Monthly Archives: November 2018

The Poverty Vow

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Long day. Came home. Ritual steamy hot bath to wash away the hospital feel, followed by steaming hot dinner. Switched on jazz, and I picked up the pasta. Heaven descended upon my tongue.

“How perfect this moment is!” I thought, and that’s where I was wrong. The phone rang.

“Sir, 18 year old buy, had fever since a day, took some tablets, became unconscious, now comatose. Vitals are stable, although he is coughing occasionally. No past history significant. Poor family, cannot afford treatment. Father is a labourer. What should I do?”

“Get him into the ICU, intubate if required and stabilise. Arrange for an MRI”

“OK Sir, but Sir they don’t even have a deposit. They had first gone to the government hospital, but as they were not happy there they have come here”. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We will work something out. I am on my way” I replied.

In an hour, after examining the boy and seeing his MRI and other tests, we concluded that he had viral encephalitis. The standard medicines were started.

The boy’s father, an obvious poor slum dweller, was in a state of shock. The mother, sobbing, told me the history. I reassured them. When I explained the diagnosis and treatment they asked some questions.

“We don’t understand anything, we are illiterate and poor. Do anything Sir, Just save my son, Sir” the father folded his hands together. Private hospitals have a quota for free patients, but usually it is always overloaded. I requested the hospital management to please make this a free case, they accepted.

The next day, the child opened his eyes. On the third day he started responding. I was quite elated to have his mother speak with him. However, his respiration was still shallow, and blood presure very low. His heart rate was fluctuating due to the effect of viral infection. He was still critical. I spoke to his parents twice every day, specifically reassuring them. Poor patients must never feel that they are not equally cared for. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

That evening, as I attended my patients in the OPD, the patient’s father came in, requested that he wanted to have a word. He came in with six other people. None of them could possibly be poor, given their get ups.

“Yes?”I asked.

The patient’s father looked at the giant next to him. “You ask” he said to the giant.

The giant, chewing his gutkha, askked me “What’s wrong with his son?”

“I have explained them thrice”I replied, “he has viral infection of the brain. There’s a lot of swelling upon his brain”.

“How come he is not improving? His BP was normal when he came. He did not have any heart problems. Now you tell us his heart is not functioning well” asked another medical superstar with white linen and gold teeth. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Yes, this happens commonly with viral infections” I replied, feeling hopeless. How to teach complicated medicine to this pure- muscular class? I wondered.

“But you said he had infection in the brain. How come now he has it in the heart? Is the treatment wrong?” Asked someone similar among them, in a tone nastier than medical examiners.

I looked at the patient’s father. He was looking at the ceiling, deliberately avoiding eye contact with me.

“Listen, Sir”, I told them, “Your patient has viral infection, it has primarily affected the brain, but involvement or dysfunction of other organs is well known with such infections, this is not something new to us. We are on guard, dealing with the situation. Nothing is wrong about the treatment, in fact his brain swelling has improved, and he is conscious now. Ask his mother” I looked at her.

“I don’t know” she said, “we don’t find any improvement in my child. Nobody tells us anything”.

“Haven’t I explained you and his father patient’s condition every day?” I asked. They did not reply.

The white linen gold teeth spoke again: “We want a report. We want to show the case to another doctor”

That was a relief. I gladly wrote them a report. They went doctor-shopping all day. They returned next day. Almost everyone had asked them to continue the same treatment that we had advised, except some desperate non-specialist telling them to shift the patient immediately for a surgery at his hospital. Even our gold-toothed medical superstar understood that it was wrong! (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We will continue treatment here only. But our patient must survive” came an open threat.

”I will do my best, but I cannot guarantee you anything. You may please transfer the patient under the care of any doctor of your choice” I told them.

“No no, you continue to treat him.But if anything goes wrong, we will file a police complaint. We will ruin this hospital”said one of them.

I am allergic to threats. I don’t allow them twice from the same source in my life. How could any doctor guarantee that there could be no complications? How could I say that the patient could not react to any medicine in such a critical condition? If every patient could have guaranteed improvement, what’s the need for a doctor?

“I am sorry, I am planning for a leave next few days. I won’t be able to see your patient. I have requested our management to transfer your case to another doctor” I told them.

