Monthly Archives: November 2017

The Richest Doctors

The Richest Doctors

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“He needs an urgent bypass surgery. Very risky, high chances of death on table.” the cardiologist told us.

My friend’s father, a businessman, was admitted just after midnight for chest pain and breathlessness. The cardiologist rushed to the hospital within an hour and arranged for an agiography. As my friend’s father did not have any cash upon him, and neither my friend nor myself had sufficient amount in the bank, we requested the cardiologist to please proceed without deposits (most hospitals charge the complete bill to the doctor if the patient does not pay). I told the cardiologist that I was working as a resident doctor. He told me not to worry, signed on the paper that he will be responsible for the bills, and the patient was wheeled into the cathlab. When he came out, the doc told us that patient will need an urgent bypass surgery. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

My friend and his mother were devastated. They were passing throough a bad financial phase, and had no funds ready. The patient himself had taken big loans from few business partners / friends, and started a new venture recently.

“You find out the best heart surgeon, we will try and arrange something” my friend told me while his mother kept on repeating prayers, crying in a corner of the waiting hall.

I spoke to my teachers and found out two names who had excellent results in cardiac surgery. Of course they were fully busy, appointments were difficult to obtain, and the surgical costs were an embarrassing thing to bargain: knowing that the best will come at a cost.

“Don’t bargain, I want my father to be operated by the best, I don’t want the doctor to feel that we will skimp. I will arrange somehow”my friend told me.

The best advantage of becoming a doctor came my way to help me: many medical doors open easily for the co-professionals as with any other profession. The same evening I was sitting in front of one of the best Cardiac surgeons in Mumbai with my friend. The VVIPs in the crowded waiting room angrily looked on at two youngsters allowed in ahead of them. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“He needs surgery urgently for sure. I will plan it tomorrow, although I will have to readjust my schedule, but you will have to shift him to this hospital where I am operating the other case too. We will arrange for the cardiac ambulance, don’t worry.”said the surgeon. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Sir, how much will be the charge?” I asked, hesitant and already scared of the answer.

He replied without a blink. Our hearts skipped a beat together, and my friend looked at the ground with wet eyes.

“Sir”, I said pleadingly “Can we get some discount?”

My friend squeezed my hand, and said firmly, but with tears: “No Sir, please proceed, please do the best for my father. We just want him to recover. We will arrange for whatever charges you say”.

“Don’t worry. Please sign the papers so my juniors will arrange to shift your father here early tomorrow morning. I will do my best”said the heart surgeon.

That night, my friend called up many relatives and his father’s friends to get some help. As expected he got none. But after an hour, he started receiving many calls from those who had lent money to his father. They wanted it back immediately. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

By early morning, most of those ‘friends’ from whom the patient had borrowed money gathered in the hospital. They had a meeting with my friend’s mother, who pleaded them and assured that all the money will be returned once the patient recovers.

“What’s the guarantee? We heard that he may die during the operation. We cannot afford that” said the calm leader of the group.

“Please don’t talk such words, I beg of you” cried the lady, visibly torn by what she was facing, “I will sell our house and return your money, we just need some help till his surgery. Please wait for a week”. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

As my angry friend got up to reply, his mother asked him to just shut up. She pleaded the group with folded hands “I promise you, we will sell our house and return your money”.

The group whispered for some time.

“We will wait only if your husband signs that on a bond paper before going in for the surgery. Otherwise we will block his ambulance”. The leader said.

While shifting the patient, a ‘break’ in the ambulance journey was arranged during which the patient on the stretcher was taken into a ‘friend’s’ home on the way to the hospital, made to sign various papers while still wearing his oxygen mask, and only then did the lenders allow him to be shifted to the next hospital. Business is business, and our society condones everything in the name of money, except when paying for health. Along with my friend, I earned quite a big scar that day.

He was taken in the Operation Theater. Inside, the cardiac surgeon’s junior told the boss about the horrific “break” they had to take. The cardiac surgeon didn’t react.

