3 weeks had passed by, since Mr. Dattatray (the patient with Gas Gangrene) had been admitted. 3 weeks had passed by, since I’d had a good nights sleep. Not that one really expects a good nights sleep as a junior resident.
It was a Friday night and our morale was on an all time high, having supervised Dattatray’s almost miraculous recovery. A proposition was put forth by the Chief Resident of the unit (registrar) to step out for a celebratory dinner. We agreed.
Within minutes, the 3 residents of the unit stepped into my vehicle to drive away to a famous joint at Matunga, serving delicious South Indian food. We devoured the food with gay abandon. A heavy meal followed by refreshing beetel leafs laced with some lime, areca nuts and sweet tit bits (Paan) later we retraced our route to the hospital.
Midnight had passed by, as it did on most days, without a refreshing sleep in store for me. Today was different. The work was done, the patients were accounted for and the following days orders were written down.
As I was about to slip into bed, thankful to everyone who made it possible for me to get those few extra hours of sleep, I heard a knock on my door. “We have to dress Dattatray’s wound, buddy,” a female voice percolated through the half open door. My immediate senior and I had both forgotten to do so. “In a minute, Ma’am,” I grumbled, as I put on my pants and any shirt I could grab hold of to adhere to the general principle that a doctor must be well dressed at all times. Sleep was all-consuming, but duty beckoned.
As the minutes passed by, while dressing our patient, an adrenaline rush stimulated every anti-sleep centre in my brain. I was no longer sleepy. We finished the dressing efficiently in an hour, with able help from the nursing staff and patients relatives.
Sleep was behaving like a deceitful wife, overpowering at one time and absent minded at another. As my parents stayed close to my work place, I’d repeatedly go home for refreshments and rest for a few hours. A strong desire to go home and catch a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, came over me. I stepped into the parking lot and squinted in the darkness to find my car. I got into my vehicle and sped away. The roads were empty and the signals were non-functioning.
I got my first sleep attack while negotiating the first turn beyond the hospital. Slapping myself out of my sleep with the music blaring at a deafening volume, I drove along.
The second sleep attack came a kilometre later, as I drove along the deserted roads. Driving at a speed of 50 kph with the windows rolled down and the music blaring into the dead of the night, my senses betrayed me at the wheel.
Road traffic accidents are the leading cause of death and disability, with the biggest culprit being user errors and drivers dozing off while at the wheel. I could never comprehend how anyone could fall asleep while at the wheel. However, this early Saturday morning made me learn it the hard way.
As the car moved along, sleep overpowered me again with my awareness lowering its guard. A loud, screeching sound startled me, my foot pressed the brake pedal subconsciously. I passed out. My head rested on the wheel when I came to my senses with blood trickling along the side of my face. I tried to cry for help, but to no avail.
Reflexly, I checked the function of my limbs and any injuries elsewhere. Within no time, I’d realised the only injury I’d suffered, was a cut above my eyes. Using a handkerchief to stop the bleeding from the cut, I stepped out of the car, trying to balance myself. Just then, I realised the severity of the accident.
The left side of the car had hit a circuit box over the pavement of the road, one where fortunately no human was resting, as is the norm in the city. That side, including the windshield had been smashed into pieces with a burst tyre hanging onto the axle, as if it were on its death knell. An immiscible layer of water and oil formed over the road. The radiator grille detached itself from the car and came crashing down on the road, splattering the liquid mixture in all directions.
Dazed and confused, I managed to retrieve my cell phone from the crashed passenger seat and dialled ‘HOME’. And I waited, with a kerchief over my eye and a prayer on my lips.
The policemen arrived within ten minutes of the crash, considering there was a Sub-station opposite the site of the crash.
Fortunately, no one was injured, excluding myself. As I narrated the sequence of events to the inspector, who was very helpful and even offered to take me to the hospital, my brother arrived at the scene of the crash. The legal formalities and implications were minimal as there were no casualties. The process was expedited at the Main Police Station by a police officer, who immediately recognised me from my work at the hospital. The hospitality doled out at the police station rivalled that at a 5-star hotel. The process was carried out in a professional manner, that helped me avoid any court cases or complaints, but allowed me to use the car insurance for reimbursement. Arranging for a towing truck to tow the car to our garage at home, we proceeded towards home.
I was still a little dazed, but very thankful that the injuries sustained were minimal. Arrangements were made for a Plastic Surgeon to suture the cut above my eye. All this, while I was still in a daze, due to lack of sleep. After having caught a few hours of sleep, I returned to work like it was any other normal day.
Seven stitches and a bulky dressing was all that I had to endure from a horrible crash such as this one. I was one lucky man.
Never again did I drive out of the hospital after midnight.