The Non-surgical Tragedy

The best surgeons in the world lose to the universe sometimes. And they don’t know why. This story is about mysterious deaths doctors cannot explain

“Hey, Maaz,” a friend of mine randomly called up. She’s the kind of friend you don’t talk to often but feel connected to the moment you have a conversation. We all have these friends. There is no compulsion to make small talk or exchange pleasantries, asking about families and discussing other trivia before getting to the meat of the discussion, even if you’ve picked up the phone after months or,at times, years.

“I’m calling about my second cousin, who’s 20 years old,” she gave me the brief. “Last night, she was out at a family function where she was perfectly fine. She doesn’t have diabetes,blood pressure issues, or heart problems. No drinking or smoking,” she categorically emphasized like an astute narrator, as these are the questions doctors ask first. “This morning, she woke up and walked to her parents’ bedroom, saying that her right arm was feeling funny. As she was describing the problem to her father, it stopped moving. She started weeping profusely, not understanding what was going on, as she was suddenly not able to lift the hand,” she tried to narrate the sequence of events as accurately as possible. “Then the right leg went numb within the next few minutes and was completely paralyzed,” she explained. “It was as if she had had a stroke where one half of the body couldn’t move,” she gave her interpretation. I listened intently; all this was unusual for a young girl.

“They planned to rush her to a hospital in the suburbs close to their home, but within the next few minutes, she collapsed and stopped breathing. Her sister, who was also at home, had received some paramedical training at her workplace for emergencies. She felt her pulse, realised it was absent, and started giving her CPR, which revived her transiently. They put her in a car and took her to a hospital 15 minutes away. When they reached, the doctors recorded no pulse or blood pressure but nonetheless tried to resuscitate her. After several attempts and after the heart having stopped on multiple occasions, they were able to get her back to life,” she described as best as she could.

“But an MRI done after stabilizing her has shown severe damage owing to a lack of blood supply to the deep parts of the brain, and the doctors are unable to clearly say if the issue is in the heart or the brain or the blood vessels that connect the two,” she sounded exasperated. “They’ve said that her survival looks unlikely, but it’s been only 24 hours since all this began!” she exclaimed rhetorically, as if to ask how someone could make such a declaration within a day.”

“What would you like from me?” I asked,as I wasn’t the treating doctor nor was she in my hospital. “Can such a thing happen to a 20-year-old?” she asked in utter disbelief. “Obviously, it’s extremely rare, and whatever has happened seems freaky, but I’ll talk to the neurologist there, who is a friend of mine, and get a more technical picture,” I offered.

“She’s brain dead,” the neurologist told me. “Her pupils are not reacting, the brainstem reflexes are absent, and there is no response to any sort of deep pain. The MRI shows extensive infarcts in the brainstem, but the blood vessels and heart are okay, so we really don’t know where this has come from,” he confessed a truth that we deal with daily – that we know so little. “We can only postulate multiple possibilities,” he went on to list all the causes of strokes in the young. I conveyed the message to my friend to pass on the information to the family. Her father asked if he could speak with me, and I agreed.

It was 9 PM in the evening. I had just finished seeing my patients and was about to leave for the day when the father called. He narrated the entire story of what had happened the previous day and told me that the doctors were trying everything but had declared her brain dead. “I want you to come and see her once,” he pleaded. “She was laughing and dancing the previous evening, the life of the party, and today I’m being told she’s not going to make it,” he said with such profound grief that I had tears running down my eyes. I seldom cry; the last time I did was when I lost a patient 2 years ago after making multiple attempts to salvage her over a month. “I’m unlikely to tell you anything different from what the doctors there have told you,” I said. “Come as a friend, don’t come as a doctor,” I could hear him sob. “I cannot let my baby die,” he said in a muffled voice. I couldn’t refuse. “I’ll be there around 11 PM,” I confirmed. I requested the neurologist to allow me to see her. He willingly obliged.

After the phone call, I sat in my office with my feet up on the table, and in the eerie silence of the floor, couldn’t help but wonder what I’d do if this were my child. What would I want from the universe? We have all heard about the brutality of a life coming to an unexpected end, but when that happens to someone in the effervescence of their youth, it is even more shocking. The truth is that unless it is our own blood, we can never fathom the depth of that grief. It is a bottomless pit. And however hard we try, there will be no answers. Closure is often a myth.

I reached their hospital close to midnight, where the entire family and several friends waited for someone to tell them something different. I examined her and peered through the scans in detail. I could only reinforce what the doctors had told them. I had nothing more to offer. “Is there no way to reverse this?” the father asked with an ashen face, as the mother stood next to him, lifeless herself. I shook my head sideways. “Is there any way to know why this happened?” they wanted some clarity. “A postmortem might give us some clue,” I said, but I later realized how cruel that must have sounded. “You can consider donating her organs; that way, she lives on,” I tried to propose an alternative, but that didn’t go down well either. “We’ll try whatever we can for a miracle to happen,” they told me. I knew that I, as a man of science, would probably do the same if this were my child. At some point, the acceptance must come, but these journeys are extremely personal, and a doctor should never impose their belief beyond providing an honest heartfelt opinion. I left the hospital feeling helpless and hopeless. We have made so much progress in our field, and yet, at times like these, it feels like so little.