There was a movie “Teesri Kasam”in which the lead character, at the end of the movie, vows never to help the character of the lead actress in the movie, because the very wish and effort to help her has shattered his life, caused him regret. Most Doctors are now being forced to take such a vow. Urban Poverty is not so simple and innocent in a hospital as it appears to the media and society. Whether it is the roadside rowdiness of slum dwellers who roam around with weapons or a maid’s drunkard husband in civilised society, we all understand the misuse of poverty status well anywhere outside hospital, but somehow when this happens in a hospital, the blame is automaytically pinned upon the hospital or the doctor.

But who among the vote-mongers will speak against the majority voting bank?

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A Thumb Impression Of Our Society

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

As the highly educated family: patient, his wife and daughter stared at my face, I bought a moment of thought by continuing to write instructions. Although the intensity of what I was going to say would affect them now, I knew what the future held a difficult and mentally traumatic, draining corridor they would have to go through in coming years. How to say this? I felt sad. Even after decades of experience, no doctor feels comfortable telling the patient or relatives about a bad or incurable diagnosis. It is a curse we must shoulder. Because someone must say it, someone must sympathize and stand by the patient and family, someone must face the anger and frustration of a family that was till yesterday living in the comfort of good health, completely oblivious to the fact that things may go wrong anytime with anyone. . © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“You have a type of Parkinson’s disease with dementia. The Parkinson’s is causing your slowness and stiffness, and the dementia is causing the memory loss and change in personality. It is good that you have come at an early stage, we will be able to prolong lifespan with a better quality of life. With your cooperation I think we can do the best possible for the patient. I will give you some links to read from. Please read them and meet me again next week, I will be happy to answer all your queries, doubts and concerns”.

The stunned wife started sobbing. The husband closed his eyes in agony. The daughter, unable to speak, held her father’s hand. Offering them some water and coffee, I explained the daughter instructions about the medicines, tests to be performed, and asked them to see me next week. I wanted to spend more time with them, but the relatives of a critical patient in ICU were waiting outside for me.

“Dr. Rajas, my husband has been a brilliant scientist. He loves reading, writing and intellectual interactions. In fact that’s why we fell in love back then when I was his student. Intellect is his life. We will both die if that is taken away from us”. It was then that I looked at the lady carefully, because till now my mind was occupied with the patient. A very graceful, intelligent, upright and hence beautiful face, the one that tells stories about the highest culture and upbringing that there is. The grey hair added to the loving kindness of her expression. Intelligent Humility, that one element often absent from so many beautiful faces, was abundant upon hers. Somehow I remembered my mother.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I understand, mam. Things are not so bad as of now, and we are still in the evaluation phase. I can give you a better idea about the future once I see the results of all the tests.

It was then that the daughter spoke: “Doctor, I am in India for only the next week. Can we complete the workup before next week, because I cannot postpone my travel back to the US. And yes, I want the best to be done for my father. ” the daughter said.

“Ok” I said. I have now come to accept the socio-cultural changes.

They came next week, the diagnosis was confirmed, I counseled them.

Then I explained the medicines and other care to the patient’s wife.

“Did you understand it well, mom?” asked the daughter, “because I will not be able to help you with this everyday”. The mother replied with her kind smile.

Three months later, the patient came back, with the daughter and her husband.

‘Doc, mom passed away with a sudden heart attack a month ago. She never told us she had any complaints”.

This happens so often: that when a family member is affected, everything revolves around their health, and the warning signs of caretaker’s disease are ignored till the last moment.

“Dad has become worse now. He doesn’t eat well, doesn’t speak with us. . We tried to encourage him to make new friends with his old age home society, but he doesn’t want to interact with others, he has always been stubborn. We have arranged for a caretaker, but dad doesn’t talk to him either.”

Looking at the patient, I realized how much emotional support he needed at that moment.

“I am sorry to know about your mother. Such a nice and kind lady!” I said.

“Thanks, doc. But now you must help us. Please help us find a good old-age nursing home for dad. I cannot stay back. We can pay well”.. she had a hint of “please let us get this over fast” in her speech.

“You said you wanted to do the best for your father. The best would be for you to be with him in these days, talk with him, connect him back with life for whatever remaining awareness he has left. There’s no other person upon earth that he will ever connect with, so this becomes your responsibility”. She knew the truth well, for she broke down. “I know doctor, but I have my family to look after. I cannot take my father with me. I am sorry”.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

She visited again with the patient, before leaving for the US. A bank officer and a lawyer accompanied them.