The surgery was successful, the patient was discharged in seven days. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The cardiac surgeon didn’t charge the patient. He did not mention it to us too, we came to know during discharge. We went again to thank him. He was smiling now.

“It’s Ok. Carry it forward” he told me, then turned to my friend “You too”.

We touched his feet and left.

As we finished our coffee that night at the famous cafe on Marine Drive, my friend told me “Earlier I thought there is no money in medical profession, you people work too hard for what you get. Doctors are kind of “Use and Throw“ community. Now I feel, you people are still the richest whether you earn or not! That cardiac surgeon, by just not charging my father even after saving his life, owns everything I will ever earn in my life! Thank you!”

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Based upon a true story.

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A Dangerous Disease Called ‘Relatives’

A Dangerous Disease Called ‘Relatives’
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“What all can happen, doctor?” asked the young lady accompanying her father.

He had had a vertigo for two years, now had developed headaches and had seen best of the specialists. Some of them had advised him an MRI scan, but the daughter who was “in-charge” of her father had decided to wait. They had undergone many treatments simultaneously: allopathic, Ayurvedic, Homeopathic, Herbal, Diet, plus various random suggestions by relatives (almost all patient’s relatives are experts on all medical topics except actually paying bills and donating blood).

The father, a victim of experimentation by a health enthusiast daughter whose profession was law, was visibly anxious and almost shaking.

After examining him, I told them that there were some soft signs, but also that a physical examination may often be inconclusive, hence it was wise to investigate. What must be done must be done. A true Saint, scientist, soldier or doctor will always live by those words. I must stress the need for the right investigations. I told the daughter that he must undergo a scan. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

That’s when she asked “What are the possibilities?”
Imagine an anxious person sitting in front of you, dead scared of death or illness. He / she is praying God or providence that the doctor does not use and scary words like cancer, heart attack, paralysis, dementia, parkinson’s or early death. No one likes these words, the doctor likes them least. Almost every doctor thinks of the patient’s mental status before choosing the words in such cases. Some patients can even commit suicides if they are too stressed with the fear of long / grave disease.

However, the hyper daughter refused to be subtle.
I told her “You can ask me all the questions you want. But please remember that some answers may scare the patient, Also, I may not have all the answers at this point.’

“Can this be something dangerous? Like cancer? Can this be an emergency? Can it cause death? If so we will do the MRI today itself. Otherwise we will wait.” She said.

To protect the patient from death, suffering and disease is a doctor’s duty, but the law does not allow the doctor to protect the patient from such insensitive relatives. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Madam, there are limitations of physical examination,and we cannot see inside his body. Sometimes we find things wrong inside that can be cured with the correct early treatment. That is the reason we have tests and scans”. I told her patiently.

“But what are the chances of this being a cancer or something life threatening? If at all the scan shows something dangerous, can you guarantee it will be cured?” she asked.

I gave another shot of adrenaline to my patience. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“How does that help you?” I asked her, “Even if the chance of a dangerous possibility is low, say 5 %, will you take a chance on your father’s life just to avoid investigations? How can I guarantee the treatment or cure of something we both don’t know yet? By the way, what is your objection to get his scans done?”

“We will do the scan if you say this is urgent” she said.

My patience kissed me a goodbye.

“It is indeed necessary, I cannot say it is urgent. Now I must see another patient.” I replied. Then looking at her anxious father, I reassured him “It is a very low chance that there will be anything dangerous. Please relax. And we have cures for many diseases now, I am with you. Don’t worry”.
“Then can we wait for the MRI?” the daughter was incurable.
“No” I replied, calling in another patient.

I received many messages for next few days from her and her invisible brother asking if the scan was really necessary, where was it done cheapest, etc. I didn’t reply.

They returned after a week. The MRI showed a tumor causing pressure effects on the vital areas of lower brain. This indeed was an urgency, if not emergency. I told the daughter so.

