Saving Life? Not Enough!

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© DR. RAJAS DESHPANDE

“I will kill you. I will see that you don’t practice in this city. You don’t know me” the elderly man shouted angrily outside the crowded OPD room of the senior neurosurgeon. He was surrounded by five others, two of them his sons, who instead of calming him down, were adding to the threats.

“Let him come out of the hospital. We will show him” shouted one of them.

The Neurosurgeon who stood in the OPD door did not react. He was known as a short tempered professor, a quality that often accompanies excellence in any field. © DR. RAJAS DESHPANDE

Two years ago, a young software engineer had come with his parents to the OPD of this senior Neurosurgeon. A son of a rich politician, he had an obvious sign of of a brain surgery: his skull shape was abnormal, with a part of his forehead sunken in. He had been operated for a brain tumor four years ago, it turned out to be very early stage of a cancer. He was told to keep visiting a neurosurgeon every year to check if the tumor grew back again. Now another similar tumor had grown in his brain. This time it was in an extremely dangerous area to operate, there was a high risk of death. After explaining every risk to the family, our Neurosurgeon operated him. Just after the surgery, the patient had developed brain swelling and bleeding unexpectedly, and had become comatose. Fighting these complications with all his might, the neurosurgeon finally ensured that the patient recovered completely. When discharged, the patient went walking by himself, and had no complaints. He followed up regularly for next few weeks for radiation and chemotherapy. Then he was advised to follow up every six months.

The next time he visited, after the consultation, the patient called in his wife.

“We married last month, Doctor” said the patient.

Surprised, our neurosurgeon congratulated them, wondering why the patient never told him about that arranged marriage.

In a year, the patient developed another recurrence of the tumor. Surgery was planned, and the wife’s family accompanied the patient. Rich, educated and powerful, the only thing they couldn’t own was manners. © DR. RAJAS DESHPANDE

“How come he developed a brain tumor, doctor?”asked the angry father in law of the patient.

“Well, tumors can develop in anyones brain, because of naure’s mistakes in the human body, but he has had this problem for many years now, don’t you know about it?” asked our neurosurgeon.

“No. No one told us when my sister was married to him”said the angry brother.

“Didn’t you notice the big scar on his forehead?”asked the neurosurgeon, unable to believe this. In a society that disallows marriages due to stupidest of reasons, it was difficult to believe that such an obvious sign was missed.

“We were told that he had had a small head injury. My sister had come last time. Why didn’t you tell her?”asked the other brother, keeping with the family tradition of angry misbehavior.

“She waited outside for the last consultation. Then again, you should have asked your doctor about this before finalising the marriage”.

The wife’s family walked out. The patient and his family was nowhere to be seen. That’s when the two brothers realised that there was a huge rush of patients in the OPD complex, and started shouting threats for the neurosurgeon.

“You have spoiled the life of my daughter”said the patient’s father in law to the doctor, “You should have told your patient not to marry”.

Although this was ridiculous, the neurosurgeon, who was otherwise known for his zero tolerance of stupidity and threats, took this in his stride. He called them all in and explained once more. He made them aware that the patient had never revealed any plans to marry. © DR. RAJAS DESHPANDE

The brothers refused to understand, they had to vent their anger, and here was a doctor available for it! It was like legally protected murder of decent civil etiquette, traumatising of a doctor’s dignity, backed by the society and media. Who will stand by the doctor? Who will even consider the fact that merely few months ago, this very doctor had fought to bring back their patient from the clutches of death?

The neurosurgeon got many phone calls over next few days, with threats to life and something even more precious than life for a doctor: threats to reputation. Like a thousand other storms in his life, he braved this one too. The patient was divorced by his wife. He was operated and radiation was started.

In the usual “I don’t care a hoot for idiots” style of surgeons, the Neurosurgeon chose to ignore them and do what was his duty. But when he told me this incidence, there indeed was a hint of a broken something in his eyes.

“We save so many lives, since so many years. Earlier there was a sense of fulfilment, even if the patient did not express gratitude. Now, that sense is lost. Saving life isn’t anything great for our society, it has become a mechanical job expectation from the doctor, just like the paid service of a machine. Educated and uneducated goons, even people who faint at the sight of blood come and threaten doctors as if it was routine for them to do what we do. I am quite worried about the future generations of doctors”.© DR. RAJAS DESHPANDE

Just as the neurosurgeon spoke with me, the patient mentioned above walked by, with his mother, returning from his radiotherapy session. When our neurosurgeon asked whether he is recovering well from the divorce, mother casually laughed and said “Oh! That girl was never good enough for my son. I am sure he will get to marry a better one soon. There are very few educated men with such a salary in our community” and they walked away.

Aghast, we went to the cafetaria and had a wrodless cofee, but that silence was full of regrets. As we got up, the neurosurgeon commented: “We can only save lives. Not these people or their society “.

© DR. RAJAS DESHPANDE

A real life incidence shared by Dr. Ashok Bhanage, Neurosurgeon. Patient details changed to mask identity.

Please share unedited.

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