Monthly Archives: November 2015

Take a Break, Doctor!

“Are you going to Switzerland, Doctor?” asked this business-class patient with a pregnant smile upon his face.
When I told him I was on leave the next week, he thought what most patients naturally think about doctors: “Every doctor gets free luxury trips to coveted destinations sponsored by pharma industry”.
I did not explain to him that my mother had a surgery planned.
Everybody needs a leave, a break, a vacation. Sometimes for problems, illnesses etc. in family. Sometimes a cut off from the routine and mundane. Sometimes to find oneself, sometimes to lose oneself. Sometimes to run away from it all, sometimes to meet life.
A doctor cannot. Wonder why?
There are scheduled follow-ups, complicated cases, people on dangerous prescriptions, admitted patients all the year round, from which one cannot detach completely. Even when on leave, a doctor in-charge who cares about patients prefers to be somehow reachable, albeit via assistant or hospital or email.

Imagine watching a beautiful sunset or being in the arms of your beloved at the dawn, and receiving calls about critical cases, complications or prescription renewals. The moment and the life in it dies instantly.

Many specialists in fact get maximum patient communication via email, whatsapp, sms or calls on Saturdays and Sundays, thinking that the doctor will be free. The doctor, catching up with the missed life among family and children gets worst irritable on the weekends. His cellphone, kept ‘ON’ for the admitted critical cases becomes a mass communication device on weekends.

When a teacher visited recently, he asked what only a parent will ask: “Do you find time for yourself?”.
When one becomes a doctor, they almost always (rare exceptions) sacrifice any other talent they may have, like singing, music, writing, sports, research etc. Seeking solace only in patient happiness (in most cases) or financial success or fame (in some), a doctor then becomes a “Medical Practice Machine” for his / her own happiness. This is the death of the non-doctor individual in a doctor.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Hence the thought: Take a break, doctor.
Many students ask in curiosity to their favorite teachers: What would you have preferred to become if not a doctor / a neurologist etc. (Formula 1 Racer, Singer, Running an infant daycare, Connoisseur of love and peace, Professor of poetry, Philosopher, Vagabond, Scientist, Monk… so many things I wanted to be have stayed within, the smoke sometimes sizzles at midnight.)

In any field when you achieve excellence, it is always at the cost of many sacrifices, especially your chances and wish of doing well in other fields. But about the doctor, the concept has a caveat: that it is no more as rewarding as it was few years ago. A patient becoming a customer has hurt both ends, and this appears irreversible. Now that this is a professional activity, successful recovery is just “buying the treatment” for most. Thankfulness sinks in the bills. So even in a great recovery, good treatment, survival and cure of a patient, the doctor is “just doing his / her job, and my insurance is paying for it” is the usual attitude.
Only the few doctors who “enjoy” the process of clinical evaluation, correct diagnosis and good treatment response or surgery can find hidden solace in this process, also passing it on to newer generations. Others run frustrated from degree to degree, hospital to hospital, or patient after patient. Add conference after conference for some. For the nonclinical and paraclinical specialties, it has become a humiliating task to apply to the business oriented set-ups and keep shifting base in search of career.

Of all the professionals, doctors are the only ones who can never get “meaningful” vacations. Even the tiny time they are on leave is polluted by interference. This practice is more so in India, where individual practice culture and “salary-less” pay structures in most big hospitals precludes the possibility of “handing over the charge” to another doctor while one can enjoy a break. This is more so as one climbs higher in a specialty, as equivalent skills become rarer. A doctor on leave anywhere in the world MUST make arrangement for someone else to attend patients in his / her absence. Why only a doctor? With millions of court cases pending, why not everyone in the judiciary? Why not everyone in all departments in the police and government, where “Sahab is on leave, come back after few weeks” is the standard answer? Why doesn’t every other department dealing with public tasks work 24 / 7 as responsibly too?

And the irony of all this is that most of the society thinks it is for “earning more via illegal means” that every doctor is busy!

