Tag Archives: critical care

A Medico’s Last Certificate

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A continuous beeping filled up the air in the ICU. Over twenty hearts kept making rhythmic sounds, the nurses kept on silencing the false alarms that rung every now and then, and informing us about the ones that needed attention.

We had kept the cake in the doctor’s room, we were waiting for the right moment. It was well past midnight, we had all wished Dr. Steve a happy birthday, but the ICU was full and busy, we waited for an opportunity to cut the cake.

A very old Parsi man, just recovering from a massive heart attack, was not maintaining his blood pressure. As his alarm sounded again, we rushed to attend him: Dr. Steve, myself and our nurse Ms. Divya. As we adjusted his intravenous drips, he asked us our names. He was funny, and always made us smile in spite of the deadly shadows that surrounded us. When we told our names, he smiled. “See, there’s a Hindu, a Christian and a Parsi happy in this small 10 by 10 room, but they cannot all stay peacefully outside in this big country!” .. Dr. Steve, always interested in one-upmanship, smiled and said, “If you want, we also have a Muslim and a Sikh doctor outside. Shall I call them in?”

With the typical instant Parsi wits, the old man replied “Arrey no no bawa, all our ********** (I did not completely understand that word) political leaders will die if people from all religions come together”.

It was difficult to say whether we were treating his heart attack or he was treating out tired minds. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The CMO called, there was a new patient coming up, a young lady in respiratory failure due to pneumonia. As the nurses prepared the new bed, Dr. Steve took down notes from the CMO. Ms. Divya was one of our most efficient and agile staff nurse. Very beautiful and brilliant, she took responsibility upon herself with a passion that would put to shame even some doctors. We all knew that there was something going on between her and Dr. Steve, but both of them kept mum. I knew for sure though, because Dr. Steve had once confided to me about this crush he had upon her. However, overwork always suffocates personal life in a hospital.

The stretcher rolled in, noisy with calls of panic. The patient was gasping. Urgently shifting her on the ICU bed, Dr. Steve intubated her. She coughed a lot, and both Dr. Steve and Ms. Divya were showered with blood stained secretions. Dr. Steve had his mask on, but Ms. Divya had not had the time to put hers on. He angrily shouted at her, while adjusting the patient’s tube, to wear her mask. I finished securing the IV line, and started pushing in the emergency medicines. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The patient was a young lady, who had suddenly developed fever, cough and cold. On the second day she had become restless, was admitted in some nearby hospital, but as she continued to worsen in spite of treatment, she was referred to us. It was a viral pneumonia, an extremely invasive and dangerous viral infection had started filling up her lungs with fluid and blood. Just as her oxygen levels improved, she developed an irregular heart rhythm: viral infections often cause severe damage to the heart, a condition called myocarditis. In two hours after admission, the lady died. Horrible moments followed, telling her broken husband and stunned kids that she was gone forever. Completing the formalities and paperwork, we returned to the grind: we were medicos: there’s no choice for us to sit down, panic, repent, mourn or run away.

No one was now in a mood to cut the cake. No one even spoke about it. Next night, Ms. Divya bought another cake, and we all silently wished Dr. Steve a belated Happy Birthday.

Jutst ten days later Ms. Divya developed fever, cough and cold. The same deadly virus, most likely. We all panicked. Dr. Steve took leave and attended her, as her family was far away in Kerala. She had come to Mumbai to earn enough for her family. In spite of all efforts, Ms. Divya passed away in just three days. The faces of her elderly parents and younger brother became one of the worst memory-scars in our lives. Shortly after, Dr. Steve developed the symptoms too, but survived.

I took him out sometimes, to bring him back from the pit of depression and shock that he had sunken in. One evening, when we sat silently on Marine Drive, he said, “I will never have a Happy Birthday again. You know, Divya’s family has no support at all. I have decided to help them out for some time, till we find an alternative”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Staring at the ocean, I kept wondering: In this country, where crores of rupees are thrown almost every other day for even miniscule achievements in cricket and cinema, where millions are spent from public funds upon the useless travel, security, meetings and social dinners etc. luxuries of the super-rich MLAs and MPs, where billions are spent by every political party in elections, there are no funds for the nurses, doctors and other staff who risk or lose their lives serving their patients. If a bridge collapses and many die, if there’s a major accident due to lapses in administration, there is immediate compensation, in an attempt to seal complaining lips. But if a medico is injured or killed, the best thing our society has to say is: “This is because all doctors work for money, it must be the fault of communication on the doctors part!”

