Tag Archives: epilepsy

The Last Bullet For Indian Private Healthcare


© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jai Hind

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Beautiful Secret

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I found her outside the public toilets near sassoon hospital” the lady said almost as a whisper after her daughter left the room. “She does not know. Nobody knows. Please don’t tell her ever”.

That 15 year old girl Teju was brought to me over 10 years ago, with uncontrolled fits. Not all fits / seizures are convulsions, there are many different types. Teju would suddenly behave abnormally without knowing it for a few minutes and then start crying. Her studies were affected as she had such episodes many times a day. She had been to some excellent doctors, but as she did not tolerate the medicines she had stopped them and refused to go to a doctor. Her mother Latha had somehow convinced her to meet a neurologist only once, so they were here.

Latha was a single, middle aged lady, who worked at a few homes all through the day mostly as a cook. Her husband had died long ago, and she barely managed to maintain her livelihood while living with Teju in a chawl. She narrated Teju’s history to me, but when I asked about parents having any fits or other neurological illness, Latha winked at me and said “No, I am okay, even her father was okay”. Then she asked Teju to get her a bottle of water from the canteen, and just as Teju closed the door behind herself, stunned me with her words: “I found Teju outside the public lavatory near sassoon hospital . She does not know. Nobody knows. Please don’t tell her ever”.

Then she explained in a hurry: “Doctor, you are like a brother, I will not lie to you. I had run away to marry my husband, but he was an alcoholic. He died in a road accident. I had no one left in life, and wanted to die myself. One night I was returning home from my job, and went to the public toilet on the way. There in a large heap of waste I saw this girl, only a few weeks old, almost dead. I took her to a doctor, told she was my sister’s daughter, and got her treated. Then I could not think of letting her go, I had found my purpose in life. I am a good cook and get by with salary from cooking at over 5 homes now. I want her to study well, but this epilepsy has been our curse now. I wish I was rich so I could treat her well”.

That last sentence hurt me. One, she was rich. Two, she thought good treatment needs one to be rich.

Teju had reentered, so we changed topic. I explained Teju her diagnosis in medical, scientific terms, and the reasons why this illness happens, how we can control it with the right medicines, and how her quality of life will be far better if her fits were controlled. “You will be able to look after yourself and even your mom well in the future if you are self sufficient” I used the trump card. She agreed to take treatment.

“Secondly, never worry about fees. You are a free case now onwards. You can even get discounted medicines at some pharmacies”. I told them addresses. Latha hesitated: “Doctor, we will pay, we don’t want to take advantage. We don’t want you to hush up because we don’t pay”. Their concern was genuine, and I assured them that I will do my best for them. No good doctor will turn away a treatable patient for want of money, I know many who treat poor patients free, unfortunately it never comes on record.

That was long ago. We were able to control Teju’s fits in a few weeks, and bring her drugs to a single dose of medicine. She followed up every six months regularly, each time with her mother. She gew up well, and always topped her class.

Only last month, she came alone.

“Doctor, I have a good news. I have been selected by a software giant in the USA. They have offered me a gorgeous salary too. I am leaving in a week’s time. I have come to tell you two things: first, please take care of my mother for a year, I am planning to take her with me to USA after that. Secondly, I can now pay the fees for both myself and my mom. I am rich now! So please tell your receptionist to make a bill for all my consultations till now.”

I laughed and congratulated her. “Well. I have promised your mom something, I will sort out about the fees issue later with her. As for her medical care, don’t worry I am here. I am glad you are taking her with you, many can’t”.

“Oh never! I can’t dream of leaving mom alone here. She has grown me up alone after my dad died. I know how hard she has worked for her daughter” shesaid, with wet eyes.

I had an emotional moment, a sudden urge to tell Teju the truth. But I refrained. This indeed was the truth now. Latha was Teju’s mom, and I had no right to change that. I regained my composure.

When she touched my feet, she asked “Do you want anything from the USA doc?”

“Thank you, I have everything I want with God’s grace” I told her the truth. Indeed, He had given me the ability to change lives positively, to contribute to humanity in innumerable ways, to help people live better lives, nay – the best lives they could. What more could I ask for?

