“Why Don’t You Marry Her, Doc?”

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Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Sir, she cannot walk, she is paralysed below chest since last few days. Her husband doesn’t care, he has abandoned her. She has no money or insurance for tests or treatment. I want to help her, I don’t know what to do” I told my junior consultant, who was having his coffee break with senior consultant and the departmental secretaries. He looked at me in a nasty way, and said “Why don’t you marry her?” and they all laughed aloud. However, although my professor smiled with them, he asked me to get the patient’s papers.

She was a case of Multiple Sclerosis, in her early thirties, and had lost ability to walk. Her sensation below the waist, control over urine was also lost. This ghastly illness of the brain and spine often cripples the young. In many cases, when such disability develops, divorces follow. The world as we doctors see it is far more cruel, deceptive and dangerous than most illnesses humanity knows. She was left with a small daughter and no income. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I felt insulted, but I was in a foreign country. The junior consultant was known for his sarcastic humour and enjoyed impressing women around him, often at the cost of others, like so many dwarfs who take advantage of their chair to achieve what they otherwise cannot. I chose to ignore him, and got the papers to our boss, who called a colleague to enrol the patient in one of the upcoming research trials. That would ensure her free tests and medicines for a few years. I told her the good news. She started sobbing, then handed me a note written by her:
“I am killing myself as I have nothing left except my daughter, I cannot look after her with my disability. I have no complaints against anyone. Please look after my daughter”.
In some time, after she stabilised, she said “Doc, I had come prepared to kill myself today. My daughter is sitting in the cafeteria. If you had not told me what you did just now, believe me, I was planning to drive my wheelchair off the roof today”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

We called her 10 year old daughter from the cafeteria. Little did the cute child know how lucky she was to see her mother again that day.

That evening, my boss, the senior consultant, took me out for a dinner. Once the red wine loosened strained faces, he started to speak: “Rajaas, I know you are kind and you want to help others. I know you feel for your patients. But I must caution you, don’t get carried away. Your job is clear: to listen, to advise the best line of investigations and treatment, to explain, and to compassionately guide. Don’t carry too much weight upon your shoulders”.
“Why, Sir?”I asked politely, “I feel inner peace when I walk an extra mile to help my patient. How can that cause me any harm? Didn’t this lady survive just because you helped her today?”
“Because it is a never ending burden. To be able to effectively help everyone coming to you, you must have too much money and too much time. Doctors seldom have either. I lost a lot of time and money, to realise that this cycle never ends, that newer and more people need your help every day, all your life. I almost went bankrupt, collapsed and quit under stress. Then I realised that I must limit this so I could serve them best the next day”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It felt like dry reasoning at that moment. However, boss continued to help patients beyond duty whenever I asked him. Over years, I realised how correct Boss was!

My dear british colleague Dr. Mindy was trying to help a patient through her divorce, I accompanied her. As the patient opened up, she revealed to Mindy that although she enjoyed marijuana, her husband was involved in the sale of other illicit drugs, and that was one reason that she wanted to divorce him. Dr. Mindy involved a counsellor to help her out. However, after they decided to patch up their marriage, the patient told her husband that she had confided in Dr. Mindy. The husband came over and politely threatened her to keep all the information only to herself, otherwise be prepared for dare consequences.
We all spent many a restless nights after that.

Emotionally disturbed, helpless patients, those who are treated unfair by family often depend upon a kind doctor. They get quite restless at times, worry a lot and then expect an immediate hearing and resolution from their doctor. From suicide threats to blackmails, there are messages that pour in once that channel is opened. This sometimes wreaks havoc in the doctor‘s life, because being disturbed affects clinical practice and decision making. The small time left for self and family is thus shot dead. A patient who becomes emotionally dependent upon the doctor can turn into a nightmare for the doctor. Over years, I learnt to balance this, going out of the way only for the few truly deserving patients.

Thousands of patients have survived just because their doctor emotionally supported them in time, otherwise they would have died of lack of will to carry on. No one ever credits the doctors who become emotional back-ups for their patients: a service that costs them time and stress, without any income. That is unfortunately considered a “duty” of the doctor, to be kind and available at bad times, but to be forgotten in good times. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande. Many actually think that good words, compliments and “a satisfaction of serving” should be sufficient compensation for the doctor. Nothing fully compensates, although kind words do sometimes make one feel good.

However, what caused worse hurt to me was some of my own colleagues who made fun of me and many other doctors who went out of their way to help patients. “Impractical, unnecessary, worthless, drama”, and so many other adjectives are used by colleagues and even seniors/ some teachers for doctors, students, residents who walk an extra mile to help their patients. I was extremely fortunate that I met some good teachers who supported my efforts without mocking me, and I continue to meet students who carry on this noble trait forwards.

When I was leaving, the junior consultant came over for the farewell too, and told me in too many words how I must learn to be “Practical”. I gave him a reply that one teacher with advanced genius had taught me years ago, for people who do less themselves and advise others a lot. This reply saves a lot of time and energy, my teacher had told me, and its beauty is that people don’t even understand that you are saying ‘those two useful words’ when you reply like this:

I just smiled at him.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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