Monthly Archives: September 2018

Hats Off, Phoenix!

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

She had paralysis, over eight times in last six years. Lost vision few times. Lost balance many times. Even lost speech and bits of memory. Severe vertigo wouldn’t let her move for days. Many hospital admissions, many injection courses and tests. Barely two weeks ago, she had come to the OPD unable to walk at all. Yet, when she entered the OPD today, walking with a spring in her steps and a smile upon her face, the first thing she said was “I am joining my office tomorrow, Doc! You must convince my husband to let me. I am all fine now”.

Dinaz Dastoor, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a cruel, unpredictable and disabling disease of the brain and spine, sets an example of grit and positivity for patients and doctors alike! She refuses to be defeated by the disease, does not take any advantage or ask for sympathy, and deals with it like a phoenix: whenever it gets her, she rises above it and flies again.

She refused to take costly medicines with many adverse effects. She refused to give up her chosen duties: housekeeping and bringing up two daughters while fighting with this monster called MS. She attributes all her victories to an ongoing support and encouragement from her husband Rohinton Dastoor and their daughters “ Everytime I feel low, every time I am down in with disability, my husband sits by me and tells me that I am going to recover. He and my daughters have adjusted their lifestyles to accommodate the unpredictable attacks of my illness. Even when growing up, my daughters took care to keep troubles out of home, never argued with me. They all kept stress away from me. Without this supporting family, I won’t be as strong as I am today.. I am really lucky” says a smiling Dinaz.

She started working and is carrying on her job very well, of course her office and superiors have been quite accommodating, a rare scenario in India.

Her husband, one of the most polite and sweetest gentlemen I have ever met, handles all situations with a smile. The only time I ever saw him worried was when Dinaz had once developed a very severe attack and was paralysed below neck. “Do what is best for her, doc. I have complete faith in your decisions” he had said.

Today, he opened up when I requested their permission to share their beautiful story. “It is not that we didn’t have to compromise. There are many desires we had to curb: traveling, adventure sports, and what not. But I always tried to imagine myself in her shoes: what if this had happened to me? How would I have liked her to understand and accommodate my troubles? That way, it was easier for me to make decisions. There are more things we can do together even now than what we can’t. We always think about what we can do, never about what we can’t”. He had just said something that would put so many “MCP” husbands to shame, especially those who ill-treat their wives holding them guilty for their illness.

“A patient and her family only expect that the doctor spends enough time with us to listen to what we have to say, understand and address our concerns, and cares for us” Mr. Dastoor commented.

Meeting this smiling couple not only brightens my day, but makes me feel grateful that I can witness this happen, and write about it!

Hats Off to this beautiful couple, who define the spirit of love in its purest form.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Medical Profession and Charity:  A Guideline For Medical Students (Speech at a recent Medical Event)

