DR R.D. LELECompassion in a Public Hospital?

 On my first day in the out-patient department of the JJ Hospital in Bombay, as Professor of Medicine, I saw an elderly Muslim who was very emaciated and looked very ill. I said in Urdu: Bade miyan, itne pasta halat hone tak aap kyoun ruke? Is se pehle kyoun nahin aye? (Grand dad, why did you wait so long to come here till your condition became so bad? Why did you not come earlier?). Hearing this, he had tears in his eyes. Bewildered, I asked: Kyoun Hazrat, aap ke ankhon men ansoo kyoun? Mai ne koi galat baat to nahin ki? (Sir, why do I see tears in your eyes? Did I say something improper to hurt you?). To this he replied: " Sarkar, sarkari dawakhane men mai ne is quadar hamdardi ki kabhi ummid nahin kee thee (Sir, I had never expected such a sympathetic attitude in a government hospital!). There were fifteen medical students around me. I told them this incident had a great lesson for all of them. In public hospitals one accepts shortage of equipment, shortage of drugs, shortage of beds, shortage of man-power, but there should never be any shortage of compassion and sympathy.

I am glad that many medical students do develop a caring attitude for the poor and do their best to serve the poor, as is shown in the following case: My son Vikram was a Registrar in Medicine at the JJ. Hospital in 1984-86. He was looking after a newly admitted young girl with a complex medical history. He made a brilliant diagnosis of cerebral mucormycosis (a rare fungal infection which enters the brain via the nasal passage and destroys the blood vessels causing life-threatening complication which results in death unless treated properly and promptly). The only effective drug for this fungus infection is Amphoterecin B which is very expensive and was not available in the hospital. He phoned me from the hospital and asked for help. I gave him the phone number of the local Managing Director of the multinational company which manufactures and supplies this drug, and suggested that he seek his help for an urgent supply, free of cost, of the drug. My son phoned the gentleman at his residence at 9 p.m. and he promptly arranged to get the godown opened at 10 p.m. and saw to it that adequate supply of the life saving drug reached my son's Registrars' Quarters at the J.J. Hospital the same night. Thanks to the generosity of the drug company and the timeliness of the intervention, this patient's life was saved.

Deaths and catastrophies in public hospitals make newspaper headlines. Lives saved by conscientious young doctors who care for poor patients do not make news, hence the general public often is unaware of the good work that is done by young doctors in public hospitals. A Minister or a VIP gets prompt attention all the time. The important thing is that a poor, faceless, general-ward patient can also get VIP treatment, through the sense of involvement of our young doctors. And yet, when these young doctors agitate for better emoluments and service conditions, the politicians and bureaucrats in government show total indifference and apathy. I cannot condemn this attitude too strongly.

I have stated publicly on more than one occasion that the only way to improve the condition of public hospitals is to compel ministers, MPS and MLAs to seek medical aid in their own constituencies. As long as they have ready access to hospitals like Jaslok, Bombay Hospital, Apollo, Escorts etc. they could not care less for the state of public hospitals in their own constituencies.

Apathy and indifference of the silent majority of the Indian population is the best guarantee of the status quo.