“How come he developed a tumor? He never had it earlier. No one in our family had it ever” she asked angrily, “Is it the side effect of all the medicines he has taken in last two years?”.

I had almost forgotten in which society I was practicing. Education does not always convert into common sense. Money, skimpiness and hatred replace logic here. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“In most cases, a brain tumor is not the effect of commonly used medicines. I don’t know the contents of all the medicines you tried upon him. But the delay in doing tests is one definite major factor that your father has suffered so long”. I told her. What must be said must be said!

She changed the topic, a knack every doctor must learn from some lawyers!

The patient has now undergone a surgery by one of the best neurosurgeons, and fortunately the tumor has turned out non cancerous. His headaches and vertigo have gone. However his anxiety and fear will take a long time to go, he is on the medication for that.

The daughter has changed a lot too. The last time she visited for her own headaches, I told her to get a check scan done, and she showed me the reports the same evening. They were normal, she is happy now!

Many patients suffer for years, develop disability and some die due to such dangerous relatives who experiment upon them, delaying investigations and treatment. The most common purpose is saving money, but there are also whims and illogical, dangerous treatments without the knowledge of the contents and interactions between medicines of different medical and quackery streams. The doctors who try hard to save the damage in the last moments often become victims of criticism. This dangerous disease called “Relatives” who suggest everything but disappear when the patient truly needs them has become rampant in our society!

As for my patience, I had to take it for a long night drive and feed it a lot of icecream that day to agree to return to stay with me again.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

(Yes, some doctors take advantage and earn money through tests. This is definitely wrong, but the price of delayed and denied tests is far more. In fact, many relatives make that an excuse to avoid spending for the tests. It is conveniently forgotten that almost all essential tests are available at govt. / charity hospitals at a negligible cost).

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Death and Disability by Overwork:  An Indian Diagnosis 

Death and Disability by Overwork:
An Indian Diagnosis
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We are helpless, our life has no worth in the eyes of authority “ said the school teacher.

He had recovered from unconsciousness just a few hours ago, his brain had developed huge clots due to thickening of blood, because he was dehydrated overworking. Due to back pressure generated in the blocked veins, there was bleeding in his brain.

“I was out on the election duty, and did not get time to eat or have water. I returned late night and felt nauseated because of the bus travel, so just had a little rice and slept off. The next morning I had terrible headache. Just after the breakfast the headache worsened and I started vomiting. As our leaves were canceled, it was compulsory to go to work. So in spite of the headache I went for a bath, then I don’t remember, till I woke up in the hospital”.

His wife continued: “I heard a big noise in the bathroom and rushed there, found him lying in a pool of blood, convulsing”. She paused to wipe tears, still unable to overcome the horror of that memory, then resumed: “I called our neighbors, one of them took us to the rural hospital in his tractor. They did a CT scan and started treatment “.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“But you are a school teacher, why were you doing an election duty?” I asked him.

“It is compulsory for all govt staff. We must comply or we won’t get our salaries or promotions.” He replied.

This wasn’t new. Doctors often attend many a police, labourers, and other “government service“ personnel serving either the state of central government (under different political parties), who drop either sick, unconscious or dead while overworking. The common factor is they are almost all low level desperate employees who cannot say ‘No’ to the forced additional work thrust unto them. I have never seen a senior officer or a politician coming to the hospital due to physical overwork. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

To add to the inequality, it is the senior officials / politicos, ministers who can avail of deluxe / higher budget private medical facilities including overseas medicare, whereas the actual ones who get sick shedding blood and sweat in the field are left at the mercy of scanty healthcare facility in government hospitals or low budget schemes at private hospitals. Much like the red light cars ferrying ministers getting preferences over even the ambulances for the poor.