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

My dear friends, you will receive many sermons about your responsibility to do charity and social service from those who do no charity themselves. Many who have never done anything worthwhile for the society will remind you of your Hippocratic oath. Beware of these distractors, your social service and charity is your own choice. Thousands of doctors who chose to settle down in the remote place, purely with an intention to serve people, and carried on general practice for over 50 years are now dependent upon someone helping them for their own medical treatment. Neither the government, nor those whom we help reciprocate. Those who lecture doctors about serving the society never answer this simple question: what if a doctor serving the society very well, needs help? Who will help him? The answer is clear. First safeguard your career, reputation, family, home, parents, future and then do charity like a king, confidently, freely and with pride. Professional goals are not the same for everyone.
Some base the entire concept of charity on the low fees, without any analysis of the quality of medical care provided and the outcomes. A patient treated free but wrong, a patient treated at a low cost with a poor outcome cannot be considered charity. “Self-Declaration” of numbers of such patients treated without an analysis of outcomes and patient feedback is nothing but cheap hidden advertisements.
All of us don’t come from the same background: Some families have lived in perpetual poverty, selling off land and compromising quality of housing, clothes and even food to send their children through the medical education. Some must repay their loans, some must attend too many family duties and some just struggle to survive with a middleclass lifestyle. The first thing that we must overcome while doing any charity or social service is the feeling that those who are unable to do it are somehow lesser to us. That discrimination must go. A doctor doing his / her job well is enough charity, they have sacrificed their youth for the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Let us look at the career options most Indian doctors have.
Medical teachers have already accepted a very low salary compared to what they truly deserve, The average salary of a medical professor in USA and UK exceeds INR 8 lacs per month, working 8 AM-4 PM, with one emergency per week. Although I do not contribute to the school of thought that one must accept the low Indian financial status, at one-fourth salary per month, our medical teachers work three times more than the doctors in the developed world (because in India the staff is never filled adequately) . Still they continue to put in their blood and sweat, training thousands of medical students, working almost 24/7, seeing far more number of patients in OPD, IPD and Emergency. This is the best possible medical social service, nay, charity being done in India, let me first respect and salute this unrecognized social service. This is an ideal premise for those who want to continue to be available for the poor masses, keep themselves abreast of the most modern medical knowledge, and impart it to the meritorious future generations of doctors.
A similar career is working as medical officers in rural / semi-rural areas, where doctors are most deficient. In most Medical Institutes run by the government or municipal corporations, sycophancy and suppression , hopeless bosses, poor administration and heavy paperwork, punishment transfers and bribery are huge limitations for those who want to honestly serve patients. Life isn’t easy in rural surroundings. Right from the lack of basic amenities like water, electricity, good schooling and transport, to a severe threat to personal security by the rampant Political Gunda culture in a superstitious, orthodox community. Who will want to voluntarily expose their family to these? However, if one does have a social standing in one’s homeland, it becomes an excellent option to serve the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Coming to the non-government career options in medicine, one is either left to private practice as an individual practitioner, which offers a lot of freedom but limited resources, or a salaried practitioner at a corporate hospital.
In the corporate hospital culture, individual charity and social service becomes almost impossible. Contrary to the image created by the media, most of the corporate hospitals actually comply with the mandatory charity, worth crores of rupees every month to those BPL, but the need of our society is far more than that, the demands are never ending. The new doctor who wants to earn a good name and income, but also wants to do something worthwhile for the society as a free service, the corporate culture offers two options: a low-salaried position for looking after the mandatory charity, or working in their low input peripheral schemes. For a beginner, especially a specialist, these are both excellent options . © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Coming to the last option: an individual private practitioner, there are many choices but also a stark reality: you are on your own, and on the day that you don’t earn, no one else pays for your innumerable bills. Remember that when you are an independent medical practitioner, you have zero income every day that you don’t work, so a single illness or problem that keeps you home for a month will bring your bank balance to zero. Unless there is an alternative source of income, which is rarely the case with a doctor, this jeopardizes your whole existence. You may be prepared to walk through this, but you will be doing your family a great injustice if you push them into this fate. Look at those who have done the greatest charity upon earth: Bill Gates, JK Rowling etc. They have first earned, secured themselves and their dependents and then returned in plenty to the world. That is the safest way to serve the society effectively and for long.
