'Unusual' last request to NHS doctor before coronavirus patient put on ventilator

26 March 2020, 13:03

It didn't become clear until later on why the wife of Dr Mitra's patient wanted to bring him curry. File pic
It didn't become clear until later on why the wife of Dr Mitra's patient wanted to bring him curry. File pic. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

An NHS doctor has revealed why a wife's "unusual" request to feed her husband a curry before he was placed on a ventilator would be so important if it was "the last time they speak".

Anu Mitra, an emergency physician at Imperial College NHS Trust in London, said the anaesthetist he was working with "understandably got a bit annoyed" at the insistence from the patient's wife to deliver a lamb curry to the ward.

He said: "[Rapid Sequence Intubation] is a really high risk procedure, who on Earth would you multiply the risk with a stomach full of curry?"

According to Dr Mitra, his patient, a Bengali man, had been admitted to hospital alone with "nasty Covid-19 pneumonia" and needed to be anesthetised and placed on a ventilator.

"Before he was intubated, we let him call his wife," Dr Mitra said, adding: "He said a last few words and we explained to them what was happening."

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But, the doctor continued, "all the wife could say was: 'Can you feed him? Yes, but before you put him to sleep, can you give him a meal? If not, let me come up there with some lamb curry before you do."

The patient started telling his wife to "stop fussing" and that he would be "fine", and Dr Mitra said he even found the insistence "a bit odd" until thinking later about his family.

"Bengali women," he said, "as in many cultures, express their love for their family through food."

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Recalling a memory from earlier in the week with his 75-year-old mother, he added: "I was reminded of it this weekend with my mum's utter determination to send us some curry, despite my protestations - and also my refusal to put her at risk by going anywhere near their house.

"In the end, I let her pay a minicab driver to drive across London to drop it outside our house.

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"She knew we weren't going hungry but she needed to show us love through food."

Turning back to his patient - now battling coronavirus while on a ventilator - he said: "My patient's wife wanted him to know he was loved by ensuring he was fed.

"I hope he recovers so that she can cook him a lamb curry again."