Category Archives: Social work

The Poverty Vow

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Long day. Came home. Ritual steamy hot bath to wash away the hospital feel, followed by steaming hot dinner. Switched on jazz, and I picked up the pasta. Heaven descended upon my tongue.

“How perfect this moment is!” I thought, and that’s where I was wrong. The phone rang.

“Sir, 18 year old buy, had fever since a day, took some tablets, became unconscious, now comatose. Vitals are stable, although he is coughing occasionally. No past history significant. Poor family, cannot afford treatment. Father is a labourer. What should I do?”

“Get him into the ICU, intubate if required and stabilise. Arrange for an MRI”

“OK Sir, but Sir they don’t even have a deposit. They had first gone to the government hospital, but as they were not happy there they have come here”. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We will work something out. I am on my way” I replied.

In an hour, after examining the boy and seeing his MRI and other tests, we concluded that he had viral encephalitis. The standard medicines were started.

The boy’s father, an obvious poor slum dweller, was in a state of shock. The mother, sobbing, told me the history. I reassured them. When I explained the diagnosis and treatment they asked some questions.

“We don’t understand anything, we are illiterate and poor. Do anything Sir, Just save my son, Sir” the father folded his hands together. Private hospitals have a quota for free patients, but usually it is always overloaded. I requested the hospital management to please make this a free case, they accepted.

The next day, the child opened his eyes. On the third day he started responding. I was quite elated to have his mother speak with him. However, his respiration was still shallow, and blood presure very low. His heart rate was fluctuating due to the effect of viral infection. He was still critical. I spoke to his parents twice every day, specifically reassuring them. Poor patients must never feel that they are not equally cared for. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

That evening, as I attended my patients in the OPD, the patient’s father came in, requested that he wanted to have a word. He came in with six other people. None of them could possibly be poor, given their get ups.

“Yes?”I asked.

The patient’s father looked at the giant next to him. “You ask” he said to the giant.

The giant, chewing his gutkha, askked me “What’s wrong with his son?”

“I have explained them thrice”I replied, “he has viral infection of the brain. There’s a lot of swelling upon his brain”.

“How come he is not improving? His BP was normal when he came. He did not have any heart problems. Now you tell us his heart is not functioning well” asked another medical superstar with white linen and gold teeth. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Yes, this happens commonly with viral infections” I replied, feeling hopeless. How to teach complicated medicine to this pure- muscular class? I wondered.

“But you said he had infection in the brain. How come now he has it in the heart? Is the treatment wrong?” Asked someone similar among them, in a tone nastier than medical examiners.

I looked at the patient’s father. He was looking at the ceiling, deliberately avoiding eye contact with me.

“Listen, Sir”, I told them, “Your patient has viral infection, it has primarily affected the brain, but involvement or dysfunction of other organs is well known with such infections, this is not something new to us. We are on guard, dealing with the situation. Nothing is wrong about the treatment, in fact his brain swelling has improved, and he is conscious now. Ask his mother” I looked at her.

“I don’t know” she said, “we don’t find any improvement in my child. Nobody tells us anything”.

“Haven’t I explained you and his father patient’s condition every day?” I asked. They did not reply.

The white linen gold teeth spoke again: “We want a report. We want to show the case to another doctor”

That was a relief. I gladly wrote them a report. They went doctor-shopping all day. They returned next day. Almost everyone had asked them to continue the same treatment that we had advised, except some desperate non-specialist telling them to shift the patient immediately for a surgery at his hospital. Even our gold-toothed medical superstar understood that it was wrong! (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“We will continue treatment here only. But our patient must survive” came an open threat.

”I will do my best, but I cannot guarantee you anything. You may please transfer the patient under the care of any doctor of your choice” I told them.

“No no, you continue to treat him.But if anything goes wrong, we will file a police complaint. We will ruin this hospital”said one of them.

I am allergic to threats. I don’t allow them twice from the same source in my life. How could any doctor guarantee that there could be no complications? How could I say that the patient could not react to any medicine in such a critical condition? If every patient could have guaranteed improvement, what’s the need for a doctor?

“I am sorry, I am planning for a leave next few days. I won’t be able to see your patient. I have requested our management to transfer your case to another doctor” I told them.

There was a movie “Teesri Kasam”in which the lead character, at the end of the movie, vows never to help the character of the lead actress in the movie, because the very wish and effort to help her has shattered his life, caused him regret. Most Doctors are now being forced to take such a vow. Urban Poverty is not so simple and innocent in a hospital as it appears to the media and society. Whether it is the roadside rowdiness of slum dwellers who roam around with weapons or a maid’s drunkard husband in civilised society, we all understand the misuse of poverty status well anywhere outside hospital, but somehow when this happens in a hospital, the blame is automaytically pinned upon the hospital or the doctor.

