From physician to anxious parent
It was 1 am when my wife woke me up, saying that our tiny tot (who was six months old) was shivering and had a high fever. We immediately wrapped him in his blankets and rushed to the paediatric ward of my hospital. Surprisingly, there was less chaos than usual in the ward that night. I requested one of the senior postgraduate students to examine my baby. Wasting no time, she started assessing all the parameters and told us that the baby’s temperature was 102 °F. Meanwhile, the rigours started again and the baby had two bouts of vomiting. In view of the entire clinical picture, the paediatrician advised us to get the baby admitted in the intensive care unit (ICU).
I rushed to the admission counter to complete all the formalities, while my wife stayed back. The baby was put on antipyretic drugs and injectable antibiotics (which I thought were unnecessary). A few blood samples were drawn to ascertain the cause of the fever. These yielded nothing, except showing a raised leucocytic count. Around 3 am, my wife and baby fell asleep, and the baby was calm. Somewhat relaxed and less anxious by now, I started looking around at the other patients admitted in the ICU. Since this was a rural medical college, most of the patients hailed from the villages of central India. There was something disturbing about the ICU. There was no trace of the usual laughter and infectious smiles of babies that enliven the atmosphere. Instead, shrill cries, moans and groans broke the silence of the relatively peaceful ICU from time to time. Laughter, smiles and babbling – the usual signs of a healthy baby – were drowned out by the intermittent beeps and alarms of various monitoring systems. One of the children had various tubes and catheters going in and out of all the possible orifices of his body and seemed to be in a lot of pain. At the other end of the ICU, a few underweight babies had been admitted for supportive care. One of them was grossly underweight, at 1.34 kg, and looked listless. The post-graduate students were regularly monitoring the vital parameters of the critical patients. Somehow, I started comparing my plight as a parent with that of the parents of the other critically ill babies. I, on the one hand, was a doctor who had a knowledge of the science behind illness and diseases, and who was well placed financially and socially, with good family support. They, on the other, were clueless parents who were looking after their babies in the face of a myriad worries (financial problems, crops being washed away by rain, loss of wages, children waiting at home, and flooded homes). Every day, I see hordes of patients thronging to the hospital wards and OPD sections, accompanied by their kin. It is seldom that we doctors are concerned about the worries that subconsciously prey on the minds of these patients. At most, we heave a deep sigh on reading some article on farmers’ suicides, their debt burden, crops being washed away by the rain, scanty rainfall, and dry and wet drought. Without giving a thought to the economic condition of these patients, doctors in the government or semi-government set-up are quick to get miffed when they are late for their follow-up or have missed a few pills. It is a fact that the financial condition and social stratum of a patient are decisive factors both as far as adherence to treatment and the regularity of visits to the clinic are concerned. It seems that the white apron donned by physicians makes them impermeable to the agony of patients and their kin.
In view of the high rate of hospital-acquired infections, we considered it wise to obtain discharge on request during the morning rounds. I left the ICU with a healthy baby and was quite relieved. Thus ended my short journey from a physician to an anxious parent with a humbled heart.
Bhushan Madke, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, Sewagram, Wardha INDIA e-mail: [email protected]