There are many hidden assets within every person. Doctors should not “cage” themselves in medical practice. They must learn also to “switch off” being a doctor for atleast a few weeks every year and be a “Normal Human Being” who can stop thinking of death and disease 24/7. They should breathe in the fresh air of being oneself, work upon their own good health, family’s expectations and inner desires to “catch on with life one day”.

The scariest fact: that as general life expectancy is increasing, the life expectancy, stress morbidity and mortality among medical professionals is on a decline. Starting from 12th standard where medical entrance has a “killing” competition, the highest levels of stress in a doctor’s life NEVER go down.

Sacrificing life is not worth it, Doctor. One can definitely be a better doctor with lesser stress.

Catch Up! Take a break!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The Medical Blame Game

 

Day 1: Patient gasping in Casualty.

“Doctor, Please do whatever is the best for him” said the tearful daughter and accompanying family in casualty. Multiple phone calls by medical, paramedical and nonmedical relatives about this patient.

Day 3: Patient recovering,  stable but has fever in ICU.

“Doctor, how come he has fever in hospital? How long will it take to respond?”

Day 4: Insurance rejected due to some preexisting addiction / illness.

“Doctor, can’t you change the details on his case paper?” .

Upon denial to write false details:

“Doctor the bills are very high. Insurance is rejected, please give us concessions”.

Day 7; Patient went home walking. Relative fuming and cursing the doctor for the bills.

“Were all these tests necessary? Why? Explain why each test done and medicine given to him”.

Another:

“My life is screwed because of this procedure” said this 35 year old, who had undergone an arthroscopy on a knee. Prior to this he had had no problems, he described. His limp was disproportionately worse given his normal examination, he walked almost normal if distracted, and most of his complaints “since after scopy” were unlikely to be related to the knee in any way : giddiness, imbalance, neck and back pain, numbness in the other leg etc. Many specialists have found his examination normal, and most relevant tests are normal too.

Upon further “detailed” assessment, he has had umpteen loans and is in a financial mess. He has fights and litigations related to property with his family. He needs medical certificates often to skip court dates. He has been stressed and depressed for many years now. He has found his solution in the medical blame game.

This “Chakra” has become routine in almost all corporate and other hospitals now. Misplaced anger against the doctor for everything medical has become a fashion. Here are some reasons patients / relatives hold the doctor responsible and waste time at both ends. Possible solutions are also mentioned.

*Patient’s illness (Not the doctor’s fault).

*Complications arising from past known or unknown, neglected illnesses (Not the doctor’s fault, do regular check ups and modify lifestyle).

*Complications arising from addictions, unhealthy lifestyle, self-neglect or self-medication (Not the doctor’s fault. Quit addictions, take good care of your body and mind).

*No response or poor response to the treatment  (Not always the doctor’s fault: take another opinion too).

*Prolonged hospital stay (No patient is forced to stay in any hospital, one can take the patient home or to another hospital, doctor whenever they wish).

*Unforeseen complications in the hospital like infection, blood clots, aspirating food into windpipe, bleeding, reaction to medicines etc. (Most doctors take precautions to prevent and promptly attend all these, but cannot be held responsible for any of these. There are rare cases where “unthoughtful” actions by doctors may result  in medical complications, which ofcourse is the doctor’s responsibility).

*Any new medical condition arising. Any person anywhere can have heart attack, stroke, fits or many other sudden medical emergencies. Patients admitted in hospitals are not free of such occurrences, especially the elderly, who have more chances of new problems and worsening of old problems.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

*Age-related decline in the patient’s health (Not the doctor’s fault). Many 70 or 80 year old patients and their relatives expect that if they do not have diabetes, high blood pressure or addictions, they should stay forever young, and as active. Our body starts to wear and will continue to, in every case, irrespective of our intellectual, educational, socio-political of financial status. Accept.

*Insurance being declined: The insurance companies have their own way to assess and sanction funds for a patient’s admission, upon which the treating doctor has no control. Insurance is rejected in many cases because of prior addictions, undisclosed medical conditions, limited coverage etc.(Not the doctor’s fault).