But who among the vote-mongers will speak against the majority voting bank?

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The Other Side Of Life

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Wear your helmet” said my grandma, as I kicked my scooter “and don’t argue”.

I could have argued with the POTUS, but not with my grandma. I had come to my uncle’s house to visit my grandma, with the additional attraction of eating the delicious Diwali snacks she made. I wore my helmet and scooted back as fast as I could. My duty started at eight PM in the ICU, and the resident doctor who was on duty had warned me that she had to be with her in-laws for her first Diwali with the new family. All icu beds were full, one patient was intermittently gasping, unlikely to recover, and three others were fluctuating.

Firecrackers, lighting, happy people in new clothes were all around, yet out of mind. I parked the scooter outside the ward and ran in.

“Thank you thank you” said my predecessor, and explained me the cases and ongoing treatment.

When at the bed of the patient who was intermittently worsening, she told me “Listen he’s on dobutamine drip, we don’t have it, I have borrowed two ampoules from the medical shop outside. I will pay him later. His family has no money”. Many critical drugs were not available in the icu, a common problem even today across India.

She left.

Behind the ICU building, a political party was celebrating the festival in a pandal, with repeated announcements of its achievements. Loud lewd music was playing, less irritating than the dramatised loud repitition of the party leaders’names. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Three more heart patients came in, but the ward beds were full, there already were twelve patients on the floor. This is a common scenario in almost all government hospitals across India. We begged the ward resident doctor to help us, and he agreed to shift three of his patients to the floor. The heart patients were taken on the beds outside ICU, and their medicines were started. We struggled at every step. The student nurses, enthusiastic and energetic, virtually carry half the weight of the doctor’s work upon their shoulders. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A municipal councillor walked in drunk, and started abusing the ward resident doctor for shifting “his”patient to the floor bed. Aggressive and drunk, his language was more offensive than his personality. We tried explaining to him that there were critical heart patients, but he insisted that his patient be taken on the bed. We then requested a stable young patient, who agreed reluctantly to go to the floor bed.

While this was being done, another old man was rushed in, his bronchitis/ asthma had worsened due to the excess pollution, a common problem in modern India. He was too late, his ambulance had been held in traffic. Already blue-black, he could not be saved inspite of frantic efforts. There were no relatives with him, we completed the paperwork and sent him to the mortuary.

In a few minutes, the fluctuating icu patient had a cardiac arrest. Loud noises of emergency carts, glass ampoules being broken open, and panicked cries filled up the ward. Starting CPR, we tried best to restart the silent heart. Such moments are beyond prayers, the doctor’s heart appeals through his hands, a dead patient’s heart. After a few minutes, the best sound in the world- that of a heart beating again- could be heard. Fingers crossed, we restarted his life-supports and gently informed his wife about what had happened. She was sobbing violently. I went to the doctors’ room to wash my hands.

It was then that the political pandal music could be heard again. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Our party has made this big decision. You will all have to pay a little extra, but we will give you a modern, advanced, beautiful India. We will make more advanced satellites, bridges, we will buy the best fighter jets in the world, more bullet trains and bigger statues shortly. We are already ranking very high in the world, we will continue to grow. The only major problem in India is other political parties” the speeches were heard loudly, with proud shouts of joy and claps from the pandal.

At about 5 AM, things settled down enough to sip some water. The nurses had made tea for themselves, the incharge sister Mrs Joseph lovingly ordered me to take a quick break and have a cup of tea. She read my face. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Doctor, I have been in this government hospital for nearly thirty years now. Nothing changes, whichever party comes to power. No one cares about the poor patients or their life. We need millions of doctors and nurses more, we need beds, equipment, so many more medicines, but we have to keep begging to the government as if we need it for personal use. Hundreds of patients die every day due to lacknof Medical care, because they cannot get beds, medicines or critical care. I was fed up long ago and wanted to quit. I had excellent offers from middle east and even UK. But I thought, if I left, who will look after these poor patients?”. She was to retire shortly.

Thousands of excellent doctors and nurses, pharmacists, and oher hospital staff carry on caring for poor and desperate patients in government and even private hospitals all over India, they are paid peanuts, are exploited inhumanly, yet keep working through festivals and celebrations, away from their families, with a smile upon their face. Right now, millions of critical patients are being attended by thousands of doctors, nurses and other hospital staff without thinking about salary, rewards, medals, sweets, new clothes or any form of celebration. The only medical festival is a saved life.

