Category Archives: Multiple Sclerosis

The Last Bullet For Indian Private Healthcare


© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Many doctors, nurses and other staff, police officers are dying due to corona exposure. Recently the quarantine period of doctors was cancelled. To add to this, very ridiculously, doctors’ salaries were reduced, and covid funds were deducted from even frontline warriors’ salary. This is like taking money from a soldier’s paycheck to fund the army!!

When I recently heard some people shouting about excess bills in hospitals, doctors not working etc., I felt like shouting back too, but one cannot argue with a sold TV screen.

For decades India has had
Excess urban crowding,
Very poor hygiene.
Very high poverty and illiteracy.
Lack of town-planning for slums.
Severe lack of state/ national healthcare infrastructure.
Tiniest budget for healthcare.
Perpetually under-functioning government hospitals. Every season hundreds die due to epidemics.

Where were you till before the pandemic? Who is responsible for all of the above? Do you want to discuss these factors which are responsible for the pandemic chaos today? Or now you just blame it all upon Doctors and Private hospitals?© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Only private doctors with small nursing homes and dispensaries, clinics were shouldering all healthcare needs that government hospitals could not provide. They had low profits and catered to middle and lower class. These were destroyed in last few years because of too many stringent regulations and costly licensing. Many closed down. Legal troubles by relatives, politicos supporting them and vandalising hospitals forced many private doctors to stop admitting patients. Protection to doctors was denied by almost all governments till before this pandemic.

Indian poverty is never ending, and charity cannot run anything perpetually unless there’s a strong fund generating mechanism supporting it. If someone expects that doctors charging 2 rupees fees are the ideal healthcare for all our medical needs, they should happily go to such a doctor. We highly respect them too, but it is their choice and there are obvious limitations to that. To develop advanced healthcare in India, higher profits were necessary for higher investment. Corporates, some businessmen and the likes of Mr. Ambani pitched in. Advanced healthcare with heart and liver transplants, complicated brain surgeries, cancer treatments came to India because of these investors. They accepted all the conditions of governments to accommodate over twenty percent poor, nonpaying patients via various schemes. The payments for running these schemes were delayed by various govts for years, and the hospitals were arm-twisted in still continuing to treat everyone. The only source of profits was private and some insurance patients who were paying a higher fees for facilities: from air-conditioning, food to choice of specialists. Higher quality of staff, especially nursing and technicians who can operate high end machinery and robotics requires very high salaries. Maintenance costs are heavy. A specialist cannot do much without such a very good team. Each of these requires good if not great salaries, as they are continuously invited by developed countries who pay far higher.

But then every patient wants the highest facilities, best staff and specialist team, with no payment or basic payment. There’s no concept of billing beyond actual price of medicines and room charges. Service and maintenance is considered a ‘free right’. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Even in this modern era of equality, a higher class Indian officer like a minister gets a higher room, better food and other facilities, even higher medical bill sanctions, whereas the labourer from his department gets minimum basic facilities and bill eligibility only for general ward. Law allows higher healthcare’s standards and payments for higher officials. Why do they even have classes in railways and airplanes? If a “Gareeb bechara” migrant wants to fly home, should we offer him road transport or compassionate air travel? Why don’t we do for all the poor something that you all expect doctors and hospitals to do?

We don’t mind if basic and emergency healthcare is uniformly cheap or free for everyone. But when you force a high-end medical commodity (skill-time-investment-staff) to be sold at a loss or extremely marginal profit, you kill the system.

Doctors do not differentiate when making a diagnosis or treating anyone from any financial/ power background. But the private hospitals must be allowed to cater to different classes, earning their profits. That is their only stimulus to grow forward, engage best personnel and bring advanced healthcare to India. Different governments have failed at maintaining high standards of healthcare in their respective set-ups (with some proud exceptions- but because that’s where our powerful go). Some hospitals indeed take more bills for better class of services, including staff, but none of them forces a patient to come to them. Even these hospitals never deny free emergency treatment to anyone.

“But isn’t healthcare a charity? Haven’t you taken oaths to serve?” our loudmouth hypocrites ask.

Yes we have taken an oath to serve everyone rich and poor equally, but no, we have not taken any oath to neglect our own health and well being. Yes we have taken an oath to serve, but we have not taken any oath to live in perpetual poverty and financial stress. Yes we are under an oath to do our best for every patient, but we will not be bending backwards to fulfil their unreasonable demands. Yes we want to save every life, even if it is dangerous , but we will not unnecessarily endanger our own life because someone forces us. We haven’t taken an oath to abandon our families. The Hippocratic oath does not ask any doctor to stay hungry, work without sleep, and do the unscientific because various governments cannot pay for adequate number of doctors. Still we are doing all this already. Let us be clear: we proudly and intellectually serve our country, but we refuse to be considered slaves of either the system or the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Capping bills in private hospitals will be the last bullet for all advances in healthcare development in India. Be prepared to go back to the chaos of ancient times in that case. Quality will suffer most: right from specialists to nurses to medicines. You can of course force one generation of doctors to work like this, under low cost and excess work. People aren’t fools to send their children to such hells of social slavery. Yes you read that right. There’s a difference between service and slavery. Do not attempt to turn medical service providers into slaves. It will backfire very sourly.

