

Three years have passed since the day we, as a family, followed the advice of the ITU team and decided to turn off the ventilator for my mother-in-law. Three years since we stood by her bedside crying and praying as she passed away in front of us.

‘Maybe we should have taken her to America,’ he says.

‘Her doctors said we all did everything we could, Dad,’ my wife says.

She hugs her elderly father tightly.

‘These questions do nothing but bring pain, Daddy,’ she says softly.

She makes an excuse and walks back into the house. Only I can see her tears.

So that’s the big important moment in all our lives. A good woman died; a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, and so nearly a grandmother. Gone. A year and a half of pain and misery of the myeloma and then the chemotherapy, all ended with septicaemia and a month-long stay in ITU. The poise and dignity she had shown in life sadly not matched by the indignities and humiliations of her final days.

And the little things? The small details?

We’re back in the Family Room at the Marsden talking to her lead consultant about switching off the ventilator. He is standing leaning against the back of a chair as we all sit on low sofas around him. There is a mirror on the wall opposite him. I catch him checking himself out in the mirror. Four times in the next fifteen minutes. Arsehole.

It’s now a few hours later and we’re in ITU room four. Chung-chung-chung-chung of the high frequency oscillation ventilation. And then the sudden silence when it’s switched off.

Like me, my wife is a doctor. We were meant to have found ways to have fixed her mother. We failed. I know how much her father’s innocent questions pain her because she has asked these questions of herself a million times. They eat away at her because the conclusion her mind always leads her to is, ‘YES, YOU COULD HAVE DONE MORE’.

Four months after the funeral we had a second big important moment: the birth of my daughter, the first grandchild in the family. And the little things? The small details? She bears an uncanny resemblance to the grandmother she never met. And she shares her name. 

Dr Ahtzaz Hassan is a GP trainee in south London

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