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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True Story, names changed.

A Dark Corner In My Medical Life

A Dark Corner In My Medical Life

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Doc, she is becoming unconscious many times since last night” said the worried husband Mr. Robert Jolly, “even since today morning, she went blank twice”.

The young Mr. & Mrs. Jolly couple was married two years ago, and both worked high-profile. Mrs. Shona Jolly reportedly never had such problems in the past, as confirmed by her mother. Just as I was asking them questions, her neck turned towards one side and she appeared to have become unconscious again. The terrifeid Mr. Jolly tried to wake her up. I asked him to step aside and checked her pulse and heart. Everything appeared fine, but she did not open eyes.

However, while I checked her, Mr. Robert Jolly’s peeping over my shoulder annoyed me, but what really surprised me was the indifference with which Mrs. Shona’s mother was standing aside, calmly watching her unconscious daughter and panicked son in law. We neurologists learn after a long experience how to differentiate whether the patient is truly unconscious or just faking it.(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

We are not always right, sometimes the patients indeed have unexplainable symptoms or behavior. So we try to refrain from jumping to early conclusions. I explained them that we needed to run some tests before we could finalise the diagnosis. Mrs. Shona was admitted. The husband Mr. Robert shadowed her 24/7. As the MRI, EEG and almost all other tests turned out normal, I reviewed the case and examined her again. Everything was normal. Now was the time to ask her some private questions.

“May I ask her some questions in privacy?” I asked Mr. Robert.

“”Doc, we hide nothing from each other. I am sure she won’t mind if I stay here”, he said, and looked at Mrs. Shona.

Smiling heartily, she repied “yes doc, you can ask me anything. I don’t hide anything from my husband”.

I told her that as all the tests were normal, we had to look at the possibility of psychological factors like stress, depression or personality disorders etc. , which could cause some of the symptoms she had.

“Oh no no, not at all. I am very happy, I have no stress at home or workplace. I am sure doc, this is not psychological” Mrs. Shona replied. We then had two more opinions by senior consultants. They too did not find anything abnormal. Her “attacks”continued.

On the third day, outside the ward, patient’s mother waited in the corridor, where the couple couldn’t see her. She gestured to me, and whispered hastily “Sir, I am Shona’s mother. Please refer her to a psychiatrist or a counsellor. She has had similar problem in her past, and had felt better after a psychiatrist treated her”.

This was difficult. How could I pressurise the highly educated Mrs. Shona to visit a counsellor / psychiatrist? As her husband continuously accompanied her, it would also be unfair to refer to her past illness in front of him.

I asked Mrs. Shona cautiously: “I feel at this stage we must also involve a counselor, and request her opinion about what is happening”. They both agreed, and I sent her to a counselor. Next day, I received a feedback from the counselor: that the patient definitely needs to visit a psychiatrist. I told Mrs. Shona again that I wanted to speak with her in privacy.(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

She quite emphatically said “Whatever it is, Doc, please say it in front of my husband”. Then I told her about the feedback from the counselor.

They went to a psychiatrist suggested by the counselor. She was diagnosed with a condition, and when they followed up to inform me, her mother disclosed in front of Mr. Robert Jolly that Mrs. Shona had been diagnosed and treated earlier for the same. She also guiltily mentioned to Mr. Robert that Shona had threatened her parents that she would cut them off in case they ever spoke about her illness to him or his family.

Once her treatment started, she improved. In a shocking turn of events, Mr. Robert Jolly chose to file for a divorce. Six monts later, I received a bitter letter from Mrs. Shona : that I had not been fair to her because I had referred her to a psychiatrist in front of her husband, that I should have kept her illness confidential and hidden from her husband. She even went on to say that in a way I was responsible for her divorce.

I had done nothing wrong, but this was indeed an emotional blow.

