Muskan – The little nurse without PPE

This true story should be read by everyone especially those who are either affected or afraid of Corona Virus.

Prof Pankaj Chaturvedi

The little girl was crying inconsolably. Her father was equally distressed. He kept begging for being allowed to accompany her daughter in the Dedicated Covid facility. It was an emotionally challenging scene and I too was struggling to hold my own tears. As per the Government’s policy, only Covid positive person can be permitted inside the isolation facility. While Muskan was positive, her father was negative for Covid 19. I tried all kinds of arguments to convince the daughter and father that it was in their interest to live separately for 2 weeks. Standing under the afternoon blazing sun, the security staff at the isolation facility were losing their patience and getting restless. One of them in full body protective suit held the hand of Muskan and started to gently pull her inside the facility. Muskan was limping and could barely walk even with support. Whole of her left leg was bandaged and appeared swollen. She was in terrible pain. I still remember her teary eyes and folded hands begging me to allow father to be with her. She kept repeating “I cannot live without my father. Please let him in”. I was speechless and stood their frozen not knowing how to console her. Then something inside me compelled to make a commitment. I promised her that I will call her twice in a day and she could call me anytime of the day on my personal phone. My promise barely brought solace to the grieved child who had no other option but to be separated from her father.

The father was now agitated and getting hysterical. Since he carried the risk of being a carrier of virus due to the proximity with his daughter, I was trying to maintain a safe distance from him. To everyone surprise, he jumped across the barricade and rushed toward me. He fell on my feet crying loudly. I did not have the courage to run away from him and stood their dumbfounded.

Muskan is 14 years old and suffering from advanced osteosarcoma of the knee bone. She had undergone 9 hours of major surgery 2 weeks back at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. The surgery involved removal of her knee joint and replacement with a 14 inch metallic prosthesis. She had 20 centimeter scar on her leg. The family was devastated to know the fact that she has only 30 percent chances of survival beyond 5 years. Her mother has been praying all the time for her health and longevity. While recovering from surgery and eagerly waiting for her discharge, she developed fever due to Covid 19. Whole family was shattered and distressed. Muskan was staying with her father at the hospital while her mother looked after younger brother at the village in Jharkhand. Muskan had to go to an isolation centre situated 20 kilometers away from Tata Hospital. Dedicated Covid Hospital is a giant indoor stadium in Mumbai (National Sports Club of India called NSCI) that was converted into a massive isolation facility with the capacity of 500 beds with 75 beds dedicated for cancer patients. I volunteered with my team to look after the Oncology section of this dedicated Covid Hospital.

Unfortunately, her father had to be sent to a quarantine facility at another place. It seems, Muskan’s father lied to the Tata Hospital security pretending to be Covid positive to ensure that he accompanied his daughter to the isolation facility. However, the lie was exposed at the reception of the isolation facility when he could not produce the positive throat swab report. The desperate father tried all logic to be allowed inside but in vain.

My trance was broken by the screams of the cops next to me. They were very angry that I was so close to a high risk person. I quickly sprang away from Muskan’s father who was still sitting on the ground with folded hands. I convinced him that his daughter will be looked after well by my team. Grief written large on his face, the father slowly went away.

Minutes later, Muskan called me up from the isolation ward. She was bitterly sobbing. She was afraid and lonely.Muskan was the only child among 75 cancer patients of Tata Memorial Hospital. I tried my best to console her on phone but failed to pacify poor girl. At this point, I told her that I would treat her like my own daughter. I spoke to her about my family and my own daughter and how much I loved her. I kept talking to her for almost half an hour trying to divert her mind as much as possible from the agony of being alone and the separation from her father. I could only listen to her cries and she did not speak a single word. Once I put the phone down, I couldn’t hold my own tears.

When I reached home that night, I told my wife about Muskan and her plight. That night, we both spoke to her on a video call. What made us feel sad was her dejected look. She hardly spoke few sentences. She refused to eat anything for dinner. I could not sleep that night and kept thinking about her. Next morning, I was eager to reach NSCI to meet her and continue my counseling session. I kept calling her but she did not pick up the phone. Her father also called me up and told that she was not picking up the phone. I called up the nurse in the ward and she told me that Muskan was not on her bed. My heart sank. I grew very nervous and my mind was flooded with negative thoughts. I rushed to NSCI and literally ran towards the patient’s waiting area. I was startled to see that Muskan was waiting there flanked by 5 old ladies who were also cancer patients of Tata Hospital. Those 5 old ladies were less educated and Muskan had become their personal assistant since morning. She helped them speak to their relatives, guided them to take their medicine, boosted them morally and communicated their problems to the nurses. I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Muskan was transformed from a distressed kid to a compassionate caregiver. She was very busy talking to other cancer patients and hardly had time to talk to me! I was struggling to control my tears of joy. My adopted daughter had grown up in one night!