Recently a police officer was brought by his colleagues, he had developed high blood pressure due to an extended duty. A blood vessel in his brain had ruptured, causing huge bleeding. With a great effort he recovered from the coma in few days, but his speech is now forever gone, and he is bedridden due to paralysis on one side. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Doctors working in different state / central hospitals too are not an exception. Many tasks / schemes / targets are mindlessly shoved into their routine, presuming that if someone is a government servant, he/ she is a slave to the whims of authorities who can order anything. Besides being taken for granted about 24/7 availability, besides completely ignoring the human right recommendations about working hours, the threatening, demeaning and pressurising humiliation continues almost in every field, where the lower you rank, the worst your slavery.

In a country with excess population, why should there arise a need for one person being burdened with the work of two or three? Why should a school teacher perform an election duty, population stats/ census duty, etc? Why should a police employee work beyond his / her physical capacity? Why cannot the governments hire more people in a country teeming with unemployed youths agitating about almost everything everywhere?© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

If someone wants to work extra for patriotic or financial reasons, they should be able to. But when one is forced to work beyond capacity and legitimate duty, we are encouraging not only health risks, but creating chances of nothing being done correctly. Stress is a major killer via diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and depression/ suicides, and while we encourage Yoga for stress relief, we must also reduce overloading one with the duties of three.

“I sympathise with your condition, you should recover well, but you must avoid such overworking now. Also never fast. Drink plenty of water. I feel bad about your extra duties.” I told him.

He smiled in embarrassment, and said “I feel ashamed that while I teach my students to stand against injustice and inequality, to courageously fight to set right what is wrong, I am myself a coward who cannot do so, for without this job I will not be able to survive. I want to be a good teacher, I love teaching and my students love me very much, but inside, I feel I am lying to them when I accept this humiliation by those who I work for. Believe me, doctor, that even when I got unconscious, no one among those who ordered me extra work cared whether I woke up or not”.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

He was telling the desperate story of many, and I found myself unable to answer once more: that if we have so many educated people who have time to quote history and protest against various political parties or events, if we have so many rich leaders who openly award crores for killing someone (hello, Milords of Indian Justice!), why cannot we distribute duties well and let a school teacher happily just teach instead of dying forcibly doing something else?

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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Dedicated to all teachers.

The Business Of Medical Bargain

The Business Of Medical Bargain
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I will die now” the forty-plus gentleman said in a semi-threatening way, “I haven’t slept all night yesterday as I was with my brother, I even skipped my lunch today. I must sleep now. I will leave my cell number, if something happens to my brother, they can call me. You are around, right?”

“Yes, the ICU team is looking after your brother round the clock, I am around till late night.” I told him. There was no point in telling him that I hadn’t slept for last three nights either.

On the prior night at about 10.15 PM, after my work hours, as I went to receive my sister on the airport, I had received his panic call, as this gentleman’s brother had developed sudden convulsions. This brother had seen me few months ago, in emergency, when he had developed a stroke. I remembered that they were quite unhappy about the bills then in spite of a good recovery. They had left with sarcastic remarks about the bills. A good memory is essential for every doctor.

I asked them to rush to the casualty, gave him the number for ambulance, and went to park my car at the airport.

“One Hundred Rupees, Sir” said the person on the parking desk.
“But I am parking only for few minutes, I have come to pick someone up” I asked him, surprised that the parking charges. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande.
“Even for entry the charge is 100 rupees” he told me with a cold smile. I had started getting calls from my sister, she had landed. I paid his hundred, parked the car and went on to receive her. On the way, I called up the casualty and issued instructions about this patient who was to arrive there.