Patients often confess to their doctors what they hide from even their closest family members. This includes many things unacceptable to the society: drug consumption, visits to commercial sex workers, abnormal thoughts and behavior including violence, confessions about the past, extramarital affairs, porn addictions, abuse, abortions and even some diseases like AIDS, Tuberculosis and psychiatric issues as mentioned above. In the extremely orthodox and prejudiced society that we live in, even the legal, moral boundaries of what constitutes private information in such cases are not clearly defined. A husband or parents are automatically presumed to “own”the patient and every bit of information related to the patient, directly questioning the doctor and refusing to follow simple courtesies, manners or etiquettes towards their own family members. There are no presets / guidelines about privacy especially related to women or children.

A doctor’s job becomes all the more difficult when dealing with aggressive, litigant, blame-game prone patients and relatives, from both high and low educated classes. One must treat such cases extremely carefully, and our medical bodies must form strict criteria about patient information privacy that cannot be violated by even their family members.

I kept feeling sad and somewhat guilty about what had happened. But that is also what a doctor must learn to digest. One more dark corner of a doctor’s daily life.

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Tribe and The Ring

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Before coming to India, I searched a lot and bought this holy stone for you, the same one I was given as blessing for a good future. I wear exactly the same ring. As a mark of my gratitude for the treatment my son Hathim received in India, we want to make you a part of us. Please wear this ring” said Mr. Jade from Yemen.

About a month ago, he had left for Saudi Arabia, leaving his children back in India, to continue treatment. His younger son suffered from a very rare type of epilepsy (Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome) of uncontrolled fits / convulsions and was not mentally growing up well. The 16 year old elder brother cared for the younger one, as they stayed at a rental house in Pune. The case was very difficult, and I had to seek help from my teacher Dr. Sangeeta Ravat in Mumbai, who suggested crucial inputs in managing the kid. Fortunately, the fits are now controlled well, and the father arrived in India to take back the kids to Yemen.

He not only gifted a bag of perfumes, dates and sweets from his country (most Arabic patients, however poor, usually bring gifts for the doctors they visit), but also personalised the bond by bringing for me the same ring that someone had given him for a good fortune. Superstitions apart, but wishing for someone the same that one wishes for oneself is the core of almost every religious text.

Of course the major credit here is that of my teacher Dr. Ravat. I did nothing extraordinary, many doctors treat their patients with their soul, and get excellent results. The reason for this post is the pride of belonging to that tribe called “Doctors” which breaks not only the boundaries between countries, but all the walls between cultures, languages, and societies. This “Doctor”tribe has the rarest opportunity in the world: a free entry in the heart of any human being anywhere upon earth!

This ring is dedicated to that tribe: all doctors who have gifted health and life to millions.

As the beautiful kid travels back to his country, we pray for the best health and happiness for him and his entire family!

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

With Mr. Jade, Master Hatham, and a friend Ms. Arwa.

Illegal Heroes

Illegal Heroes

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“I was at the disco last night. We danced a lot, I exceeded my ususal capacity of 180 ml alcohol, and had two or three large pegs extra. I must have smoked a little extra too yesterday, I was too stressed”’ said the 30 year old man, who was admitted one afternoon in an unconscious state. He had had a fit in the office that morning. The MRI had shown a large bleeding / haemorrhage in his brain. This illness, cerebral venous thrombosis, is quite common among those who are dehydrated, those who have untreated sinus infections, and among those who take contraceptive pills. If not treated in time, it can quickly cause brain swelling that may lead to disability or death.

Over next three days he gradually improved. Brain swelling started to recede, and he asked for a discharge. Faster and to-the-point care had improved his condition, thanks to modern healthcare. A psychiatrist had already counselled him about deaddiction. When we sent his file for discharge, his mediclaim insurance was declined because this illness was related to alcohol consumption. Immediately, his tone became bitter, his colleagues dissected the case papers asking for justification of each test, each medicine, and also why he was even hospitalised. Gratefulness is often waived off by doctors as a lost quality among saved patients, but it is difficult to tolerate arrogant distrust. We firmly explained him what was done and why.

“We will pay your bills, we will claim the insurance later, but you must change your notes, remove alcohol and smoking from his papers” said the patient’s brother.

“We cannot change the case notes, it is illegal. Also, we have already sent copies to the insurance company, a standard procedure. You are not obliging us by paying the bills, we have provided healthcare service that saved your brother, who was about to die due to alcohol consumption” we replied.

