The Mathematics Of Kindness

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Are you coming, doctor, or shall we file a complaint? We will go to the police if you don’t come in an hour”.

It was about 12 noon on a Sunday. My sister and her family were visiting for three days, this would be our only lunch together in this year. All other days I am in the hospital at the lunch hour.

A teenager was admitted for last two days with repeated alleged episodes of fainting with unconsciousness. His friends and family were all at the hospital, calling incessantly from different numbers. They were given my cell number by a colleague as he thought it was an emergency. I had seen the patient four times in last two days, rushing from the OPD as there were alarming calls. We had done all the necessary tests and found nothing wrong with the kid, we had concluded that he was malingering / faking these episodes. A neurologist has many tricks to unmask the truth. We had explained the facts to his family, a psychiatrist had confirmed this, and scheduled a meeting with the family on Monday. Till then we had added anti-anxiety pills and told the family to be patient. All the vital parameters were normal. I had explained the family to be patient.

My boss called, he was frustrated too. “Ja ke dekh le ek bar (Go and see him once). Some minister just called for him” he said.

Excusing myself from the lunch, I reached hospital. The teenager’s girlfriend was standing in panic by his side, crying while he was ‘unconscious’. The brother and friends raised their voices: “Why is this happening, doctor, why don’t you do something? Why is he not responding to the treatment? It is three days now. He is suffering so much”.

I am trained as a doctor to tolerate anger, frustration, anxiety, stupidity, bitterness or accusations, but I refuse to tolerate drama.

“I have explained to you many times. This is not real unconsciousness. A psychiatrist will have a meeting with your family tomorrow, till then there’s nothing more we can do”.

“What if he dies? What if you are wrong?” shouted the relative. I did not have an answer. I left the ward after messaging my boss, also asking him to transfer the case under someone else. The next day my psychiatrist friend called me. The teenager’s girlfriend was from another religion, parents on both sides had opposed their marriage, and this illness was their “brilliant solution” to get the parents to change their minds and agree. Cheap drama!

There’s no mathematics to kindness, we have all been taught. Do good, be compassionate and don’t expect any returns. People take advantage, but that is Their nature, you be yourself, kind and compassionate.

I was once returning from my Goa visit, there were long queues of frustrated people. Two apparently rich Indian tourists walked in, typically dressed for a Goan vacay. They saw the long lines, changed their faces, and rushed to the front of the line. One of these approached a foreigner in the line: “Excuse me, we will miss the flight… we were stuck in traffic.. my sister is sick, I must reach Delhi in time”. The foreigner, knowing that these were blatant lies, still allowed him to go ahead of himself. Kindness is almost a compulsion. Once on the other side of security, these “line-jumping liars” had the obvious expression upon their face: “Ullu banaya tum sabko (We made a fool of y’all)”.

At the hospital entrance, I often meet a paraparetic man in his scooter for the disabled. He usually blocks the hospital entrance with his three-wheeler scooter parked there while he talks at leisure with his friends. If anyone honks, they all play this “Can’t you see he is disabled? How rude!” card, intended to make others feel guilty. Even when it is an ambulance or a doctor’s vehicle, he will intentionally slowly move from the spot.

Every doctor, almost every day, meets people who blatantly lie: to bypass waiting lines, to ‘finish off with parent’s health issues over the weekend’, or to get concesions, free treatment. Some lie to exploit kindness and compassion, some to exploit financially. There are no guidelines defining an emergency and the charges for such “pseudo emergencies”. A doctor on duty must always resopnd to an emergency, but if off duty, he should be able to refuse cases on a holiday. All government hospitals have a 24/7 emergency department, the patient can be taken there.

Recently heard that an Indian lawyer charged in crores to an Indian client stuck on an European airport for a legal advice in an emergency. There were no cries about compassion, kindness or even patriotism. What should a doctor charge for a pseudo-emergency, especially when a precious holiday is wasted?

When I discharged this case, they asked me when to follow up. I replied without hesitation: “Never with me”.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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