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The Silent Murders and Medical Suffocation

The Silent Murders and Medical Suffocation
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Your grandfather is admitted and serious. Please come at once” my uncle said on the telephone.
I was in the first MBBS. This maternal grandfather was my closest relative after my father. An expert in many languages and philosophies, he was a constant source of love, wisdom and inspiration from my toddler days.

I submitted a leave application and travelled immediately to attend him. Grandpa was admitted in the general ward at the civil hospital Beed in Maharashtra. As the wards were full, he was kept with two other patients in a sort of a broad corridor, and IV antibiotics with saline were being given. He was delirious, but he managed to smile when he saw me. As civil hospitals do not have many medicines, my uncle arranged them from an outside pharmacy.

There was an elderly retired police inspector, Mr. Gaikwad, on the bed next to my Grandpa’s. He had uncontrolled sugar levels, and was slipping in and out of consciousness. His elderly wife was attending him, she was herself a patient of severe arthritis, and could not even get up or walk without excruciating pain. There were no chairs / stools or even mattresses for relatives attending the patients, so we slept on the floor besides our respective patients, upon our own bedsheets. I naturally attended the elderly couple too, I had enough time to attend humans as that was the pre cellphone era. Mrs. Gaikwad told me how her husband had spent his life without ever being corrupt, and said while she was proud that he was so clean, that also meant hardships like the one she faced. “Those who took bribes can afford to go to the private doctors in big cities and keep attendants. Our virtues translated in more hardships, the vocal rewards of words do not ease physical pain, nor pay any bills” she said with tears. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

One night at about 3 AM, while I was deep asleep, I heard a scream and got up startled. Mr. Gaikwad was having a convulsion, and his wife shouted in panic. I ran to call the nurse, but there was only one for the entire ward and she was in the washroom. By the time she came out, the convulsion had stopped. She stopped the insulin drip and called the doctor on duty, who was asleep in the casualty. He came and administered some medicines and went away, exhausted. He was on duty for over three days in a row now, tired and irritable, yet had no option but to go on. I dozed off again. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
In a few minutes, I realized Mrs. Gaikwad was waking me up again, shaking violently, because the IV needle of her husband had come out and he was bleeding. In panic I stood up. There was some water on the floor, and before I realized, I fell face down upon the bare floor. Such was the impact that my upper front tooth broke, and tore through my upper lip. It was bleeding profusely. The nurse had come and inserted another IV line to the patient by then, and the elderly lady felt quite guilty for my injury.

The nurse asked me to go to the casualty. The wardboy there refused at first to wake up the doctor on duty, saying he hadn’t slept for past two nights. However, as the bleeding continued, he took pity and woke up the doctor. Already angry, the casualty doc cleaned and sutured my lip with the available suture material, the correct one was not there. He asked me to get the painkillers and antibiotics from the pharmacy, and to fill up the necessary papers and pay the fees at the window.
With a swollen lip and an aching head, I returned to the ward and slept again. The next day, Grandpa was already feeling better, he could get a bed in a semi-private room, and discharged in two days after that.
Mr. Gaikwad, the elderly retired inspector passed away after two days, obviously a case of far less medical attention and facility. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

I carry the scars till date.

Not much has changed in the civil / government run hospitals, even today. Far lesser beds and amenities, a constant lack of medicines and instruments, anarchic uncleanliness, underpaid and understaffed faculty, “sarkari” type procedural delays: overall a third-rate or worse experience in healthcare, with bribes and corruption at almost every level.
What is being projected is opposite though. The whole blame is being planted upon the medical professionals, and all the so-called reforms being made are just tightening of working conditions of the allopathic doctors. We do need reforms in medical malpractice and corruptions, and they are of course welcome, but many more thousand patients die due to apathy and lack of medicines and facilities at the government run hospitals than those who die due to medical malpractice. The number of administrators and government employees who do not attend government hospitals is a proof of the massive healthcare deficit we have everywhere in India. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Ambulances, thousands of more basic and specialty hospitals, more doctors, nurses, support staff in govt. run hospitals, better facilities and medicines are basic social requirements before any other development, advertisements or beautification is planned. However, the whole system appears to be concentrating upon the earning, eligibility and qualifications of existing allopaths.
MCI and IMA must also look into “Compulsory Basic Healthcare Facility and Patient Rights and Care” at all Civil / Govt. hospitals, specifying what the govt. must mandatorily implement in all its set-ups, what are the responsibilities of the administration. The overall (incorrect) notion that “All the problems in Indian Healthcare are because of the greed of Allopathic Doctors” is on the rise because of the “Govt. pleasing policies, comments and attitudes” by some. This will be extremely harmful in the long run. Progress can only be made in healthcare once the medical “Yes-Men” and “Yes-Women” are gone, once the voices that can boldly speak the truth are heard well.

