Category Archives: Multiple Sclerosis

“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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The Changing Blood Group

The Changing Blood Group

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“He is sinking” shouted Dr. Siya.

The casualty registrar rushed to the bed, checked the vitals. Pulse very fast. Blood Pressure very low. Lips and nails white, hands and feet cold. The young man, unconscious, was on the verge of death.

“He must be bleeding inside. Get an urgent sonography of his abdomen”said the registrar to Dr. Siya, and call the blood bank. He will need at least two units of blood urgently”.

It was Dr. Siya’s first week into internship, she was thrilled with the idea of actually saving lives. At the young age of 22, she was witnessing death almost every other day. Along with that she was amazed to see the darkest sides of human nature: the potential of humans to hurt each other: via rapes, accidents, murders, fights. She had decided to not let this affect her attitude, and to continue to try and save every life she could.

That late night, this young man of about her own age was brought in unconscious by someone, who had just dropped the patient in the casualty and left without leaving any identity of himself. “I found him lying unconscious on the road. I don’t know anything else about him. I am just doing my duty, I have a train to catch”said the stranger and left. The patient was reeking of alcohol. He had a visible head injury. A quick CT scan had revealed minimal bleeding due to a small skull fracture. He also had had bleeding from wounds from his hands and legs, they were sutured. The patient had no identity marks, wallet or cellphone. The policy of the hospital was to provide basic treatment and shift the patient to the government hospital. The police station was already informed. Treatment was started.

Dr. Siya requested two units of blood. The blood bank called. They had only one unit of the blood for his blood group. The registrar had the same blood group, and like many doctors working in the emergency departments, he went down to donate blood.

It was nearly midnight. The fate of the life of a young man depended upon what the junior doctor did just then. There was no one to sign any consents, the protocol was to inform the hospital’s medical director and obtain consent for emergency transfusion or procedure. Dr. Siya finished the formalities, obtained the permission, and started the transfusion. If the patient had reacted or something went wrong now, they all feared, there will be a havoc in the media: that they had let an unknown patient die because they wanted money!

Dr. Siya kept on managing the show. The angry and disturbed relatives of other critical patients kept on taunting her, speaking rude and reluctant to complete simple formalities and paperwork.

The sonography was thankfully normal.

Just as the first unit of blood was over, the patient became conscious, and revealed his name. He was quite shaken with the surrounding, but told in broken sentences about his friend’s number and address. He revealed that while returning from a party, his bike was interrupted by a bunch of goons, he had fallen down, they hit him upon the head and left with all this belongings.

The friend was called, and came in. He revealed that the patient was used to smoking weed and drinking alcohol in huge quantities. They were staying in the hostel of a famous college.

The second blood unit was started, and in a short while the patient threw a convulsion. He was immediately given injectables for controlling the convulsions, he slept off with the effect.

His parents arrived early next morning.. The shocked mother was consoled and explained about the situation by Dr. Siya. The elderly father, like all fathers, equally shocked but being a father unable to cry, kept mum, just holding hands of the boy.

When the patient woke up again, the father came to Dr. Siya, and touched her feet. Too embarrased, she told him that the registrar had donated blood for the patient. The father went and thanked the registrar, again trying to touch his feet.

As Dr. Siya had finished her night duty, she prepared to leave. “Beta, Will you come soon please?”asked the tearful mother to her. “Yes Auntie, I will be back soon. Don’t worry, he is ok now”she reassured and left.

On her way back her genius young mind tried to look at the situation sitting upon her shoulder, the little third person that resides within each one who has a conscience. That booze and weed was easily available to youngsters in almost all Indian hostels, that even educated people rode bikes without helmet, that crimes were happening almost everywhere that injured and killed people, that law and order was a laughable term in many parts ofthe country, that there was no government mechanism in place to provide emergency medical / paramedic support ambulances to raod / traffic accident victims: which one is the most responsible cause, when patients like these died? Who is responsible?

She reached home, told her proud parents what had happened, that she had helped save a life. Her mother folded her hands towards the sky, said “God, let my daughter save many lives everday”.

