Tag Archives: Life

“Why Don’t You Marry Her, Doc?”

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Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I just smiled at him.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Changing Blood Group

The Changing Blood Group

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“He is sinking” shouted Dr. Siya.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sonography was thankfully normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The “Cheap Competition” among Doctors: a Hidden Cancer.

The “Cheap Competition” among Doctors: a Hidden Cancer.
©Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Neurologist, Pune.

A majority of medical students in India are actually from poor or middle class background. Most students come in this profession for service to the suffering and also for social respect. Every doctor passing out in India does not pay crores of rupees for education. This is a system created and maintained by all governments for their strongmen as a source of huge earnings. Many of these “paying” students also work hard and earn their degree. However some few look at the amount spent as an investment and try to earn it back by unfair means. This is NOT the fault of the majority of good doctors (both non-paying and paying) who work hard to acquire their skills and help the society. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

As the society expects “cheapest” advice even for most complicated health issues, some newcomers, those who are under qualified, those who do not have a good number, and some who don’t have the confidence keep their “Consultation fees” quite low, and rely upon alternate income: through tests, procedures and surgeries, through percentage in hospital bills. Thus, though the ‘entry ticket’ is low, the ‘hidden charges’ compensate for the doctor’s (genuine) hard work and skill.
However, not all ‘low fees’ doctors are bad, but keep their rates low to be able to compete, no one wants to criticise those who have low fees for ulterior motives. This competition to keep the consultation fees low to attract patients has generated most evils in the medical practice. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to change soon, as most people prefer this.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The low “Consultation fees“ model works best for even good, skilled and experienced surgeons and branches with procedures (plasty/ scopy etc.), where the patient usually does not question the charges for the procedures or surgery, just because every patient prefers best skilled doctor. There is also a recent trend to offer even “procedures and surgeries” at a competitive low cost by some hospitals, who employ the inexperienced or inadequately qualified/ trained doctors, beginners, lowest skilled nurses, technicians and other staff and instrumentation, catheters, joints, other prostheses. The whole show will be put up for “short term goals”, risking patient’s life and compromising many aspects of good care. In many “cheap packages”, the long term outcomes may be at risk.

Those who run hospitals have many profit sources: right from the tea sold inside the hospital campus to the room charges, pathology and radiology, nursing, drugs and everything used, they earn profits under multiple headings. This is also why they can afford to keep their consultation fees extremely low. However, most doctors employed at such hospitals are not paid anything besides their own low consultation fees, while they remain the face of the “total-bill” for all patients. This system encourages rich doctors who invest in alternative sources of income than the consultation fees alone. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Physicians / specialists must rely only upon their OPD consultation and IPD visits. If a proper examination is to be done in each case, and all questions of every patient are to be addressed, one cannot see more than 20-25 patients in a day. Thus if he / she keeps low fees, it becomes difficult to sustain in any Indian city. So they must see as many patients as they can, only addressing the immediate medical issue, and unable to answer many queries of the patient and relatives. If a good doctor decides to spend more time with each patient, and gives up relying upon the “hidden income”, he must charge a much higher consultation fees to just sustain in a good city.

The social anger against doctors mostly comes from increased expenditures on health and unrealistic expectations. Although there are greedy doctors, a majority are just doing their best to make a good name by offering the best service at a low price. Quality healthcare will always come with a higher price-tag, a good doctor will have a higher fees, and that if one wants the “backdoor / cut / referral practice “ to end, one must be prepared to pay higher fees.

In a country where loud and sweet talk, deception and lies are preferred by majority over genuine service, honesty and truth, it is difficult to change the basic attitudes: on both sides..

There indeed are some honourable doctors and hospitals who know the value of their own service, and offer the best to their patient. But even they are usually considered “Greedy” by the very patients whose miseries they end. There are senior / skilled doctors who charge from three to ten thousand or more per consultation, and most of our powerful and ministers go to these doctors too. Although this consultation fees appears high, the accuracy of the opinion and advice often save the patients lacs of rupees. If a surgeon advises a surgery, he/ she can earn many thousands, but if the same surgeon with his skills and experience treats the patient conservatively, avoids surgery and gets good results, the patient is unwilling to pay even half the price of that surgery for the same result. What would anyone do in such a case? The concept that “A Right Opinion by the Right Specialist” saves the patient huge amounts of money and discomfort is yet to dawn upon the Indian society.

