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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