By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
Blue Water White Water, Robert C Samuels, Up The Creek Publishing, Pp 295 (PB), $11.95
When you read Robert C Samuels’ Blue Water White Water, you only have a prayer, ‘god, let this not happen to me or anyone dear to me.’ The repeated nightmarish experience he undergoes in the hands of the doctors and nurses at one of the premier hospitals in the world, the Nyack Hospital (New York), makes the reader shudder with fright.
At 43 years, Robert was healthy, working as a journalist. One fine morning, he felt a little weakness in his legs. Within hours, he was unable to walk and was rushed to the hospital and admitted to the ICU. The doctors and the nurses there pushed through him a series of tubes and machines, without so much as explaining a thing. He was first told he would have a respirator. A large tube was put through his throat. He welled up with fluids, which had to be periodically suctioned. With his mouth closed, he could not speak. Then they fed him through the tubes. Slowly and slowly he lost the controls over his nerves. All that he could do was to move his eye-balls. Right for ‘yes’ and left for ‘no.’ He was diagnosed with a rare disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. And pneumonia. Robert describes the ‘gleeful’ way the doctors did repeated bronchoscopy (taking out fluid from lungs) on him. They jabbed his spine for fluid, for testing. In a third attempt, they bent him forward but not sufficiently to reach the spot they wanted. The doctor carelessly tapped his abdomen and admonishes him for the fat!
The trouble was, they treated the patient, according to Robert, as some lifeless toy, administering things without warning, leave alone asking for consent. There was this constant what-you-feel-does-not-matter attitude. He describes how the nurses took their own time doing things. Once a nurse told him that she was going to the street corner pizza place for lunch with her boyfriend and asked how he felt about it – this was when he was unable to move, speak or even breathe on his own. “They have pushed, punctured, suctioned, filled, inflated, drained, bruised, washed and manhandled my body in ways I can’t recall. The beat of the respirator is constant. I’m dreadfully lonely. Is this life?” – that’s a moving memory.
He encountered medical staff who were under qualified, he was treated as a teaching tool, his nurses caused him injury from deliberate manhandling. For instance, when he was taken for bath, his wheel chair was pushed so hard that his nose hit the iron of the bath.
The treatment for the Guillain-Barre syndrome is plasmapheresis, a process by which blood is drawn, plasma separated and the remaining blood is injected into the body to trigger generation of fresh blood. The treatment assures full recovery of the patients with this syndrome. In Robert’s case it was started so very late that he recovered only a part of the body, leaving him wheelchair-bound for life. “Never assume that doctors and nurses won’t make mistakes. If you are a hospital patient you need to be your own advocate, or have someone acting on your behalf,” he says. Robert was administered tranquilizer without any permission, when the news of his fathers’ death at 79 reached him. The nurse took it upon herself to make the decision. He got a bout of pneumonia that almost killed him because of the carelessness of the attending doctor. After spending a harrowing nine months in ICUs and hospital rooms and rehab centre, to learn to cope with his ‘new life’ Robert returned home.
Most of the book was written soon after he came home, but was published nearly 30 years later. Robert had not lost his journalistic humour. He in fact tries to lighten his travails. If it had been written in a morbid tone, probably most readers would not go on to the end. One feels sad for Robert’s wheelchair and happy that he came out alive. He says “Like most people, I hadn’t realized that U.S. hospital patients are in more peril than motorists on the nation’s highways. A landmark 1999 report found that medical mistakes cause as many as 98,000 deaths and more than one million injuries a year. By contrast, accidents on America’s roads that year killed some 41,000 people and injured some 3 million.” Robert is currently the travel editor for New Mobility, a national magazine for wheelchair users.
(Up The Creek Publishing, PO Box 335, Piermont, New York, NY 10968)
South American jungle life captured as thriller
By Dr Vaidehi Nathan
The Devil’s Garden, Edward Dock, Picador, imprint of Pan Macmillan, Pp 324 (PB), £12.99
The Devil’s Garden by Edward Dock, brings out the worst of the South American jungle life. The inter-gang war, the drug peddling, slave trade and the cruelties the tribes commit on perceived enemies. The story is narrated through a scientist Dr Forle, who is here to study how a stretch of the forest turn into ghosts of sticks and twigs. “The Indian tribes call the glades in which we conducted our research Devil’s Gardens because they believe them to be gardens cultivated by an evil forest spirit, Chuyachaqui.” But the botanist found that this was the handiwork “by our ants, Myrmelachista schumanni.” He finds that the ants live in the hollow of the stems and eat away the plant. Some of these gardens are over eight hundred years old. The quite jungle station is thrown into chaos by the arrival of a Colonel and a Judge, who are supposed to be there to register the votes of the citizens of the region. They bring with them a chain of violence which Forle cannot ignore, especially when one of his close associates Sole is dragged into it. Forle witnesses tortures. The tongue of a missionary is pulled out and he is left writhing and finally drained to death, right in front of him. Finally, he watches with horror when his precious station is burnt down. Most of his work is burnt to ashes.
Now he has to save the lives of Sole and his tribal assistants. How does he manage? And what is the secret that Sole has shared with the Judge?
Edward Dock narrates the journey of the scientist and his party through the dangerous river and the forbidding terrains of the forest, sending goose-pimples. It’s creepy and magical. Animism, torture and suspense are thrown in good measure along with the callousness with which the “visitors” from the outside world treat the jungle people. For instance, there is this dialogue “They tell us we must develop to relieve poverty. But the un-contacted say, “We have the forest to live in. What are these things called rights? What is poverty?”
A thriller to the last page. Because till you read the last line you are not sure if the scientist and his aide escaped or met the fate of the missionary.
(Picador, imprint of Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Road, London, N1 9RR)