“Dr. Deshpande, I need a certificate, my father cannot sign, and is in no condition to think coherent now. So we want to get his banking and legal formalities about our property completed with thumb impressions. I need you to authenticate dad’s thumb impression”.

The old man printed his thumb impression in my presence. Somewhere within, I knew he was violently crying although he must be hiding it just so that his daughter doesn’t feel bad while leaving him.

That Thumb impression, Decoded, was in fact the stark face of today’s society.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Other Side Of Life

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Wear your helmet” said my grandma, as I kicked my scooter “and don’t argue”.

I could have argued with the POTUS, but not with my grandma. I had come to my uncle’s house to visit my grandma, with the additional attraction of eating the delicious Diwali snacks she made. I wore my helmet and scooted back as fast as I could. My duty started at eight PM in the ICU, and the resident doctor who was on duty had warned me that she had to be with her in-laws for her first Diwali with the new family. All icu beds were full, one patient was intermittently gasping, unlikely to recover, and three others were fluctuating.

Firecrackers, lighting, happy people in new clothes were all around, yet out of mind. I parked the scooter outside the ward and ran in.

“Thank you thank you” said my predecessor, and explained me the cases and ongoing treatment.

When at the bed of the patient who was intermittently worsening, she told me “Listen he’s on dobutamine drip, we don’t have it, I have borrowed two ampoules from the medical shop outside. I will pay him later. His family has no money”. Many critical drugs were not available in the icu, a common problem even today across India.

She left.

Behind the ICU building, a political party was celebrating the festival in a pandal, with repeated announcements of its achievements. Loud lewd music was playing, less irritating than the dramatised loud repitition of the party leaders’names. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Three more heart patients came in, but the ward beds were full, there already were twelve patients on the floor. This is a common scenario in almost all government hospitals across India. We begged the ward resident doctor to help us, and he agreed to shift three of his patients to the floor. The heart patients were taken on the beds outside ICU, and their medicines were started. We struggled at every step. The student nurses, enthusiastic and energetic, virtually carry half the weight of the doctor’s work upon their shoulders. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A municipal councillor walked in drunk, and started abusing the ward resident doctor for shifting “his”patient to the floor bed. Aggressive and drunk, his language was more offensive than his personality. We tried explaining to him that there were critical heart patients, but he insisted that his patient be taken on the bed. We then requested a stable young patient, who agreed reluctantly to go to the floor bed.

While this was being done, another old man was rushed in, his bronchitis/ asthma had worsened due to the excess pollution, a common problem in modern India. He was too late, his ambulance had been held in traffic. Already blue-black, he could not be saved inspite of frantic efforts. There were no relatives with him, we completed the paperwork and sent him to the mortuary.

In a few minutes, the fluctuating icu patient had a cardiac arrest. Loud noises of emergency carts, glass ampoules being broken open, and panicked cries filled up the ward. Starting CPR, we tried best to restart the silent heart. Such moments are beyond prayers, the doctor’s heart appeals through his hands, a dead patient’s heart. After a few minutes, the best sound in the world- that of a heart beating again- could be heard. Fingers crossed, we restarted his life-supports and gently informed his wife about what had happened. She was sobbing violently. I went to the doctors’ room to wash my hands.

It was then that the political pandal music could be heard again. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Our party has made this big decision. You will all have to pay a little extra, but we will give you a modern, advanced, beautiful India. We will make more advanced satellites, bridges, we will buy the best fighter jets in the world, more bullet trains and bigger statues shortly. We are already ranking very high in the world, we will continue to grow. The only major problem in India is other political parties” the speeches were heard loudly, with proud shouts of joy and claps from the pandal.

At about 5 AM, things settled down enough to sip some water. The nurses had made tea for themselves, the incharge sister Mrs Joseph lovingly ordered me to take a quick break and have a cup of tea. She read my face. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Doctor, I have been in this government hospital for nearly thirty years now. Nothing changes, whichever party comes to power. No one cares about the poor patients or their life. We need millions of doctors and nurses more, we need beds, equipment, so many more medicines, but we have to keep begging to the government as if we need it for personal use. Hundreds of patients die every day due to lacknof Medical care, because they cannot get beds, medicines or critical care. I was fed up long ago and wanted to quit. I had excellent offers from middle east and even UK. But I thought, if I left, who will look after these poor patients?”. She was to retire shortly.