The market of cheap has always survived, but in the long run, cheap options always come with a greater final price tag upon health: often your life.

It is my sincere appeal to all my fellow practitioners from the newer generations to please change this structure. See a moderate number of patients per day, charge according to your skill, experience and time, do not undercharge or bargain, then alone this system of backdoor incomes will gradually change. Of course you must consider concessions for the really poor, and accommodate those who cannot pay by keeping a separate time/ OPD for them.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Neurologist, Pune.

PS:
Many city-based imbeciles without any doctor in their family will immediately say that all doctors should go to villages. Those who suggest that, please make your own children (if you have) doctors (if they have the caliber) and send them to villages. Why doesn’t the government make it compulsory for every mla and mp who draws lifelong financial benefits from the country’s exchequer, to send their kids to medical schools and serve in rural India compulsorily? Why is it not compulsory for the elected members to take all treatment in their own electorate? Every law is bent every which way possible to accommodate the healthcare requirements of all the rich and powerful, whether it is kidney transplant or joint replacement, but when extending healthcare to the poor and unaffording, the same people from various ruling parties conveniently point fingers at the medical professionals!

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The Colour Of Blessings

The Colour Of Blessings

© Dr Rajas Deshpande

Carefully calculating the dose and mixing it with the intravenous fluid with precision, I told the kind old lady: “I am starting the medicine drip now. If you feel anything unpleasant, please tell me.”

Through her pain, she smiled in reply. Her son, my lecturer Dr. SK, stood beside us and reassured her too. He had to leave for the OPD, there already was a rush today. “Please take care of her and call me if you feel anything is wrong” he said and left.

Dr. SK’s mom was advised chemotherapy of a cancer. It was quite difficult to calculate its doses and prepare the right concentration for the intravenous drip. Just a month ago, my guide Dr. Pradeep (PY) Muley had taught me how to accurately prepare and administer it, so when Dr. SK’s mom was admitted, he requested me to do it for her too.

The drip started. After a few hours, I noticed that her urine bag needed emptying. The ‘mausi’ supposed to do it was already out for some work. Any resident doctor in India naturally replaces whoever is absent. So I wore gloves, requested a bucket from the nurse, and emptied the urobag into it. Just as I carried the bucket with urine towards the ward bathrooms, Dr. SK returned, and offered to carry it himself, but I told him it was okay and went on to keep the bucket near the bathroom where the ‘mausi’ would later clean it. © Dr Rajas Deshpande

Once the drip was over, Dr. SK invited me for a tea at a small stall outside the campus. He appeared disturbed. He said awkwardly: “Listen, please don’t misunderstand, but when I saw you carrying my mother’s urine in the bucket, I was amazed. You are a Brahmin, right? When you were away, my mom even scolded me why I allowed you to do it, she felt it was embarrassing, as we hail from the Bahujan community. I am myself a leader of our association, as you already know”.

I knew it, to be honest. His was a feared name in most circles.He was a kindly but aggressive leader of their community, but always ready to help anyone from any caste or religion, to stand by anyone oppressed, especially from the poor and discriminated backgrounds.

“I didn’t think of it Sir! She is a patient, besides that she’s your mother, and I am your student, it is my duty to do whatever is necessary. Otherwise too, my parents have always insisted that I never entertain any such differences”. I replied. © Dr Rajas Deshpande

“That’s okay, but I admit my prejudice about you has changed,” he said. “If you ever face any trouble, consider me your elder brother and let me know if I can do anything for you”. What an honest, courageous admission! Unless every Indian who thinks he / she is superior or different than any other Indian actually faces the hateful racist in the West who ill-treats them both as “browns or blacks”, they will never understand the pain of discrimination!

As fate would have it, in a few months, I had an argument with a professor about some posting. The professor then called me and said “So long as I am an examiner, don’t expect to pass your MD exams.”

I was quite worried. My parents were waiting for me to finish PG and finally start life near them, I already had a few months old son, and our financial status wasn’t robust. I could not afford to waste six months. © Dr Rajas Deshpande

I went to Dr. SK. He asked all details. Then he came with me to the threatening professor. He first asked me to apologise to the professor for having argued, which I did. Then he told the professor: “Rajas is my younger brother. Please don’t threaten him ever. Pass him if he deserves, fail him if he performs poor. But don’t fail him if he performs well. I will ask other examiners”.

