Tag Archives: medic

A Medico’s Last Certificate

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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

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“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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MEDICARDIA: A Doctor’s Diagnosis.

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© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Rimless spects, ipad, T-Shirt and denims. Brilliant face, thinning hair. Attitude. A face carefully wiped off of any expression. The typical new age intellectual waited outside the ICU. Body language: severe anxiety.

“Doctor, do whatever you must, his convulsions must stop” said Mr. Prasad. His father was having continuous fits for over three hours, he was just admitted directly in the ICU after all the home remedies had failed. His oxygen levels had dropped to dangerous levels. Patient had ready aspirated during his convulsions. His food had regurgitated and entered his windpipe.

The last treatment for continued fits is completely paralysing the patient with general anesthesia, intubating and starting artificial respiration with a ventilator. There is risk, but lesser than if the patient continues to have fits. Every doctor, for every patient, must make a decision based upon the risk-benefit ratio. Every treatment, medicine or surgery, also has potential risks. The decision that can potentially cause someone’s death is not easy to make. Every doctor lives on the edge of this risk.
Add distrust and suspicion, and we are dealing with law more than with medicine. Welcome to the medico nightmares! © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The critical care team had already explained the risk to the Mr. Prasad. He had signed the consent, including understanding of the critical condition. We intubated the patient and ventilator was started. The fits stopped. A chest physician was also involved in the treatment. Monitoring of the brain waves still showed abnormal currents in his brain, so he was kept paralysed next two days.

On the third day, the patient developed fever, most likely he had developed a chest infection, so common after aspiration. His condition worsened, his blood pressure dropped. We informed the family.

“Why didn’t you prevent this?” asked Mr. Prasad.
“Sir, have you ever had any cough, cold, fever?” I asked.
“Yes, many times. What has that to do with my father’s infection?“ he replied.
“Why couldn’t you prevent it?” I asked, “Anyone can develop an infection or a heart attack anywhere outside the hospital and it is ok, but if it happens inside a hospital, why does it suddenly become a doctor’s fault? Hospital acquired infections are possible in spite of all precautions, in the best of the hospitals across the globe. The elderly population is especially more prone for infections.”
This being a routine question, there was no reason for me to lose my patience. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Our team worked hard to maintain the unconscious patient alive. His heart rate fluctuated, blood pressure dipped to non-recordable sometimes, blood sugars went high, liver and kidney functions were deranged, but we kept on playing the “Medical Chess”, where one doesn’t know what move nature will make next, the only possible next step is to accurately, promptly and wisely counter that complication.

His lungs started failing, the chest physician advised steroids. At this stage steroids could either be life saving, or could cause havoc by worsening the infection. Mr. Prasad was explained the situation.

“What are the chances of survival and complete recovery?” he asked.
“Unpredictable, Sir” I replied.
“Then why use steroids?” he asked.
“If we don’t, the chances are less than if we do”. I replied.

Steroids were added. The patient stabilised and then started improving gradually. Over next five days there was a dramatic recovery. Steroids were stopped.. Mr. Prasad remained expressionless, questioning every move. Three days later, once he started breathing by himself, the ICU team informed me that the patient could be extubated- the tube for ventilation could be taken out. I was in the OPD, I okayed the decision.

In a few minutes, Mr. Prasad rushed into my OPD.
“Doc, my father cannot speak. He has lost voice”. He was quite angry and anxious.

“Let me check” I said and went to the ICU.
The patient was otherwise fine. The throat tube inserted for ventilation sometimes causes swelling in the throat, involving the vocal cords, and such “hoarseness” or loss of voice is common after this procedure. Using steroids facilitates recovery, but in this case, it was now risky to use steroids. We explained the situation to Mr. Prasad. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“When will he recover from this?” he asked.
“Usually two weeks, but still one cannot say exactly” I replied.

“Why didn’t you tell this to us earlier? This is atrocious. I will file a complaint. We will go to the court. My friend is a reporter. I will also write on social media about this, that because of the treatment here my father lost his voice” he started shouting.

He did file a complaint with the hospital. Everything was on paper, everything was medically and legally correct. Still the administration must ask me questions and I must reply. Many long emails and documentations followed. One reporter called and enquired about the case, I explained her the situation.

I didn’t sleep well those five nights. Medicolegally we were safe, but who was to deal with the media allegations, the resultant defamation, irresponsible hurtful comments by every TDH on the social media?.

The patient was still under my care. I saw him daily, he was making good recovery. His voice became normal in next three days. He was shifted to the wards and then discharged. He was advised to continue anticonvulsant medicines. Mr. Prasad did not say a goodbye, didn’t write a feedback, he didn’t withdraw his complaint. They just disappeared, and did not follow up. I kept on dealing with the paperwork for a few days even after discharge. I still had a thin bleeding layer of patience left. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

About a month later, at late night, I got a call from the casualty. The same patient was convulsing. Mr. Prasad had requested to call me.

He revealed that after the discharge he had searched for ‘the best’ neurologists in India, took his father to two of them, and was advised to continue exactly what we had advised. Then he researched internet, found an “ancient remedy” for epilepsy rediscovered recently by a famous baba, that guaranteed complete cure. They had stopped the anticonvulsants advised by me three days ago, as the Baba’s site blasted all modern medicine and the dangerous effects of allopathic drugs.

My remaining patience was destroyed, However, the patient was my first responsibility. I advised the treatment, we intubated the patient and started ventilation again.

“What are the chances, Sir?” asked the rimless eyes with expressionless face.

“We have started with the emergency treatment, the patient will be shifted to the ICU. I cannot accept this case, please admit your father under another specialist” I said. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Look doc, I am sorry if you felt bad about last time. We paid full bills and we will pay again, we have mediclaim. I want you to treat him” he said.

“I don’t work for the mediclaim companies. You cannot pay me for the damage you caused to my peace of mind, the waste of time you caused by writing falsified complaints. You cannot pay me for the sleepless nights because of your threats” I told him.

His face changed. Panic appeared on that expressionless face. He folded hands. There were tears in his eyes. “Doc, I am sorry. I got carried away by what people say about modern doctors. I will do whatever you want. Please save him. I promise I will immediately write an apology to the hospital ”.

Needless to say, a doctor’s heart has many hard scars, but it is the easiest to melt. It did, once again!

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Real experience, some facts changed to mask identity.
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