By afternoon, Muskan started calling me to help other patients and never for herself. One whole evening, she sat next to a seriously ill old man with the oxygen mask holding his hands and praying for him. She helped the nurses in holding arms of the patients when they drew blood for lab testing. She assisted in dietary intake of patients with feeding pipe in their nose. She turned into a baby sitter for few mothers who were isolated with their small kids. She was badly reprimanded when she helped a bed ridden terminally ill women move around on a wheel chair. Muskan wanted to fulfill the last wish of the Bengali women to watch sunset on the sea.

She quickly became popular among the NSCI staff and the patients.

She used to call me 4 times in a day for the first 2 days. Later it decreased to only 1 call every day. She narrated the day’s happening on every call. Thought it was not permitted, I used to smuggle biscuits, fruits, chocolates, cake for her. Since she had only two pair of clothes with her, my wife gave her new set of clothes. She had lost her hair due to chemotherapy. I assumed that she would be very conscious about her baldness. I gave her a nice cap to wear that she never wore. In her 10 days of stay I developed a strong emotional bond with her. I was very conscious about the promise that I had made to her and her father. After all, I was supposed to be like her father while she was isolated.

Ten days later, her repeat test again showed presence of viral infection. Her stay had to be extended for another seven days. I was surprised that she took this news very sportingly except a momentary dismay. Perhaps, she was enjoying her new avtar and forgotten her own miseries. This bald girl was helping others limping around with a long and painful scar on her leg. Any other child in that stage will be sitting on the hospital bed seeking attention of their parents. Muskan epitomized human resilience that is perhaps more pronounced in kids. While myself, nurses or other staff were moving around with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Muskan was helping people without any accessories with a smile on her face. Patients got very dissatisfied and disappointed to see me or Nurses in PPE. However, Muskan ensured personal care to all without any barrier between them. She was the darling of everyone in the facility. One day smilingly she told me on phone that she hoped that good wishes of everyone will cure her forever. She was aware of the dismal outcome of her cancer.   

Seven days later, she tested negative for virus. I had a strange feeling that was mixture of happiness and sadness. I was feeling sad that Muskan will now go to her father. Nurses were disappointed that they will lose a helping hand. Patients were sad because Muskan  will no more be available to them. She was the only care giver who was without a PPE and who could touch them freely.

Muskan and her father were excited. As Muskan walked out of the facility, I could see several sad faces standing behind her. As per infection control policy, we are not supposed to go close to people who come out of the isolation. I was standing 3 meters away from Muskan’s path and told her not to come near me. With teary eyes, she expressed her desire to touch my feet as a mark of respect. I don’t know why, I did not stop her or move away from her. That would have been very rude and humiliating. As she came near me, I stopped her from touching my feet and instead bowed to touch her feet. Startled and confused, she slowly limped towards her father.

Muskan taught me an important lesson. The best way to forget your own unhappiness is by spreading happiness around you. Contentment is the byproduct of a constant tussle between expectations and availability. Winners tend to tilt the balance by having little or no expectations. This story of transformation of a young patient into a compassionate care giver is a lesson for all the health care staff to consider their covid infection as a God – sent opportunity to serve without the PPE. Success is all about converting a challenge into an opportunity. Happiness follows.

My Muskan (happiness) was gone. So was the fear of corona virus. One thing is certain, Muskan will live forever.

Acknowledgement –

Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, Sharad Ughade, MCGM leadership and the entire team for running the entire facility with care and compassion.

Published by Chaturvedi Pankaj

Deputy Director, Center for Cancer Epidemiology, Tata Memorial Center, Mumbai. Professor, Department of Head Neck Surgery, Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai

69 thoughts on “Muskan – The little nurse without PPE

  1. Thats why i am proud of you sir ,you star maker. A big and kind ,etc hearted person ,love you sir for all i see my father in you.

    Like

  2. Remarkable job done by you Dr. Pankaj
    We all your wishers are proud of you & your humanitarian thoughts.This act of yours, making a distressed child to become brave & helpful to others is a good lesson to other members of your faternity. With best of luck to you always.

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  3. Sir, Really touched with Muskan’s story and spreading her happiness in this Covid 19 pandemic situtation. Eagerly look forward to your next story.

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  4. Remarkable piece of writing… Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi Sir
    … A very vivid depiction…with emotions unlimited… Needed to wipe my eyes several times to complete reading because the letters turned hazy, every few moments…
    Sir.. You’re a gem of a person… I’ve never felt idolising anyone until I came in your contact… 🙏

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  5. Very touching and emotional.
    Real value of care compassion commitment and courage is not learn in books but by such examples.God bless Muskan
    Really proud of you Dr. Pankaj.