I know almost everyone in this hall is eager to help the downtrodden, poor and helpless. But there are some things you must first thrash out for yourself. Firstly, do not feel any obligation to copy charity. You can discover your own new ways to serve the needy. Completely ignore those who tell you what should be your financial worth. Once you decide what lifestyle you want, you can chart out how much percentage of your time you can work for charity. You may want to reserve one hour a day or one day every week. Be comfortable, choose what does not become a stress factor, but please stick to whatever you decide.
One hour a day by an Indian doctor means 4-5 free patients a day, that is 30 patients a week, that is 120 patients per month, and 1440 per year. If one consultation is 300 rupees, this way you are giving 4 lac 32 thousand rupees worth service free to the society.
There is a major problem : those who take advantage of free medical service. There already are many affording patients whom most doctors voluntarily see free: relatives, teachers, other doctors and their family, classmates, staff in their hospitals, maids and servants, watchmen, neighbors etc.. There are also others who demand free consultations: administrators, politicos, local heavyweights, ministers and even top businessmen who our bosses accompany. People often say that free service does not have any value, it is not respected, but I will make a small exception here: I feel that the really poor and helpless genuinely respect your free service, remember it for life and place you near God. It is the affluent who are usually thankless for free services, and it is high time that we should stop serving them free, so that we are able to serve the really deserving ones. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
False poverty/ income certificates, visiting repeatedly for trivial / tiny complaints, daily questioning, become a huge limitation in extending free services openly. Pune teaches you many tricks to identify and deal with such people.
An equal legal responsibility for even the free patients is the law, and a major limiting factor for private practitioners as well as corporates. However careful one may be, every doctor does commit mistakes, and our courts of law are yet unevolved medically, only rare judges are mature enough to understand the intricacies of medical decision making and still rarer doctors understand the law. Look at the big picture: a doctor is treating a poor patient as charity, and unfortunately something goes wrong. The instant conclusion that it was the doctor’s mistake, the sensational news story that follows, and the threat to personal reputation all come to play together. The chance of “Extracting” money from the hospital or the doctor, in case of any complication or death, is considered a lucrative opportunity by many local goons.
A poor young lady with a stroke presented to my free OPD. I found her to have a valvular heart disease with a clot in the heart. We arranged for her free treatment, the best cardiac team in the city operated her free, for a major valve replacement open heart surgery. Everything including all complications was explained, poof on paper. In a month, she developed valve failure, a rare but known complication. The relatives returned with a gang of goons, threatened us in the OPD with dire consequences and legal action. The very family which begged for concessions with folded hands a month ago now spoke of vandalizing the hospital, beating us up. We explained to the patient and family that this is not a surgical mistake, that this is a rare but known complication, and it was still possible to correct it. Fortunately for us, the patient herself agreed for a redo surgery. The cardiac team operated her again, free, and the patient went home walking in a few days, but no one from the family ever expressed any gratitude. We had learnt a precious lesson: do not risk your career for charity or social service, because medical degrees, once cancelled or suspended are almost impossible to get back. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
My friends, the real richness is that of the soul, and by becoming a Doctor you have already proven all that you need to prove about your soul. Whatever I must earn, I must proudly earn without causing hurt or having to deceive anyone. And believe me, Lord has provided enough for me always. Yes, there was a time when I sat in my hostel room and sung that song “Chaand Taare Ttod Laoon” from Yes Boss . Over the years, the kind Lord has responded to most of my prayers. There is no other profession in which you have such huge opportunity: your charity and service will bring people health and life: so use it freely, every day, always. Just make sure to protect yourself to help others for decades to come, and to pass on this light to the future generations.
Jai Hind!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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The Nightmare