While having the breakfast, her father turned on the TV. A famous but ill educated political leader, in his mind-and-other- organs blowing speech in Karnataka, was explaining the illiterate public how all Indian doctors charged in excess, how they were only after money, how everyone except himself was the enemy of the millions of patients surviving from critical heart attacks, accidents, strokes and other diseases. All patients getting better all over te country was only thanks to himself and his government!

Dr. Siya’s father laughed bitterly. “Next time you need blood for any poor or unknown patient, call him” he said.

Dr. Siya replied, laughing “That kind of ëver changing blood group doesn’t match anyone, it is useless for any patient, Papa”.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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“Is The Diagnosis Wrong, Doctor?”

“Is The Diagnosis Wrong, Doctor?”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Doctor, there is no improvement at all” said the angry husband, throwing the case-file upon my table.

Well this is not an extraordinary sentence for any doctor, one must be prepared to openly deal with this. I had been quite polite and well mannered with them, there was no reason he had to cross that line. I could understand though. When they pay my fees, they expect some result or satisfaction.

While teaching my students, I have always insisted that if the patient / relative says that there is no improvement or change with the prescribed medicine, one must first consider the possibility of a wrong diagnosis, a missed condition or a misinterpreted finding. Doctors are humans, and do commit mistakes, or misinterpret findings. This is normal, and happens with every doctor. Medicine is far more complicated than most people think they know. A good doctor knows this and learns, while all the time keeping patients safe, but a doctor with ego kills his own practice, and may cause harm to the patient.

I asked them to sit down and reassessed the case in detail. A 28 years old female. Headache, giddiness, imbalance, palpitations, breathlessness. Lack of sleep and bouts of crying. Past and family medical history not contributory. Physical examination completely normal. MRI of brain normal, Vitamin B12 and D levels low. I had started vitamin supplements, anti-anxiety medicines and an SOS for headache.

She told me all her earlier complaints had improved, but now she had a severe backache. I told the patient that I was trying my best to understand her condition, and to resolve her problem, but her findings and complaints didn’t match. She looked at her husband, and asked him “May I speak frankly to the doctor?”.

Openly agitated, the husband sarcastically offered to wait outside if she needed privacy. However he stood glued to the chair as if he knew her answer. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient thought for a moment, told him it’s ok he can wait inside, then started to talk. She revealed that she was the only child of her affluent parents, had passed engineering, but now had to quit job and stay at home to raise children. They lived in an extended family, with grand in-laws, in laws and an elder brother, his wife and two children. This patient was the ‘last in the line’ to take orders, all others being senior to her. Her husband and in-laws were perfectionists, and she was tired of their continuous expectations. She had dreamed of making a career too, wanted some free time outside home for herself, but year after year, she didn’t get even a minute for herself. She was tired of it all and there seemed no respite. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I am not averse to hard work, but the continuously condescending and fault-finding attitude makes me feel that I am useless”, she said, and added cautiously: “We were in the same institute and my ranks were always better than him. Look at where I am now” she started crying.

I offered them water and coffee, and waited for her to settle down. The husband became restless and defensive, but his tone was far lower. “I understand her problem, doctor, but what can I do? I cannot leave my family. My work pressures are quite high too, the IT industry is going through a bad phase”.

“I can assure you that she has no neurological problem now’ I replied, “she should improve with lifestyle changes, counseling for the family, and adequate free time for herself. I will refer you to a good counselor” I told them.

The husband laughed. “I can understand, but my parents will not. We will see what best we can do for her”. A bitter tone in his voice didn’t escape me.

‘Sir, she told us what bothered her, and must not be held guilty for trying to speak her mind. It will only help identify and treat the problem better. Please see a counselor together and avoid discussing this at home right now” I requested the husband. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