*“Cashless admission and treatment” is an alluring term used by many companies that mislead the patient / family into thinking that “Every treatment upon earth is available indefinitely without any payment for every medical condition” for them, and as the patient is ill, the shocked and panicking family misdirects all the anger of “rejected insurance coverage” upon the treating doctor.

*Worsening with some medication: many neurological conditions are treated with medicines that may be double-edged, causing opposite or unpredictable actions in a given patient. We have not yet understood Human Brain and its functions completely, and the standard treatments are based upon years of experience in this field. No one can guarantee a predictable response of many medicines used for most conditions. (Not the doctor’s fault).

*In all serious medical conditions, there always is a risk of a complication either due to the condition or during the procedure / treatment / surgery. If this risk is to be avoided completely, one must not go to the hospital at all. Almost all doctors and hospitals explain this risk, obtain consents for any planned treatment, but still the relatives almost always hold the doctor responsible for any complication arising. Not all complications can be predicted for any medical condition.

*Death is universal, more common among the elderly and the sick, especially trauma, heart and brain related illnesses. The doctor cannot be automatically held responsible for every hospital death. Many use a patient’s death or medical complication to claim non-payment of bills, threatening defamation. This has become quite common, oiled by some political clans. Death is a complication of many apparently simple diseases, but if the doctors start mentioning that for every patient, it will be a mentally traumatic and exaggerated legal precaution.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

*There is no justification of medical negligence. It is the responsibility of the treating doctor to properly examine the patient, do the necessary tests, advise and explain the illness, treatment, and wherever possible the usual complications.  It is also the doctor’s responsibility to communicate with the relatives of admitted patients everyday atleast once, and answer any relevant queries. If any complications arise, or if the patient is critical, the responsible and well behaved relative must be informed in writing, and given an option for second opinion. A patient must be able to go to the Medical Director in every hospital and sort out / file complain if medical negligence is suspected, and must also receive an answer as early as possible. “Violence because of grief / bereavement / emotional state” is unjust in all cases.

*If the Judge decides the case against someone, is it justified to beat up the lawyer or the police officer? Do people break the courts or government offices or press for some mistake? Then why this different approach towards the Doctors or Hospitals? Someone’s getting sick, developing a complication or not having money for treatment  is NOT the doctor’s fault. In many cases doctors do not own the hospitals and have no control over the billing process.

Issued in a hope to improve doctor-patient dialogue and explain what the doctor cannot be held responsible for. Wishing best health and happiness to all doctors and patients!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The Doctor India Needs Most

The Doctor India Needs Most.Photo 13-11-15, 23 58 36a

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“It’s high time you dropped a big stone upon her head” said the doctor.

Shocked to the core, I looked up to find all three of them heartily laughing: the doctor, the patient and the relative.

This was a 92 year old lady, who had seen Doctor P. D. Purandare for most of her adult life as her primary care physician. She was still healthy otherwise, but often complained of “feeling not perfect, occasional headaches, lack of sleep, reduced appetite etc.”, mostly age related and chronic complaints resistant to most commonly used medicines. The daughter in law, obedient and polite, but fed up with her “whining” mother in law, had asked doctor PDP if he couldn’t “permanently cure” her symptoms. The ever smiling, 70 year old family physician who was known to make even patients on their deathbeds laugh, had replied “It’s high time you dropped a stone upon her head”.

The old lady was unaffected. Education and “legal awareness” had not yet spoiled the friendly doctor-patient relationship by then. She touched the doctor’s face with gratitude. “I am sure I will not die as long as you are around, Doctor. Don’t teach such things to my Sunbai (Bahu / Daughter in law)” replied the old lady, laughing out of her edentulous mouth, a cute laughter that offends nobody, a privilege only of the very old.