This post is to stand up and say a heartfelt “Thank You” to these doctors and nurses who are spending this Diwali with their patients.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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A Good Doctor’s Daughter

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

We sat inside her home, not able to speak. It was a Sunday. The doorbell rang. My classmate Siya looked at me, indicating with her eyes to please answer it.

Siya had lost her father that early morning. We had just finished the last rites and returned with that feeling of emptiness of life which prevails at such moments. Her father was a successful pediatrician, known for his excellent diagnosis and humanitarian approach. He had passed away at a very early age due to a rare cancer. He had kept working till the day he was admitted. His devastated family was staring at a long dark tunnel.

I went and opened the door.

“Doctorsaab hai kya? (Is the doctor home?)” asked a man in his thirties. Behind him were his wife and a son, about ten years old.

“No” I replied, but his wife immediately said: “Please, my son is his patient since last ten years, he has fever since last three days, we must meet the doctor”.

I requested him to please clear the door, shut it behind myself, and whispered to him: “Doctorsaab passed away early this morning”.

They looked at each other.

“How?” the husband asked.

“He had a cancer, he had some sudden complication” I replied.

After a pause. The husband asked “ Can you suggest some good pediatrician nearby?”

I did, and they went away. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

There was no word of feeling sorry for the doctor who had treated their son for ten years. Not even a formal gesture of condolence. Their child wasn’t very sick either, to skip the basic courtesy. For the next few days, I was at their place on and off, and somehow expected that man to return to express some form of condolence or gratitude. It never happened.

Then over a period of years, the truth gradually dawned: that this is normal. No one comes back to ask a dead or retired doctor’s family if they need any help.

Another young colleague of mine, a diabetologist, passed away recently. He had done phenomenal social work, treating many patients free, and even arranging for many patient’s education. Every time he referred a poor patient to me, he called up, requested me to see the patient free. We all gladly did. We had many common patients who followed up later with me, after his death. Unfortunately none of the patients who he had called about ever expressed anything beyond “He was a good doctor. Now I go to this doctor”.

I wonder how many of these patients will ever realize that every time this doctor had seen them free, he had taken a share of what his own children would have inherited, and given it to that patient.

I am a fan of Ayn Rand. I believe that it is nobody’s duty to help me, and that I should rely only upon myself. But unless this stands on both sides, it becomes meaningless. While the expectations from every doctor are expressed in heaps, when it comes to rewarding the good results “blessings, satisfaction of saving a life and good wishes” are conveniently considered enough. I sincerely doubt whether the future generations of doctors will be able to buy their petrol with blessings and satisfaction. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Why is the compulsion of “courteous, polite speaking” only applied to the doctors? Why cannot our society learn the same? The idiotic claim (often supported by some media legal officers) that ‘a patient is in distress and so doctors must accept the anger, impolite behavior, violence or abuse’ is so stupid and meaningless! Will a judge ever accept such reactions by an angry criminal? By the way, if the patient is stressed, is the doctor also not stressed for years? Is the doctor then allowed to misbehave? If the doctors can learn courtesy, why cannot others?

It is so funny that even the great politicians who keep on throwing mud and blood upon each other, use basest language of threats in public day in and day out advise doctors about how they should learn courtesy, humanity and communication.

Siya has now become a successful practitioner. After her father’s death, she wasn’t helped by the government, society or the patients that her father treated. The family had to compromise a lot to complete education of all the sibs.Yet she became an excellent doctor by her own wish, her own conviction and continues to be praised by her patients for her courtseys. After all, she is a good doctor’s daughter!

But her smile, when her patient compliments her, is hollow.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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He woke me up again!

All through MBBS and MD, living in the hostel, one rarely had time for eating. The eternal aim was to keep awake, alert and running task to task 24/7. That needed a constant supply of stimulants: namely a tea that could bring you back from hell, and a visit to the pan-shop for You know what (bad habit, never mean to encourage, quit a decade ago).

But who had a steady supply of money? Most of us were dependent on the tiny money orders which vanished in a week, and then we depended upon the kindness of the tea-stall and pan-shop owner.

Mangesh Tea Stall at Jubilee Park, run by Inder, Gajanan and Ravi was our eternal hope and den, like that of thousands of doctors passing out from GMC Aurangabad. They fed us with snacks and tea for weeks/ months, trusting that we will pay back. Most of us did. Yet there were times when harsh and sarcastic comments were necessary to remind us of the payments due.