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“Wake Up! Wake Up!!!” shouted the wife frantically. The husband did not respond.
We told her to remain calm.
“How can you tell me to remain calm, doctor? Are you insane? Do something.. he is dying. What will I do without him? I have a two small kids… I beg of you, doctor! Here, I touch your feet! Please save my husband!” the lady kept shouting, panic-struck.

Her husband was riding a bike with a friend just an hour ago, and was dashed by a high-speed truck. The friend had died on the spot, and this gentleman had suffered a head trauma, with fractures in the bones of one hand and both legs. He was unconscious since admission. We had sutured his wounds, the bleeding was controlled, but he had already lost a lot of blood and his blood pressure was low. He was receiving blood transfusion now. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I was an intern then, at the civil hospital Nanded. Our Surgery medical officer had examined the patient, and suspected a bleeding in the skull / brain. There was no CT scan or Intensive care facility available, and the nearest city with a CT scan or ICU was Hyderabad, some seven hours away. The wife decided to shift him to Hyderabad. The MO told them that travel involved risks, the patient could worsen. He also suggested that he must not travel without an accompanying doctor.

“Please come with us” the wife requested me with folded hands. I convinced another intern friend to join me. That was at about midnight, the month was December. Very cold.

We prepared the emergency kit, including various injectables, tubes and Ambu bag required in case the breathing stops. We started in a basic “Ambulance”, with a reluctant driver motivated by the obvious. The night was as chilly and dark as it could be, the road bumpy and dusty, and the ambulance, except that there was a patient and two doctors in it, had nothing else to qualify as an ambulance. The only positive thing about it was its speed. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient mumbled something and became drowsy again. We requested the wife to please not be affected by such fluctuations, common in patients with head injury. We kept on measuring the blood pressure and pulse rate manually (there were no monitors then). We also kept a watch on his pupil size, as unequal pupils are a hint for swelling or bleeding in the brain. An hour into the journey, the patient had a convulsion. We had already given him an anticonvulsant, a standard protocol, but now we also had to give him diazepam to abort the fit. The fit stopped, but the blood pressure started dropping. We used steroid injections and increased the intravenous fluids. The use of diazepam may depress breathing, but we had no choice here. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient’s wife had bouts of extreme panic and kept weeping. Her suffering was justified, we tried not to let that affect our decisions. Two other relatives who accompanied her tried to console her. A doctor cannot run away from or avoid any situation, we were learning our lessons.

By 2 AM, the patient appeared relatively stable. The relatives slept off, the wife became silent, occasionally dozing off. I’m a nocturnal animal, but my friend was feeling very sleepy.

At about 3 AM, the ambulance suddenly stopped.
“I cannot drive anymore. I am tired and very sleepy. I need to have a tea and a smoke, otherwise I will fall asleep driving” the driver said. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
There was no choice. We saw the small tea stall by the roadside. The relatives and patient’s wife had tea, my friend intern went out and had his cigarette and tea, then he sat with the patient while I had my smoke and tea. It was only after we started again that we realized how vital it was to have taken that break! The ambulance gained speed steadily.

An hour later, the patient became quite rowdy, and started to violently throw about his hands and legs, trying to get up. We tried to restrain him, but it became quite difficult, especially because the ambulance was running high speed, and the wife was now almost in a state of shock. We had to use diazepam again. His breathing became shallow, pulse rate started rising. We prepared for artificial ventilation.

As we approached the city by the dawn, the traffic increased, and we faced many blocks. We reached CDR Apollo hospital, just as we intubated the patient and started ventilating him with the Ambu bag. Dr. Raja Reddy, Neurosurgeon there, immediately attended the patient and himself accompanied us to the CT scan room. The scan showed some contusions / injuries to the brain, but no major bleeding. Dr. Reddy reassured the patient’s family, and praised the efforts we had made, being interns. Patient was taken to the ICU.

We returned by an ST bus the same afternoon, after thanking the ambulance driver. Few days later the patient was back on duty, completely recovered. One evening when I returned from the hospital, my parents showed me a beautiful thick gold necklace.

“That couple had come. They wanted to thank you, they gifted this for your son” my mother proudly said. Although my one month son did not know anything about gold, and I do not understand metallurgy well, my parents indeed had very proud smiles for the next few days. The glitter of those smiles is the only Gold I have preserved in life, like many doctors who go through this ordeal every day!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dedicated to hundreds of doctors who carry/ transfer patients in horrible situations / conditions, risking their own life, all across India.

PS: This is a story circa 1993, the management standards and guidelines, facilities have improved a lot today. Of Course smoking is a bad habit and not justified.
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The Deadly ‘Vegetable’

The Deadly ‘Vegetable’

“How is my mother, Doctor?” The smiling politician, a tower of patience, surrounded by his impatient bouncer cronies, and a drooling doctor, asked me at the door of the critical care unit.