Within an hour, a local politician, an elected member, who came in his Range Rover with his personal armed bodyguards and human doggies, started his anti-medical show that had drama, emotion, tragedy, threats of violence and revenge and everything else but truth and honesty. He spoiled the day for everyone involved, caused disruption of hospital work for over six hours, and left with a threat of “burning down the hospital soon”. When our PRO asked him whether he wants to pay the bills of this patient to help them, his reaction was the hallmark of a true politician: change of topic to how the medical profession has lost its reputation.

Almost every doctor, every hospital in India is being threatened and pressurised by our own lawmakers at almost all levels into changing facts, writing false details, extorting concessions for the rich and poor both, only to increase their own vote banks at the cost of the healthcare industry. Most politicians, many government officers instead of financially helping the patient, ask the hospital to treat free or cut off bills.

How legal is this authority? If a politician writes to a court or lawyer or hotel or an Airline to waive off fees/ bills of a poor person, will they ever? Why are the doctor’s services and hospitals taken for granted here? How sad that such illegal means make pseudo-Heroes in our country!

Everytime the politicos pressurise a doctor or a hospital to treat their paying cronies free or concessional, some other truly deserving patient suffers because hospitals, small or big, can only do a certain level of charity. How fair is it to deny healthcare to the deserving poor just because they cannot flex a political muscle? This phenomenon is ruining the whole purpose and concept of charity healthcare measures all over India.

Aren’t these elected members responsible for the disgusting state of the civil and government hospitals and healthcare all over India? That is their domain of authority. This is like messing up one’s own home and family and requesting the one with a better home and family to pay and comply for one’s own needs. How shameful is it for the elected members of different parties to have to send people, especially the poor, to the private hospitals, because their own set-ups are failing perpetually? Empty posts, inadequate staff, poorest funding, non-availability of quality technology and medicines and red tapism have created massive monuments of the healthcare failures of different lawmakers all over India, and these are the very people who come threatening to the hospitals of burning them down! Hear this, any Milord?

If the honourable Prime Minister and Health Minister invite feedback from every patient leaving every civil and government hospital, the gravity of this situation will be understood better. Many repairs “at home” are required before “the neighbours home” is raided. We as doctors and hospitals must together request these authorities and offices to protect us from such daily insults, extortions and exploitation.

The very next day, an old man, a retired Indian Military officer, was expressing himself in the OPD with tears in his eyes: “Ye desh ka kuchh nahi honewala (This country cannot progress). People here, at all levels, want corruption, legal escapes to save money, and will elect anyone who throws them petty bits. Votes are bought for such favours as alcohol, gifts and cash. Sycophants rule, criminals are seen hand in hand with some rulers. Who do you think will get elected with such means, saints? You can guess what progress we expect if the lawmakers are first in line to break laws..”

There was nothing more sinister I heard that day. I am worried about the healthcare in my beloved country. God save the future generations from such illegal heroes!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Duty And The Reward

The Duty And The Reward

Highly educated and informed, Mrs. Vinodini Bapat came with a worried face about a year ago. Her MRI had shown a tumour. When I told her that it was likely a large Tuberculoma (A tumor mass caused by tuberculosis of the brain), she was naturally very worried. There was no definite way to know if it was a cancer.

After a long discussion based upon what she researched herself, helped by her loving husband and daughter, she was convinced that we can take a chance and start anti-tuberculosis medicines.

I was quite pleasantly surprised when I found that the whole family had completely trusted everything I had explained. To be very honest, doctors expect disbelief and multiple opinions mostly with the well educated and literate patients. However, although they asked many questions, tried and understood every step in the treatment, they were extremely polite and cooperative.

The test time came when her brain swelling increased, as happens with some Tb patients in the first few weeks if starting the treatment, and she threw a mini-fit. We had to admit her and treat as an emergency. Many questions popped up, but the family was as cooperative as ever, with complete trust.

The medicines caused many side effects, and we adjusted the doses to suit the patient best. She was extremely patient and tolerant in spite of so many ups and downs.

Now, one year later, Mrs. Bapat followed up today with her fresh MRI scan: the brain was now completely normal, there was no trace of tuberculosis. The tumor had disappeared!