But the grandness of these souls was that in spite of themselves being so poor, they never ever denied to serve us snacks, tea and smokes, even when we weren’t able to pay for long. The stacked up bills must have been such a burden for them, yet they always said: “You doctors have such a heavy duty.. it’s ok”.

It was so necessary to visit them today after 20 years and say “thank you” for standing by us, supporting us in our pauper times!

The day was made again, when Inder made the same “back from hell tea”, and reminded that there’s a lot of work to finish yet!

He woke me up again! This reminder of how grateful I should be for all that I did not have then but have received now is so powerful!

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Left to Right: Ravi, Myself, Inder, Gajanan, Dr. Shrinivas Gadappa.

Hon’ble Babaji’s Medical Interview

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A long fleet of luxury cars entered our big hospital. Sirens and whistles, security guards brandishing their AK 56s. and shouts of humiliation for the common men and women suddenly filled up the scene.

Hon’ble Babaji had arrived. A vacuous smile and blessing hands greeted one and all. Babaji was known to cure one and all with his blessings, secret medicines, chants, touch, and even exercises. There was nothing he didn’t treat, so he was the ultimate superspecialist with highest experience and cure rate. No deaths were ever reported among those millions treated by Babaji.

I was in the ward with some of my colleagues, a junior doctor then. The most reliable pleasure in the life of junior doctors is pretty, beautiful and handsome colleagues to work with! Rare exceptions with extreme merit are of course there.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A rich businessman and senior minister was admitted in emergency with a heart attack last night. Doctors had performed an emergency angioplasty, barely in time to save his life. Highest offices in the country had warned doctors to ‘do the very best’ for him, till the time he could be flown out of the country for the most advanced treatment. After the meeting of money, influence and power, we got a chance to request Babaji for a small interview to guide us inexperienced doctors. Looking at some of the prettiest faces among us, he gracefully consented. Here are some excerpts of the interview for the benefit of mundane, inexperienced new generation doctors and junta:

Doctor A ( looks OK): Namaskar Babaji! Can you tell us where you studied this art of curing all the illnesses?

Babaji: Beta this is the inheritance of generations, bestowed upon those who perform some secret rituals, it took me many years in the forest to learn it all.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dr. Me ( looks ugly as you know): But Babaji, did you have patients to treat in the forests?

Angry Babaji: No. To learn this secret art you do not need to practice upon patients like your medical science. Once we know, we can directly cure everyone.

Doctor B (stunningly beautiful, common crush): Babaji, can you tell us how you treat a case of open head injury?

Babaji (with an gracefully sexy smile): Come beta, sit here, so you can hear me. We first hold some leaves hard pressed against the wounds to stop bleeding, then pray for the patient with some internal healing chants. We then call the relatives and explain them how futile and fragile life is, and ask them to accept fate. Usually they do. Some rare ones take such patients to hospitals. There too, some die and some survive. Those who survive mostly do because of the prayers. You can come to our place if you want to know how to treat all types of emergencies. We have even made some dead alive!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Doctor C (Meritorious. That’s all.): Babaji, there are so many poor patients dying in so many government hospitals, in small villages, everywhere. There are so many hunger deaths too. How come you and your chelas are never seen working your magical powers for such poor and needy patients? In the same time that you visit a businessman, minister or appear in a TV interview, you could treat and cure hundreds with the power you claim to have.

Babaji (red): You will not understand, because you do not have faith. Next question.

Doctor B: Babaji, you and your drug company earn in multiple billions. You are a saint yourself, and do not have material aspirations. Then where does all this profit go? Are you secretly using it to help treat poor and downtrodden?

Babaji (drinks water): There are many charities we do, but one must not tell others what charity they do. We submit the reports to the government. I am getting late, beta, it is my prayer time.

Doctor A: Just one more question, Babaji.. it is said that you cure diseases like cancers, AIDS etc which have no medical cures. Is that true?

Babaji (winks one eye): If you ask me in front of media, I will say no. Because I do not like too much attention and fame. But if you come to our place, you will see the miracles that our ancient formulas and personally researched products can make. They are all FDA approved and safe. Millions have been cured. We treat everything!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Babaji smiled proudly and got up.

As he walked in the lobby, many poor patients and their relatives who tried to touch his feet were pushed away by his security. Only pausing to answer questions by TV channels, posing holy, Babaji disappeared in his luxury car.