Instead of this, the government can invest in existing private healthcare players to create low cost infrastructure alongside their private hospitals, or privatising its own healthcare institutions with increased capacity. Our governments do have friends in very high places who can invest.

We love India. We are not against any particular government, and this post is not against any leader or party. But we do feel very strongly that healthcare decisions must be made involving everyone concerned, that this people-pleasing for short term will turn out to be a huge disaster in long run, and it will be irreversible. If any government thinks that cancelling hospital permits and doctors’ licences in a country with severe shortage of medical services is the right way forward, God help it.

If private and corporate hospitals start shutting down now, it will be permanent. India will then have to mostly rely upon prayers alone for healthcare. And of course those who think they know medical science more than doctors. India has no dearth of such “fatally self-medicating” ignoramuses.

Jai Hind

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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An Interview With a Neurology Legend

An Interview With a Neurology Legend

Dr. Satish Khadilkar

MD, DM, DNBE, FIAN, FICP, FAMS, FRCP (London)

Dean and Professor and Head, Department of Neurology,

Bombay Hospital Institute of Medical Sciences, Mumbai.

He is a living legend, one of the best neurologists anywhere, a stunning example of what an ideal doctor should be like.

He needs no introduction to those in the medical world: he has carved his golden name in global neurosciences with his passion for Neurology and especially NeuroMuscular diseases, pioneering this specialty in India. I am grateful to Dr. Satish Khadilkar for agreeing to guide us all.

Q: How does it feel at the top?

A: Grateful to life!

In the health pyramid, ‘top’ really means ‘more useful’! And there are at least three parts to being useful: providing service, teaching and conducting research. Indeed, I am grateful to life for having provided me with the opportunities to be useful to colleagues and disease sufferers in all the three spheres.

Q: What are the most essential qualities that a doctor must possess?

A: As mentioned above; service, teaching and research are the three main pillars of medical careers. Each of these requires different virtues. Service requires patience, availability, affordability and the capacity to empathize with the sufferers. Teaching requires clarity of ideas and the ability to be inspirational to the new entrants and younger colleagues. And research requires an analytical mind to understand questions, be unbiased to design experiments in search of the answer.

Depending upon which field you choose, relevant qualities will need to be enhanced. In my mind now, as I have gone on, service has emerged as the noblest frontier for the medicine man. So the essential qualities are compassion, knowledge and the desire to help.

Q: What do you suggest we do to improve the clinical sense among newer generations of doctors?

A: Simple answer: bedside clinics by masters of clinical medicine and shadowing them to see how they utilize the limited resources.

Q: How do you deal with the ever widening knowledgebase while effectively practising as one of the busiest practitioners in the country?

A: Knowledge is of two types, one to know it yourself and the other, to know where to find it! In the present times; we have moved on to the second mode. The great thing about this era is that knowledge is freely available. We only need to develop the ability to design the search to get rapid answers to our questions. There are courses available to this effect.

While this is true for problem-based daily issues, in one’s own area of interest, one has to acquire all the manuscripts and threadbare them, assimilate them and understand them, for deeper knowledge.

Q: How do you handle the incessant negativity which doctors face while dealing with so many incurable conditions and gradually deteriorating patients?

A: Negativity in the doctor’s mind stems from the perceived personal inability to help or to provide solutions. Doctors need to appreciate that their role is limited to being knowledgeable helpers. If we keep in mind the inadequacies of medicine as a science and our restricted role, negativity is less likely to take roots.

Q: What is your take on making holidays, vacation compulsory for doctors to overcome stress?

A: Personally, I do not see the need to take holidays, as my daily work itself is a never ending holiday! I do not remember taking a holiday in last three decades. The better you gel with your work, less it stresses you and less is the need to break.

Having said that, as our work relates to human life, we have to make sure that we take adequate rest and are “on the top of our game” for the hours that we work, as our shortcomings can have consequences.

Q: What advice will you give about handling family responsibilities and duties to the new generation doctors?

A: Human relationships take very long to build and only one indiscretion is enough to undo these. So, in relationships and family, equal attention needs to be given, as you would in your profession. In today’s competitive India, we tend to take the family granted and actually end up doing the least for those who matter most!

It is best to think of this early on while planning the professional career.

Q: What best can be done to stop the exodus of doctors from India?

A: Talented Indian doctors need to be appreciated by the society and the health system in India. System needs to be more humane and responsive to the doctors’ needs. Doctors also need to understand the process of medicine, its goals, trials and tribulations. Till this happens, we shall see movement to greener pastures, where this process has evolved better.

Q: Your guiding thoughts for future Indian Doctors?

A: Let us all remember that we are in medicine to help suffering people. That is the core of medicine. We are healers and scientists. If we don’t veer from this ideal and have patience, all material wants and requirements will automatically fall in place. So to understand medicine, one must never forget that this is the noblest of all professions. I have chosen its nobility as a guiding principle for myself. I found my solace in drowning myself deep in the vast oceans of knowledge about neuromuscular disorders and using it in the service of suffering multitudes.

