Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Doctors, Warts and All

It was a hot sweaty day, almost noon and I had been seeing patients since 7:30am and I was tired and wanted a break...But the line was still long and every time I stood up, putting down my pen, to go for a little tea break, someone would slide into the stool beside me and start talking about their disease and I had to sit back again and start writing a new prescription. I had been so long at this my brain was working on auto-pilot and I was reflecting deep inside that I had made a major mistake by turning down that engineering seat long ago- for now I could have been happily seated in a air-conditioned cabin, reading blogs on the net or chatting on some social media network like all software engineers are rumoured to do.

And then this nurse walks into the room to get my signature on the indent book for next week’s supplies of drugs and disposables for the department and in passing she makes this stray comment “Sir, you have such a great job”. I looked up in astonishment and waited for her to elaborate. She went on “My son is also your age and he is a bus driver in metropolitan transport corporation bus and he is driving all day in the hot sun and he is suffering so much…but you have a nice job sitting here at a table/chair and under a fan...Sorry, don’t mistake me, it’s just an observation” says she and she walks out. 

I looked up at the old Government Issue fan turning lazily and threatening to last just a few more turns before expiring with the effort. And that would result in multiple memos in writing to prove that the old fan has indeed expired and will not work anymore and then more written memos(in duplicates/ triplicates) justifying that another fan is needed to replace this and by the end of three months if I am lucky I would get a replacement fan. And sitting on an old chair and table is overrated if you ask me…even that driver guy had an interesting job and was travelling all over the city and here I am stuck to a desk job. He or she just had to deal with the job in hand and not worry about the fact that he has to satisfy all the stray doubts and fancies of ignorant bureaucrats to get even the simplest essentials needed for doing the proper work properly.

For example if you ask for a torchlight and two batteries in the annual requisition form, some nameless clerk somewhere will look at the list (for the cheapest option) and based on how his wife cooked breakfast for him- he will sanction something for you- which you didn’t expect. And it will most probably be a single battery for that year. And you will be asked to apply again next year for the other battery and torchlight as the funds have run out this year. And exactly one year later they will ask you to provide the details of how many patients were treated with that single battery and if not, why not and to give a written explanation- and will never grasp the simple fact that the battery can never be used without a torchlight. At such times you feel tempted to write a polite note and ask the anonymous little sh** to take the battery and shove it up his &$$...resign and get the on the next flight out of this country to whichever place respects you.

Anyway the point of this thread is not the stomach-burning jealousy of my subordinates. Or even the fact that all of my subordinates are old enough to be my parents contemporaries and hence they have a way of comparing me with the success or failures of their offspring’s and being put in charge of them at a young age was like being thrown to a gladiatorial ring and asked to learn fighting there by experience. But office politics and backstabbing will always be there everywhere and that too is not the point of this post. What is, I will share now. The point  of this post is why despite all the aggravations that being a doctor involves there are so many people who still line up to pursue this as a career.

Today had been declared a national strike day by all the doctors associations to protest a lot of grievances including the humongous bad press generated by Actor Amir Khans program trashing doctors on national television. So although the private establishments had all closed, we of the Govt sector were still treating patients wearing black armbands to protest our outrage for the attack on doctors. After the afore-mentioned heavy patient influx I talked about in my first para above- due to the fact that everyone else was on strike - I had finished my duty time and was leaving the hospital when I happened to pass by casualty dept on the way out. A female child of four years was being examined by the house surgeons- the kid had taken a fall from a cycle and had lacerated her face and was torn and bleeding all over. They had come from Minjur (which was almost 20kms away from the city proper) and had tried to get treated along the way in two or three other hospitals which had all been closed for the day and so they ended up coming here.

My duty time was over, I was hungry, I was tired and all I wanted to do was go home and relax in front of the TV. The house surgeons would admit the kid, do first aid and the next doctor on afternoon duty who will take over post-lunch should by rights treat the patient- that’s what my mind told me. But I have this golden question, I ask myself when I have these doubts- if I go home, will I be able to eat my lunch peacefully or will my conscience be pricking all day? For in facial injuries the sooner you treat the better results you get. 