When she handed over this beautiful note written for me, I told her that she and her husband were extremely cooperative and I was grateful for that.

Then they told me what I Wish every medical student learns: that it is important not to get annoyed with patient’s questions so long as they are relevant, to understand that it is the patient’s desire and right to know the details of their illness, treatment options and side effects, to participate in decision making, and above all, to be treated respectfully with compassion.

Educated patients who keep their faith in their doctors intact, and ask relevant questions without paranoid accusations should not be misunderstood. It is the duty of a treating doctor to honestly keep all the cards on the table and let the patient understand and participate whenever possible.

Once again my day is blessed with the ultimate rewards in medicine: a happy patient and words of gratitude.

©️Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The Illiterate Man with Brain Tumors, Fits and Common Sense.

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The Illiterate Man with Brain Tumors, Fits and Common Sense.
 
“I have brain tumors. Is it possible to treat? Will I survive?” asked the worried man as his wife tried to hide her fear of the answer.
 
10 years ago, as I sat in a peripheral small hospital outside Pune, a simple couple had walked in, carrying their poverty in obvious signs upon them. Mr. Sakharam Pawar worked as a mason, mainly repairing foundation and floors. He had recently had a convulsion, and his Brain MRI had shown multiple tumors with swelling around them.
 
One of his relatives staying with him had had tuberculosis in the past. His clinical examination revealed signs of increased pressure within the skull. After a few simple tests, I told him that the tumors looked like tuberculosis growth (called tuberculoma or Tb Granuloma), and there was a good chance that they would respond to medicines, if he took the medicines regularly without missing for a single day. He agreed. An anti-convulsant was also started.
 
The course was prolonged, over a year, and the drugs were known to be notorious. Mr. Sakharam did not ask me a single question. When I updated him about the serious side effects like liver failure or vision or hearing loss that could result because of some his medicines, he replied “Doctorsaheb, I am sure you know what is best for me. If a side effect develops, it is my fate. I know you will help me there too. I leave all the choices to you”. I was amazed at this compliance and trust. He was barely literate (can only sign his name), but his choices spoke of an excellent common sense. In an age where even the well-educated resort to all kinds of Babas, Gurus, Herbals, Net claims, ,self-treatment and even black magic, this illiterate couple was making scientific choices!
 
He did not even seek a second opinion! A doctor’s responsibility multiplies when his / her patient completely trusts them, no doctor abandons the best interest of such a patient.
 
A year later, his Brain MRI showed that all the tumors had vanished, only a small scar remained. His medicines were stopped, except for the anticonvulsant which he will have to take lifelong. He takes this single tablet regularly, and we try and make it available for him at lowest cost by requesting the pharmacy. He hasn’t had any convulsion since many years now. He visits me once a year, and brings me words that make my day. This poor, illiterate man has defeated a high-fatality disease by making the right moves in time!
 
Today I asked Mr. Sakharam if I could tell his story to the world. He agreed. Then he mused and replied “I want to tell everyone that when I was first diagnosed with this dangerous illness I thought it was the end of the world. Then I discussed with my wife and we decided to fight this with proper treatment rather than superstitious decision making. The most difficult part was that I had to keep working in spite of severe headaches and the nausea caused by medicines, as we have no other source of income. But I am happy that I have defeated such a dangerous form of tuberculosis. I would like to appeal to people to go to the doctor in time, take scientific medicines and do not fall in the hands of quacks”.
 
Indeed, we see many cases of tuberculosis, tumors and so many other diseases of the brain that reach us too late to be saved or treated. Many (even highly educated) patients resort to unscientific options and waste precious time. Many a paranoid literates would have questioned every single thing right from the necessity of an MRI to the medicines used, and threatened their doctors with legal action for adverse effects of medicines. What this uneducated, illiterate couple demonstrated really questions whether education brings common sense to all.
 
Our medical director Dr. Sanjay Pathare assured Mr. Sakharam of all the help for the future.
 