We walked that whole night, along the ocean, silently crying. Sometimes the only solace for a medico is the thought that someday someone will desperately need a good doctor or a good nurse, and not find them around. Many medicos who do extraordinary good to their patients do not get any certificates for what they do. Most don’t care. Because we carry our death certificates in our pockets every day. One last certificate that we work very hard for.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Dedicated to the nurses and doctors, medical staff who suffered / died because they served patients, saving lives.

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Doctor’s Fees: A Taboo Topic

Doctor’s Fees: A Taboo Topic
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
A famous industrialist from Pune recently visited my OPD. My Boss called me on phone and told me to waive off the fees, as he was a close friend of my Boss. The industrialist was not only well behaved, but well-read too. He had a complicated problem, had seen Neurologists etc. in India and UK. He asked many questions, and I was happy to have been able to reply to most. The consultation lasted over 45 minutes. He went out, and was told by the receptionist that his fees was waived off. He knocked my door, came back in, and placed three thousand rupees on my table. My usual fees is half that.
“Doc, I don’t believe in taking advantage. You gave me all the time I needed, and I have paid far more to the foreign doctors for a fraction of that time” he said.
 
Just a few days prior, a European patient from Mumbai had visited with her Indian in-laws, and after a detailed consultation, when they went out and paid the usual fees of 1500 INR, she messaged me: that this was far lower for the service they received. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
Two days ago, on Saturday night at 9 PM, one lady rushed in without appointment, an engineer now working in Pune. Quite lavish in her get up and paraphernalia, she told me she had recently delivered a baby in the USA and then returned to India. After we finished the consultation that lasted over 30 minutes, and included many questions and explanations about her “minor” neurological problem, about justification of diagnosis, every medicine, about lactation, and about her prior medical consultations, I was happy that I had answered all her questions, and was able to treat her without any tests. Then she said: “And yes, doc, your fees is too high. Most doctors in my area charge less than that. I want concession”.
 
Earlier it was quite embarrassing for me to discuss money with patients. I felt it was below my dignity to have to talk about money, and humiliating to have to explain my fees. When I decided what I charged, it was after a prolonged thought process, and awareness of Indian healthcare scenario and socioeconomic conditions. While being available for genuinely poor patients, I did not want to resort to any backdoor incomes, and also wanted to give every patient the best of my skill acquired over 15 years of education, and enough time. There are clean doctors, far more senior than me, in my branch, who know this well and charge a lot more as consultation fees than I do (some over 5000 INR for a single consult), for they know their own worth. But there also are few who for their own reasons continue to charge far lesser, some with a noble intention (usually at the fag end of their career), some with alternative plans. It is a personal preference of the doctor, especially specialist. A correct diagnosis and honest /right advise is becoming rare and rare, what with the quality of medical education and an admixture of streams, which aim at the fast, cheap, objective and basic rather than specialized, subjective and accurate. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
In absence of any comparable example, (medical service is not comparable to any other, but to quote an example that most should understand), I have to mention this: when one buys land, home, good food or technology, one pays differently at different places, for different brands. No one argues about the rates of foreign cellphones or jewelry, even about cinema tickets, but the most important service of all: health, is considered a bargainable, perpetually low cost charity. Basic and emergency healthcare doesn’t mean attached super-technology, five star rooms and washrooms and air conditioning, best qualified staff and ancillary services. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
Used to this question very frequently, I told this lady that my fees was the same as that of most super-specialists in larger cities, that it was based upon qualification, experience, skill and time spent. She wouldn’t listen, and refused to pay. I told her she could avail of the free OPD meant for poor patients if she had a BPL card or if she was a farmer. “I can afford, I am not poor. But I want concession, because some doctors in my area charge only XXX”she said. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
A senior doctor had advised me during the beginning of my practice: “Concentrate on the affordability of the middle class. Manage your time with the patient according to their affordability, people are rarely willing to pay the doctor. If your consultation fees is high, you will turn off many patients, because even the rich opt for the cheapest possible healthcare, including the doctor”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
Of course I did not want to discriminate. But over a period of time I realized that most of the forced free categories keep on repeatedly visiting various specialists / hospitals (a free category patient visits over three consultants for every medical issue) because it is free/ low cost, this is a frustrating scenario. Even the affording class visits many specialists for the same problem because the doctor’s fees is too ‘affordable’.
 