Thousands of excellent doctors and nurses, pharmacists, and oher hospital staff carry on caring for poor and desperate patients in government and even private hospitals all over India, they are paid peanuts, are exploited inhumanly, yet keep working through festivals and celebrations, away from their families, with a smile upon their face. Right now, millions of critical patients are being attended by thousands of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff without thinking about salary, rewards, medals, sweets, new clothes or any form of celebration. The only medical festival is a saved life.

This post is to stand up and say a heartfelt “Thank You” to these doctors and nurses who are spending this Diwali with their patients.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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A Good Doctor’s Daughter

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

We sat inside her home, not able to speak. It was a Sunday. The doorbell rang. My classmate Siya looked at me, indicating with her eyes to please answer it.

Siya had lost her father that early morning. We had just finished the last rites and returned with that feeling of emptiness of life which prevails at such moments. Her father was a successful pediatrician, known for his excellent diagnosis and humanitarian approach. He had passed away at a very early age due to a rare cancer. He had kept working till the day he was admitted. His devastated family was staring at a long dark tunnel.

I went and opened the door.

“Doctorsaab hai kya? (Is the doctor home?)” asked a man in his thirties. Behind him were his wife and a son, about ten years old.

“No” I replied, but his wife immediately said: “Please, my son is his patient since last ten years, he has fever since last three days, we must meet the doctor”.

I requested him to please clear the door, shut it behind myself, and whispered to him: “Doctorsaab passed away early this morning”.

They looked at each other.

“How?” the husband asked.

“He had a cancer, he had some sudden complication” I replied.

After a pause. The husband asked “ Can you suggest some good pediatrician nearby?”

I did, and they went away. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

There was no word of feeling sorry for the doctor who had treated their son for ten years. Not even a formal gesture of condolence. Their child wasn’t very sick either, to skip the basic courtesy. For the next few days, I was at their place on and off, and somehow expected that man to return to express some form of condolence or gratitude. It never happened.

Then over a period of years, the truth gradually dawned: that this is normal. No one comes back to ask a dead or retired doctor’s family if they need any help.

Another young colleague of mine, a diabetologist, passed away recently. He had done phenomenal social work, treating many patients free, and even arranging for many patient’s education. Every time he referred a poor patient to me, he called up, requested me to see the patient free. We all gladly did. We had many common patients who followed up later with me, after his death. Unfortunately none of the patients who he had called about ever expressed anything beyond “He was a good doctor. Now I go to this doctor”.

I wonder how many of these patients will ever realize that every time this doctor had seen them free, he had taken a share of what his own children would have inherited, and given it to that patient.

I am a fan of Ayn Rand. I believe that it is nobody’s duty to help me, and that I should rely only upon myself. But unless this stands on both sides, it becomes meaningless. While the expectations from every doctor are expressed in heaps, when it comes to rewarding the good results “blessings, satisfaction of saving a life and good wishes” are conveniently considered enough. I sincerely doubt whether the future generations of doctors will be able to buy their petrol with blessings and satisfaction. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Why is the compulsion of “courteous, polite speaking” only applied to the doctors? Why cannot our society learn the same? The idiotic claim (often supported by some media legal officers) that ‘a patient is in distress and so doctors must accept the anger, impolite behavior, violence or abuse’ is so stupid and meaningless! Will a judge ever accept such reactions by an angry criminal? By the way, if the patient is stressed, is the doctor also not stressed for years? Is the doctor then allowed to misbehave? If the doctors can learn courtesy, why cannot others?

It is so funny that even the great politicians who keep on throwing mud and blood upon each other, use basest language of threats in public day in and day out advise doctors about how they should learn courtesy, humanity and communication.

Siya has now become a successful practitioner. After her father’s death, she wasn’t helped by the government, society or the patients that her father treated. The family had to compromise a lot to complete education of all the sibs.Yet she became an excellent doctor by her own wish, her own conviction and continues to be praised by her patients for her courtseys. After all, she is a good doctor’s daughter!

But her smile, when her patient compliments her, is hollow.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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