I was on a vacation after my final year MBBS exams, and having no daytime friends (explainations later), went to one of the most favourite people in my life: Dr. P. D. Purandare, a general practitioner and family physician who practiced in the small and (then) backward / orthodox town of Nanded. His clinic was an open-for- all walk-in all 7 days, 11 AM till 11 PM. The only rule was the waiting number system. Next patient was the only VIP, whoever you happened to be.

At around every midnight, Dr. PDP dropped me home after the last patient left. There was never any haste at all, the last patient got the same fresh and relaxed doctor that the first one did. Dr. PDP lived his life in his medical practice. Once I asked him why he chose to practice in Nanded while his hometown was the big and developed famous city of Pune. His answer had no flavoured ego, pride or hypocrisy: “Because there was only one family physician here, there was a need for more, given the population” he replied.

He had studied his Medicine in Lucknow. He practiced a few years in East Africa, then returned to India. A scholar in many disciplines especially music and philosophy, extremely well read, fluent in most Indian major languages, he was the only person I have seen
who entered anyone’s hPhoto 13-11-15, 23 56 34aeart freely and spread joy there.

My parents took me to him right from my infancy for any health issues. Vaccination onwards, he had grown me up to a robust health. Whenever I had holidays while in Medical College, I went to attend his OPD. There was so much to learn about humanity and medicine from him. In spite of being a very scientific doctor and a royal human being, he treated everyone as his equal. I have never seen him disturbed or angry. Like James Bond, his humour sprung forth like a fountain in the most unlikely and disturbing situations, and it was only later that people realised that it was that humour which broke the ill spell on that moment. Never cheap but never also mild, his stinging comments usually made people blush. He donned the magic of good sarcasm that left no bruised egos.

He never asked for money from any patient. Most patients went themselves and paid to his compounder HariSingh. Regularly following up patients were supposed to make entries in their own diaries about how much they owed to the doctor and pay as and when possible. People usually paid once or twice in a year, he never saw their books. HariSingh collected the money and hande
d it over to Dr. PDP. Of course many people duped him. Even in that pre-cellphone era, people called him up on all days and nights, and visited his home for emergency and ease both, but his calm was seldom offended.

One very poor man came with his daughter of about 21, told the doctor about her constant headaches, also adding details about his financial status, that her marriage was held up thanks to his poverty. Dr. PDP wrote the prescription after examining the young girl, now visibly embarrassed by her father’s disclosure. The father pulled out his reluctant wallet from the depths of his clothes. “How much?” he asked. Dr. PDP, with no high-handed expression upon his face, said “Don’t worry.. You don’t pay.” As the hefty farmer father started sobbing out of gratitude, Dr. Purandare asked him if he can please borrow some betel nuts (supari) from him, which had accompanied the wallet from his pocket. Laughing and crying at the same time, the father gave the “supari” to Dr. PDP and touched his feet, asked his daughter to do the same, and told her “This is where they say God is”.

One of the best habits I learned from Dr. PDP was to never count the money someone handed over in good faith. Trust was his second na
ture, and patients swore by his integrity. “It will all stay here, not with you or me” he winked when anyone requested him to count the money.

A visibly shaking Sikh man, walked in, bending forwards and walking very slowly, his actions frozen intermittently, and voice almost inaudibly low. Dr PDP explained to me the classical symptoms of Parkinsonism. A decade later, learning advanced Neurology in Canada, I often wondered how exact and ahead of time was this general practitioner in a small town in India, and what a sad destiny that there was no one around him then to applaud all the talent he had! This, I know even now, is the case of so many excellent clinicians, general practitioners and family physicians in India, whose medical talent goes unnoticed and unacknowledged just because the society is yet to wake up to it.
****
“Your son is unlikely to survive”
I heard the physician (Dr. AA) tell my parents. I heard my mother wail and my father sob, and in a few minutes my mom was frantically calling one of our neighbours: “Please get a rickshaw and go to Dr. Purandare, ask him I have begged him to run here at once”. Mr. Raghvendra Katti, my father’s favourite student, went in heavy rains upon his Luna moped to fetch Dr. PDP.