The professor then told me that he had threatened me “in a fit of rage”, and it was all over.

With the grace of God, good teachers and hard work, I did pass my MD in first attempt. When I went to touch his feet, Dr. SK took me to his mom, who showered her loving blessings upon me once again, and gifted me a Hundred rupee note from her secret pouch. © Dr Rajas Deshpande

Like most other students, I’ve had friends from all social folds at all times in school and colleges. I had excellent relations with the leaders of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Association, and twice in my life they have jumped in to help me in my fight against injustice when everyone else had refused. I love the most fierce weapon of all that Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar himself carried: the fountain pen!

No amount of fights will ever resolve any problems between any two communities, the only way forward is to respectfully walk together and find solutions. Fortunately, no doctor, even in India, thinks about any patient in the terms of their religion or caste. (© Dr Rajas Deshpande). Just like the Judge in the court premises, humanity is the single supreme authority in any medical premises. Blood or heart, brain or breathing are not exclusive to any religion or community. Just like the bigger brain, a bigger heart is also the sign of evolution.

I so much wish that the black clouds of disharmony between different communities are forever gone. The only hope is that our students can open any doors and break any walls, so long as they do not grow up into egoistic stiffs. © Dr Rajas Deshpande

I am proud to belong to the medical cult of those who never entertain any discrimination. A patient’s blessing has no coloured flags attached! Even outside my profession, I deeply believe that the very God I pray exists in every single human being I meet. If at all anyone asks me, I am happy to say that:

My religion, my caste and my duty as a doctor are all one: Humanity first!

© Dr Rajas Deshpande

Neurologist

Pune

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The Extinction of Precious: A Medical Horror Story Happening Right Now!

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The Extinction of Precious:
A Medical Horror Story Happening Right Now!
©️ Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Sir, we have come from Konkan”, said the father, “to seek your advice and blessings . My son has passed the medical postgraduate exams with national rank 30. He wants to decide which branch he should choose”.

I congratulated the genius. Passing medical entrances with high merit requires great talent. It does not earn the glamour, claps and appreciation of stage and limelight, for we live in a society that only worships looks, muscles, bhashanbazi, financial success and sports (sorry, one sport. Even if someone wins a world gold in any other sport than cricket, they go home in an auto rickshaw when they return to India!).

Speaking with the boy, I realised that he was very sensitive, compassionate and had an excellent logic and reasoning. Besides having a calm bearing, he was also a hard worker. A perfect blend for becoming a great physician or a surgeon, in a world that is fast losing able clinicians. I suggested him to prefer Internal medicine.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

They looked awkwardly towards each other. The boy garnered some courage to speak.

“Sir, I saw our family doctor being beaten up by a local politician, his clinic was ruined. He was humiliated in the worst language in front of his wife and children, and instead of protecting him, other patients in his hospital kept on recording videos of the incident, which later became viral. He left, we don’t know where he went. I cannot ever think of directly dealing with patients now. I want to choose a non- clinical or para-clinical branch.”

I appealed to the father: “Your son has a great potential and matching talent to become a good clinician, we desperately need many more. It is not necessary that he practices in your own town or even in India. The whole world needs good doctors. Please think about this”.

The father, a simple teacher from a primary school, thought for a prolonged moment. His eyes reddened up.
“I don’t know, Sir. When he said he wanted to become a doctor, his mother and I always thought that he will become a saviour, running around saving people’s lives. We were never interested in only money. But the day that we saw our own doctor being beaten up by a crowd and the local politician, we realised how helpless a doctor’s life is. We knew our doctor for over 25 years, he was like a God for many in our town. All he did in 25 years became a zero in a few minutes, thanks to a hooligan politico and his crowd. We don’t want our son to ever face that. If we had a daughter in his place, we wouldn’t even have made her a doctor, women as doctors suffer a lot more trouble and get no returns, sometimes even from their family. And this is our only son, we want him to stay in India near us.”

Somehow I didn’t want to give up convincing him, he was an ideal candidate for becoming an excellent clinician.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande “Think of the future. Hopefully there will be better laws, he can also consider working in bigger, safer hospitals if he is scared”.

“What would you advise your own son if you were in my place, Sir?” asked the father.

