The Higher Suffering

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Stuck in the heavy traffic due to rains, I tried to remain calm. The cellphone kept on ringing, patients who were waiting, those who wanted appointments, those who were to catch their ride out of station anxiously asked when will I reach. Some lost patience and raised voice. In addition, there were calls about the patients admitted in the hospital: critical decisions to be made, idiotic questions by insurance companies to be replied to. There were huge processions, the traffic was diverted, without any arrangements for ambulances. Impatient, aggressive and violent people is a reality on almost all Indian roads now. No one cares for law on the road. You are at the mercy of anyone who chooses to pick up a fight with you.

There were some issues at home too, the cook had called in sick, we had to do some emergency cooking. That had delayed my start.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

At last, an hour late, I reached the OPD, and entered running. Faces with controlled anger greeted with cultured politeness. Prepared for bitter comments, I called in the first patient.

This was a free patient, she did not need a follow up. But being free, she visits almost religiously every month, whenever she has a fight with her husband. Sometimes, when the only guaranteed compassion is from a doctor, it can be misused. However, as I was late, I decided to respect their patience, and told them to visit a counselor. Nevertheless, my irritation heightened, that this added to the wait of other patients.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I certainly am impatient with meaningless waste of time, and sometimes the traffic, the sudden changes in schedules due to someone’s irresponsible behavior, and misuse of compassionate services bring me to the edge of a reaction. This was one such moment. My face must have become grim.

The next patient walked in, an elderly gentleman with Parkinson’s disease. He was accompanied by his wife. They were supposed to come back three months later, but had followed up early. I examined him, found him quite stable neurologically, but the usual twinkle in his eyes was absent. Even his usually smiling wife appeared lost. It must be the traffic, my late arrival or something likewise, I thought, and curbed my curiosity to ask them. Today was heavy and behind schedule, I must wind up fast. Yet, as I explained them that everything was stable and alright, that they need not worry, I noticed the unspoken uneasiness in their body language. A little reluctantly but keeping up with the expectation of my own heart, I asked them: “You look quite disturbed and stressed. Is anything the matter? I am sorry I came late today”.

“No, no doctor, it’s not that. But yes, he is stressed and disturbed said the wife, and looked inquisitively towards her husband. ”Shall I tell him?” she asked.

Looking down, hiding his face, the husband nodded.

“Doctor, we lost our only son ten only days ago. Someone killed him on the road. Some drunk goons dashed his car from behind, and when he got down to check the damage, they attacked him and hit him on the head with some rods. He was lying on the road for a long time, and by the time police took him to the hospital, he was gone. We came to know after a few hours. He was our only child, an engineering scholar who had returned to India with great dreams .”

The lady was silently weeping as she kept her emotions in control. The patient was sobbing, I called the receptionist to get a glass of water.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We have done so much for our town and the society” said the patient, “but now I feel it was all useless. No one is safe even on the roads. We see so many rules and laws broken, so many violent and aggressive people that it has become difficult to question anyone even when they misbehave”.

I had no words to pacify them. What can pacify the parents of a dead child, that too a victim lawlessness?

The receptionist called “Sir, the next patient is shouting” she said.

“Five minutes” I requested her.

“You are busy, doc, we will leave. But I brought him here only because he feels better when he meets you. Once you reassure him, he will feel a little secure. Even I feel better when I see you. Otherwise we sit at home just staring at each other’s sunken souls. We have no relatives”.

That was a bitter eye opener to me. They had chosen me to be their lifeline in the worst times of their life, and here I was, thinking about my worries, my time, and the inevitable small happenings that block the path of every working person every day. I had momentarily ignored the fact that I must still enter the hospital with a smile, push behind myself all the negatives that pull me down. For every patient here to see me comes with a hundred fears and a thousand expectations, the least I can do for them is be compassionate and reassuring, whatever may have happened till that moment.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“You may see many patients in a day and listen to their troubles, doc, but you are the only doctor your patient meets in a long time. I don’t know about you, but we always feel good when we see you”. The wife added.

Yes, I had heard that earlier, in my teacher’s cabin. Once a patient develops trust in his / her doctor, they look upon the doctor as one of the most reliable resource for courage, compassion and troubleshooting, even beyond the expertise of that doctor. As doctors, we must never forget this, and stand up tall above all our personal problems to be the supermen and superwomen, the Messiahs, the Saviors that we are expected to be. Law and some idiots do push a stick in our wheels, but then the patient is far above both. A patient’s suffering is always far above that of any doctor.

I stood up, held the patient’s hand, and reassured them: that they do have a relative here in Pune. “According to the Pune tradition”, I said, “one should offer tea only when the guests are half out of the door, but I will make an exception today .”

Having them sit in the next empty room, I proceeded with the OPD. Ordering tea for everyone in the OPD waiting room, I stole a few more minutes to calm the ruffled souls of those two, and asked them to see me again, whenever they wished.

As I returned late after dark, even through the rainy night, a sweet moonlight made the raindrops glow. Just like every doctor brings back the smiles to the burning hearts of their patients!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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