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Sunday, Aug 25, 2019

A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Did you remember to thank the doc?

Maybe it’s time to bring back our trust in the good ol’ medical practitioners!

columns Updated: Jan 05, 2019 17:31 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
Trust the doctors a little more. Your attitude will not only put them at ease, but will also help the confidence levels of the patient you care so much for.
Trust the doctors a little more. Your attitude will not only put them at ease, but will also help the confidence levels of the patient you care so much for.(iStock)

Sanjay used to be a fairly good friend many moons ago. A cheerful, positive, bright guy. His family shifted elsewhere when he and I were about to start college life, and I just about remember him getting through to medical school right before they moved cities. Cut to present, and I bump into him at the airport last week. ‘So, a high-flying doctor, now?’ I teased. ‘Change flying to fleeing,’ he replied with a wary smile. And went on to tell me how he was visiting Delhi to appear in a case filed against him for medical negligence by the relatives of a patient who unfortunately died during surgery. ‘This, after they did this to me,’ he said, pointing to the scars of an erstwhile broken nose.

Sanjay is among the minority of doctors who consciously chose serving in a government hospital at the cost of giving up on a lucrative private practice. Sanjay is also among 75% of India’s doctors who have, at some point in their career, faced violence at the hands of the irate relatives of their patients. A report published in the National Medical Journal of India in August 2017 (Author: Neeraj Nagpal) states that violence against doctors is on the rise all over the world. But the issue is much graver in India owing, among other reasons, to “meagre government spending on healthcare [that] has resulted in poor infrastructure and human resource crunch in government hospitals.”

You might wonder why, after writing barely a few months ago about the plight of patients, am I suddenly being all sympathetic towards doctors. No, it’s not after discovering the broken nose of a former friend, it’s about the obvious realisation that there’s a much-ignored other side to the whole doctor-patient dynamics. And what is alarmingly going missing from the equation is the trust that has always formed the core of how we have started to look at the profession traditionally considered the noblest of all.

READ | A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: New Year resolutions? Make one with me this year

The chance discussion with my friend prompted me to speak to a number of doctors, in an attempt to understand the stress they face in their work space. And man, brace yourselves for this. Stats say that over 67% of the doctors in India have reported evident clinical symptoms of anxiety and acute stress in the past few years. And a large part of this anxiety is due to the behaviour of the patient, and in most cases, their relatives. I know what you are thinking. The cynic in you and me is itching to blame it all on the apparently increasing greed on the part of private hospitals and doctors to extract more money out of patients. But true as it may be, we can’t deny that this thinking has led us to be the aggressive and impatient consumer that we have become vis-à-vis all the services we consume.

A leading surgeon in the city tells me, “I want to laugh at the face of those who find it convenient to brand all doctors and hospitals as corrupt and greedy. It may be true for some, just as in all fields. But, come and live the life of a doctor in a country such as ours and see what the day is like. I challenge you to not go back shaken to the core.” He reveals that after increasing incidents of verbal and physical violence by the relatives of the patients, some hospitals have had to make separate exits from the operation theatres for the surgeons to leave safely in case the patient doesn’t survive a complicated surgery.

“In government hospitals or those in smaller towns, the situation is much worse. Sometimes there’s a mob waiting outside the OT. Imagine having to run for your life right after facing the trauma of not being able to save a life,” he shakes his head. Just for the record, 19 out of 29 states in India have some kind of ‘prevention of violence against a medical professional’ act passed for several years, but there are hardly any cases where any action has been taken against those who attack or abuse the doctor after the patient has not survived treatment. On the contrary, we are fast turning into a litigious society, with the number of cases of medical negligence being filed in consumer courts rising by the day.

Thoda serious ho gaya aaj ka topic, right? But I really felt like writing about this. Because, you see, while it’s easy to make resolutions in the New Year about staying healthy, why don’t we make a tough one to bring back our respect for those who take care of that health when something goes wrong. Here’s my two bits of gyaan, simplified:

Let’s remember the times when we used to equate doctors to God, for they save lives. I know that in today’s commercial age of thriving corrupt practices in all walks of life, that just may not be possible. But it’s not necessary to go to the other extreme, right? Unless you’ve faced it firsthand, and even in that case, don’t generalise negative emotions about an entire profession. Especially one that’s really, really hard to embrace and sustain. Develop empathy. Because if you will, the doctor, too, will reciprocate with empathy towards the patient. And for a doctor, the inherent compassion is as important as his/her skills.

Too much aggression in any situation is unwarranted, let alone in those that require sensitive handling. Our behaviour as relatives of patients in hospitals is almost turning like road rage. Sitting on a short fuse. Ready to question the credibility and skills of a doctor at the drop of the hat. It’s almost become a fad to suggest ‘taking a second opinion’ to anyone suffering from anything, serious or not. Imagine always being doubted, second-guessed or viewed with suspicion. It can be suffocating for anyone in any profession. Avoid, unless necessitated by circumstances and advised by the qualified.

Let’s leave the doctors’ jobs to the doctors. With Internet, we are all half-docs ourselves. Then we read up Wikipedia and start interrogating the doctors on their course of treatment. While it’s very, very important for both the doctor and the patient/caregivers to be in the knowledge of the problem and the prescribed solution, there’s no need really for us to also Google a disease all the time. Is this not what we are anyway paying them for…and er…cribbing in the process? Trust a little more. Your attitude will not only put the doctor at ease, but will also help the confidence levels of the patient you care so much for.

As I wind up writing this, there’s a message on my phone from the same surgeon about a 10-year-old boy who passed away during a critical liver surgery. “I feel drained out. Emotionally and physically exhausted. Also, the hospital bill for the medicines and consumables that went into the surgery is close to Rs 16 lakh. The parents will need to clear the dues to claim the body. It’s heartbreaking,” he writes, himself an employee at the hospital. Before I reply, his next message says, “I’ve decided to pay most of the bill from my salary of the next six months. Some balance is still left. Send a message to anyone who’d like to contribute. Would you?” Yes, doc. I would. And, hey, thank you for trying your best.

Sonal Kalra is thinking of setting up a ‘third-opinion hospital’. Anyone willing to fund it? Maybe some rich doctors? Mail her at sonal.kalra@ or Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra

First Published: Jan 05, 2019 17:30 IST

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