“What If This Was Your Father, Doctor?”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Doctor, I want to know about this illness. I want to understand it” she said.
It had taken me an entire medical career and a lot of experience to understand this disease in steps, no neurologist in the world claims to have fully understood it. It was my duty to simplify things for her, but it was impossible to transfer years of knowledge and experience in few minutes. I decided to give it a try. If I learn to understand the patient and relative one step more, I will be a better doctor hopefully. This lady, with her Prada and Dior accessories, also appeared well educated.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Your father has frontotemporal dementia, a condition that causes progressive loss of memory and abnormal mentation, thoughts, or behavior. This is because certain parts of his brain degenerate faster.” I started.
“One minute doctor” she interrupted “How does that explain why he starts undressing, passing urine anywhere in front of others, even children or guests? He uses such foul language sometimes”.
I hate being interrupted. Especially when someone butts in a second question before I finish answering the first. But I must accommodate the patient’s and the relative’s anxiety.
“That is because we have an area in the brain that controls our behavior, stops us from doing social-inappropriate things. This is why we stop from doing certain things in certain situations, while we retain the ability to do them in privacy. That is called inhibition. When those areas in the brain degenerate, there is thus a ‘disinhibition’, whereby the patient does not know what is inappropriate. Somewhat similar to losing mental control after taking alcohol”.
“So the blood supply is cut off in the brain?” she fired.
“I never said that. I said this is due to degeneration. The cells in his brain die faster. Although at this age loss of blood supply is an additional reason for worsening”. When you know too much of something, it is difficult to not confuse.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
You know, I am no Mangeshkar or Tendulkar myself, but this is like asking Lataji “I want to understand music and sing that song just like you” or telling Sachin “I want to make a century like you right now. Teach me cricket in ten minutes”. What they have learnt in decades with extreme hard work cannot be taught / understood or explained in few minutes. I can explain it in a nutshell, but it is not possible to ensure that the relative or patient “completely understood” everything I knew. But then again, the better this lady understood the disease, the better she will care for her father. So I decided another approach.
“Ma’m, I request you to please read about this disease from these two websites. Then write down your questions and please book another appointment. We will save a lot of random discussion then.” I told her.
“Ok Doctor” she agreed reluctantly “But tell me what you would have done if this was your father. I thought that with so many advances and researchers, there must be some good cure by now for such diseases” she said. The hidden disdainful sarcasm didn’t escape me. I ignored it.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Now please tell me the list of all medicines that your father is currently taking, and their doses” I asked her.
She emptied a huge bag upon my table, with over 20 medicines from different pathies, some unlabeled, and including some bottled oils. She started asking her father one by one, he wouldn’t reply.
“I don’t know doctor” she said, frustrated. “He lives alone near my house, and takes these medicines by himself. We lost my mom few years ago. I guess some of these oils are for his massage”.
Some of those medicines were past an expiry date. The old man hadn’t a clue what he was taking.
“But you just told me he has severe memory problems and cannot understand much” I questioned.
“Yes, but we thought he knew what medicines he was taking” she said.
I did not want to embarrass her further.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Ma’m, wouldn’t it be better if you understood the daily necessities of your father before you questioned anyone else about his disease? You can ask the doctor any number of questions, it is my duty to answer them. But I would definitely not have left my father to look after himself in such a situation.”
“No, doc, we are looking for a care center for him already. I cannot look after him, I have my own family and the kids need all my attention”.
“Then please stop blaming the medical researchers for not finding a cure for everything. Please accept that everyone ages and needs care, the same care that you were provided as a child”.
I didn’t want her to be unhappy, it was also my prerogative to understand her situation. I reassured her:
“Please read about this well, and come back next week, I am sure that at least a few problems can be resolved. I want to help you and him”.
What would happen if there was a cure for everything? How many of them elderlies will be taken care of, provided for? How long will their children look after them? In most cases, even the healthiest of parents are considered a nuisance once they have grown up the grandchildren. After that, they become an irritating liability.
Then, the annoyance of having to look after them, the exasperation of even a small illness they may have, and the extreme anger to have to spend time and money for their healthcare / treatment is all unloaded upon the doctor. While we are learning to deal with this in our everyday practice, I have decided to spend an extra minute to educate the family about their own responsibilities in every such case. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
As she left the room she asked “Doc, he is elderly, you must give him some concession”.
I smiled. This wasn’t a medical question. It was my turn not to reply now.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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