He had bombed my mind.
I was trained by parents and teachers to always do good, be compassionate and kind. My kids had a potential to become great doctors coming from this background. I worry a lot about the extremely critical condition of deteriorating healthcare standards and reducing number of good clinicians that is destined to cause a havoc in a few years. Still, honestly, I did not wish upon my children the insecurities and threats I face. I don’t want them to live under the perpetual fear of being vandalised, defamed, tortured by over-expectation and punished by committees made up of politicians and medically inexperienced judicial experts. I won’t want their lives, work hours and remunerations to be dictated by a corrupt bunch living for votes of free mongers.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It would be hypocrisy to advise someone else what I wouldn’t choose for myself. That’s how a doctor makes the best possible decision. With a heavy heart, I advised him what I always advised my children:

“I agree. Please choose what suits your heart most, what gives you fearless happiness in your work and also leaves you with some time for yourself and your family, ensures a good income and is not dependent upon jealous people’s expectations of what you should do and for what price. You have so many options for social service other than becoming a clinician. I am sure you will stay a good human being all your life.” I suggested him two para-clinical branches that offer good scope.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The world indeed will have to suffer the gradual extinction of good clinicians. We need many more excellent doctors in para clinical and non clinical areas too, but the face of the profession is the clinician, and we certainly, desperately need many thousand more. It is a fact that in spite of increasing number of doctors, patients still die travelling in an ambulance to reach good healthcare far away from most homes in India. Many federal orphans who cannot even afford government healthcare die at home.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The father asked his son to touch my feet. As he did so, the melancholy of my own advice bit my heart. I couldn’t let down the flag of my noble profession.

“Listen, dear. I am speaking this against my own convictions. I am struggling. Think about becoming a good clinician and practising in a safe country, take your parents with you. I will be happy whatever you finally decide, but not everyone has the ability and talent to become a good doctor, it is rarest of the rare traits.”© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

They left. So did a part of my hope for the future of good healthcare.

When the next couple walked in with an infant baby in their hands, I looked at the smiling baby, and forced a smile. She didn’t know it yet, but I had just bought a precious gift for her.

©️ Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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The Untold Slaughter

The Untold Slaughter
(c) Dr. Rajas Deshpande

In my first year of Residency, I was waiting near the hospital elevator, with a colleague, already late at 8.30 AM. The Dean, who is the highest authority in medical campus, on his morning rounds, came with his routine flock: Medical Directors and Superintendents, Nursing Chief, and Assistant Medical Officers, and waited for the elevator. I wished him a Good Morning, he reciprocated and looked at his wrist watch. I understood. “Sorry Sir, I had an emergency last night, I left wards at 7 AM” I said. He nodded and smiled.

He was a respectable odd man out in the system at Government Hospitals then. He was clean and non-corrupt, extremely punctual and active. This reflected in cleaner wards and better services, availability of staff, medicines and devices, although the patients who benefited rarely knew who was the guardian angel behind the service. He had become Dean by a rare chance: there was no one qualified and willing to take on that responsibility, so he was given the charge. However, now those in the “good books” of power were ready to take over, and awaited the right moment.

Like most straightforward and non-corrupt officers with a spine, he was generally hated by the system. He had stopped the bribery and corruption that started from some ward assistant / ward-boy level to all the purchases, appointing committees of different heads. He had stopped the purchase of medicines and devices / catheters from dubious companies which had flourished for years around the town. “Local Cheap Pharmacies” run by the “Well Connected” or aliases of those in power were affected badly, as their whole set-up was designed to run via such government hospital purchases.

The doctors, clinicians and residents like us were happy that the patients got good quality drugs, it is otherwise horrible to witness treatment failures which can never be proven to substandard drugs or catheters. The only face to blame is that of the doctor for a politician or a patient.

Naturally, he was on the hotlist of many in power. The best weapon in politics: the caste card was being used against him. The labour organisations and staff associations that belonged to a different caste / religion than that of this Dean were continuously active to create nuisance, hoping to spread the fire and bomb the press at the first correct opportunity.

Almost all elevators at government hospitals are the basic old re-repaired ones: slow, jerky, unreliable, like many offices. As we waited, few others joined the elevator queue. Among these was a middle aged sweeper lady, who came limping.

