Last Thursday, I had the chance to visit old friends from school. Extremely talented and hard working folks who chose to take Biology and not opt for engineering. Three of them, close buddies. Done with their MBBS, preparing for their PG entrance and in the meanwhile doing an internship at a Civil hospital. Now, that last part made for some fascinating and horrifying experiences they have had.
One of them recalls how excited he was at the start. Everything that I had been learning from the last 4.5 years was finally up for practice. I could actually go out there and save lives. Today, he says, he takes a file from the patient, looks at the file, asks a few questions, writes a few things and off to the next patient. Very often, he does not even look at the patient’s face. Because, there are so many of them coming in. It is a like a production line. They just keep coming in. A total of 5 doctors can end up treating close to 600 patients in 2 hours. Let that sink in. One patient per minute. That too in the scorching 45 – 50 degrees of Ahmedabad, without an AC. The sweat dripping all over while they are collecting blood and performing other chores.
While listening to their tales, I often looked back at my life and the ease at which I was and yet always felt so troubled. Engineers are everywhere and yet there are so few problems we solve. Where do all the brilliant minds of this country end up?
The other one still remembers the first patient that died in front of him. He says he could have saved him. The patient was in a very critical condition and was to be transferred to another room. For that, they had to cross a road. With the patient on the bed, they started. Now imagine this. The road is actually a road and there was a car coming, honking its horn at full blast, not giving a damn about the unease which it would have caused the patient. The road is also not properly maintained, causing the bed to stutter causing more unease. To add to it, the oxygen tank had to be kept ON the patient, because the bed did not have a holder. When they reached the other side, he started filling the admission form, only to realise that the patient has died. During the commotion of crossing the road, the oxygen pipe somehow came under the patient and they could not notice. He is still troubled by it. The risk with which they work. One mistake here and there and a life is lost. To this, the first one chimes in. On my first night, 5 patients died. I learnt that day that there is no point in getting attached. They come in by the hundreds and some of them die. Nothing we can do about it. Better to be numb.
They recall how other people have so little value for life. One patient was on the verge of dying and all the family members left, including his wife. One even asked: “Kitna time aur lagega?” Some others are so self centered, that they can see a patient having a seizure in front on them and yet keep asking: “Roti kha sakta hu?” which is followed by “Aur chawal?” and that kept coming even when all they are suffering from is stomach pain. My friend says that he never imagined that he would shout at a patient, but this was too much. Then there are others who are homeless and are brought to the hospital by 108. Some of them are in such bad shape, that they lie in their own vomit and shit, with the doctors being asked to treat them irrespective of whether it makes a difference. They say they have become so immune to this, that even if someone is vomiting in front of them while they are eating, it makes no difference to them anymore. It is just another day in the office.
One of the worst they say is the gynac room. At times, there are two women on one cot. Shortage again. At the time of the delivery, there are two men over her. One widening her legs and the other pushing the baby. They recall how horrific it must be for the woman, with a man’s crotch over her face shouting at her to push harder, pushing the baby himself with his hands. And naturally, as she has to stop to take a breath in, there the shouting starts again: “Gadhedi, ruke kem che. Bacho mari jashe. Push kar.” This is supposed to be one of the happiest moments of a mother’s life, wrapped in such pressure and rudeness.
At times, they are also surprised by the behavior of some of their colleagues. One of them they recall, came for a night duty, only to spend time on FB till 2 AM, before dozing off till the morning. Some others go outside for 5 minutes only to return an hour later. They listen to the trouble I am having with my safety startup and they understand. They immediately say that the value of life is very little and we know this better than anyone else.
By this point, they notice the unease at which I am listening to all this. I can only try to imagine the horror. I can never feel it the way they do. They stop and don’t go on to describe several such more incidents. They change the topic to GOT. I have had enough exposure to their experiences. No wonder, with their talent and skills, they are planning to move. No matter what they do and how many lives they save, this is not the place for them.
I am reminded of two movies. Anand and Munnabhai MBBS. The first describes the frustration of Amitabh at the shortage of resources. The second one shows the inhumaneness of doctors. I saw glimpses of both in my friends. They wonder why there are so few doctors in the hospital. How can they not afford them? And if they stay doing this for a few years, let alone decades, they wonder if they would be any better than robots treating patients mechanically.
At times, they do feel a sense of pride having saved lives. That helps them. Keeps them going. But all their experiences leave me wondering. We engineers graduate in hordes. What do we end up doing really?
P.S.: When I sent this blog to them for their approval, they asked to add a few more incidents. You can read them below if you wish.
Some incidents, as written by them:
“Every time we are sent to the blood bank to get blood, we actually have to bargain. There is always shortage of blood. If we need for eg. 5 units of pcv/platelets/ffp, we get around 3 – 4, if we know how to bargain. They say they don’t have enough blood so abhi itne se kaam chalao. And send one relative of the patient to donate blood in return. So urge people to donate blood whenever they can.”
“Our full time doctors. They work for 48 hrs straight during emergencies. No sleep no food (sleep and eat what you can, when you can, where you can). For eg. My emergency duty starts from Sunday 8 AM and gets over on Tuesday 2 PM. We interns divide our duties, but the residents have to be there for the entire time. And due to these inhuman work hours, sometimes it’s hazardous even for us. Many doctors get needle pricks during any procedure, and if unfortunately the patient whose needle pricked was HbsAg or HIV positive, your entire life is at stake. My closest friend got a needle prick in our last emergency. At 7:30 AM, barely standing on two feet after working for 19 hrs straight the previous day and the entire night, during collecting blood from a patient he got a prick. I could look the fear on his face and could only imagine if that happens to me. We quickly ran the reports of the patient and fortunately the patient was negative for HIV or hepatitis.”
“Still after all this, the satisfaction we get by saving lives is not something you get easily. Its a high in itself. I still remember, a 55 year old woman came to me for diabetes. She was a follow up case for years now. She could see how busy I was with other patients. Still she asked me to explain her three times how to take her drugs. I explained her calmly all 3 times. She cried and blessed me for listening to her so patiently because her own son doesn’t listen to her complaints anymore. No greater joy than to see the cardiac activity back on the ECG monitor whom you have been resuscitating for 10-15 mins. So overall we like what we do. And are grateful that we can help people.”