Saturday, September 29, 2007

Jesus has them too

I guess that even evangelists occasionally manage to slip up. Especially when introducing a new convert to Christian culture and foreign sounding Christian names. So it happened that a few days ago a heavily pregnant Jesus walked into our labour ward providing me with ample opportunity to scream at the top of my voice "Push, Jesus, Push" and generally blaspheme in bad Tamil as she delivered a perfectly cute baby into my hands. Not many doctors from Catholic medical colleges get to say that two months after graduating they were already good enough to successfully deliver Jesus (smirk).

Mein Akela Nahin Hoon: The Story of Dr. Binayak Sen

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Return to Slow Medicine

Today I walked in on a scene in our labour ward that would have been unusual in almost any other hospital I have known. We have two beds for women in the first stage of labour and Dr. R., the other junior doctor at Tribal Hospital was sprawled out on one of them, fast asleep. His hand however, reached out towards the other bed where it was grasped lightly in the hand of a sleeping woman exhausted by her prolonged labour. Both had been up for the last twelve hours, ever since the woman stepped into the ward. Dr. R., whose inclination for working with obstetric cases I must admit far surpasses mine, had spent a good bit of the preceding hours talking to the patient, massaging her back and generally coaxing her through a difficult, prolonged labour.

The idea of a doctor and patient falling asleep together while holding hands has the potential to cause a variety of responses amongst those in the medical field ranging from disapproval to alarm to dismissal as something that can occur only when a doctor has absolutely no other demands on her time. All these responses stem from the fact that as doctors we are trained to see patients as clinical cases first and as scared and suffering neighbours second. Right through my medical education at a big city hospital I had to imagine the situations and surroundings from which my patients came from and what it would like to be one of my patient's neighbours. None of my actual neighbours was ever seen by me since we were only allowed to practice our skill on the poorer patients in the general wards.

Working at Tribal Hospital in a re-education of sorts. There is no need to imagine my patients as neighbours. They are in fact my neighbours, working and living in the same environment as me. Almost all the staff except the doctors are women from the adjoining villages. Patients are no longer a row of bodies clothed in identical hospital garb. Instead most of them are personally known or related to the ward sisters. If you work here for a few months you would have visited a good number of the villages from most of our patients come from. I no longer send discharged patients to imaginary places but to streets I may have walked down myself.

The reason we spend time with our patients is simply because in such an environment ignoring someone who is sick or frightened is plain rude.