“What happened?” asked the Dean to her.
“I fell at home, it’s just a small sprain, I am taking medicine Sir” she replied politely.
The elevator came. As patients rushed in, the Dean held open the door for her, and asked her to get in first.
“Pehle aap andar aao” he said (“You come in first”).
The lady politely replied “Nahi Sir, aap chaliye pehle” (‘No, Sir, You get in first”).
He went in, some staff went in with him, then he asked the sweeper lady to come in too, by a hand gesture.

That was enough. The next day, there was a huge agitation. The allegation was that the Dean said “Aati Kya” (“Will you come with me”) to a sweeper, and made an obscene hand gesture. There were morchas, road blocks in the campus. The sweeper lady declined to comment, her husband who was among the association leaders gave the press interviews. Some student organisations based upon caste and religion were involved, their gusto fueled by those in power. Two of the doctors who accompanied the Dean that day on the rounds also testified that the allegations were true. One of them was in fact the next in line to become the Dean. Everyone sane in the campus felt ashamed.

I was too insignificant then, just as I am today. But I went to the Dean with my female colleague, and we offered to testify what had actually happened.

He smiled through the hell he was going through.
“It was my mistake, Rajas, that I accepted the post. This is how the system works, this is the power they have. It is never any party or caste or religion, it is merely a human tendency and unfortunately, that is in abundance today. We have no chance against the majority, and if the majority chooses to be a mob, we
are helpless. Because mobs are bought and blinded, they have no logic or reasoning. The wisest thing in certain situations is to continue to survive, do your best, till you can help engineer a change”.
“But Sir, those allegations are so unfair and vulgar” my colleague said.
He looked at her straight in the eye, and said “Do you believe all that the politicians say?”.

The change happened overnight.
Disgraced and sent on leave, our Dean did not resign.
“I am the small good that must remain in the system. Twisting facts, making allegations that need no proof, exposing personal lives and relationships, misusing culture, philosophy and wisdom as per convenience are new-age essentials for most political leaders. Illiteracy is a dangerous force. The only hope is those who do not succumb to pressure, keep their eyes open and think with their own brains” he told his friends.

Two years later, when I met him to give him sweets for my passing, to touch his feet and seek blessings, I found the same sweeper lady and her husband waiting outside his office. I told him so when I went inside.

Calmly, he replied “Yes, their son has passed twelfth standard, they need some financial help for his college fees”.
I did not ask him what he would do. Doing good is an obligation with such human Gods, irrespective of what they get back in return.

That places them above every other form of human being dry-blabbering about humanity. I touched his feet thrice that day.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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PS: Some facts changed to mask identity.

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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An Ideal Patient

 

An Ideal Patient
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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“My health is my domain, you are a member on my health team. You have a part to play, and I have a responsibility to imbibe your advice with complete trust, along with that of the other specialists I see. There are so many things in my life that are beyond your control: what I eat, what I do, how much I work or sleep or exercise, how I react, my mentation, and even my spirituality. All these affect my health, and I must assume the responsibility for that. My illness if not your fault.
Rajas, we meet like the tips of two pyramids, with few specific issues to resolve. We cannot know the entire pyramid, and it is unnecessary too. I have strong faith about why we should have met even as a doctor and a patient, I believe destiny has a purpose. The meeting between a doctor and a patient, not only you and me, can be so much beyond only a professional medical consultation: just so long as we have enough trust and shoulder our respective responsibilities well”.

These are the precious words of Ms. Prema Camp.

Once she came to my OPD, and asked me why I looked stressed. I told her my mom was critically ill, admitted at the same hospital. Mom was conscious then, but was quite shocked due to her recent worsening, As a son, I had limitations in counseling mom. Ms. Camp took my permission, went to the room where mom was admitted, and chatted with her a few hours, relaxing her with gentle anecdotes.

My patient and now a friend from last 5 years, Ms. Prema Camp shuttles between USA and India frequently. She maintains a meticulous record of all her health related documents, follows all advice to the last dot, enquires about every doubt that crops up, reads extensively still only asks relevant questions, and manages her side of the responsibility perfectly: researching and finding out the right type of food for herself, following strict and disciplined schedules of diet and exercise, and avoiding all unnecessary medicines. She has a phenomenal memory, but she has never used it to relate any bad experiences from her past, in spite of having many. If at all there’s something negative about her past, she mentions only the good that invariably came out of it. Age does not affect her at all, and she independently manages everything without any assistance (although she has highly placed daughters in the USA who care for her). Her blogs have an enviable readership too!