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  6. Sir Salute to you. The person who feel can heal.Could not control tears.You are a great role model and father.

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  7. Awesome sir. This is so heart touching . U really made a difference in MUSKAANS life as well as all who r gonna read this. This is so inspiring.

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  8. The little nurse reminds me of the story I read when I was only 7-8 old,
    ‘Kabuliwala’
    Somehow the heart wrenching feel is so strong and finding it in me after all these years.
    An ambivalency.
    It’s so mixed a feel, an indescribable feeling – one that words cannot communicate. A set of mixed emotions.
    Sir, You are a Clairsentient. That’s how you can write so deep and touch the chords which cannot be reached.
    This a story which should go places. I will do my bit in this.
    As you rightly say in the beginning every health care professional should read this…

    Like

  9. What an amazing story. Midland teaches us the meaning of LIFE and Humanity. Pankaj , hats off to you for your compassionate approach and LOVE. God bless. Convey our best to Muskan and your family. God bless. Ashok

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  10. I have no words to say! If only the world had more people like you. You call yourself a Common Man, I am sure many will beg to differ!

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  11. दिल क़ो छू ज़ाने वाली सत्यकथा। जिसने इसे दिल से महसूस किया हो वोहि ऐसे लिख सकता है।
    This would become a classic COVID-19 tale of the tell-tale signs of an indomitable human spirit. Love & respect for you and your adopted daughter Muskaan.

    Like

  12. Heart warming and truly inspirational; Muskan stay well; how a little girl reminds us of the humanity, we seemed to have forgotten amidst our fears, insecurity and our races; as for Dr. Pankaj, May God bless you boss; your thoughts and your advise, speaks of a different quality of human being. Recover well Muskaan and stay safe and healthy Pankaj boss…!

    Like

  13. Lovely narration of human emotion , fighting spirit and adaptability . Just could not hold back tears as your writing took us through this lovely journey . Sir sincere gratitude to all those into healthcare delivery 🙏🙏

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  14. महोदय आपने जो कार्य किया है अगर हर इन्सान ऐसा ही करने लग जाये तो हर तरफ मुस्कान ही मुस्कान हो जाये। आपने रोते को हंसना सिखाया है। आप धन्य है।

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  15. To tell a true story, one needs involvement, and if the story is of a patient’s journey through hope and despair, then one needs a battery of emotions, but if the story to be told is about a young girl, a cancer patient, limping and separated from her father as dictated by the unsympathetic Corona virus, then the story teller must be not just a master of emotions, but someone who can narrate the story of a MUSKAN from the depths of his heart, like only PANKAJ can. I write a lot of articles lately, but have no hesitation in admitting that I could hardly ever touch the levels that Dr. Pankaj Chaturvedi can. Even my best story would fall short, in comparison. Saludos!

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  16. A heart touching narration from a professionally highly competent noble soul full of love and compassion, empathy who going about doing service with a smile. Hats off to you Dr. Pankaj. In these difficult times, people like you are a beacon of hope for all.

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  17. It is such a heart touching story…emotions rolled down in tears….Dr Pankaj you are an inspiration for so many, a Leader in true sense, a dear friend for all; a fantastic, soft and kind hearted man. This is an amazing story.
    So much positivity you spread….People like you are God sent to spread this positiveness. Big Salute and a bow to you..
    Jai Hind!

    Like

  18. { The best way to forget your own unhappiness is by spreading happiness around you. Contentment is the byproduct of a constant tussle between expectations and availability. }
    Very well written sir,
    I wish people like you and Muskan & her loving father be around my day-to-day life.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Very inspiring Muskaan your attitude and compassion are adorable, proof that adversity brings out the best in the blessed ones….. well done dr

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  20. Pankaj , I wished more doctors had as high an Emotional Quotient as you !
    God bless you my dear friend!

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  21. Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi is an “ out of this world chemistry “. I have seen his work from close quarters while in FDA.. He had taken me for a round in his ward where oral cancer patients are treated. It was numbing. He looked at me and said- As a surgeon, I am doing what I can, but if FDA takes it upon itself, there will not be a single patient in this ward- Just by stopping tobacco abuse. That was not even his lookout, but he wanted to take a holistic approach to the disease. That is Dr Pankaj Chaturvedi for you. For everyone.
    But here, I want to make another point. Many a times, there is a huge mismatch between the name of a person and his deeds. Name may be Prakash, but there could be total Andha:kaar, name could be Vidya, but could be the most ignoramus person and so on….
    But here, the parents named this child ‘Muskan’. And she is living up to that name. And at such a young age. And when she herself is undergoing the biggest of challenges in her life.
    Hats off to the ‘Father’ as well as his ‘Daughter’..
    God should make both of them in huge numbers.

