Recently, Union Health Minister JP Nadda called the death of a seven-year-old girl from dengue, and the exorbitant bill of Rs 18 lakh handed to her parents after, at the super deluxe Fortis facility in Gurugram unfortunate. It is not unfortunate. Unfortunate is when you stub your toe or miss your flight.
This is a tragedy and though sometimes mortality slaps you in the face in spite of your best efforts, with medical science being imperfect and doctors only human, it is not so much the occurrence of death that is offensive.
What goes up the nose is the cold and calculated attitude that propels the system. After all, when you compare it to the daily dose of infant deaths in Uttar Pradesh, it numerically pales in comparison.
But at least there should be some modicum of courtesy and grace, compassion and sensitivity (all human values enshrined in medicine) to temper the greed that now marks treatment in upmarket facilities.
What happens instead is that just like we blame the crew and ground staff for all that ails our flight, we also blame the doctors and surgeons for the humiliation heaped upon us by the management and the now open demand to fill quotas and reach bottom line targets which are arbitrary and steep.
How could a child incur a bill of Rs 18 lakhs and what ghoulish rules allow a hospital to hold the body at ransom until the bill is paid? According to some reports, the ambulance attendant even wanted the sheet in which the body was wrapped to be returned so that it could be accounted for by the housekeeping department.
Many of us have suffered this sort of indignity and been helpless in the face of it... for the sake of our unwell loved ones. Making patients and their families wait for surgery to start till the bill is cleared is common practice – it is gunpoint medicine. Checking in calls for an advance that is hefty in itself. The direct message or ring to the 'caretaker' to pay up or face the possibility of a cancelled operation slot happens all the time. Then wasteful tests are done to pad up the bill.
A relative of mine, who has been confined to a bed and cannot move for the past eight years, was forced to give blood three times for an HIV test. When I protested, I was told it was the 'procedure'. At one such hospital in Delhi, the padded billing showed several visits in the day by specialists of sundry nature. When the administration was told to prove these people came, since I had been sitting there all day and saw no one, it was discovered that two of the doctors were off duty on that particular day.
We blame the doctors but they are all victims of a corrupted system. Several of them confessed that they are more bean counters now than practitioners of a great skill.
A recent film called 'The Confession' revolves around a man and his wife rushing their son to an emergency room at a hospital in the United States with a high fever. The place is full and the doctors who refuse to tend to the child out of turn.
Some two hours later, after becoming tired of being told to wait, the man notices a doctor on duty and a nurse on a cigarette break. He marches up to them and demands attention and tells them that his child is burning up with fever. The doctor says, 'Look, mate, I am sorry... I am a human and I have been working for 32 hours straight and I need ten minutes to unwind.'
The child dies of appendicitis. The father kills the clerk, the doctor and the nurse and the sympathy at the trial begins to mount for him… a grieving parent or a killer?
While no one advocates this sort of violence, the theme underscores how easy it is to epitomise the rot in the system with the one carrying the stethoscope.
Perhaps it is time to ask for the return of sanity and put these administrations on notice for their blatant callousness so that dying is not the most expensive act for Indians.
Updated Date: Nov 23, 2017 11:24 AM