In my long career as a journalist, I have come across many cases of ethical transgressions by the medical profession. I, however, did not quite expect to be taken for a ride myself.
But that’s what nearly happened in September after I came down with a rather virulent attack of gastroenteritis following an adventure in the jungles of Gadchiroli. My neighbour, a doctor at a government hospital, was treating me adequately but my sister insisted I visit a general practitioner (GP) for a second opinion.
This one was referred to me by my own GP as a fallback in case he was unreachable. His ‘hail fellow, well met,’ attitude completely disarmed both my sister and me.
But soon the trouble began — he couldn’t ‘detect any pulse’ in my legs (I was standing and walking quite normally, though) and asked for a Doppler test, which checks blood circulation. “We will have to spend some money,” he had said while ordering the test. It cost me Rs 1,500, which I could well afford. It showed up no abnormality.
But when my blood report came in, his game plan became obvious. I did have an infection and some of my parameters were rather out of control but nothing as close to what this GP “diagnosed”.
I had had a fever when my blood was drawn and a tremendous backache from a bumpy ride in the jungles. Predictably, my white blood cell (WBC) count was around 29,000 (normal is usually 4,000 to 11,000). Instead of treating me for what was really wrong, this GP proceeded to admit me to a particular hospital — “under my care” – and he wanted me there within 30 minutes, pronto!
“You are in deep, deep trouble,” he said. “This is a bone marrow issue. And your backache is because of that.” My sister started to cry — we had just lost our mother a few months ago and she thought she was now losing a sister, too. But I had not been a journalist for so long not to be able to smell a fraud a mile away.
“My symptoms don’t support the diagnosis,” I told my sister. “I need a third opinion. In any case, he is not qualified to treat a disease of this nature.”
I refused hospital admission that day despite the GP saying he would call my boss and explain the urgency. Next morning he started to call me from 6 am (I didn’t answer until later) — he was making sure I had no time or opportunity to consult another doctor. By then I had decided to consult my family physician in Nagpur. Whereupon this man lost his temper and shouted at me as I have never heard any doctor shout at a patient. “You are making a serious mistake!” he yelled.
“If I am, then allow me the indulgence,” I told him.
“I will never call you again,” he screamed, quite forgetting that he was neither a friend nor my regular GP. My friend, listening in, laughed. “Don’t you realise he’s losing his percentage and sees all that lovely lolly he would have milked from you going down the drain — to Nagpur!”
Tests in Nagpur showed my WBC count was down to 14,000 and at normal levels after ten days of antibiotics for a urinary tract infection (which had showed up in his tests, too).
But he still wanted to perpetrate the myth of the “bone marrow issue” by insisting they “both could not be right”. “But you know what?” I told him. “Even my backache has disappeared — with the application of some ointments and a course of painkillers.”
“Look after yourself, then,” he said, now less blustery. Well, doctor, I did, didn't I?