So reluctantly, I postponed my hunger pangs and spoiling the others (the house-surgeons) half-eaten lunches, we treated the patient successfully- a fine job, even if I say so myself and I will challenge anyone anywhere to do a better job. After I finished, I was giddy with either pleasure at a guilt-free mind or maybe because of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) - I was feeling quite happy, fresh and energetic…and I couldn’t help telling myself that this is what we spend all those years of learning and training for- to achieve this feeling of immense satisfaction at doing good for others- a high like none other…despite all the trashing of our profession we are the only people who go against nature and god and help when most wanted.

Anyway, after starting for home the second time, I sent a silent thank you mentally to my former chief, the man who had promised to kick me all the way from here to Pondy if I failed to take surgery as a option for my PG during the counseling. During a talk earlier, I had casually mentioned that I was leaning more towards the option of radiology as my first option- hey, who wouldn’t?  Being a radiologist involves, sitting inside an air-conditioned room reading books, while the scan machine – scans, diagnoses and prints out the result and you just have to sign it- for 5000 bucks an alphabet...do it ten times a day and thirty days a month and you are talking about serious money earned in a relaxed way. 

Anyway, my chief who had known me from my UG days- told me that I had soft/surgical hands (his words/not mine)- which was god’s gift and not to be wasted by lazy buggers who want to study radiology and sit on their behinds all day… “Don’t waste God’s gift and if you do”…was his parting threat on the phone as I went into the counseling room. I don’t remember what exactly I said inside, but when I at last came out- I had an admission paper with surgery on it and it was good-bye radiology, goodbye life of ease.

So, the point is doctors don’t treat patients just for the money – although it too plays a role- we do it primarily for the fact that we get great pleasure in reducing pain, healing sick people and playing god. And despite the fact that every time I go to a family function- all these assorted relatives- sneer and ask me- “You are still in India? You didn’t go to the USA?” and whisper aloud for everyone to hear “He must not be a very good doctor if he has not been able to emigrate to America”. I don’t mind that kind of insults anymore- if you chase away everyone to America who will treat you people here? Wait till you have to catch a flight to America to get yourself treated for every headache and cold is what I think. 

And despite the money involved the satisfaction you get treating people here- those who have no one else to help them, is more than what you will get in America where maybe ten doctors line up to treat each patient. So despite the condescension of everyone around- we doctors work hard to do good and we are not in it just for the money- except for maybe a few bad eggs who spoil the professions name. The rest of us work for the feeling of achieving something worthwhile- a feeling which cannot be described adequately in words….so to hell with criticism- an honest conscience  does not need anyone’s certificate. So yes, that nurse has every reason to feel jealous about my great job…what do you think?

 (p.s. the picture above is from Google Images..and not me- although i would love to look that thin...)


  1. One Thing Doctor. There are bad eggs in every profession. Doctors are still the most widely respected people.As you said, If one is lucky enough to get to know Doctors who are genuinely concerned about alleviating the pain of the patients, There is nothing to worry about. Often it is the false promises by the fake Doctors that lure people into believing them.

    And Yea of course, everyone has a reason to feel jealous of your job. Not just a nurse. And FYI, social media sites are generally blocked in IT field. They make us work you know :-)

    1. Sure Ash, i know that social media sites are blocked by your companies..bu hey, you guys are the best of the best in the IT filed, dont tell me that you dont have a backdoor or two to bamboozle the hr people who block your access....and i agree that a lot of the medical professionals are now concentrating on self promotion and publicity rather than doing their jobs properly....it happens and as part of the profession we do have a duty to talk about it and expose those bad 'uns..will happen soon, i believe

  2. Hi

    Medicine is a very unique profession where you serve community by just doing your job and I really salute all the doctors who do it with that in mind....I have stayed out of the country for more than five years and one thing I find very special in India is that the doctors dont strictly go by the books and apply a lot they learn from experience as well...Some of the world's best doctors are in our country....I have seen some very kind, duti-bound doctors...Making money is not a crime....I agree.
    On the other hand, I have seen a few doctors who totally forget the compassion that needs to be present on their side and act with a lot of arrogance....They need to change....Great post!

    1. thanks jaishree...and as for the experience part- we really have to thank the poor people who throng the govt colleges during our student days- they provide us with unique opportunities to study and learn all diseases we would otherwise just see in the books..an average indian student during his one year of training sees more patients than maybe a comparitive american physician during ten years..so one thing our population gives us an advantage for.
      and as for your other point about arrogance- totally agree- people forget that this is a service industry too and the customer is king rule applies here too...and having a lil conscience helps too