“Let my father die. It’s ok. I will not take him anywhere. I don’t want anyone else to treat him” said the 60 year old son loudly. His old father who could listen and understand the conversation, but could not speak or move due to a paralysis, just closed eyes. Tears emerged from the corners of those closed eyes.
Like most doctors nowadays I have learned to master personal opinions and emotional responses, especially with ill-behaved patients, but this was beyond me. Not because he had shouted at me, but because he had just stabbed his father’s heart. Loudly, so that the patient could hear, I said “I think your father should feel better soon, let us see what we can do”. Then I gestured the angry son to see me out of the room. Two other men accompanying him came out and towered upon me.
About five days prior, this son had come to me with his father’s reports. The patient was admitted at a rural hospital. He had severely compromised heart function and his heart rhythm was abnormal. This caused formation of many blood clots in the heart, which went to the brain blocking blood vessels. One such large blockage had caused paralysis and inability to speak. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
I had asked the son not to shift the patient, as the treatment started by the rural physician was accurate, we had to just wait and watch. Still, they had brought the patient in an ambulance, travelling for over 4 hours. Naturally, the patient had worsened , becoming drowsy. His heart rhythm was dangerously worse. He was unable to swallow, there was a big risk of his saliva/ mouth secretions going to his windpipe blocking his breathing.
Whenever a patient has problems out of a specialist’s expertise area, it is mandatory that an opinion of the concerned specialty expert be obtained. I asked the best heart specialist I knew to see the patient, and also a small ENT test to see if we could initiate training for swallowing. Our physiotherapists were already working upon his hands and legs gently.
However, the son (a retired govt. officer from a very respectable post) and two others attending the patient created a big scene when my junior doctor visited the patient. They started shouting and cursing that by calling other specialists we were just “increasing the bills”, and that they did not want anyone else except me to see the patient, not even the junior doctors. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
My assistant physician called me in panic and updated about this, asking me to immediately act to deescalate the situation. Although there were many patients waiting to be attended in OPD, I had gone to this patient’s room. I explained to them that the patient needs to be seen by a heart specialist too, as his heart condition was very delicate. I also offered them to choose any specialist or hospital they wanted, if they were unhappy here, but they could not waste time as the patient was critical. That’s when the son shouted that he would rather let his father die than be seen by any other specialist.
When they came out of the room, their body language and general disposition suggested aggression. I tried to politely reason with the son that any specialist cannot sit with the patient 24/7, that junior doctors and other specialists as required will have to be called in for the best care, but they declined. The efforts of our medical superintendent and best patient coordinator went in vain. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“We will not allow anyone except Dr. Deshpande in the room. Our patient must get better” the son said loudly.
“I will see him till he is under my care, but I cannot guarantee any outcomes” I told them. “Let’s see” he said. He did sign the document informing about criticality of the patient.
No doctor should treat patient under pressure, duress or threat in the interest of the patient. I went to our medical director and requested that the patient be transferred under some other specialist. The hospital offered them freedom to choose, but the relatives declined. “We have come here for Dr. Deshpande, he will have to treat the patient alone” the son said. The hospital decided to take a call next day after a meeting.
That evening as I finished the OPD, I wondered how the patient was. However much angry I may have been with the relatives, the patient was more important than my anger, pride or anything else. I went to their room and checked the patient. He opened eyes and smiled. I asked him his name, and he replied in a husky tone. He was speaking now!!
The next day again, the relatives refused to transfer the patient under someone else, and I kept the treatment on. The trustless atmosphere was quite volatile, and if something had gone wrong, things would have taken an ugly turn. In the next three days, the patient spoke well, and even accepted some sips of water. His hand and leg started moving too.
“Can we take him home now?” the relative asked on the fourth day.
Happy for many reasons, but mainly the fact that the patient had improved, I discharged the patient. I had learnt my lessons. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Adamant, unreasonable and illogical demands by patient’s relatives jeopardising the patient’s life is a huge medical problem in India. Illiteracy, political interference, goonda culture and media support make such horror stories a routine reality. The law still expects the best patience and non-reacting approach of medical personnel, with the onus of saving lives still upon them under this pressure. Innumerable instances of harassment and humiliation of nursing staff, especially women go unreported. Relatives, especially politically connected, behave like dictators in any hospital, threatening one and all. Unless this culture ends and doctors are at a freedom to do their best for every patient, medical care in India will always remain inaccurate, incomplete and purely financially guided rather than scientific or even legal. Doctors can actually file a complaint or take legal action in such cases, but they are too many, and no doctor has time for such legal courses. In the best interest of our patients’ lives we go on forgiving and tolerating such abuse. Because neither law nor administration wants to correct the causative factors effectively.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Neurologist Mumbai/ Pune
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