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    1. A heart wrenching & touchy story !Vivid description of a helpless child , father & the doctor all shackled by the prevailing situation.
      The love & the compassion of her doctor transformed a cancer patient into an unbelievably perfect caregiver. The tears kept drooling my cheeks.
      Wonderfully written..will surely look forward to your future narrations . May God bless you both !

      Like

  22. Oh I had tears in my eyes, can’t even imagine that pain and also that courage and maturity of that kind young soul who preferred to be real angel in that adverse situation. Sometimes too much of pain alter the soul more beautiful.
    Hats off to you Dr. Chaturvedi, you are Such kind person.
    Keep spreading hope and muskan🙏🏻
    Gratitude

    Like

  23. Compassionate Pankaj and many many more Muskaans required all over the world not only against COVID but also for resurgence of humanity, empathy and life in all homo sapiens!
    Kudos to Muskkan and Pankaj!!

    Like

  24. Pankaj you also were a very kind soul.
    I am very happy to know you have not changed. Keep up your generous and kind work.
    Warm regards

    Like

  25. Dr Pankaj, you have a unique ability of making emotions talk through words. Your work, your dedication is unparalleled and your writing adds to your healing touch. Thank you for spreading positivity in these tough times.

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  26. Thank you Dr Pankaj for sharing such a heartwarming situation in a time of despair and frustration for so many.

    Like

  27. Great reading .Sir you have touched the inner core of humanity.All through the article,there was a strong message -Stay positive,be humane.

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  28. Your muskan is epitome of humanity. Both of you have touched human souls .your heartfelt fatherly affection, and counselling and her payback by becoming herself a selfless care giver ignoring her own physical and emotional pain suggests divinity. I pray God for her family’s peace. And you are always admired of your earthy nature. May God empower you more and more to carry on with out restraints. Me proud to have a friend like you.

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  29. Respected Dr. Pankaj ji,
    You are not really hero but for every patient you are equal to GOD. In fact the gentleness and humanity which i see in you, one can’t express in words. One thing is sure, when doctor treat his/her patients with smiling face, 50% patients are cured. It’s really fact. But I’m sorry in present situation, all are after monetary gain. They just forget their duties towards the needy persons. Not only human beings but we have to see all living creatures (animals, Birds etc).
    Person like you are JEWELS in this word. I must appreciate and wish you all the best in performing all your duties.
    Jain Hind, Jai Bharat

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  30. Beautiful story, sir. I am a doctor working in a hospital which has a Corona ward, and found that I have lost fear of this disease in the last 2 months. It’s one of the many trade offs we make in this profession. Muskan’s story brought tears to my eyes. I salute you , too for being a brave Covid warrior. More power to the likes of you.

    Like

  31. Beautifully told, Dr. Pankaj. It will remain a bright spot in memory of these dismal days.
    I am a voice from the past

    Like

  32. Dear Dr Chaturvedi hats off to you and muskan, I really feel thrilled to see such real life heros, my daughter who strongly desires to work free for Covid affected people is trying to seek your blessings ,hope you will except it.

    Like

  33. My hats off to Dr Pankaj, really a great human. Highly motivational, heart touching and spiritually awakening real story.
    May God give us strength to emulate. Once again my appreciations to Dr Pankaj on his so compassinate and noble attitude.

    Like

  34. I have had the opportunity…. which I consider my good luck…. to have met Prof.Chaturvedi for a few minutes in my Microbiology Dept.chamber when he came to S.K.Medical College, Muzaffarpur to explore the idea of starting a TMC centre at Muzaffarpur.
    I have come across his post on WhatsApp in which he talks briefly about what is said in Bhagwat Gita…I loved it.
    Prof. Chaturvedi has a charming personality and this episode which he has described about Muskan shows he is at a different level than other mortals like us…who would just follow the SOP and consider it as a job well done.
    My salute to him & I pray that we also become kind hearted and compassionate like him.
    Dr.Anand Kumar Mishra.
    Retd.Prof.& HOD.
    Dept.of Microbiology.
    S.K.Mdical College.Muzaffarpur
    Mobile-9431460936

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  35. I have admired Dr Pankaj right from the beginning. Seldom does one come across a person who is professionally excellent and yet so humane. Muskan is a bright example of what one can do to ease the pain of others in spite of one’s own suffering, but the way Dr Pankaj has expressed it, makes the story touch one’s heart. The energy, empathy, enthusiasm of Muskan is worth emulation. I have one word for Dr Pankaj-RESPECT.

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  36. Iam amazingly witnessing a simillar situation ,my cousin sister has covid and her daughter had OS hand ,amputated..and I also admitted with covid ,alone abroad ….life is beautiful yet and with God’s grace and acceptance ,all will be well as per His desire ,God bless us all….
    This story inspired me and brought me tears and admiration for all cancer doctors particularly of your institute ,you are special God’s ,🙏❤️

    Like

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