Just one question!
"Here's your assignment for tomorrow," the editor handed over an invitation for a press conference to Mihir.
The cub reporter ran his eyes through the invitation. The press conference was called by a team of doctors from a local hospital which had recently performed a successful life-saving surgery, a kidney transplant, upon a 40-year-old woman and wanted to share this experience with the media.
"These doctors," the editor ground his teeth, "are publicity-crazy." "They perform a simple surgery, which even an intern can do without as much as batting an eyelid, but want the whole world to know so that they get more patients."
"Be sure to grill the doctors. Ask them what is so fantastic about a kidney transplant that can be performed in any goddamn hospital," the editor advised Mihir. "Yes, sir! I will ask them some pointed questions," the enthusiastic cub reporter gushed and hurried off to his desk to browse the internet on the subject of kidney transplants.
Things were looking bright for Mihir. Fresh from the journalism school, he had landed this job at the city edition of the national daily. In fact, he had completed his internship from the same organization during the course of which he had written some juicy articles. The editor had taken a liking for him and the job was his even before the results of the journalism examination were declared.
"Members of the Press, I would like to introduce Sangeeta to all of you," Dr Deshpande told the scribes who had gathered for the press conference. The entire team of doctors, which had performed the surgery, was present on the occasion and so were Sangeeta and her husband Sushil.
Sangeeta was born with only one kidney, Dr Deshpande continued. "It would not be out of place to mention a little about the personal lives of Sangeeta and Sushil," the doctor said with a smile while nodding at the couple.
"The two first met each other in college. Their friendship developed into love and they have been married for the last fifteen years. Both of them are 40."
"Before the marriage, Sangeeta had, of course, informed Sushil about her single-kidney status."
A person with a single kidney can and does lead a healthy normal life, Dr Deshpande told his audience. But, a few years after the marriage, Sangeeta contracted glomerulonephritis, an inflammatory disease that developed insidiously and without symptoms over the years, leading ultimately to renal failure only recently, Dr Kulkarni, another member of the team, told the reporters. A kidney transplant was her only hope.
"Ladies and gentlemen, a kidney transplant is a much simpler surgery compared to the transplant of other organs," Dr Deshpande once again took command over the proceedings. "Our objective in calling this press conference is not to highlight the surgery as such," he told his audience.
"Theirs being a love marriage, Sangeeta and Sushil had not accorded much importance to the difference in their blood groups. So, although, Sushil had wanted to donate one of his kidneys, this was not possible owing to the different blood type of his wife," Dr Deshpande informed.
"When Sangeeta came to us, we also had a 50-year-old man who had met with an accident." The man was ultimately declared brain-dead and his relatives expressed their willingness to donate his organs. His blood group matched with Sangeeta's. "Unfortunately, ladies and gentlemen, medical ethics prevents us from revealing the name of this generous donor," Dr Deshpande told the reporters who were still bewildered about the purpose of the press conference. The common-place kidney transplant was unlikely to make an interesting story for the readers.
There was a growing restlessness among the scribes and few of them left as their editors would not have afforded more than two paragraphs to this story. Newspaper space was valuable and advertisers have to cough up thousands of rupees for a column-centimeter of space in the rags.
"Distinguished members of the Press, there are lakhs and lakhs of patients with terminal kidney ailments in the country who need kidneys from donors," there was an animated look on Dr Deshpande's face as he tried to bring home the urgency of the situation. "But, there are very few donors," he let his hands fall by his side as a sign of helplessness. "If only more and more donors like this accident victim come forward, we can save thousands of lives."
"Ladies and gentlemen, it is for this purpose that we have called this press conference. We wish to spread awareness among the people through the columns of your esteemed newspapers," Dr Deshpande said.
A few more journalists, who had stayed back in the hope of some last-minute breakthrough announcements, also left after it became evident that there was not much to follow. There was no news!
"I throw the floor open to questions," Dr Deshpande said. "Ladies and gentlemen if you have any questions, you may direct them to any of the team members or even to Sangeeta and her husband."
"When was the surgery performed?" one of the reporters asked in order to keep the momentum going. The surgery was performed exactly one month back, the questioner was told.
How is the patient progressing? Someone else wanted to know. "Sangeeta has responded marvelously to the surgery but she will have to stay on immunosuppressants for a long time to prevent her body from rejecting the foreign kidney, Dr Deshpande answered while emphasizing that if at any point Sangeeta stopped taking the medications, rejection could occur, even ten or fifteen years after the transplant.
There was a lull after this and nobody else seemed to have any queries. "If there are no more questions, I think we will call an end to the press conference and proceed for lunch," Dr Deshpande said.
Mihir suddenly remembered his editor's advice. He had to ask some pointed questions. "I have a question .... Just one question," he blurted out.
"Yes?" Dr Deshpande looked at his watch but allowed the question nevertheless. "You say the kidney has been donated by a brain-dead person. But, is brain death a sufficient criterion for declaring a person dead?" Mihir wanted to know.
"This question has been resolved for once and all," Dr Deshpande answered. Today, both the legal and medical communities use "brain death" as a legal definition of death, he pointed out. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, we will proceed for lunch," Dr Deshpande gently, but firmly, called an end to the news conference.
"You are set to become a famous person. Tomorrow, all the newspapers will flash your name," Sushil said looking at his wife when they reached home.
There was a wan smile on her lips. Something seemed to be troubling her. "Do you think the man was really dead?" Sangeeta asked Sushil.
"The man who donated his kidney."
"Of course, it is the doctors who declared him dead."
"But, the reporter was not convinced."
"Oh! He is only a kid. What does he understand of medical science?"
"The reporter's words have created doubts in my mind," Sangeeta said mournfully.
"Forget about the reporter. The doctors had declared the man dead," Sushil repeated. "Besides, the man's relatives consented to the organ donation. You have received a kidney while other needy patients may have received his other organs. What a wonderful person! Even after death, he has saved a few lives." "I, too, have resolved to donate my organs after death," Sushil declared.
Thereafter, however, Sangeeta's health took a turn for the worse. She, who had been recovering so well, became susceptible to infections of all sorts. The doctors were perplexed. It was as if Sangeeta herself had no further will to live.
Eight months after that press conference, Mihir was in the office busy filing a report on the civic body's inefficiency in clearing the garbage when his editor called him to his cabin.
"Mihir, it was you who had covered the kidney transplant press conference a few months back, was it not?" the editor wanted to know.
Mihir remembered the incident. It had not been so long back as to fade away from memory. "Yes," he said.
"Well, there is a press statement from the hospital saying the patient has died. Since we had carried the story then, I suppose we must devote some space to the news of the death also," the editor said while handing over the press statement to the reporter.
"By the way, the city roads are in really bad condition. With the monsoons due for arrival soon, I think we must do a series of stories on the poor condition of the roads. Start working on them," the editor told Mihir and dismissed him.
Mihir returned to his desk and resumed his attack on the computer's keyboard in order to complete the unfinished story on the city's garbage problem.