©️Dr. Satish Khadilkar & Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Take me for granted

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Neurologist

Pune/ Mumbai

“Is your food more important than the patient?” asked a angry voice on the other end of the phone.

It was a Saturday night, about 11 PM, and I had already had a tough day. I had not had time for even lunch, my head was hurting already. I had known the patient for over five years, her husband wanted to “discuss something” urgently. I had requested him to call next day, honestly mentioning to him that I was on my way for dinner. That’s when he asked if food was more important than patient.

“No. Food is not important than the patient”, I said, “Please tell me.”

“Listen doc, today after dinner me and my wife had our usual walk in the society, when we met a neighbour who told us about a new herbal treatment for neurological patients. He said it worked like magic in paralysis cases and the cure was guaranteed. He had some extra bottles, but it is very costly. So we decided to call you and ask”.

“What is so urgent about it?”I asked.

“Not urgent, but we were both very excited and anxious, so we decided to call you and ask” He replied. I told him that that they were free to try anything they wanted, yet cautioned him to check the contents and then alone take any medicine.

I wasn’t angry.

The next morning, I had to visit a government office. There was a huge queue. By noon, as the queue extended, the officer got up and with a calm face went for his lunch, displaying a a sign “Lunch Hour”. I wasn’t angry.

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I remembered the time when I had to visit a minister, a bigshot political leader for some issues about resident doctors. We had to repeatedly call for appointment, it was cancelled many times, then we were made to wait for hours, securitymen surrounded the elected representative, considered a public servant. Then at six he suddenly got up and left, quoting an urgent meeting. I wasn’t angry.

Because as a doctor I am perpetually alive to the fact that people take me for granted. That they will misuse compassion, avail of my private time for trivial reasons without feeling any guilt or compensating for it. That they will expect me to be sympathetic even with arrogant, abusive and blatant liars who treaten me with assault.

Because big ministers and political leaders who have a checkered past and disrepute of lying can openly make allegations that tarnishes the image of all doctors in the eyes of our “Election Elite Public”. Blanket allegations by many that accuse all doctors of indulging in malpractices and foreign tours or worse, ‘asking for women from pharma’ have become common.

Don’t these people know that thousands of most successful doctors in India are in fact women, and it is such a huge insult to those as well as the glorious careers of many thousand other medical professionals who live a life of an ideal doctor, who have trained millions of medical students successfully in that tradition?

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

More than half of those in the parliament must have been successfully delivered by a qualified doctor, and most of them must have had their children brought up/ treated by expert doctors. Most politicos must be under the treatment of some or other specialist, so that they can work well, still they have this habit of “Attention seeking” by trying to disgrace the whole profession of best qualified people of their own country.

What ingratitude!

The other day I also saw a video of some sermon in some village, making fun of doctors and specialists. The religious speaker, who could have easily qualified as a stand up comedian, and had no clue what a doctor does and why, was making cheap fun of doctors. What was more alarming was the way public was laughing and clapping, thousands of them! I wondered how many of them, their family members were treated by some doctor, and how many of them remembered it. I can understand and enjoy jokes and fun. But this was maliciously criticising an entire profession of highly educated people serving India 24/7, inspite of the hate and paranoia that surrounds them, that too by a person without any medical background or qualification! Many comedians have actually gone beyond “graceful” and “quality” comedy to cheapest low levels to criticise doctors. Hope they meet good doctors who avoid head traumas at least when their children are born!

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

You cannot and should not make fun of militarymen. That never means there cannot be anyone wrong in themilitary / army. But there’s a system to deal with that, it is not open for politicos, temporary ministers, and self proclaimed godmen / women / artists to criticise the military. The guilty must be punished, whether in any profession or service, and it should be done legally, and others should stop speaking about it. This should apply to the medical profession too. There indeed must be some doctors who are wrong, they must be dealt with, but we do not go out and blame everyone from other profession!

The most common allegation is about doctor’s handwriting. Well, if you have the guts and patience to listen to over 50 crying/ complaining people every day, while writing for them a “Scientific” list of medicines, which can save life or kill, without committing a single mistake, for decade after decade, then you are welcome for a handwriting challenge with doctors. Google the word “Scientific” and see how much of your speech is scientific before you speak abut doctors! For government hospitals, the daily patient number crosses 150 per doctor. Every prescription is a huge liability. If the chemist can read it and others cannot, who is illiterate?

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I have seen the most artistic and best handwriting by doctors at all levels: students to specialists. Indeed, some doctors may have a bad handwriting, but in a country that has many illiterate leaders, some who never completed school or college, a society with one of the highest illiteracy rate in the world, it is such a paradox that they all have such a unity when laughing at doctors who write 40-200 pages every day, each page bringing back someone or other from suffering to relief, from death to life!

No amount of a leaders’ loud and chest thumping speech will ever save a patient from a heart attack or paralysis. No amount of comedy will take off the ventilator of a comatose patient in critical care unit. No poetry in beautiful handwriting will safely deliver a child. No political leader can stay awake in a casualty to treat a dying poor found injured on the road. All Doctors do this.