I examined the patient, a case of a large bleeding that had caused severe damage in the brain. Inputs were whispered in my ears by the cautious doctors of the unit. The poor lady had been treated by many excellent doctors in Mumbai and Delhi, as the family of that politico had that free facility. However, she had stopped the blood pressure medicines as some “Herbal Baba” had criticized them on National TV. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“She is conscious, but cannot understand or respond at all. Her heart is beating well, blood pressure is holding up, and her breathing is fine too. She can move her hands and legs, but it all appears meaningless movement. This may last for weeks or months, and in some cases, even permanently”.

The ‘doctor’ with that group authoritatively asked “That means she is a vegetable now?”.

“The correct word is ‘Vegetative’, the medical condition is called ‘Persistent Vegetative State’, and I cannot say as of now if this will be persistant. There are some chances of recovery” I replied with a carefully acquired masked face.

“Is there anything we can do anywhere in the world to make her brain normal again? I can take her to the best centers in the world” said the Politico. The drooling doc came forward again. His desperation to be significant was almost killing him. “Are there any medicines that can make her recover faster? We can afford anything” he asked.

I knew the exact words to reply him with.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“No Sir. Just as you cannot shorten the period of pregnancy, you cannot convert it to three months in the best of the hospitals , however rich you may be, the recovery of brain happens at its own speed. The medicines that can help her are already on”. This usually stops further discussion in that line, it did.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I went to the cafeteria to cool down. I couldn’t understand whether it was the tail-wagging doctor or the politico with ‘everything exists to serve me’ attitude that irritated me more. A cyclone of the big picture started rising in my mind.

The state of our “Government run” healthcare, is more or less the same: Vegetative. Big plans, big declarations, more investment, more land and buildings, more equipment, all surfaces, especially during elections. But the brain: good doctors in the system: is dead. No good healthcare system can be created or run by those appointed without merit, without quality. Thousands of huge set-ups declared and erected by the various governments are lying vacant, or serving far below their purpose because there are no good doctors/ technicians in most. The last battalion holding the flag of good healthcare: good medical teachers in medical college are on the verge of extinction. Best of the government-run hospitals and services are often reserved for those in power and their families. The shameless orders for “reserving ICU beds and ventilators, operation theaters etc.” for a patient known to a politician are a daily affair, they least care if someone else without an influence dies.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Appointments of drooling, medal-hungry shoelickers on various key medical posts has crippled the system. The real poor and deserving are thrown from one window to another to submit documents and applications to claim the benefits that they deserve.

The whole blame of a this deadly “Vegetable” healthcare is cunningly shifted upon those who refuse to work as ‘personal servants’ to the government, those who go into private practice, and private hospitals. Now almost all doctors complete their bonds, yet there is a gaping hole in the system that cannot retain specialists for long. Only the compromised, beginners, and failures stay for long in adverse, sycophancy based, low-cost environments. The very politicians who say “Don’t worry about money” when asking treatments for their own family, accuse the doctors of being “greedy”, when they leave govt. services.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The simple solution, the recovery of the brain, i.e induction and retaining of good, meritorious, non-shoe-licking and highly qualified specialists in the government-run healthcare departments and set-ups will probably change this scenario. But this looks impossible, now that even many doctor’s organisations have started losing their autonomy, self respect, to fall in line with the glorified slogans and to lick the bottoms of those who run such failed healthcare systems. The addictions to blow up any tiny good news, modify data to appease masses, hide the blaring failures, deficits and corruption in the healthcare have become a norm, and even our society seems to be ecstatically happy to just hear loud speeches of big plans rather than facing ground realities.

Indian Healthcare run by various governments, except for very few honourable exceptions, has become a brainless “Persistent Vegetative Healthcare System”. A ‘deadly vegetable’, for the understanding of the drooling docs. Unless someone sane and responsible in healthcare department acts quickly, we will lose this healthcare battle.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

PS: During the writing of this article I received over 20 phone calls from patients, and 12 of them dropped, cut, hanged. This is our technical progress. Before we send men in space, can we deal with this?

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