The happy couple left with blessings upon their lips. A doctor’s day was thus blessed!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
 
PS:
Due permissions obtained from the patient for publishing this educational post. There are thousands of great doctors all over India, even in the biggest private hospitals,, who diagnose and treat poor patients without charging fees. The purpose of the post is to spread awareness that all brain tumors do not need surgery, that most tuberculosis cases can be cured completely, and also that with proper compliance, convulsions can also be controlled completely.

The Proof Is In The Pudding

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Seven years ago, Srinirmala Kanduri and her doting husband Vamsi Krishna came over frustrated by what appeared to be an unending punishment: Srinirmala suffered from a common type of epilepsy called CPS (Complex Partial Seizures), and was already taking three to four different anti epileptic medicines for the same. Her fits were still uncontrolled, and she would become unconscious without warning. She also had severe panic attacks, in which sudden fear grips the person, and a feeling of doom with actual physical symptoms like sweating, breathlessness, palpitations and blackouts keep reappearing. This not only made her own life miserable, but her husband had to rush home many times as she used to be alone. Their whole existence revolved around the fear and uncertainty of her illness, even at this young age, they could not plan any future.

Her physical examination was normal, and in spite of so many issues and side effects of the medicines, Srinirmala always kept a positive attitude. “I want to overcome this. I want to defeat this illness” she said every time. Sometimes, the medicines used for the treatment of epilepsy / seizures may themselves cause / worsen seizures. That’s what was happening with her. We gradually reduced her medicines, and were able to bring her to a single medicine, although she required frequent SOS medicine for her panic attacks.

Her husband Vamsi Krishna, working with Infosys then, relentlessly cared for her like a parent. He adjusted everything in his own life to suit her requirements: job, duty hours and undeclared leaves. He was not only completely supportive and understanding, but never even showed that he was doing anything extra for her. “We married in love” he says even today with his shy smile!

Then came the great trial of a woman with epilepsy. She badly wanted to become a mother. They were quite anxious and apprehensive, like all patients of epilepsy who face this situation. Vamsi was comfortable always with her choices, and said he would even support her if she wanted to avoid having a child. This is a nightmarish situation, given the emotional attachment that the mother and father have with the child they imagine. Now a days some safe medicines are available, although there’s none with a “completely safe” profile. Epilepsy medicines taken during pregnancy, almost all, have some risk for causing adverse effects upon the baby. Adding a simple medicine like folic acid and some supplements reduces this risk significantly.

Srinirmala and Vamsi decided to bite the bullet. These are the decisions that actually make the lives of the successful. We reduced her medicine doses to minimum, folic acid was added, and Srinirmala came with the good news soon. All through her pregnancy, her husband never left her alone except for his duty. Fortunately no fits came during her pregnancy, and she warded off her mild panic attacks with courage.

Then one day, THE call.

Shanmukhapriya was born in Hyderabad, under the care of Dr. Bhagyalakshmi at the Yashoda hospital, and both mother and the baby were smiling fit!

Another battle against epilepsy was won!

“There are ups and downs. There is uncertainty, no one can escape these. Keeping patience in difficult times helped me most, and that’s what I will advise everyone who plans to go ahead with extending the family while battling epilepsy. When I explained my situation rather than hiding it (stigma associated with epilepsy among the ill educated is a curse in India), my colleagues and bosses at Infosys and later Cognizant were very supportive.” says Vamsi Krishna.

Now Srinirmala has completely recovered, and rarely needs to hit the panic button. “I think it is very important to decide once and for all : that I will live normal, I will be fearless, whatever happens. That is what helped me win my battle” she says.

Then, as she asked the cute, sweet, and beautiful Shanmukhapriya (she is my child too, I feel, and the parents kindly allow me that) to blow a flying kiss at me, she commented “The proof is in this pudding”.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

PS: Thank you, Mr. Vamsi Krishna and Mrs. Srinirmala for allowing me this write-up for patient education, and Thank you Ms. Shanmukhapriya, for your heart throbbing smiles!

A Medical Lesson That Still Hurts

A Medical Lesson That Still Hurts
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Can’t you see I am with a patient? We can talk later. Or may be tomorrow” snapped my lecturer at Pallavi.