Still, I am not angry, because I have come to accept the fact that Indian society hates their most meritorious, studious children: the doctors.

Take me for granted, I am all yours.

For now.

An Indian Doctor, happy with his purpose of saving lives, reducing suffering of Patients from across the world, too busy to stand up and waste my anger on cheap attention seekers.

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Neurologist

Pune/ Mumbai

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The Fairy And The Prince

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The beautiful radiant lady wheeled in the patient’s chair and wished me with a pleasant smile. Some smiles, however beautiful, have a tragic shade. I looked at the patient Rohan. A very well built fair young man in his late twenties, must have been very handsome in the past. He sat paralysed below the shoulders, one eye closed, face twisted, and a large surgical scar upon his head, partially covered by a cap. He could not speak. Any movement would cause violent tremors. He was wheelchair bound and had to be assisted even for toilet.

Rohan and Riya had married just two years ago, against the wish of their parents. Both from very affluent, but uneducated families. Both worked at the same office. In a few months after marriage, Rohan had developed high blood pressure, and was advised treatment. Unfortunately, he got carried away with some false claims about some herbal medicines shown on National Television channels and stopped the BP medicines. The obvious happened: one of the blood vessels in his brain ruptured due to high BP, and there was a huge bleeding. A Neurosurgeon had done an excellent job by taking this high-risk case on operation table in emergency, to suck out the blood clots and save his life. However, the damage was already done by then, much of his brain was damaged on one side. Riya had been caring for him since then. She looked after him just as a mother cares for her newborn.

“Doctor, we know his paralysis will not improve now. But he is brilliant, I know his brain thinks fast and accurate. Since this stroke he cannot speak. We have come with some hope for his speech. If he could just tell me what he feels, if something is bothering him, what he wants, etc., I will be very grateful” his wife said.

We started treatment. In a few days, Rohan could speak legibly, so she was very happy. Rohan’s parents were very happy too. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

One day, Riya’s father came with her. He asked her to wait outside my room for a few minutes, she reluctantly left. With folded hands and tears, he spoke: “Doctor sahab, my daughter married against our wish. I have forgiven her now. But I cannot see her spending her life like this. She was the most brilliant girl in our town, she had even rejected job offers to go to America because Rohan wanted to stay in India. You can see that she is still young and beautiful. Anyone will marry her; she is one in a million. I’m not saying this because she is my daughter, but you can see for yourself from how she cares for her husband. She has become his attendant now. What is her fault? How can a father see his daughter wasting away her youth like this? They have no family life. I cannot even speak to her about this. Her mother tried but Riya refused to speak. She speaks very highly of you, so I have come with this hope. Please help us”.

This was very difficult, but a duty too. If not me, who could even attempt to resolve this?

“Let us ask her about her thoughts” I told her father and requested him not to react when she spoke. We called her in. I told her in short how her father felt. She sat straight. Her face became distorted and she wept silently. Her father kept on patting her while weeping himself.

“Papa, when Rohan could recently speak after so many months, the first thing he told me was to leave him and marry someone else. He refused to eat his medicines, saying that I should leave him. Then I promised him that I will leave him after two years. That was a lie. I know he will die if I leave. I could feel his love even when he could not speak, that’s something more precious to me than whatever you think I will get if I marry someone else. Till the day he had this bleeding in the brain, he made sure I was best taken care of. He never had his food before me. How can I spend even one happy moment with anyone else knowing that Rohan is suffering in this same world? Would you be proud of me if I did that? Did you teach me to be so selfish?” She broke down. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande. Her father did not say anything. They left.

In a few weeks, Rohan followed up again with Riya. He is now gradually learning to operate a computer. He plans to start his own online business. Riya is helping him do that, while continuing to work. They are now planning for a child soon.

This fairy I met was more beautiful than any other in the dreamy stories I had heard all through my childhood. I am glad that I am a witness to this divine fairytale.

I know even of another couple, where the girl had developed a paralysis in her college days. I had counselled her and her boyfriend about future uncertainties and a possibility of a compromised married life, given her illness. “That’s not the most important thing for us” he had said. They married. Today, about 8 years since then, they have a healthy, happy kid, and he still cares for her as much, now when she is in a wheelchair. This knight lives in a rented house, runs a small grocery store, rides a bicycle, wears the simplest of clothes, yet has a heart that would put to shame many a real princes!

My world as a doctor is full of beautiful fairies and knights, named caretakers. It is because of them that thousands of patients are surviving with dignity today. Medical care is so incomplete without them! I remember my favourite author Richard Bach’s words from “The Bridge Across Forever”: “Princesses, Knights, Enchantments and Dragons, Mystery and Adventure… not only are they here and now, they’re all that EVER lived on earth!” How true!! © Dr. Rajas Deshpande.

Among the stories of sadness and suffering, most doctors also come across best of the human hearts and minds, highest forms of love and care. Such patients and relatives reinforce our own trust and faith in the ability of human efforts to heal. Thanks to what I learn from my patients, my gratitude for being a doctor is endless!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dedicated to all caretakers, young and old, who silently sacrifice much of their life caring for their loved ones.