There are many reasons why a patient does not improve. Untreatable medical conditions, depression, seeing the wrong specialist are the most common reasons, but there also are patients who want medical leave,those who want to avoid work, who want attention, so will keep on complaining of false symptoms. They do not improve with drug treatment.
On the other hand there are many who keep on taking the wrong medicines for years, those who self-medicate, do atrocious / injudicious dieting and exercises, yoga that doesn’t suit them, and do not follow the doctor’s instructions about abstinence, who keep on indulging salt, sweet, oil, alcohol, tobacco and other drugs freely available in India. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A doctor remains a lifelong medical student. A doctor who thinks he / she is always correct is most dangerous. It is not uncommon to meet doctors who are angry / upset with the patient / colleagues when their diagnosis, treatment is questioned. The first thought of a doctor when the patient does not respond positively should be to consider a misdiagnosis, reevaluate the case in more detail, reassure the patient, and obtain a second opinion if necessary. All this done, one must look into other possibilities, with an approach to resolve the issue rather than trying to shove down the patient’s throat their own faults.
We all go through bad patches in life, doctors and patients. If the child is wrong, the parents correct them still with love. A doctor’s attitude should be similar, with due care to also protect themselves. If not the doctor, who will understand the patient whose family refuses to understand them? In so many ways, especially in the Indian society, the doctor must don the role of an elder brother/ sister. Although patronising is legally discouraged in medical practice, and should be refrained from in cases where trust is questionable, one can make exceptions for some cases that need reassurance where the family fails to do so.

The nobility of our profession also lies in reassuring the patients that they are well cared for by their doctor, through the thick and thin of their life.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Medical Secret Service: Unknown Angels

The Medical Secret Service: Unknown Angels
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Hullo, Vishwa? Please consider this an emergency. One of my rural patients is here, she is on XXX brand of tablets, she has finished the dose, needs more immediately for another three months. She cannot get them. She has to return by an evening bus. Can you do something?” I was in a hurry, between patients.
“Yes, Sir, I will arrange within a few hours” Vishwa said, and indeed, within two hours, the nearest medical shop called, saying that the medicine was available for the patient at a discount.
That evening I called to thank Vishwa, only to be shocked.
“Sir, you were in a hurry today morning so I didn’t tell, I had a heart attack last night, and an angioplasty was done. I am ok now.” said the 30 year old to me.
Like the thousands of his community, the Medical Representatives, he is immensely contributing to the healthcare industry, unrecognized and unacknowledged. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“”What is your job? Just passing on bribes to the doctors? My cousin said to me, Sir, and I did not reply. You should not argue with the one who has poison in his heart. People look down upon us, but they will never understand what we do” said a 60 year old man who had spent life as a medical representative, now a national manager. “We have no choice of judgment, our job is to be the link between the doctor and the company, and to make sure our medicine is available” he said.

Millions of busy doctors, overloaded with their work, have no clue how many pharma companies exist, what medicines they make, what medicines are newly launched, what is the brand name or price etc. It is not practically possible to read the whole new drug launch book every month. This community of medical representatives alone is the link between the pharma companies and the doctors, updating us about various new drug launches in India, their availability etc. They also arrange for academic events so necessary for the doctors and medical students. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Some Doctors are very good and treat us respectfully” said Janvi, who has spent over 20 years in this profession, “but some expect favours from the companies, in the form of tours, dinners and other things. Sometimes, I have had an occasional trespassing of moral lines by some doctor, but that was rare. One needs to be able to take care of one’s dignity and self -respect. Especially Indian women face a lot of difficulty and gender bias when making a career, at all levels.” she said.
“The pressure for women in this industry is immense, and like any careerist woman, I faced a lot of presumptive hate too. If a woman, and especially good looking, is successful, our society already has made its judgment as to the reasons of her success. Most Indian men do not tolerate the idea of a woman succeeding ahead of them. Of course, one must clearly set priorities as to whether one wants to make a career or family, and if both, where the compromises will be, because both are full time jobs at least for any woman. Most doctors have treated me well though, and most doctors also want to do good for their patients”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

In my 20 years of career as a doctor, I have never come across a Medical Representative who turned down my request to help a patient: lacs of rupees worth of medicines I have asked them to arrange free for my patients, and they have arranged without a question. Thousands of poor patients receive free / discounted costly medicines, injectables, even stents etc., thanks to the generous efforts of this community and their companies. Thousands of medical camps are arranged all over India, where patients get free check ups from doctors and free medicines by pharmas, arranged by the Medical Representatives, but there is seldom any recognition of this service.