Sis was tired, but happy to see me. I told her that we had to make a stop at the hospital on the way back, there was an emergency.
“When will you become a senior doctor who does not have to attend patients at night?” she asked with a sarcastic smile.
“Never”, I replied, “All Indian doctors die young and working.”
“Shut up, don’t talk rubbish things like that” she said with her feminine instinct. “I desperately need tea, can I get some and drink it on the way?” she asked.
We went to get tea and my coffee.
“Two hundred and fifty Rupees, Sir” said the attendant at the airport tea stall.
“Why?” I asked a stupid question almost knowing his answer, “Even an MBBS doctor charges less than your tea/ coffee”.
“GST” he replied, calmly. As if airport shops were dishing out cheap before GST!
After counting the money and safeguarding it, he gave me two sips each of tea and coffee. We also bought 500 ml drinking water for another 100 rupees, and drove to the hospital. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Leaving Sis in the car, I went to the casualty. The patient arrived in a few minutes, it was nearly 11 PM. He was still unconscious, convulsing and bleeding from his mouth. The casualty team got into efficient action, and in a few minutes the convulsions stopped. Writing his orders and answering many relevant and irrelevant questions asked by his irate brother, explaining him the situation and criticality, I drove Sis home well past midnight.

Three days later, he was discharged, fully recovered. Till then I received innumerable calls day and night because of their complaints ranging from blankets, food and ‘the nurse did not come immediately when I pressed the bell’, to medical management and doses etc. The patient and his brother had spent most of their life in Switzerland (restauranteers). They net-researched a lot and tested my knowledge and patience together, till the time I finally and subtly gave them an option to handover the case to a “Senior” colleague, very good but famous for not answering any questions at all. Then they stopped.

Upon discharge, the patient and the brother brought me the hospital bill. A doctor has the same control on the hospital billing that a common man has on the government, I told them so.
“The hospital bill is okay” he said, “but you have charged a thousand rupees per day. That is too much”.

“What would you charge, Sir, if you were a superspecialist with high qualifications and over 20 years of experience, rushing late night to attend an emergency?” I asked him, “What will you charge if you were to attend a person 24/7 under your care, answerable by law and having a right to sue you for lakhs if you commit simplest of a mistake?” © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Three Hundred rupees is the maximum I think a doctor should charge. Our family physician charges us that much since last 5 years” he said without a blink.

“Sorry Mister, we are not bargaining about this. Your family physician is gracious, but even he is charging you far less compared to the western standards of care you expect. What essentials of life have gone cheaper in last 5 years? Even the T shirt you wear is an international brand costing above two thousand rupees. Just because you are in India, you did not buy a three hundred rupees T shirt, or a local brand of car or cellphone. Indian doctors already charge far lower, being aware of the poverty status of multitudes. You must not take advantage of this and claim minimal rates for all medical services. In the western world, a specialist won’t have come for you to the casualty after his work hours, nor would you be able to reach him / her, and every consult would cost you over five times what I have charged you”.

“But Doctors should not think about money” said the patient.

I had decided long ago never to discuss money with patients. This had cost me immeasurable losses, some dupe the doctor / hospital outright, while some think a polite sweet talk is enough fees. Some bring VIPs, some threaten blatantly. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande. Even the insurance companies want every medical service to be available at a concessional rate for everyone!

God has given me enough and I am thankful. I go to work every day with an aim to return God’s favours in whatever small ways I can. However, I don’t understand the rich / affording people who take advantage of what is meant for the poor.

“Indian doctors spend only two minutes with the patient” said a recent headline, adding copious amount of fuels to the anti-doctor sentiments of the society. This is a clear equivalent of the naked pictures such newspapers publish to get attention. They conveniently forget the doctor-patient ratio in the western world, the payments for medical services, availability of specialists, waiting period for appointments, the education and behaviour of patients, non-interference by politicians, working hours and facilities for the doctors, and most importantly the fact that India provides doctors to almost every country upon earth, and gets patients from many developed countries too.
Because they know, people will buy the newspaper only if they print those naked pictures! © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Ok, just give us some concession” said the brothers.
“Do you ask concessions in parking lots, in coffee shops, in hotels?” I asked.
Disgruntled, he replied “No, but you are a doctor, you must be compassionate to the patient”.

“Compassionate to the patient or his greed for money and skimpiness?” I wanted to ask, but time was running short, so I wrote a note or the billing to cut off some amount from my consultation fees, and resumed work.

