September 2018

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As doctors, we are expected to be comfortable with death. After all, in our profession it is a constant companion, hovering just out of eyesight in our daily routine. We do our best to delay the inevitable while balancing our concern for the quality of life of our patients. Does this mean we are better prepared for its appearance?

The sudden passing of our colleague and friend, Andy, generated ripples of shock and dismay throughout the medical fraternity. As we reflect on a life, cut short in its prime, can we inspire ourselves and our students with Andy’s unique approach to the profession, which to him was no mere job, but a calling?

Andy was a very dedicated and compassionate doctor, who treated each patient as a whole person and not simply as a diseased body part. With his gift of gab, he was able to explain his thinking and treatment protocol to his patients in terms they could understand. He listened and guided them and their families into making the best decision for their particular case. Recently, the relatives of a terminally ill patient told me a story about their loved one who was in a private hospital accruing a huge bill. Andy called them aside and explained that there was no advantage to the patient being in hospital. As expected, the patient passed away, but at home surrounded by loved ones. The relatives valued that moment of honesty and consideration from him, and still recall it, many years later.

He empathized with his patients and was readily available to them, allowing nothing to hinder him from getting them the best treatment options. I remember going to see one of his patients only to be told that she had arrested earlier at 3 a.m. Andy had been there and accompanied her in the ambulance to the ICU at the Eric Williams Medical Sciences Complex. Though this may not seem particularly extraordinary, whilst in the ambulance, Andy was working on resuscitating her!

When the Faculty of Medical Sciences, at The UWI, offered the Doctor of Medicine in Internal Medicine, in Trinidad, in 2007, Andy immediately expressed an interest. He could see the need for this programme to build capacity, at the Specialist level, in Internal Medicine in Trinidad and Tobago. I could depend on him for sound advice and, when he thought fit, scathing criticism of the programme! He had several ideas for the programme and before his sudden death, we had an in-depth conversation, only a few days before, about his plans for expansion of his teaching sessions with the students.

He was very appreciative of his lecturers who guided him along his medical journey. I recall visiting his home when he had a “curry lime” in honour of two of his mentors, Professors Michael Lee and Owen Morgan of the Mona Campus. With tears in his eyes (unusual for him), he thanked them for their contributions to his professional training.

Andy however, was not all work. He organized a doctors’ ‘cook out’ at EWMSC recently and I hope this cultural event will continue in his absence in memory of him.

He enjoyed a close-knit family relationship – full of laughter and love. His mother was particularly proud of her boys: two doctors and a pharmacist, but joked that with all their qualifications, she wished one of them could repair her broken tap!

One of the rites of passage for a doctor is the recitation of this paragraph from the Hippocratic Oath –

“If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter.”

If I could say one more thing to Andy, it would be this: Bravo, my friend. Congratulations on a life well lived and a job well done. You will be sorely missed.

Professor Terence Seemungal is Dean of The UWI’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, where Dr. Andy Bhagwandass was an Internist and Associate Lecturer until his passing on July 28, 2018.