She passed way two weeks later.

21 Comments on “The Non-surgical Tragedy
  • Vipul Shah says:

    Dearest Dr Mazda Sir ……

    Very very heartfelt piece on a tragic part of Life wherein even the BEST SURGEON is feeling helpless…..

    That’s the Life where the complete Control is with HIM …….

    Every one has to do their respective job In best possible manner & then watch HIM doing his job ……

    If you believe me Sir please follow the sacred message from GITA JI that do your best karma in best possible way & Leave the Outcome & Result in HIS hands …..

    Wish you super success in all walks of Life Dearest Dr Mazda sir 🌹

  • Taizoon says:

    Death is the only reality that is common for all … but hardest to accept

  • Yasmin Ghaswala says:

    It’s the helplessness of people close to the patient that’s really killing. You can’t bear to see someone you love and cherish suffer so. Wish with all the advantages of modern treatments we could answer yhis conundrum. Why?

  • Natwar Panchal says:

    Dr Mazda,
    Karma karo phal ki chinta mat karo. We can only try our level best, rest just leave it to him.

  • Dr kautuki mistry says:

    As you rightly said sir when we think that the patient is our relative and keep ourself in their place I think we can think and treat the patient better medically and logically also.
    This is my personal experience and God is always there to help us in taking right decision.

  • Dr. Rafat Ansari says:

    My father after his bypass used to always tell me…”Maut zindagi ki haqeeqat hai”(death is the fact of life)..softly preparing me fr the end he was close to..!
    No amount of money or skill can save u from is inevitable!!!I do believe…As u live so shall u die!!..She lived her life to the fullest in those 20years!

  • Hutoxi Doodhwala says:

    Superbly penned Mazda.
    Heartwrenching ! So many mixed emotions. You know that you are fighting a losing battle yet somewhere there is a flicker of hope that there may be a miracle. You are willing to do anything and everything and still feeling helpless knowing fully well that there is no remedy.
    May the family have the strength to bear this loss.

  • Mbusi Dlamini says:

    For acceding to go and be around the family, with all the information you had from your colleague, Mazda, you were able to practise your great gift of humility, caring and selflessness. Not helplessness. Indeed you helped them to accept life’s command on her.
    May you continue to serve with humility. God bless 🙏

  • Kersi Naushir Daruvala says:

    I believe if a human being is on a bed with doctors saying they can do nothing how much they tried to help, you should know that is the end of medical science, and only God can help you should leave that soul in peace, its hard to say but you should except it.

  • Marzin R Shroff says:

    Reading this article was incredibly poignant. My heart aches for the family facing such a devastating and inexplicable tragedy.
    Obviously you have been affected by this loss too. But you still go on about your duties every day.
    Kudos to you and your tribe for plodding on and trying to save many more such 20 year olds.
    Sometimes, the joy from the many many lives you’ve saved get drowned in the sorrow of one such loss.
    C’est la vie
    Positive article next week please 🙏🏻

  • Tshepo Molosiwa says:

    My heart is already sobbing for the family of this young one. May they find comfort in the Lord. You know my mother was in hospital and on the 6th day of admission in ICU we were told there is nothing that can be done on her anymore. She later passed on the same day. I ve come to realize that when doctors say so, that’s the end of Science.
    But thank you Dr Mazda, for your teachings into this mystery of science.

  • Dr Upma Yadav Jaiswal says:

    Very tragic Dr Turel. Can’t help much. Varied are the ways of Life.

  • Anjali Patki says:

    Tragic tale well said. Realities of life…can’t be helped.

  • Rita singh says:

    Dear doctor even ur readers have felt the grief of this young death gone without any explanation. It’s God’s world and we r not qualified enough to know his reasons. God bless us all

  • T George Koshy says:

    Tragic and poignant and moving…and as everyone before me said death is a horrible but inevitable final truth..

  • George Koshy says:

    Tragic and poignant and moving…death is a sad reality and ultimately only He is in control ..

  • Nariman Bacha says:

    The most important realization about knowledge is very humbling. The more you know, the more you realise that there is much more to know.

    Be it science or arts, both are driven by knowledge.

    Destiny cannot be defeated. But one cannot be fatalistic.

    Everyone tries their best.

    Prayers for the family & departed young soul. 🙏

  • Hoshang B. Charna says:

    Dr.Sir,very touching and thought provoking.If the cause of this sudden attack can be researched may be the remedy can be found.May GOD give you HIS guidance to you to find the cause.
    Can this not be the aftereffect of the Covid vaccines?

  • Setu Ram says:

    Deepest condolences
    You did right by your friend

  • Veera Dastoor says:

    After years of research and numerous discoveries, Sir Isaac Newton said, “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

  • Mehroo Karbhari. says:

    A heart wrenching write up, Dr. Turel.
    Makes it more difficult when it is your own flesh n blood.
    Prefer humourous articles. But then you have to take the good with the bad.
    Keep up the good work.


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