It was just after my second year MBBS exam. I had developed typhoid fever, and late during recovery the fever had suddenly shot up one day, and I had become delirious. My consciousness was fluctuating, and highest antibiotics were on. There was a suspicion that something was wrong, but nobody could identify what. Three specialists had already asked my parents to shift me to civil hospital ICU, fearing bad outcome. Fever went upto 105 dF.

Dr. PDP came, all wet and tense. After going through all details and examining me, he asked the treating doctor to give me a shot of steroid. “But he may worsen with steroid” said the treating doc who had a higher degree, and refused to give me the injection. As my mom insisted, he wrote a note on paper that Dr. PDP will be responsible for any consequences. Everyone signed it. Then they gave me a shot. Within an hour, the fever started subsiding. By three hours, I was feeling better. He sat besides me, whistling.

“Chai pilao (Get me some tea)” he smiled as he told my crying parents “Ye saala wapas aagaya (This idiot has returned)”. The physician apologised to him for the “legal” note. “It’s ok, doc, he has reacted to something. Recurring typhoid fever does not shoot up this sudden”. Dr. PDP said. It was later found that the IV fluid was impure. Just changing that made a difference (The company was later banned).

He gave me his old “Savill’s” textbook of clinical medicine as a birthday gift. It is one of the most beautiful clinical textbooks I ever read!

“Har Bandar ka Madaari (A magician who handles all types of monkeys)” was his favourite expression to describe himself as a general practitioner. “You must know basic treatments of everything” he taught me. India needs many many thousand Dr. Prabhakar Purandares today, and also the same patient-doctor relationship where the patient had equal responsibility of faith and trust as the doctor, and both carried it graciously.

He initiated me during my undergraduate days into philosophy, with Jiddu Krisnamurthy, Ashtavakra Geeta, Osho Rajneesh and then Stephen Hawking. When I told him I actually met Dr Stephen Hawking, he was as happy and proud as my father would be. He still prays, meditates and laughs everyday, and makes everyone around him laugh too. He has retired, and lives happily in Nanded.

Everytime we meet, he turns into the Master once again:
“When you realize that all the diseases and diagnoses are not in the books, you become a mature doctor. The disease in mind is far more difficult to treat than that in the body. The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions”. His teachings are etched upon my brain.

Once in a very bad, low phase of life, deserted and hurt by the way I was treated by my own, I went to him and broke down. This feeling of being isolated and tortured for being different in my thinking is unbearable. He just sat besides me, didn’t say a word till I stopped crying.

Then he said:
“Pick up the immortals among those who you want your certificates from”.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Negligence cases deserving severe punishment.

Negligence cases deserving severe punishment.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A police sub inspector in civil dress, his wife and three kids aged 8, 5 and 1 were brought to casualty. All profusely bleeding. My job as an intern was to secure IV line and stop bleeding. As the CMO questioned the PSI, we all realised as suspected from the stink that the police officer was drunk. He had run into a braking truck from behind. One kid and the wife died the same night. He created a ruckus in his drunk state, threatening to kill everyone in the casualty. “If my wife dies, I will see to it that your life is ruined” he threatened to the CMO. The CMO kept on doing his duty, stressed and hurt. We were all real scared next few days. Everyone sympathises with such a loss. No one will aid or enjoy anyone’s death in a hospital.
Then why this curse of blames?

“This happened due to that doctor’s wrong treatment” : common words now heard in many clinics daily. Who causes maximum deaths due to negligence? Can only a doctor cause medical negligence? No.

These medical negligence cases must be punished too, with bad press, crores of rupees in fines, and public humiliation. You be the judge who is guilty:

Teenager son of an MLA. Played with wild snakes as a hobby, proudly encouraged by this MLA. Bitten by a cobra, landed in icu critical. A patient on ventilator was ‘shifted out early’ to accomodate the MLAs son.