Unlike in most other professions, this community helps out its members without bringing in the competition, and in a recent event, when a regional manager suffered a critical head injury, MRs from different companies collected funds to pay for his bills.

Very few people notice how cruelly difficult the life of a medical representative is. They have to meet a certain number of doctors every day. They often stand for uncertain hours and have days longer than 18 hours, as some doctors finish their OPDs long after midnight. Family life is screwed. They are also responsible for making available the stocks of their brand medicine at different medical shops, and have to bargain with everyone: the stockist, distributor, hospitals, and sometimes the medical shops for making their brand available. The final sale figures are their assessment at every month-end. To achieve targets is essential in pharma industry as in any business, to survive. It is the Medical representatives community that faces the brunt on both sides: company pressure and the medical profession.
Unfortunately, our hate-bespectacled society cannot see anything beyond its suspicions: that all companies offer bribes and all doctors take them, that all doctors deliberately prescribe costlier medicine to earn cuts, and that the whole medical service is driven by money. This is somewhat like a suspicious husband who has a very beautiful and loyal wife, but cannot be happy with her because of his own paranoia. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I know many doctors who do not ask for any personal favours from the pharma, do not accept gifts, and pass on all the benefits to their patients. But I do not know any mention of gratefulness for such doctors anywhere. Without the medical representatives playing their part well, the medical profession will be quite helpless.

This article is to salute the thousands of medical representatives who work hard day and night, live an extremely compromised life, and still contribute to the service by medical profession, making life easy for millions of patients.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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Living By The Words ‘Being A Doctor’.

 

Living By The Words ‘Being A Doctor’.

 

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“He is critical, an emergency heart surgery is planned tomorrow morning. The surgeon says there is very little chance of surviving this. I don’t know what to do. I cannot imagine this is happening to us.” Dr. Ranjeeta Joshi was crying on the cellphove, still making an effort to keep her voice even. Her squeezing agony about the sudden illness of her Orthopedician husband Dr. Sudhir Joshi reflected in each word she uttered.

This was a weird coincidence! I was not working that day, attending a court summons because a patient was being divorced for having epilepsy. On the way back I also had had a terrible argument with a very precious friend, we were both hurt. Both these had emotionally upset me badly, and so on my way back to Pune, I changed my route to visit my favourite Ganesh temple, where I usually rediscover my lost calm when life batters my patience and bludgeons my peace. Just as I entered this temple premises, I had received this call from Dr. Ranjeeta.

I knew the couple well because Dr. Ranjeeta is struggling bravely with two bad diagnoses: Multiple Sclerosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis. The fluctuations of both cripple her often, but she stands back stronger every time. I knew she was already using a walker. Dr. Sudhir is one of the most renowned Orthopaedic surgeons in Mumbai, with his own hospital at Dadar. Dr. Ranjeeta looks after the administration of that hospital.

I was shocked. I didn’t know exactly how I could help. I reassured her. I told her I was praying for both of them, and urged her to have complete faith in a good outcome. One of the best cardiac teams, Dr. Ramakant Panda, Dr. Vijay DeSilva, Dr. Tilak Suvarna and their colleagues were to operate Dr. Sudhir in few hours. I prayed for the couple, informed her so, and returned to Pune.

She kept updating me. The surgery lasted over 11 hours. Dr. Sudhir was shifted to CCU.

Dr. Ranjeeta ran the show at their Dadar hospital. The staff of their hospital refused to accept salaries that month, and told Dr. Ranjeeta: “You have always looked after us and our families. Now it is our turn to stand by”.

Every passing day was like a slow mountain of fear heavy upon the shoulders of everyone involved. While using her walker and occasionally a wheelchair, Dr. Ranjeeta successfully managed to attend all his needs as well as home and hospital. Dr. Sudhir gradually came out of critical status, in a few days started walking again, and within two months started attending his patients.

Barely after 10 weeks of this major calamity, this medical phoenix started performing major surgeries again, back to his “Doctor Normal”.

When they came today, I was quite moved to see him all back to normal. Of course the love that the couple emanated for each other is beyond words, and I will refrain from expressing what is more beautiful unsaid!