Every time she comes over, I learn something precious, especially about the effect of mind upon health and life. She brings me books and films related to health, hoping that it will help other patients too.
I do not know if it is entirely due to her growing up with the freedom of thought in USA, the spiritual pursuits which brought her to India, or both, but I find something quite rare in her: the ability to pursue a thought or an idea fearlessly to its conclusion, and to then honestly accept that conclusion. Irrespective of whether the world has yet grown up to it or not. Irrespective also of personal likes and dislikes.

Although I always stick to the professional etiquettes with a poker face, there are patients who crossover to this side of me and become friends. Then the barter system of payment via goodwill and information exchange works best, money becomes so redundant! Needless to say, she has never once misused the facility to call or message in spite of having my personal cell.

When I apologized for being late today, she smiled and said “Oh I enjoyed every bit of waiting here, I could get some time to read”.
I wish I keep learning these things from her!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Living By The Words ‘Being A Doctor’.

 

Living By The Words ‘Being A Doctor’.

 

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Beyond Fear: The Lady Who Defeated Brain Cancer

 

Beyond Fear: The Lady Who Defeated Brain Cancer

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

About a year ago, a young man came with the MRI reports of his 64 year old mother, 
Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, who was then in Bijapur. She had developed paralysis on the right side of her body, could not speak, and was losing her consciousness fast.

The MRI looked bad, a big tumour was compressing much of the left side of her brain. It looked cancerous, and needed immediate surgery as a life saving option. Otherwise the tumor could damage the heart / blood pressure and respiratory control centres in the lower part of her brain, that risked life. The situation could turn into an emergency anytime now.

The family was devastated. They brought her to Pune. She was sinking fast. Required investigations were done, and we explained the facts to the family. The surgery could risk life or also cause permanent disability, including permanent loss of speech.

Her husband, Mr. Venkat Babladi was always by her side, with his hands folded, and had only one thing always to say every time any doctor visited her: “Please save her doctor, do everything possible”.

She was operated. Her husband, son Mr. Anand Babladi, and his wife all stayed in the hospital, taking turns to attend her. The tumor was sent for analysis.

On the third day, the report brought the bad news: it was a type of cancer called primary central nervous system lymphoma. These tumors have a high death risk, with or without treatment, especially after the age of 60.

“Tell us doctor, where can we do the best treatment for her? We want to do everything” her husband and family kept on telling us. She was still in critical care, but had started now to speak a few words.

Our oncologist Dr. Minish Jain and his assistant Dr. Yuvraj Rangam took over, and started high dose chemotherapy. She developed many complications, some related to the medicines, but her family always stood firm. Every day, her husband sat by her, holding her hand, and telling her that she was going to recover, that he will ensure all was well. Her son and daughter in law arranged for all expenses and logistics, not by staying away and sending money, but by attending her every day after their respective jobs. After few days she was discharged with advice to continue chemotherapy.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi had a fall while walking at home, and fractured her hip, she had to be operated. Her chemotherapy had to be stopped. It was resumed after she recovered from the fracture. Then in few weeks, radiation therapy was started. As a rare complication, she developed life threatening brain swelling, and had to be shifted to critical care unit. She lost her speech again. Her husband, who was now on the verge of an emotional collapse, met us outside her room and with tearful eyes, asked only one question daily: “She will be ok na, doctor?”

Medical treatment is mostly standard all over the world, but the affection and care of one’s family is not. Hundreds of doctors treat thousands of such patients, many patients get cured of cancers and other dreadful diseases, a simple statistic that is never made public by those who perpetually talk against medical professionals. Equally unrecognised is the fact that a caring family makes a huge difference in the patient’s recovery, this has become very rare now.

After a year, we repeated her scans recently, and told her the ultimate medical good news: she had defeated brain cancer! Her scans did not show any tumor activity at all. She comes smiling to the OPD now, her husband holds her hand on one side, and son on another.

The most beautiful gift she gave me this time is that she learned two new Hindi words specially for me, because everytime I saw her I asked her how she was, and could not understand her answer.
This time, her husband poked her, then she smiled and said “Achcha hai”.

Those two words were the winning roar of a simple, middleclass woman against a dreadful killer disease!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

PS: Thank you, Babladi family for the kind permission to share facts.

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