India needs a two-tier medical charging system, with those below poverty line getting all basic medical services free and special services at a basic cost, while all others must pay relevantly.

My businessman friend, who is also an excellent and compassionate human being was laughing at me. “You doctors let people do this to you. There is a difference between being compassionate and letting someone take advantage of you. The later is stupidity. There should be a special window for bargainers of doctor’s charges and medical bills, and the bargaining should begin at the time of admission. That is when the value of saving health and life, and the importance of timing are best felt. Once the patient improves, the value of medical service received becomes zero. If they cannot afford, give them the basic treatment for emergency and let them go to a hospital where they can afford the treatment. There are many choices. To insist on a set of specialists, luxuries and then to refuse to pay is the general tendency, you will always lose in this case”.

Almost every doctor enjoys saving lives, treating thousands to relive their suffering. However, the continuous onslaught of allegations about high fees, legal threats, mudslinging by some politicians and socially prominent influential nitwits, combined with a callous attitude by most media takes away so many proud pleasures from a doctor’s life!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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PS: there are some who continuously fail to grasp the main issue and continue their age-old song about some doctors and hospitals doing too many tests, taking advantage. The simple solution is : don’t visit such doctors or hospitals. Don’t do the tests. Be happy.

Busting Medical Myths

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Busting Medical Myths
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Just one month after his marriage, this young man suddenly developed weakness on the right side of his body, slurring of speech and started becoming drowsy. His mother, a labourer who collects empty liquor bottles with him for survival, brought him to one of the biggest hospitals in Pune. The whole family had been dependent upon him after the death of his labourer father.

His MRI showed swelling in the brain, likely due to infection. One test on the cerebrospinal fluid suggested possible tuberculosis of the Brain. This being the most common, rampant infection in India, we started with the anti-tuberculosis medicines, and other drugs to reduce swelling over his brain. He improved, and was discharged in seven days.

In the case of any nervous system tuberculosis, the treatment has to be taken for 18 months. If ignored / delayed, this disease can cause serious problems like paralysis, convulsions, permanent disability or even death. This poor family with inadequate education not only reached the hospital in time, but completely trusted their doctors, and followed all instructions. They refuted the innumerable powerful traps of unscientific treatments, taboos and ignorance, broke through the poverty barriers to reach one of the private superspecialty hospitals in a city like Pune, and were cared for without any discrimination.

Today, Nitin Londhe completed 18 months of treatment and is being declared free of his dreadful illness “Tuberculous MeningoEncephalitis”. He has continued his labour work since after the discharge. He told me today that many truckloads of empty liquor bottles are collected in every city every day, (No wonder people cannot afford medical treatments!) many agents sell these bottles back to the liquor companies for a commission, and labourers like Nitin get 200-300 INR per day for collecting such bottles.

Happy that he had recovered and was stopping the treatment, he told me “My mother is uneducated, but she believes that there is nothing costlier than health and life, one must never ignore illness, money has no meaning if health or life is at risk. We wanted the correct treatment”.

I told him I wanted people to know his story for two reasons: that even the most difficult cases of Tuberculosis like that of the brain can also completely improve, and that most of the biggest corporate and rich hospitals admit and treat the poorest of the poor, saving thousands of patients every day. The myths generated by some politicians, media and some filmstars, that all doctors and private hospitals just “mint money” and kill people while all political leaders, filmstars and media reporters are holy saints, who are true saviours of the poor had to be busted with such examples.

Millions of poor, non-paying as well as concessional, are treated and saved by private practitioners and biggest of the big private hospitals every day, everywhere in India. Unfortunately, the hole of Indian poverty is too big to patch, national / federal healthcare systems are failing, and so the demands and expectations from private practitioners are never ending.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked after thanking him.

Shyly, he asked “Can I do dancing stunts? I love dancing and I like to dance on headstand”.

If anyone deserved madly dancing today, it was him. I told him so.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

PS: Thank You, Mr. Nitin Anton Londhe for the courage and permission to share this story.

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