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Yes: The Most Powerful Word.

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Mohanad, child of a small time mechanic in Yemen, developed a devastating condition called “Transverse Myelitis” which causes sudden damage to the main connecting cable from brain to the rest of the body, called “Spinal Cord”. He not only lost all sensation, but was completely paralysed below the waist, his control over passing urine was also lost. That was seven months ago. He was told that his remaining life will be in a wheelchair. He wasn’t convinced.

His mechanic father and farmer brother decided to get help and travelled with him to India for his treatment. When he came, he could not feel anything below waist and had no movement at all.

One beautiful thing about being a child is that you don’t have inhibitions, fears or anxieties like adults. One can learn from children how to be optimistic beyond par. They have more “Yes” in their minds.

When I met him for the first time, I thought the child was a little upset with his own situation. To boost his morale I told him I was going to make every effort to make him walk again, but I needed his help.

He smiled.. “Yes, I want to walk. I will walk. I will run” he said.

He worked hard. Took medicine without complaining. Never cried. Did all that was planned for him.

Today after three months, he has started to gradually improve. Most of his recovery is natural, with some supplements and nerve strengthening medicines, and physiotherapy. He came in with a cute big smile to report this improvement today. He will travel back to his country next week. He knows there’s a long long way to go before realising his dreams, but that’s the beauty of dreams: when they come true, they make you proud of yourself that you overcame all that stood between you and your dreams.

Mohanad deserves a big applause for his grit and courage. I pray that he always smiles this beautiful smile all his life! I have become a fan of his “Yes I can!”.

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“My Turn Now”

©Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I don’t want to live like this. I have stopped eating since today. Please do not be angry with me for this, but I cannot see you and my children suffer because of my illness. Let me go with peace” Geetanjali said to her husband.

Eighteen years after her marriage, in her late thirties, Geetanjali suddenly lost the function of one half of her body. Her children were still in school. Her husband Gajendra Jagtap works as a school teacher and does some farming on a small piece of land they own. The whole family was shocked and shattered with this calamity that befell Geetanjali. But Gajendra Jagtap decided not to be broken down by destiny, and took his wife immediately to the best hospitals in Mumbai. They were told that Geetanjali was suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. After a few days of treatment, they could not afford to stay in Mumbai and came to Pune as it was nearer to their village. The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Pune extended its helping hand. Geetanjali was yet unable to stand up or walk. ‘This illness is totally unpredictable, anyone can develop blindness or disability anytime’ doctors told them. Geetanjali felt hopeless. She was very depressed with the thought of stressing her husband financially to provide for the treatment expenses. She also worried if her children’s education will suffer due to her illness and financial constraints. This was the reason she decided that she did not want to live any further, and gave up eating or drinking anything.

But Gajendra was not the typical Indian husband. This B. Sc. Graduate who had taken up teaching in a rural school as his profession had a big heart, and harbored principles of equality and respect for women, just like a highly educated spouse in a developed country. He told Geetanjali, ‘You have served me and our children for over eighteen years now. When I was working in the school or in the farm, you looked after the home, cooked for us and fed us sumptuously. Now give us a chance to repay for what you have done for us. It’s my turn now. I am going to take care of you just like you cared for us.’ Geetanjhali could not hold her emotions and sobbed when she narrated this story to me.

‘At that point of time, I felt like living only to help my family. I decided to use whatever few healthy days I had to make my husband and children happy.’ She started to fight her disability with a new spirit, and in a few months could walk very well again. Since then she had attacks of this disease many times, but vehemently fought it to recover every time, with the help of her husband.

Gajendra told me “I explained my children our situation. I told them that we don’t have much money left, and that they must only complete their education based upon merit. We are very fortunate that our children decided to grow up quite early in their childhood. Both of them studied very well, and my elder son is now doing his post graduation which he got through a scholarship in Delhi. Even my daughter got excellent marks and is now pursuing her post graduation by winning a scholarship. Both of them take care of their own expenses, and never bother us for money. Even I have decided that whatever our destiny presents us with, we will face it with a smile, and never accept defeat in any situation. We have to visit hospitals many times, spend on treatment and investigations, travel many times, but we do it all with a spirit of winning together. Whenever she can, she still takes care of the home, and when she can’t, I do it with the help of my daughter. But we never feel desolate or depressed”.

In the developed world, people suffering from this illness get a lot of healthcare facilities, and even income tax concessions. However, this farmer from a lower middle class background who does not receive any such help, has not only resurrected his family, but created a new life for his wife with his sheer love and determination. The most admirable thing about his love story is the respect and feeling of equality with which he thinks of his wife. Geetanjali also stood up firmly with him to conquer this illness, with all her love and might. Together, they have indeed defeated their destiny.

We sincerely pray for the excellent health, well-being and long life for each member of this wonderful and ideal family.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Neurologist, Pune

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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

Victim? Dr. Reena’s story

Victim? Dr. Reena’s story

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I am being victimised, Sir! I have tried to do my best, but my senior has developed some prejudice against me and has started to find faults with everything I do. I don’t know, I feel suicidal sometimes” the resident doctor Reena said, breaking down. She was into medicine, one of the toughest branches for post graduation.