I went back to the room of the rich senior Minister to record his blood pressure. He was on the phone, talking to someone “Yes, yes, Babaji just confirmed his plan to buy another aeroplane. I have promised him that you will design the customized interiors for his new plane. Come over tomorrow”.

Then, as I recorded his notes, I politely asked the rich minister “Sir, why didn’t you go to Babaji first when you had chest pain?”

He replied what most Indian Politicians, Media personnel, and many Judicial experts feel: “You are too inexperienced about these things, Doctor”!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Please share unedited. Any resemblance to any human being or animal is deeply regretted and unintentional. Praying for better logic and reasoning in all human beings.

The Parceled Sandwiches

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Entering the hospital that morning, I was wondering if I could finish early and go for a relaxed dinner with a friend who was visiting. Iwas in an excellent mood when I entered the hospital at about 10 AM. That’s when I heard the noise.

In the entrance lobby, there was a group of men, women and children, wailing, crying, shouting, pulling their hair, beating chests, and throwing their hands and legs around lying upon the floor. Few of them were shouting loudly “All doctors are looters. They robbed us and still killed the patient. How can our patient die? Catch them. Kill them. Burn the hospital” this was accompanied by abuses that cannot be mentioned. The security staff and PROs were patiently trying to tell the violent relatives that there were other patients and relatives, that there were women and children around, but the most vulgar of the abuses continued.

I walked past the abusive crowd and met my resident doctor in the ICU. The first case was that of an old man who had had a fall a week ago, but was treated at home for the first three days. Three days later, the old man had suddenly become unconscious, and on admission was found to have a large bleeding in his brain. If not operated within minutes, he would have died. Our neurosurgeons rushed in and operated him with a huge risk. Now he had just started responding, but was still not fully conscious. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Why is he still unconscious, doc? Was the surgery not done correctly?” the son asked.

“We have repeatedly told you Sir, the delay in admitting your father has caused a lot of damage in his brain. We cannot predict when and how much he will recover. The surgery was done to prevent imminent death. In my opinion, he is steadily improving. ”I explained again.

One after another, different faces of suffering and allegations, pain and expectations kept mounting and in a few hours it became difficult to feel happy. I am seriously not the type who can keep a perpetual meaningless smile upon my face without actually being happy. However, I must keep calm and smiling, because the next patient will be coming in with a lot of hope, expectation and fear. I did my best.

But my hope of having a relaxed dinner with the friend was gone. All I wanted now was to go home, take a hot shower and try and kill the negativity that was cluttering my mind. The wails and cries of the crowd were still noisy in my heart. “Who must have died? What must their family be going through? What about their children and spouse? Was this preventable?” I was curious. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The casualty called. A young girl had come with fits. Her old farmer parents had brought her. Stabilising her, and completing the examination, I asked questions to her father. With teary eyes and folded hands, he told us “We have no one and nothing left. Please do something”. Reassuring him, I messaged my CEO, who graciously allowed to treat her as a free case. I started writing notes.

“What was the ruckus in the morning?”I asked the resident doctor standing besides me.

“Oh that!” he replied “That patient was admitted for a head injury two weeks ago. He drank too much alcohol, and his bike had slipped. We admitted him as an emergency, and treated him on compassionate grounds as he was comatose. The relatives were well aware about the poor outcome. We did everything we could. I don’t know why they reacted so. Someone told me that the local politico wanted to extract some funds from the hospital”. This was not unknown, but loss of life does cause unexpected reactions, the doctors and the hospital staff bear the brunt.

Many patients were treated that day, many came cured, many went home happy, many expressed gratitude. But the fact remained that I was unable to forget the wailing family and the accusing son of the ICU patient. Am I supposed to smile and be happy for those cured and improving, or am I supposed to feel sad about the death and suffering I see every day? The emotional highs and lows that happen in every doctor’s day are too wide, too heavy and dynamic. It is not easy to forgive and forget bitterness, thanklessness and paranoid accusations on a daily basis for years, and keep smiling in between. (c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

My friend called. “Rajas, I am standing outside your hospital. Come let’s have a quick bite. My bus leaves in anoter one hour” she said. We entered the nearest restaurant. Her witty words indeed relaxed me somewhat, and she ordered soup and sandwiches, knownig my favourites. As the steamy soup eased my throat, I started telling her about my day. My cellphone rang.

“Is that you, doctor Deshpande? Do you remember my father Mr. Ramakant who you were treating? He passed away today. We were supposed to come to you three months ago, but as I was out of India, I couldn’t bring him. He had stopped all medicines”.

I winced. Mr. Ramakant was fairly healthy, happy and stable on medicines, they were told never to stop the treatment. How should I react?

“Very Sorry to know” I said.

“That’s okay doctor. My problem is that no doctor is giving a death certificate for him, as he had not seen a doctor since long. We need it for the funeral. If I come to you now, can you please write a death certificate for him? I will pay your charges” he said.

“Sorry, someone has to examine him and issue a certificate. Please call your neares doctor home, or take thepatient to the nearest hospital” I told him. As I kept away my cell, I avoided looking at my friend.

“What happened?”my friend asked. Looking at my face, she sensed it.

“Oh. Sorry” she asked the waiter to parcel the sandwiches.

Both of us knew that neither was going to eat them.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Please share unedited. Please let the society know what a doctor’s day is typically like.

“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

Medical Profession and Charity:  A Guideline For Medical Students (Speech at a recent Medical Event)

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

My dear friends, you will receive many sermons about your responsibility to do charity and social service from those who do no charity themselves. Many who have never done anything worthwhile for the society will remind you of your Hippocratic oath. Beware of these distractors, your social service and charity is your own choice. Thousands of doctors who chose to settle down in the remote place, purely with an intention to serve people, and carried on general practice for over 50 years are now dependent upon someone helping them for their own medical treatment. Neither the government, nor those whom we help reciprocate. Those who lecture doctors about serving the society never answer this simple question: what if a doctor serving the society very well, needs help? Who will help him? The answer is clear. First safeguard your career, reputation, family, home, parents, future and then do charity like a king, confidently, freely and with pride. Professional goals are not the same for everyone.
Some base the entire concept of charity on the low fees, without any analysis of the quality of medical care provided and the outcomes. A patient treated free but wrong, a patient treated at a low cost with a poor outcome cannot be considered charity. “Self-Declaration” of numbers of such patients treated without an analysis of outcomes and patient feedback is nothing but cheap hidden advertisements.
All of us don’t come from the same background: Some families have lived in perpetual poverty, selling off land and compromising quality of housing, clothes and even food to send their children through the medical education. Some must repay their loans, some must attend too many family duties and some just struggle to survive with a middleclass lifestyle. The first thing that we must overcome while doing any charity or social service is the feeling that those who are unable to do it are somehow lesser to us. That discrimination must go. A doctor doing his / her job well is enough charity, they have sacrificed their youth for the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Let us look at the career options most Indian doctors have.
Medical teachers have already accepted a very low salary compared to what they truly deserve, The average salary of a medical professor in USA and UK exceeds INR 8 lacs per month, working 8 AM-4 PM, with one emergency per week. Although I do not contribute to the school of thought that one must accept the low Indian financial status, at one-fourth salary per month, our medical teachers work three times more than the doctors in the developed world (because in India the staff is never filled adequately) . Still they continue to put in their blood and sweat, training thousands of medical students, working almost 24/7, seeing far more number of patients in OPD, IPD and Emergency. This is the best possible medical social service, nay, charity being done in India, let me first respect and salute this unrecognized social service. This is an ideal premise for those who want to continue to be available for the poor masses, keep themselves abreast of the most modern medical knowledge, and impart it to the meritorious future generations of doctors.
A similar career is working as medical officers in rural / semi-rural areas, where doctors are most deficient. In most Medical Institutes run by the government or municipal corporations, sycophancy and suppression , hopeless bosses, poor administration and heavy paperwork, punishment transfers and bribery are huge limitations for those who want to honestly serve patients. Life isn’t easy in rural surroundings. Right from the lack of basic amenities like water, electricity, good schooling and transport, to a severe threat to personal security by the rampant Political Gunda culture in a superstitious, orthodox community. Who will want to voluntarily expose their family to these? However, if one does have a social standing in one’s homeland, it becomes an excellent option to serve the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Coming to the non-government career options in medicine, one is either left to private practice as an individual practitioner, which offers a lot of freedom but limited resources, or a salaried practitioner at a corporate hospital.
In the corporate hospital culture, individual charity and social service becomes almost impossible. Contrary to the image created by the media, most of the corporate hospitals actually comply with the mandatory charity, worth crores of rupees every month to those BPL, but the need of our society is far more than that, the demands are never ending. The new doctor who wants to earn a good name and income, but also wants to do something worthwhile for the society as a free service, the corporate culture offers two options: a low-salaried position for looking after the mandatory charity, or working in their low input peripheral schemes. For a beginner, especially a specialist, these are both excellent options . © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Coming to the last option: an individual private practitioner, there are many choices but also a stark reality: you are on your own, and on the day that you don’t earn, no one else pays for your innumerable bills. Remember that when you are an independent medical practitioner, you have zero income every day that you don’t work, so a single illness or problem that keeps you home for a month will bring your bank balance to zero. Unless there is an alternative source of income, which is rarely the case with a doctor, this jeopardizes your whole existence. You may be prepared to walk through this, but you will be doing your family a great injustice if you push them into this fate. Look at those who have done the greatest charity upon earth: Bill Gates, JK Rowling etc. They have first earned, secured themselves and their dependents and then returned in plenty to the world. That is the safest way to serve the society effectively and for long.
I know almost everyone in this hall is eager to help the downtrodden, poor and helpless. But there are some things you must first thrash out for yourself. Firstly, do not feel any obligation to copy charity. You can discover your own new ways to serve the needy. Completely ignore those who tell you what should be your financial worth. Once you decide what lifestyle you want, you can chart out how much percentage of your time you can work for charity. You may want to reserve one hour a day or one day every week. Be comfortable, choose what does not become a stress factor, but please stick to whatever you decide.
One hour a day by an Indian doctor means 4-5 free patients a day, that is 30 patients a week, that is 120 patients per month, and 1440 per year. If one consultation is 300 rupees, this way you are giving 4 lac 32 thousand rupees worth service free to the society.
There is a major problem : those who take advantage of free medical service. There already are many affording patients whom most doctors voluntarily see free: relatives, teachers, other doctors and their family, classmates, staff in their hospitals, maids and servants, watchmen, neighbors etc.. There are also others who demand free consultations: administrators, politicos, local heavyweights, ministers and even top businessmen who our bosses accompany. People often say that free service does not have any value, it is not respected, but I will make a small exception here: I feel that the really poor and helpless genuinely respect your free service, remember it for life and place you near God. It is the affluent who are usually thankless for free services, and it is high time that we should stop serving them free, so that we are able to serve the really deserving ones. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
False poverty/ income certificates, visiting repeatedly for trivial / tiny complaints, daily questioning, become a huge limitation in extending free services openly. Pune teaches you many tricks to identify and deal with such people.
An equal legal responsibility for even the free patients is the law, and a major limiting factor for private practitioners as well as corporates. However careful one may be, every doctor does commit mistakes, and our courts of law are yet unevolved medically, only rare judges are mature enough to understand the intricacies of medical decision making and still rarer doctors understand the law. Look at the big picture: a doctor is treating a poor patient as charity, and unfortunately something goes wrong. The instant conclusion that it was the doctor’s mistake, the sensational news story that follows, and the threat to personal reputation all come to play together. The chance of “Extracting” money from the hospital or the doctor, in case of any complication or death, is considered a lucrative opportunity by many local goons.
A poor young lady with a stroke presented to my free OPD. I found her to have a valvular heart disease with a clot in the heart. We arranged for her free treatment, the best cardiac team in the city operated her free, for a major valve replacement open heart surgery. Everything including all complications was explained, poof on paper. In a month, she developed valve failure, a rare but known complication. The relatives returned with a gang of goons, threatened us in the OPD with dire consequences and legal action. The very family which begged for concessions with folded hands a month ago now spoke of vandalizing the hospital, beating us up. We explained to the patient and family that this is not a surgical mistake, that this is a rare but known complication, and it was still possible to correct it. Fortunately for us, the patient herself agreed for a redo surgery. The cardiac team operated her again, free, and the patient went home walking in a few days, but no one from the family ever expressed any gratitude. We had learnt a precious lesson: do not risk your career for charity or social service, because medical degrees, once cancelled or suspended are almost impossible to get back. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
My friends, the real richness is that of the soul, and by becoming a Doctor you have already proven all that you need to prove about your soul. Whatever I must earn, I must proudly earn without causing hurt or having to deceive anyone. And believe me, Lord has provided enough for me always. Yes, there was a time when I sat in my hostel room and sung that song “Chaand Taare Ttod Laoon” from Yes Boss . Over the years, the kind Lord has responded to most of my prayers. There is no other profession in which you have such huge opportunity: your charity and service will bring people health and life: so use it freely, every day, always. Just make sure to protect yourself to help others for decades to come, and to pass on this light to the future generations.
Jai Hind!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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The Nightmare

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“Wake Up! Wake Up!!!” shouted the wife frantically. The husband did not respond.
We told her to remain calm.
“How can you tell me to remain calm, doctor? Are you insane? Do something.. he is dying. What will I do without him? I have a two small kids… I beg of you, doctor! Here, I touch your feet! Please save my husband!” the lady kept shouting, panic-struck.

Her husband was riding a bike with a friend just an hour ago, and was dashed by a high-speed truck. The friend had died on the spot, and this gentleman had suffered a head trauma, with fractures in the bones of one hand and both legs. He was unconscious since admission. We had sutured his wounds, the bleeding was controlled, but he had already lost a lot of blood and his blood pressure was low. He was receiving blood transfusion now. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I was an intern then, at the civil hospital Nanded. Our Surgery medical officer had examined the patient, and suspected a bleeding in the skull / brain. There was no CT scan or Intensive care facility available, and the nearest city with a CT scan or ICU was Hyderabad, some seven hours away. The wife decided to shift him to Hyderabad. The MO told them that travel involved risks, the patient could worsen. He also suggested that he must not travel without an accompanying doctor.

“Please come with us” the wife requested me with folded hands. I convinced another intern friend to join me. That was at about midnight, the month was December. Very cold.

We prepared the emergency kit, including various injectables, tubes and Ambu bag required in case the breathing stops. We started in a basic “Ambulance”, with a reluctant driver motivated by the obvious. The night was as chilly and dark as it could be, the road bumpy and dusty, and the ambulance, except that there was a patient and two doctors in it, had nothing else to qualify as an ambulance. The only positive thing about it was its speed. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient mumbled something and became drowsy again. We requested the wife to please not be affected by such fluctuations, common in patients with head injury. We kept on measuring the blood pressure and pulse rate manually (there were no monitors then). We also kept a watch on his pupil size, as unequal pupils are a hint for swelling or bleeding in the brain. An hour into the journey, the patient had a convulsion. We had already given him an anticonvulsant, a standard protocol, but now we also had to give him diazepam to abort the fit. The fit stopped, but the blood pressure started dropping. We used steroid injections and increased the intravenous fluids. The use of diazepam may depress breathing, but we had no choice here. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient’s wife had bouts of extreme panic and kept weeping. Her suffering was justified, we tried not to let that affect our decisions. Two other relatives who accompanied her tried to console her. A doctor cannot run away from or avoid any situation, we were learning our lessons.

By 2 AM, the patient appeared relatively stable. The relatives slept off, the wife became silent, occasionally dozing off. I’m a nocturnal animal, but my friend was feeling very sleepy.

At about 3 AM, the ambulance suddenly stopped.
“I cannot drive anymore. I am tired and very sleepy. I need to have a tea and a smoke, otherwise I will fall asleep driving” the driver said. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
There was no choice. We saw the small tea stall by the roadside. The relatives and patient’s wife had tea, my friend intern went out and had his cigarette and tea, then he sat with the patient while I had my smoke and tea. It was only after we started again that we realized how vital it was to have taken that break! The ambulance gained speed steadily.

An hour later, the patient became quite rowdy, and started to violently throw about his hands and legs, trying to get up. We tried to restrain him, but it became quite difficult, especially because the ambulance was running high speed, and the wife was now almost in a state of shock. We had to use diazepam again. His breathing became shallow, pulse rate started rising. We prepared for artificial ventilation.

As we approached the city by the dawn, the traffic increased, and we faced many blocks. We reached CDR Apollo hospital, just as we intubated the patient and started ventilating him with the Ambu bag. Dr. Raja Reddy, Neurosurgeon there, immediately attended the patient and himself accompanied us to the CT scan room. The scan showed some contusions / injuries to the brain, but no major bleeding. Dr. Reddy reassured the patient’s family, and praised the efforts we had made, being interns. Patient was taken to the ICU.

We returned by an ST bus the same afternoon, after thanking the ambulance driver. Few days later the patient was back on duty, completely recovered. One evening when I returned from the hospital, my parents showed me a beautiful thick gold necklace.

“That couple had come. They wanted to thank you, they gifted this for your son” my mother proudly said. Although my one month son did not know anything about gold, and I do not understand metallurgy well, my parents indeed had very proud smiles for the next few days. The glitter of those smiles is the only Gold I have preserved in life, like many doctors who go through this ordeal every day!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dedicated to hundreds of doctors who carry/ transfer patients in horrible situations / conditions, risking their own life, all across India.

PS: This is a story circa 1993, the management standards and guidelines, facilities have improved a lot today. Of Course smoking is a bad habit and not justified.
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