Pallavi was 26, had epilepsy herself, but used to sit in our OPD to help other epilepsy patients. She came from her home by local train, travelling over two hours, and went back after OPD to attend her father. She was on many medicines to control her fits and depression, still used to have frequent fits. An epilepsy surgery was not possible, my professor and lecturer who were her caretakers had explored almost every avenue for her. Some unfortunate patients do not respond well.

Obviously she could not get a job and sitting at home worsened her depression. She was quite good looking and kind. However, her father was bedridden with a paralysis attack, and had many problems, even bedsores. That stress made Pallavi cranky and always worried. With no source of income, she was dependent upon help from the staff at our municipal hospital. As she was too proud to accept money without working, my professor had eased her ego by requesting her to help other patients: OPD paperwork, forms, getting medicines, patient education and restrictions etc.

She would either consult us resident doctors or our teachers if there was anything wrong with her or her father. Sometimes her anxiety was too much to deal with, she often asked repeated questions. Some epilepsy and psychiatry patients have worst symptoms around menses, and even get combative.
Most government and corporation hospitals have a never ending line of patients. In that rush it became impossible to answer her repeated questions patiently, and someone or other usually had to either snap at her or prescribe her an anxiolytic. Sometimes being too kind or available results in more attention seeking.

“See if Pallavi is OK” my lecturer told me after a few minutes.

Sulking, Pallavi had gone to the pantry near OPD and sat alone. During our tea break myself and my colleague Dr. Sachin went there too. My thesis / dissertation submission was in final stages, where everything about it seems so pointless and meaningless. I had to submit it within two weeks. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Tea, Pallavi?” we asked her as she sat in the corner.
“No, Doctor. I’ve had it. Thank you” she said. We drank our tea in an invaluable silence.

She suddenly said: “Doctor, my father has started continuously calling me names. He uses very bad language. My headache becomes unbearable when he starts shouting.” She became tearful.
While having tea, I wrote her prescriptions for herself and her father too.
“Doctor, I want to talk” she said, “I need to sort out things in my life” she said.
“Pallavi, the OPD is still heavy, we will talk after lunch, ok?” I replied. It was 3 PM already. We finished tea and returned to the OPD.

A few minutes later, I heard her crying in my teacher’s cabin. “You must learn to be patient” my teacher was trying to pacify her while attending other patients who kept angrily rushing in, demanding their own time. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Pallavi got a call from home and left the OPD before it was over.
I went straight to the printer after OPD for the final corrections of my dissertation.

That evening we got the news that Pallavi had fallen off a local train, killing herself. No one knew if it was a suicide.

I have never been able to overcome that till now. What if I would have spent few more minutes, talked her in kinder words, pacified her better?

I learnt one of the most important and precious lessons that every doctor learns eventually: There’s no afterwards. Answer the patient in front of you NOW. Never deny time to one in genuine trouble. A minute of a doctor’s patience can save lives.

This became clearer later, this is true about everyone, not only doctors or patients; no one ever knows which one is the last meeting between any two. Now I make sure to only part with a proper goodbye, a smile and no bad feelings: apologise if I am wrong, forgive if the other one is. Some say that feels too formal, some think it is a way to impress others, or being excessively unnecessarily mannerful. But I know what I mean. There are no guarantees in life: about myself at least. Every goodbye is potentially final.

Patients never seem to stop. Everyone is in their own hurry, tired, pissed off . The doctor is the common point of venting problems, frustrations and also anger. Most doctors acquire the saintly art of not losing patience, raising voice in the worst of situations, but it is at the cost of being inhuman to themselves. To spend 12-16 hours every day (18-20 in case of resident doctors) among the angry, suffering and accusative without losing patience is not a joke. This is one reason why patients see irate/ less interactive doctors commonly and misinterpret it as “ego / pride / snobbishness” etc.

That said, since that incidence in our OPD, I do not refuse any question from any patient in front of me. I do not end the consultation unless I have answered their last question or the patient starts taking advantage by asking repeat or unnecessary questios.

Pallavi, I feel very sorry.
Patient First, Patience Highest, Always, for Every Doctor.
Thank you for the lesson.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Real Story. Identities masked. Please Feel Free To Share Unedited.