This was a difficult situation. It is very well known that some seniors and teachers do take advantage of the situation to mistreat and misuse their students or subordinates. It is also well known that both men and women in every profession, including medicine, have strong gender biases and favouritism. Sycophancy is so essential in India, that I wonder sometimes whether an official bachelors / masters “Chamchagiri” (sycophancy) certificate will be necessary before people are selected for their jobs.

I gave her some instructions to ignore words and minor incidences, and concentrate on doing her official duties with concentration. I also counselled her about how to handle egoistic, arrogant seniors. She was supposed to follow up next week.

That weekend, I met a colleague of mine, Dr. Anand, in the coffee shop. There was no OPD, it being a Sunday. We sipped coffee in the canteen, telling each other funny stuff about other colleagues. Medicine provides great entertainment too, in the form of various types of doctors, and we start with ourselves usually. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Just then, another doctor came in, Dr. Anand invited him to join us and introduced me to him as Dr. Ashwin. “Ashwin was my junior resident” said Dr. Anand, “and one of the most brilliant students. He’s a wiz. He wanted to work for the downtrodden, so he has continued to work at the govt. hospital after his MD. Most dedicated! That’s why most girls around us liked him and we all envied him”. It is rare for Anand to praise someone this much, I was quite impressed and happy.

But Dr. Ashwin appeared quite disturbed. Dr. Anand asked him if he was ok.

“No, yaar. I am facing a big problem. There’s this girl in my unit, who has made my life hell. She has filed complaints against me to the dean, my name is all mud”.

“Complain against you?” said Dr. Anand, truly surprised “Even your wife never complains against you”. He was trying to lighten up the mood. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Yes. But you know how heavy our PG duties are. This girl, besides being lousy and careless, refuses to finish her work, constantly looks at the watch and doesn’t want to be corrected. How can we tolerate carelessness in medicine? There are patients in the ICU and this lady keeps busy with her cellphone! I gave her a warning that I will complain, but instead, she went ahead and complained that I was harassing her, implying serious charges. Fortunately my wife and the dean understand the situation, but you know some people in the campus would rather see me down. I don’t know what to do. I am thinking of resigning”.

“Can you share her name?” I asked, cautiously. The guess was correct. It indeed was Dr. Reena.

“I tried to talk to her, I requested her to call her parents. Apparently she has grown up as a pampered child, her parents refuse to even think that she can be wrong. They started complaining that their daughter didn’t get enough rest and good food, that she has always been a super genius kid and how many a times even her teachers could not understand her genius”.

Now the picture was clear, with the other side of the story revealed.

There indeed is, nowadays, a rampant tendency to play a victim, especially to cover up for one’s own failures, inadequacies and lethargy. Children who allege that their failures are either because of their parents being over disciplined or completely negligent, boys who hate their parents and refuse accepting that they fell short of hard work and dedication because of too many diversions, girls who sometimes lie about “sexual abuse”, and employees who underperform only to blame it upon a racist / pervert / prejudiced boss are classical examples when stress factors are analysed well. There was one girl who alleged abuse by her step father, just to tell me minutes later that it was probably her imagination, and that she didn’t know if it was a dream! It was her mother who then revealed that the girl had always used that ‘dream reality’ sequence whenever she wanted something and was refused. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

There indeed is rampant true victimisation in all these areas, and one must always stand by the victim. But the overflow of sympathy that drowns sense and reasoning (thank you, media and some movies!) must always be avoided. Differentiating ‘true’ and ‘pseudo’ victims is never easy especially because there always will be the social biases. Most Indian men unfortunately truly look down upon women, most seniors think that juniors cannot be more intelligent, parents often mentally overpower logic when dealing with kids etc.. Still there indeed are many who hide behind the “victim” tag, just to take advantage of the sympathy and protection it offers, using it to hide their own negative side. A lot of people use suicide threats, false complaints and other pressure tactics to emotionally exploit and threaten others. When this happens in a workplace, it poisons the whole atmosphere. There is indeed no protection for the true victims here.

Next time when Dr. Reena came to visit, I told her how I chanced upon the doctor who was “troubling” her. As expected, she cried and defended her stance, but after some gentle coaxing, when I reiterated that the actual problem must be dealt with, she agreed to have a meeting with Dr. Ashwin. I called in a female counsellor too, and in a few meetings, we could sort out the issue.

Medical career is, difficult, it is important to do every single thing perfectly and with utmost care and concentration. No one else can ever replace the life-saving responsibility of a doctor on duty. A doctor who isn’t fully attentive to everything about every patient can be dangerous.

Dr. Reena agreed to go by the duties allotted and improve her performance, while Dr. Ashwin reassured her that he had nothing personal against her, that she could always compare her duties and performance with her other batchmates. He also told her that now onwards he will mind his words better. She withdrew the complaint.