Dr. Ranjeeta, with tearful eyes and a smile, said “We are so happy and grateful to God that we won! I feel every doctor must decide to be a survivor, strive to keep fit, because so many lives depend upon him / her.” she said.

“You are such a brave motivation!” I told Dr. Sudhir.

“It is my privilege to be a doctor, not everyone is lucky enough to become one. In death no one has a choice, but in life we do. I wanted to live and practice again, because being a doctor is a special ability! I can do so much for so many. I love this so much, that this itself became my motivation to survive and become fit again.” Dr. Sudhir replied.

As I stood mesmerised by his words, a beautiful guide to every doctor, he extended something.

A Montblanc Special Edition JFK Fountain Pen, something I was window shopping for so long!

What I ever did to deserve it, I will never know. But this beautiful pen will always remind me of the great JFK,, and more importantly, how I must make the best of my own life as a doctor .

One of the most famous quotes of JFK reads: “As we express Gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to just utter words, but to live by them”. There are thousands of prayers involved in becoming a doctor, in surviving, in reaching where we are today, each one of us. If only we live by our words, what we promised ourselves to be, never giving up, we can defeat so many adversities that stand between us and our life-goals.

Thank you, Dr. Sudhir and Dr. Ranjeeta Joshi, for this reminder, and being a great example.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Targets and Doctors: A Fatal Flaw