Doctor advised a blood thinning medicine to prevent clots after diagnosing clotting disorder,. Patient went with her husband to a quack, took unknown herbal medicine and stopped blood thinner. Developed strokes, now in a vegetative state.

Patient advised to quit alcohol,,as it caused fits. Counselled with family and friends. In a week had alcohol with same friends, had fits, died in casualty.

Diabetic, told to control diet, continued to binge-eat sweets, lovingly cooked by wifey. Landed in coma due to very high blood sugars.

Pet dog, unimmunised, bit many on the same day, the dog died in three days. One diabetic patient bit by this dog died of sepsis / infection (not rabies). Immense horror among the ten-odd families of bitten members till date after a year.

Kid aged 14, parents allowed him to ride two wheeler on road without licence, killed on spot colliding with a truck. Toddler unwatched on the road died, run over by a truck.

60 year old Mother has giddiness for three days, son and daughter in law not free till fourth day to take her to hospital. Dies in casualty due to stroke.

Patient advised not to fast as it may increase chances of having fits. Fasted and landed in ICU with status epilepticus (a series of continuous fits).

Traffic police at a crowded junction busy with his “routine” away from his spot. Head on collision, two dead.

Unfortunately, in almost all above cases, the treating doctors were beaten up, casualty staff and hospitals vandalised, doctors sued, bad press judged an entire profession almost like a criminal, for not saving the victim.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Often the relatives refuse to take patients to higher centers, expecting “big, advanced treatments and impractical outcomes” from low-cost, small nursing homes not equipped with specialty facilities, then end up vandalising or blaming such set-ups upon inevitable disappointment. Missed medicine, overdose, unobserved children, helpless neglected elderly parents, smoking, alcohol, traffic accidents all cause millions of deaths. So do delayed admissions, some herbals and “unknown” medicines, hunger, poverty, stress at home and workplace.

But it is the “death in hospital” that alone matters, and by default the blame is pinned upon the doctor!

Some actors can kill, rape, go naked, smoke, drink, race, gamble, pee in public, set records for drunken misdemeanours on and off screen, knowing that most illiterate and immature populations imitate them blindly. But they will tell the nation how the medical profession (for which they themselves did not opt in spite of excellent merit in school or in some cases even college) should behave and treat patients!

The few honourable judges who have now realised the “blackmail potential” of medical negligence cases, have fortunately started referring these cases to panels of medical experts before concluding and fixing charges. The only maturity issue that remains is about local goons and politicos with flitting loyalties looking for publicity at the cost of the harmless and intellectual population of doctors. These goons turn the helpless frustration, panic reaction towards tragedy and poverty of our society into anger against doctors and hospitals. As long as there are sane people in the responsible media, there is good hope.

Doctors must start recording without bitterness, any hostile tendencies, lies, deviation from duties towards the patient, advised and declined tests and treatment, neglect and avoidance patterns to provide adequate care for the patient by the relatives. Also the exact circumstances of onset of the problems (patient was drunk / drugged / under medication effect / fasting / missed medicine) etc. and relevant past that may have contributed to the event. This will minimise the allegations and misrepresentation of facts.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Ofcourse the doctors must also discharge their duty with the highest standards of practice possible in their set-up. They must communicate well and explain the condition atleast once to the concerned relatives. They must behave courteously, sympathetically and try to understand and forgive the panic states of relatives within the sphere of civilised behaviour. We all love our patients. But like in every other relationship, we fail to say it aloud and make it clear with our behaviour, thanks to heavily stressful and inadequate lives we lead. Let us make an effort on our side to take one more step in the direction of kindness and understanding, in a hope of saving this profession from defamation at the hands of middlemen.

Let us make a greater effort to tell the society that it is only a doctor who will never intend harm. The only reliable rescue from the clutches of death, even a doctor fails sometimes. The effort has to be recognised if not always rewarded, but never suspected.

Negligence, you see, is easy to pin only upon the doctor.
All others are forgiven any number of deaths in all other types of negligence.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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