It looked like any ordinary day – the same room, the same operating table, the same pain. The patient waiting for medical care even nursed a common injury – a fracture – and the solution was also simple – she needed a cast. But the moment I uttered the word plaster she screamed and jumped from her chair as if she had seen a cockroach. (Now, the truth is that I, too, would have done the same if it was a roach!)
With some effort, we calmed her down and I spoke to her attendant, explaining that she needed a plaster to set right the fracture. But when I mentioned the word plaster she became restless and started screaming again. It dawned on me that she had an irrational fear of putting any part of her body in a cast.
I tried to reassure her saying that it was not unusual for a patient to feel anxious, but it would help her heal. She was unconvinced. Instead, she shared with me that when she sees her hand or arm enclosed and immobile, or even if she sees someone else’s in a plaster, she imagines that the individual’s life or soul is trapped inside and s/he will suffocate and die.
Now, what she was experiencing was something uncommon. It was a psychological phenomenon similar to claustrophobia, which I termed PLASTEROPHOBIA.
The essence of the matter was that she had a phobia and probably needed some psychiatric help, but I had to put that plaster! What came to my aid was my Indian skill of JUGAD. There is a material called fibreglass, which works in a way similar to plaster but the colour and consistency is totally different. We showed the patient the pink-coloured fibreglass and made her touch it to feel the jelly-like consistency. That reassured her and she agreed to go through the procedure. Then, instead of a cotton bandage, we used a long sock (what we call a stockinette) to wrap the forearm. I requested her friend to keep her engaged in conversation throughout the procedure. I quickly prepared the cast out of fibreglass, manipulated and placed the limb in the desired position, and quickly wrapped it with the crepe bandage. She cooperated fully since she was under the illusion that her ‘nice’ doctor had done away with the ‘plaster’!
Unfortunately, just when everything was going smoothly, an enthusiastic aide loudly enquired, “Is the plastering done?”
No sooner had the word plaster reached her ears than she became restless again and was yelling and jumping. The entire staff had to hold her hands and legs so that I could complete the job.
When everything was done and I had explained what medicines she needed to take and was bidding her goodbye, at the door, she turned back, smiled and said, “What do you think I am going to do? Keep it this way? Nooo.. I am going to remove it as soon as I go home!”