Stop This Anesthesia

Stop This Anesthesia
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Why so Doctor? Why cannot my child be like others?” asked the angry mother.

Just as I started to reply her, the patient: a 23 year old boy, went into a flurry of jerks. His body stiffened up, his eyes rolled up, and his face turned blue. He was already on the examination bed. Me and my student tried to support him there. We activated the code blue, just in case.
But the fit stopped. The boy came to, gradually. The nurse cleaned the bloody froth from his mouth. Heart rate and BP were normal now. Patient remained confused.

The mother, silently sobbing while patting his head, showed me the many large scars upon his face, head, and elsewhere. “He falls down many times every day and often injures himself. Can you imagine, doctor, what a mother’s heart feels to see her child bleeding every day?” © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
It was a case of hypoxic brain damage. The child was born in a village, the labour was prolonged and they could not reach a bigger hospital in time. If they had facilities, the child would have been normal today. Since birth, the child had had mild mental retardation and convulsions resistant to many medicines, They refused a surgery. I tried to counsel them. In many cases, we can control fits with a good combination of different medicines. But that takes time over a few months.

“We are farmers, doctor. We cannot stay home all day, we need to work to earn. The medicines are all so costly. I can sell everything to treat my son. But please tell me this will stop” the father’s voice was quivering.
It is easy to expect a doctor to detach himself emotionally from the patient, but then it is also like denying the patient empathy and understanding so crucial to their wellbeing.
“I will try my best, and I feel we can control the fits with medicines. Also, I can arrange for free medicines for your son whenever you cannot buy them. Never worry about my fees, I will be happy to treat him free. But make sure that his doses are never missed.” My teachers spoke through me.

“What after my death? Who will care for him? Who will bring him medicines? Who will ensure he takes them?” said the hefty man, and broke down. The proud feel it most difficult to declare their agonies. He tried to hide his face. The father and the mother sobbed on either side of the patient, who wasn’t yet alert enough to grasp it. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“There are some help communities and groups for epilepsy patients. We will enroll him into one. They will arrange for his medicines. I will also introduce you to some pharma companies who will give him free medicines as required”.
Then, pausing to realize the unasked question, I replied “And after me too, my students, colleagues or most doctors I know will never decline to treat him free. You just have to show them this note” .
I made a small note of such a request. I have never known any of my students or colleagues refuse to see a deserving patient free.

The tension in the room was melting. The parents had stopped sobbing. A possibility of hope and reassurance destroys the worst of darkness. The father folded his hands in gratitude, but couldn’t speak. The patient had a glass of water and they left.
But my mind was on fire again. Who’s guilty here?
Shall we blame fate for the blatant failures of a system? © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Why didn’t their village have facilities to ensure good delivery? Why wasn’t it possible for them to reach bigger hospital in time? Who is responsible for millions of children who develop lifelong preventable illnesses just because of a cruel lack of healthcare infrastructure? Patients with heart attacks and strokes and cancers die everywhere everyday, unable to afford treatment or to reach hospitals in time.

In a country that needs serious improvement in almost every area of healthcare infrastructure, the whole focus is being directed at the repeated exams for doctor’s requalification.
Do we need it at all in a country that is grappling with critical shortage of doctors, and where we are promoting every other pathy to allopathy with a six month training? We need many care homes, support systems for patients who cannot afford medicines. Many more ambulances. Many more hospitals in remote areas, Many more qualified doctors to work there while being able to afford a dignified life.

But the only decisions being made are about more exams for truly qualified doctors: why? This tranquilizer to divert attention from the main issues that need correction is the worst treatment possible for Indian Healthcare. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Doctors are never defined by the examinations that they pass, being a doctor is far more than passing qualifying examinations. But who will educate those who never bothered to pass any dignified exams?

Just before inducing the anesthesia, the patient is told “You will feel sleepy now. Everything is ok. Take a deep breath”. With complete faith, the patient goes unconscious. It is the doctors who ensure he / she returns safe. Some rare unfortunate patients never know that they will never wake up, because there are things a doctor cannot control.

That unfortunate patient is just like the Indian Society today.
How qualified are the healthcare policy decision makers?
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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