Slaughtering The Precious

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

At the casualty door she started shouting at me even before I went in. “We don’t want any tests. We don’t want to admit him in any critical care unit. Keep him in the general ward you have, we are now financially exhausted. Give basic medicines only “. Mrs. Julie, the patient’s daughter, went on:”We have already signed palliative care form”.

“Let me see the patient first “ I said and went in.

The resident doctor had earlier told me that the patient, an old man, was conscious, speaking quite well, aware of his illness. He was intermittently getting unconscious for a few minutes. He had high grade fever. He had lung cancer, and a brain scan a few days prior had revealed that that he had a secondary in the brain too. He had just completed his chemotherapy. The resident doctor had already started medicine for fits just now.

As I examined him, the jovial Mr. Shaw smiled back and told me that he was feeling a little giddy and tired, otherwise he had no complaints. He could even stand and walk without support. His blood pressure was normal, but the heart rate was quite high due to the fever.

“I think you have probably developed seizures due to the secondary in brain. There seems to be some infection too, we will run some tests and start antibiotics” I told him.(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

“When will I feel better, doctor?” He asked, “I want to be home and spend every possible day of my remaining time with my grandchildren. I want to also finish a book I am writing. I am told I have only a few months left. How much time do I have? Six months? Four atleast?” he asked, still smiling. Only doctors know what a smiling face with a crying heart actually looks like. “Every passing moment is extremely precious for me, doc! Please cure me fast” he said.

I assured him that if the tests showed nothing serious, he could go home once fever subsided, but the fits needed long term treatment. While we were having this talk he suddenly stiffened and his body developed jerky movements, then he became unconscious.

Ordering the emergency injections for fits, I told the casualty doctor to shift him to the critical care unit.

Coming out, I explained this to the angry daughter.

“Doc, we don’t want to treat him in any ICU. We also do not want any tests now. Please give him tablets instead of injections, we want to take him home as soon as his fever goes down” she replied.

This has become very common now, relatives of elderly people admitting them in hospitals, but refusing to do any tests, use injectable / costly medicines or shifting to critical care units. A doctor cannot refuse patients in such a condition, and it is an extremely painful, stressful situation to not be able to correctly investigate, treat a patient because relatives are unwilling. Ninety Nine percent of the times, money is the only reason. There are many charity, low cost and even good government hospitals, but the relatives also want the “show”of having admitted the patient at some posh hospital. Beyond a certain level, Private

hospitals cannot go on funding tests and treatments of hundreds of such patients even on a compassionate basis, because the poverty in India is never ending.

Compassion is the most abused entity in India.(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

I told her that even if they had signed for palliative care, his current condition was treatable, his fever and fits caused him distress and could be treated, but she staunchly refused to let us send any tests. We started with oral medicines after a lot of deliberation, keeping fingers crossed that he responds. He did.

On the third day, Mr. Shaw walked out of the hospital with his patent smile.

Just next week, his daughter returned to the OPD: “Doc, dad passed away two days ago. After going home he had fever again, but we decided to manage him at home. Somehow he could not get through this time. I have come to get your signature on these bills from his last medicines, we want to get reimbursed”.

“Was he seen by a doctor at home?” I asked her.

“No doc, we gave him the same medicines that he was earlier given for fever. We also searched online and ordered them. But in a way we also feel he is now relieved of all his troubles” she said, hushing up the topic.

I signed the papers, a duty and an obligation.

In every hospital, every day, we see parents rushing, crying, selling everything they have, urging doctors to save their children on one side, and grown up children urging doctors to hasten up the deaths of their parents on the other . Many sweet, politically correct and legally blurred terms are now available for masking these murders.

A patient with a terminal illness may himself sign for “non-aggressive / palliative” care (meaning pain relief, superficial / minor treatment without aggressive effort to save or maintain life), or if the patient is not in a good mental condition to sign such a consent, the relatives may sign so. However, in India where children mostly are responsible for the medical bills of the elderly, they flatly refuse to treat even treatable, reversible conditions citing “öld age” as a reason. Even in case of patients with terminal illness, to presume that someone is immediately unfit to live, or fit to die is like saying it is okay to terminate their life at someone else’s wish. This is cruel, unethical, immoral, and should stand supported in no courts of law.

However, these murders are a daily routine in India, and law has tied the hands of treating doctors and hospitals as one cannot investigate or treat a patient when the relatives haven’t given a consent. An evolution in the fraternity as well as in this society is necessary if a change is expected.(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

Otherwise, when we all will eventually be old, however much we want to live on for a few more days, one day someone will decide that we don’t deserve to continue to live, without ever wanting to know what we wished.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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