Dedicated to those such who have had this horrible experience.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Higher Suffering

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Stuck in the heavy traffic due to rains, I tried to remain calm. The cellphone kept on ringing, patients who were waiting, those who wanted appointments, those who were to catch their ride out of station anxiously asked when will I reach. Some lost patience and raised voice. In addition, there were calls about the patients admitted in the hospital: critical decisions to be made, idiotic questions by insurance companies to be replied to. There were huge processions, the traffic was diverted, without any arrangements for ambulances. Impatient, aggressive and violent people is a reality on almost all Indian roads now. No one cares for law on the road. You are at the mercy of anyone who chooses to pick up a fight with you.

There were some issues at home too, the cook had called in sick, we had to do some emergency cooking. That had delayed my start.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

At last, an hour late, I reached the OPD, and entered running. Faces with controlled anger greeted with cultured politeness. Prepared for bitter comments, I called in the first patient.

This was a free patient, she did not need a follow up. But being free, she visits almost religiously every month, whenever she has a fight with her husband. Sometimes, when the only guaranteed compassion is from a doctor, it can be misused. However, as I was late, I decided to respect their patience, and told them to visit a counselor. Nevertheless, my irritation heightened, that this added to the wait of other patients.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I certainly am impatient with meaningless waste of time, and sometimes the traffic, the sudden changes in schedules due to someone’s irresponsible behavior, and misuse of compassionate services bring me to the edge of a reaction. This was one such moment. My face must have become grim.

The next patient walked in, an elderly gentleman with Parkinson’s disease. He was accompanied by his wife. They were supposed to come back three months later, but had followed up early. I examined him, found him quite stable neurologically, but the usual twinkle in his eyes was absent. Even his usually smiling wife appeared lost. It must be the traffic, my late arrival or something likewise, I thought, and curbed my curiosity to ask them. Today was heavy and behind schedule, I must wind up fast. Yet, as I explained them that everything was stable and alright, that they need not worry, I noticed the unspoken uneasiness in their body language. A little reluctantly but keeping up with the expectation of my own heart, I asked them: “You look quite disturbed and stressed. Is anything the matter? I am sorry I came late today”.

“No, no doctor, it’s not that. But yes, he is stressed and disturbed said the wife, and looked inquisitively towards her husband. ”Shall I tell him?” she asked.

Looking down, hiding his face, the husband nodded.

“Doctor, we lost our only son ten only days ago. Someone killed him on the road. Some drunk goons dashed his car from behind, and when he got down to check the damage, they attacked him and hit him on the head with some rods. He was lying on the road for a long time, and by the time police took him to the hospital, he was gone. We came to know after a few hours. He was our only child, an engineering scholar who had returned to India with great dreams .”

The lady was silently weeping as she kept her emotions in control. The patient was sobbing, I called the receptionist to get a glass of water.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We have done so much for our town and the society” said the patient, “but now I feel it was all useless. No one is safe even on the roads. We see so many rules and laws broken, so many violent and aggressive people that it has become difficult to question anyone even when they misbehave”.

I had no words to pacify them. What can pacify the parents of a dead child, that too a victim lawlessness?

The receptionist called “Sir, the next patient is shouting” she said.

“Five minutes” I requested her.

“You are busy, doc, we will leave. But I brought him here only because he feels better when he meets you. Once you reassure him, he will feel a little secure. Even I feel better when I see you. Otherwise we sit at home just staring at each other’s sunken souls. We have no relatives”.

That was a bitter eye opener to me. They had chosen me to be their lifeline in the worst times of their life, and here I was, thinking about my worries, my time, and the inevitable small happenings that block the path of every working person every day. I had momentarily ignored the fact that I must still enter the hospital with a smile, push behind myself all the negatives that pull me down. For every patient here to see me comes with a hundred fears and a thousand expectations, the least I can do for them is be compassionate and reassuring, whatever may have happened till that moment.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“You may see many patients in a day and listen to their troubles, doc, but you are the only doctor your patient meets in a long time. I don’t know about you, but we always feel good when we see you”. The wife added.

Yes, I had heard that earlier, in my teacher’s cabin. Once a patient develops trust in his / her doctor, they look upon the doctor as one of the most reliable resource for courage, compassion and troubleshooting, even beyond the expertise of that doctor. As doctors, we must never forget this, and stand up tall above all our personal problems to be the supermen and superwomen, the Messiahs, the Saviors that we are expected to be. Law and some idiots do push a stick in our wheels, but then the patient is far above both. A patient’s suffering is always far above that of any doctor.

I stood up, held the patient’s hand, and reassured them: that they do have a relative here in Pune. “According to the Pune tradition”, I said, “one should offer tea only when the guests are half out of the door, but I will make an exception today .”

Having them sit in the next empty room, I proceeded with the OPD. Ordering tea for everyone in the OPD waiting room, I stole a few more minutes to calm the ruffled souls of those two, and asked them to see me again, whenever they wished.