Targets and Doctors: A Fatal Flaw
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“What will you become when you grow up?” a common question heard in childhood. Always weary of doing the routine and fond of a little spice in life, I had kept a list of answers to surprise and occasionally shock the questioner uncle / aunt, based upon the spontaneous dislike they generated by other questions and general behaviour and replied something like “It’s a secret” or “It depends upon when in future” etc. There is no better revenge than vagueness for some. In the moment when they paused to react to that vague answer, I would make an innocent face and ask “What was your percentage when you were my age?”. Then the explanations of how things were more difficult and in general marks were lower back then were very entertaining! Curiously, those uncles / aunties did not ask me further questions. Target hit.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
For the better and polite class of grown ups, I had the standard answers that my parents would like: Doctor, Scientist etc. The real answers were too “out of the league” for the culture I grew up in then. One thing was sure: the big-eyed respect that the words “I want to be a Doctor” evoked from the listener was sure better than any other response.
Somehow the wish to become a doctor caught hold better, probably because of parental influence. Once I completed MBBS, I loved the actual interaction and started realising the enormous satisfaction potential that the skill generated. The ‘high’ of vast complicated knowledge sharpened daily by experience was superior to the ability of a non-medico to understand or praise it. It was an autonomously growing satisfaction.
Then came the thought that I want to learn more. There are better skilled people, who could treat better than me. Getting admission to MD Medicine was very difficult, there was no question of paying in private colleges as we could barely even afford the govt. medical college fees. A lot of somersaults later, I got admission. There was an explosion of medical knowledge and wisdom suddenly, and there was no choice but to comply. Good and bad patients, good and bad teachers, good and bad friends, good and bad times were all drowned by the prime necessity and survival technique of every genuine doctor: Study!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Ego is greedy. Mine too. After MD, there was a desire that I want the highest specialisation: DM. More battles. More scars. All worth the title. With that degree, it felt like I have won the world.
At that time if anyone had said I worked for a financial target, I would have declared a war.
Many more steps in education later, I woke up to the naked reality: however good a specialist you become, you have to either have your own multicrore hospital, or work at someone else’s. Basic medical practice is far different from specialty practice, which requires more time, more investigations, intensive care and complicated treatment strategies / surgical techniques.
When one joins a private hospital, one realises this more intensely: there really are good and bad specialists. Some are very thorough in their academic base but cannot convert that in good patient outcomes or numbers. Some are very sweet and courteous with patients but they lack proper skill, knowledge or experience. The spectrum is wider than one can imagine. Obviously like in every profession, some think of earning more money as their primary aim.
Anyone who owns a hospital must invest many crores of their private money, directly or via bank loans. Sometimes the govt. helps in reducing the cost of land. But in each case, the maintainence cost of any hospital runs usually in lakhs to crores, more with each bed added. Intensive care beds are the costliest investment.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
When the owners of any hospital invest crores of rupees, they have targets to return their loans., to maintain the expenses that run in crores again: right from 24/7 failproof electricity and water arrangements to the availability of medicines, stents, catheters etc. in the hospital premises. The nursing, reception, helper, technician staff (in most major hospitals, the staff runs in thousands) must be engaged in three shifts, and paid in time commensurate with other establishments/ professions.
The only help that comes from the govt. is initial subsidy in land / water prices. There are no tax relaxations for any hospital/ staff. 20% of all services and beds are reserved for the poor. (If anyone has doubts that the poor-reserved services are not utilised, they can verify with the charity commissioner any day). On top of this all govt. employees must be seen at pathetically low rates, and even that amount is usually pending to be paid for years if not decades.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Add to this the profiteering that the medical insurance companies have created: on one hand twisting the arms of private hospitals to provide specialty medicare at bare minimum rates, while on the other hand declining many deserving patients medical coverage due to idiotic reasons.
In this scenario, the last thing that a corporate / private hospital can afford is a non-performing specialist, whose salary runs in lacs of rupees every month (which is what that cadre deserves).
Most corporates / private hospitals are aware of this, and usually support a budding practitioner till his practice picks up. After that, the least he / she is expected to do is to maintain that level of practice or increase it, returning the investment that the hospital has made in his growth. The provision of a furnished room, electricity, washroom, cafeteria, parking, staff and salary to a non-performing or underperforming doctor is not affordable for every hospital.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
This generated the word “Target”, which was quickly coloured villainous by many. Which financial endeavour can be run without setting financial targets? If anyone is naïve enough to think that all hospital owners will invest their hard earned crores for charity and leave the returns to fate, they must get examined by a qualified practitioner. If the hospital cannot generate enough profit money, there won’t be any growth in medical technology. If they cannot repay loans, the hospital will be confiscated by banks.
Many hospitals of excellent doctors have closed down because they could not sustain the charity they attempted. Indian poverty and healthcare need is beyond the capacity of even the govt. to cope up with, so to expect a private company / doctor / hospital to provide free / concessional high quality continuous medical care to everyone can only be a fool’s dream. This applies to the MRI centers, diagnostic facilities, labs, physiotherapy units etc. where multiple crores are invested.
Some hospitals realised the potential of profit making in this “Target setting” and turned greedy. Mostly good specialists do not stay at such hospitals. Even if most hospitals pinch most doctors to achieve certain numbers, not every specialist works to achieve that target. I know many who would rather keep their ethics and be good clinicians, still staying in the lesser favourite class of management, rather than selling their ethics to shine among the administrators.
The notion that “Every specialist in every big hospital is working to achieve targets by deceiving the patient” is a fatal flaw developing in the mind of our society . Fatal because this also generates fear of going to the right specialist or reaching too late for them to be able to save life.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
If I cannot afford a Mercedes, I will drive the car I can actually afford, rather than blaming and maligning the entire car industry. Many other cheaper, equally safer options are available for travel.
The problem is, everyone wants the best, highest class of super specialty medical care in luxurious set-ups, at the price list of a sarkari dawakhana. Most doctors who studied in govt. hospitals know that the quality of doctors is very good there too, but if we give that option to the patient, they say “No, not in sarkari” because they want to avoid long lines and “general population treatment”.
As the doctor is the only responsible face that the patient sees in the hospital, many obviously end up thinking that every penny they pay is going to the doctor, at least in percentage. Many will be surprised to know that a doctor usually gets less than 10 % of the total hospital bill as his fees in most cases.
Few will understand that the real “Target” that most doctors work for is to do good to the patient, to save lives. Millions of successful treatment and surgical outcomes from the corporate and other hospitals are a proof of this.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Dedicated to the private hospitals started with the aim of making available specialty medical care for the society and caught up in unfair, unjust allegations because everyone wants free healthcare.
PS: There are greedy doctors and hospitals, like in every other profession. This article is not about them. It is wrong to advise patients unnecessary procedures / tests to achieve financial targets. This article is to explain to the society that target setting is essential for any hospital where recurring investment in new technology and maintenance is also the responsibility of the owner.
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