Till then, the private practitioners must stay united in raising their voice against such “unilateral reforms” and defamation, or prepare to be forever suffocated by the system.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
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Homoglobin

Homoglobin

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“How much is your experience, doc? Have you ever seen any cases like this?” she asked. She was accompanying her father who had Parkinson’s Disease, quite common all over the world.

Many hilarious and abrasive retorts came to my mind:

‘Do you ask such questions about the pilot or driver when you board a plane or bus? , Do you ask such questions when someone absolutely inexperienced is made a minister of important portfolios like health, defence, environment etc.?’ If you can have faith in them, why cannot you trust your qualified doctor?© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

However, being on the doctor’s side of the table, I could not allow myself losing patience so easily. I chose the most professional answer, forcing a smile: “I am practicing since 25 years, over 15 as a Neurologist, and I have seen over two lac thirty thousand patients till now. Almost every Neurologist sees an average of 30-40 patients per day”.

When the rural / illiterate populace asks these questions innocently, I am never offended, but if it is the literate suspicious kind who treat manners and etiquette as an ‘optional’ part of communicating with the doctor, I feel just like when someone spills my ice-cream. It is difficult to connect with a paranoid literate, however hard one tries.

Apparently satisfied with my experience, she shot her next google bullet: “Can this happen because of his low Homoglobin? I read it on a blog.”

“The correct term is Hemoglobin”, I told her, “and its low level does not cause Parkinson’s”.

It was over 45 minutes since they entered, I had replied to every point on the question paper that they had prepared from a Googlesearch syllabus. The next patient must be already angry now, I thought.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“How can you be so sure that this is Parkinson’s Disease? What’s the proof?” Fired she.

“There are many diseases where there are no proofs of diagnosis, some can be proven, most are based upon the doctor’s clinical judgement. Sometimes quite costly tests are required to prove what is an obvious diagnosis. You are welcome to obtain a second opinion” I replied.

“Can his Parkinson’s be the side effect of the knee surgery done eight years ago?” She.

“No” me.

I now issued a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) order for my gasping patience.

Most doctors know the simplified versions of how to explain the patient in layman language about the common diseases/ disorders. Every type of case requires a lot of reading and actual handling / treating to gain insights about that condition, something that is impossible to explain exactly to the patient / relative, especially because they do not know the basic concepts, organs, their functions etc. What even the brilliant medical students take repeated readings and many case studies to understand well, cannot be simplified enough to explain to all and sundry.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Add to this: every patient even with the same diagnosis is different, needs an individualised approach, and no google guidelines or statistics can replace the doctor’s wisdom in making a treatment decision especially in complicated cases. To make the most accurate decision and to explain it is a doctor’s duty, but the understanding quotient of the patient or relative cannot be the doctor’s responsibility. Medicine is so complicated, that even the most experienced doctor in the world cannot say he knows everything about any single medical condition.

The more you attempt to educate some literates, the deeper in a quicksand you enter. Because they are not satisfied with the fact that the doctor is making the best effort to educate, but look upon this as an opportunity to question the knowledge and wisdom of the very expert whose opinion they are there to seek!

They try and catch words and cross question as if it is a legal argument.

“You said swelling: show me where is the swelling?” most common question.

“Well, it is called Inflammation in medical language, there is no accurate translation for that word even in Hindi, hence we commonly use the word swelling. It may not be a visible swelling”.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It is not always the fault of doctor’s ability to communicate, it is often the over-expectation that one can understand everything. It is laughable that even those some whose life is a mess, who are failures in their own chosen paths try and argue about medical diagnosis and decisions with highly qualified doctors.

However profound a doctor I may think I am, there are so many things I do not understand: politics, finances, many people’s behaviour, mathematics, government, etc., and I am ok without ith not understanding most. However I do not have the audacity to ask an expert in these fields / professor / CA whether he / she has enough experience.

But with a doctor, these liberties are becoming rampant now.

“I think he has convulsions because of his spondylosis” one halfpant+crocs combo tried to punch a new hole in my knowledge recently.

“Let me decide that” was all I replied, rather than explaining how he was beyond wrong.

The shorter you keep it, the sweeter it remains. I would rather save and use my time for those worried, panicked patients who have enough faith in my abilities, who understand mutual respect, and who will have at least this insight: that the doctor knows best how to treat patients.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Of course I am aware that there are some doctors too, who initiate rude conversations, do not respect simple etiquettes, and are quite difficult to connect to. Most patients even when offended by rude doctors, kindly choose not to react although they carry home a bitter feeling. Every medical student, every doctor must be taught in the earliest parts of internship about the code of etiquette and mutual respect while dealing with any patient, and only then expect the patient to follow it too.

Coming back to this lady, I wrapped up the session by telling them to follow up after a month.

“Can he continue to take his three large pegs of rum every night? He cannot sleep otherwise” she asked.

“In my 25 years of practice, I haven’t met anyone whose health improved with alcohol. Do please google that.” I gave her the dose she had begged for.

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

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