As I returned late after dark, even through the rainy night, a sweet moonlight made the raindrops glow. Just like every doctor brings back the smiles to the burning hearts of their patients!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Why Don’t You Marry Her, Doc?”

photo 19-09-16, 22 52 52
Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Sir, she cannot walk, she is paralysed below chest since last few days. Her husband doesn’t care, he has abandoned her. She has no money or insurance for tests or treatment. I want to help her, I don’t know what to do” I told my junior consultant, who was having his coffee break with senior consultant and the departmental secretaries. He looked at me in a nasty way, and said “Why don’t you marry her?” and they all laughed aloud. However, although my professor smiled with them, he asked me to get the patient’s papers.

She was a case of Multiple Sclerosis, in her early thirties, and had lost ability to walk. Her sensation below the waist, control over urine was also lost. This ghastly illness of the brain and spine often cripples the young. In many cases, when such disability develops, divorces follow. The world as we doctors see it is far more cruel, deceptive and dangerous than most illnesses humanity knows. She was left with a small daughter and no income. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I felt insulted, but I was in a foreign country. The junior consultant was known for his sarcastic humour and enjoyed impressing women around him, often at the cost of others, like so many dwarfs who take advantage of their chair to achieve what they otherwise cannot. I chose to ignore him, and got the papers to our boss, who called a colleague to enrol the patient in one of the upcoming research trials. That would ensure her free tests and medicines for a few years. I told her the good news. She started sobbing, then handed me a note written by her:
“I am killing myself as I have nothing left except my daughter, I cannot look after her with my disability. I have no complaints against anyone. Please look after my daughter”.
In some time, after she stabilised, she said “Doc, I had come prepared to kill myself today. My daughter is sitting in the cafeteria. If you had not told me what you did just now, believe me, I was planning to drive my wheelchair off the roof today”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

We called her 10 year old daughter from the cafeteria. Little did the cute child know how lucky she was to see her mother again that day.

That evening, my boss, the senior consultant, took me out for a dinner. Once the red wine loosened strained faces, he started to speak: “Rajaas, I know you are kind and you want to help others. I know you feel for your patients. But I must caution you, don’t get carried away. Your job is clear: to listen, to advise the best line of investigations and treatment, to explain, and to compassionately guide. Don’t carry too much weight upon your shoulders”.
“Why, Sir?”I asked politely, “I feel inner peace when I walk an extra mile to help my patient. How can that cause me any harm? Didn’t this lady survive just because you helped her today?”
“Because it is a never ending burden. To be able to effectively help everyone coming to you, you must have too much money and too much time. Doctors seldom have either. I lost a lot of time and money, to realise that this cycle never ends, that newer and more people need your help every day, all your life. I almost went bankrupt, collapsed and quit under stress. Then I realised that I must limit this so I could serve them best the next day”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It felt like dry reasoning at that moment. However, boss continued to help patients beyond duty whenever I asked him. Over years, I realised how correct Boss was!

My dear british colleague Dr. Mindy was trying to help a patient through her divorce, I accompanied her. As the patient opened up, she revealed to Mindy that although she enjoyed marijuana, her husband was involved in the sale of other illicit drugs, and that was one reason that she wanted to divorce him. Dr. Mindy involved a counsellor to help her out. However, after they decided to patch up their marriage, the patient told her husband that she had confided in Dr. Mindy. The husband came over and politely threatened her to keep all the information only to herself, otherwise be prepared for dare consequences.
We all spent many a restless nights after that.

Emotionally disturbed, helpless patients, those who are treated unfair by family often depend upon a kind doctor. They get quite restless at times, worry a lot and then expect an immediate hearing and resolution from their doctor. From suicide threats to blackmails, there are messages that pour in once that channel is opened. This sometimes wreaks havoc in the doctor‘s life, because being disturbed affects clinical practice and decision making. The small time left for self and family is thus shot dead. A patient who becomes emotionally dependent upon the doctor can turn into a nightmare for the doctor. Over years, I learnt to balance this, going out of the way only for the few truly deserving patients.

Thousands of patients have survived just because their doctor emotionally supported them in time, otherwise they would have died of lack of will to carry on. No one ever credits the doctors who become emotional back-ups for their patients: a service that costs them time and stress, without any income. That is unfortunately considered a “duty” of the doctor, to be kind and available at bad times, but to be forgotten in good times. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande. Many actually think that good words, compliments and “a satisfaction of serving” should be sufficient compensation for the doctor. Nothing fully compensates, although kind words do sometimes make one feel good.

However, what caused worse hurt to me was some of my own colleagues who made fun of me and many other doctors who went out of their way to help patients. “Impractical, unnecessary, worthless, drama”, and so many other adjectives are used by colleagues and even seniors/ some teachers for doctors, students, residents who walk an extra mile to help their patients. I was extremely fortunate that I met some good teachers who supported my efforts without mocking me, and I continue to meet students who carry on this noble trait forwards.

When I was leaving, the junior consultant came over for the farewell too, and told me in too many words how I must learn to be “Practical”. I gave him a reply that one teacher with advanced genius had taught me years ago, for people who do less themselves and advise others a lot. This reply saves a lot of time and energy, my teacher had told me, and its beauty is that people don’t even understand that you are saying ‘those two useful words’ when you reply like this:

I just smiled at him.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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