A doctor must always be kind and compassionate, but in India, he / she also needs to be practical to avoid being exploited. Compare to the availability of a free food service at your home for the poor. Check out for yourself how many misuse it, and how often. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
Various pathies and specialties have a different fees structure, and people must be educated that all doctors cannot charge the same. A surgeon or physician with more skill, experience, expertise and good outcomes is definitely entitled to charge more than his peers. After all, what is a few thousand rupees when one’s health is concerned? When filing suits against doctors who commit mistakes, people claim in crores, a fact that must be accounted for when the doctor charges his / her fees.
 
“Your fees has increased” said a patient, who has paid the same fees for last 8 years. When I asked him to name any commodity whose price hasn’t increased in last eight years, he said “But you are a doctor”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
Among all the inflations happening everywhere, it is only the doctor’s fees that mostly remains unchanged for years. There are excellent charity institutes with great healthcare services , also many government hospitals, but most people want a “Premium / Priority” healthcare service at their lowest rates, refusing to stand in a queue at such hospitals. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
The cut throat competition among hospitals to match society’s low cost healthcare expectations has resulted in a nightmare: most of the permanent staff being hired is low-salary, low qualification overworked, and exploited, many of the consumables used are of a questionable quality. This reflects worst in most critical care units and some surgical units. Very few will understand the true depth of this horrible tragedy.
 
While all cut-practice and other malpractices must end, while every doctor must compassionately aim at resolving the health problem that the patient trusts him / her with, and satisfy the patient as much as possible, it is also necessary that people understand that good healthcare will come at a higher cost. No doctor should refuse emergency /basic treatment to a patient who really cannot afford. Other than this, “Cheaper Doctors are the kindest and the best” is a devastating superstition we must eradicate.
 
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
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Profit and Loss

Profit and Loss
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Case 1:
45 year old man. Many weeks of tiredness, then three days of fever, quack treatment. Developed convulsions, admitted in coma. Blood sugars over 500. The long term past sugar index is very high, suggesting he has had untreated diabetes for months. After stabilizing patient in few minutes, I brief the relatives about critical condition.
His brother asks: Why is his sugar so high? He never had sugar. Is it because of any of the medicines you are giving?
I explain them that he has had high sugars for long, the tests say so. Also that we are giving him medicines to control sugar.
The wife says: “We don’t know all that. I think some medicines have made him unconscious”.
When he was discharged recovered, they fought about the bills saying that wrong medicines had caused delay in recovery. They gave negative feedback because the bills were not reduced to their quotes. “We were duped, we lost so much money” the son kept alleging aloud. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Case 2:
Old man, 82. Lung cancer, under radiation. Two episodes of paralysis, diabetes, blood pressure, now has drowsiness since Tuesday. His son and daughter in law come to opd on Saturday evening. The old man needed immediate admission and MRI. I tell them so.
“What is your diagnosis?”, “Exactly why is he drowsy?” “Why admission??” “Exactly what treatment?” “What will be effect of the treatment?” and many such screwing questions (sometimes I wanna ask back: when will you exactly pee next?) later, they went home. In the interest of the life of the old man, I chose not to lose patience.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

They come back two days later, he had become unconscious.
“Why, doctor, why? He was walking till Sunday” cried the daughter, angrily asking us. “Why can’t you make him conscious? It’s been two days”.
Not only the arrogant tone, but the open distrust was offensive. “What is the exact reason of his unconsciousness?” “When exactly will he become conscious?” “Exactly blah blah?” asked the son, as if he was a Judge, and the doctors were criminals.
I wanted to tell them exactly what they were and where they belonged, but refrained. Patient first.
The treatment was on. Three days later, the old man opened eyes. “He has always had a strong will power. We knew he would recover” told his daughter to us.
Upon discharge, they wrote very bad reviews because the bills were not reduced to their expectation.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Both came for follow up later.
In both the cases, a few years ago, I would have made an effort to spend more time, compromise self respect and continue treating them. Not now. Especially when peacock-fame decision makers decide about the fates of specialist doctors. Now, I tell them to please follow up with whichever doctor they can trust.

What about the probable income from such patients? Let me quote a dialogue that only Mr. Amitabh Bachchan could have delivered, from a film ‘Trishul’ that influenced me much since my college days:
“Zindagi mein kuchh baatein faayde aur nuksaan se upar hoti hain, lekin ye baat kuchh log nahi samajhte” (Some things in life are above profit or loss, but some people don’t understand that)”.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Critical

Critical
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Code Blue” someone shouted.
There were sounds of rushing, muffled sobs and wails, metal trolleys banging walls and glass syringes being broken open.
He rushed fastest, asked the relatives to wait outside.
“What’s wrong with him?” insisted the patient’s brother on knowing.
“His heart has stopped. Please wait out we don’t have time”.
The nurses had positioned the patient and started the CPR.

The ugliest sound in the world: the desperate rocking of the bed during a cardiac massage, was heard outside the cabin. The high pitch beeps of the defibrillator followed by the thuds of a body due to the electric shock initiated prayers even in the hearts of strangers. The relatives of other patients in the ICU waited outside their cabins, watching the faces of those who were crying. Those who could not bear the sight went inside their cabins. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

He went on doing the CPR, knowing that the patient was young, and may still respond. The risk of this highly fatal disease to himself and the nursing staff was taken for granted: there is no time to “dress up” for CPR. He was simultaneously ordering the injections to be given. A male nurse took turns and helped him with the cardiac massage.

It is exhausting. Giddy after some time, he looked at the watch. It was about half an hour since the event. Almost nil chances now. He asked the nurse to continue, and came out to inform the relatives.
“He has had a cardiac arrest. We are trying, but it looks difficult” he informed the patient’s brother.
“Why? How come?” the brother shouted as the rest of the family gathered. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“We have been informing you many times. He has been critical. His lungs were not functioning well, his brain has many TB tumors, and his kidneys have been shut due to infection for a long time. It is called multiorgan failure”.
“We don’t know all that, doctor. Save him” said the brother.

Young patient. Fever since over three months. Avoided seeing allopaths for over a month. Diagnosed as multidrug resistant tuberculosis, one of the worst and most difficult diseases to treat. By the time they reached the proper specialist through all the “money saving” channels, it was too late. Almost all Government Hospitals have experts and facilities to treat MDR TB, but somehow people think it is below their dignity to avail of services at Govt hospitals.

The ICU doctor came out after a while. “We are sorry, he could not be revived” he sadly told the relatives.

Then there was a shriek, as the patient’s brother held the doctor by his collar, and slapped him. Exactly the style of Akshay Kumar from some movie. A lady doctor tried to stop the brother, but was held by the women in the family and bestowed with blows and abuses. The security, who had allowed the relatives on humanitarian grounds, regretted it, and desperately tried to control the relatives. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

In an hour, they all left.

He washed himself. There was no time to cry, complain, register a case or go to TV channels or press. There were 22 other critical patients in the ICU, and he was in charge. He had to forgive, forget, digest it all. And then there was a perpetual expectation of the society to “understand” the misbehavior of the bereaved.

In a few minutes, another gasping patient came in on the same bed. A young girl with continuous convulsions. He rushed and intubated her, stabilised her. He talked to and pacified her panicked parents. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

He had forgotten the slaps, the abuses and the blows he received a few moments ago. Like filmstars who slap qualified doctors on the screen and earn crores for that “entertainment”, he did not deserve a palatial bungalow and luxury cars, but as a life saver who saved hundreds every year, he was doomed to an asylum walled by expectations, criticism, abuse and overwork. Saving lives was “just a duty” not deserving respect or rewards.

The stress that comes from handling daily CPRs, saving lives and declaring deaths for years together cannot be acted by any of the Tom Dick Harrys on screen. Most of them are not even intellectually equipped to perceive the education, hard work and traumatizing effects of daily deaths and allegations that a critical care doctor faces.

While exceptionally literate and mature film personalities like Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Ms. Lata Mangeshkar have always praised the doctors and spoken highly respectfully about them, most other “Muttonshop” artists have only exemplified their own jealousy about the highly educated doctors, trying to show them down one way or another.

I know of some friends who spend a sad, spoilt day even when they see a funeral passing by. The doctor has to face it every day, still carry on dealing with money savers, skimpy, arrogant, abusive and violent relatives reaching the hospital at the last moment. He has to garner a calm and control possible only with great effort. This tells upon the doctor’s mental and physical health. Being blamed and held responsible for someone’s death (this has become rampant now: to presume that all deaths are someone’s fault) in spite of trying hard to save them is something no film star, judge or minister will ever understand. Very few doctors are able to enjoy a genuinely stress free happiness in their personal life.

Of all the doctors suffering today because of the illiteracy, poverty and defective policy-making in India, the critical care and casualty doctors are the worst sufferers. My heartfelt tear and salute to their unending suffering for humanity. Also a strong appeal to the press, law authorities and the government to ensure that these highly stressed doctors are not assaulted, unnecessarily criticized or abused.

Just imagine a world without casualties or Intensive care services. That is a choice which doctors still retain.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande