Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Health & Medicine’ Category

No country for sick men

In Health & Medicine, Lifestyle, Social Commentary, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 9:53 am

G Sampath | Saturday, August 6, 2011

First published in DNA 

Whenever I fall ill, I first visit a gynaecologist. Although I don’t possess the body parts that might make her professionally appropriate for me, in this vast city of 20 million, she is the only qualified allopathic doctor that I can trust.
Not that all other doctors in the city are untrustworthy — but this doctor, my wife’s gynaecologist, is the only one who doesn’t make me feel like a wallet with a body attached.
Why has it become so difficult to find a doctor one can trust? Earlier, when I was growing up, my parents’ anxiety would be about finding a ‘good doctor’, someone competent. But today there are enough doctors who are as competent as the best in the world. But sadly, they don’t see a patient walk in — they only see a revenue source.
I haven’t conducted a poll. I speak from anecdotal evidence and recurrent personal experience when I say that, today, putting profit over patient has irrevocably corroded the bond of trust that ought to be the basis of every patient-doctor interaction.
Some years ago, a reputed urologist made me go through a surgery that later turned out to be unnecessary. Actually, he was the third ‘specialist’ I had consulted after the first two, who I suspected of being infected by the profit bug, couldn’t come up with an effective treatment even after making me take innumerable tests involving every possible bodily fluid save my tears.
Thanks to this needless surgery, I suffered twice over — the severe post-operative physical pain it caused me, and the mental, emotional and financial pain I went through because the reputed health insurance company refused to reimburse the costs, stating that the surgery was unnecessary, which it was. But is it the patient (or patient alone) who should be victimised for going through an unnecessary surgery? After all, which patient would want to be operated upon just for the pleasure — or pain — of it? (I admit I have masochistic tendencies, but I’m sure they are not medical in nature.)
Instances like these have convinced me that public health cannot be at the mercy of private profit. This urologist was obviously getting compensated on the basis of the number of surgeries and tests that he generates for his hospital. And same is the case with thousands of doctors, private clinics and hospitals. Similarly, the very revenue model of health insurance companies is based on how many claims they can reject, and get away with. The guiding principle of our healthcare system is simple: the patient’s pocket is more important than the patient.
In this scenario, the human element — the suffering patient — takes a backseat, as doctors and hospitals hurry past him to reach their revenue targets.
And I am talking here only of healthcare accessible (sort of) to the middle class — the private clinics and hospitals. What about medical care for the poor? To call it pathetic would be an understatement. But that’s 
another story.
So, the only people who can afford proper medical care in this country are the wealthy — who can shell out enough to take a second or fourth opinion on a single ailment, and do the barrage of tests (both needed and not needed) without feeling the pinch financially.
Strangely enough, while our government spending on health, as a percentage of GDP, is one of the lowest in the world (it is not even 1%, in case you were wondering), our spending on internal security and the so-called war on terror is ballooning up.
Sure, it is all very well to splurge on drones and bombers, but what about security from disease? What about the terror of being unable to afford treatment for an illness? Lot more Indians fall prey to terrorist attacks from a virus or bacteria than to terrorist bombings. But neither the government nor the media respond to those deaths with the same degree of seriousness.
Everyone knows that the bulk of healthcare spending in India happens in the private sector. And I’ve pondered over what it says about our society. I think this is what it says: only those Indians who can afford to pay deserve to live; if you are too poor to pay for treatment, go and die somewhere. It’s hard to accept that this is the kind of ‘superpower India’ our freedom fighters fought for.

The terrorism of pain

In Health & Medicine, Lifestyle, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 9:49 am

G Sampath | Saturday, July 23, 2011


I finally know what terrorism feels like. As in, I know it, viscerally, in my body, in my blood, bones and brain — I know exactly what it means, what it feels like, what it can do.
For the past week, I’ve been getting this sharp, shooting pain in my right ear — it feels like someone just poked a hot iron needle deep into my ear. It lasts for a second or two and is gone. But when it lasts, well, it’s just one or two seconds, you can make complete suicide plans in those two seconds. You clutch your face, and are willing to do anything to make it go away, and make it not come back again, ever.
But it comes back, again, and again. And the worst part is that you never know when it is going to strike again. It could be while you are quietly reading; or while you’re looking out of a window, or typing an article about pain. It is sudden, devastating, and so crippling in its impact that it makes you incapable of concentrating on anything at all. All you can think of is when it’s going to come back next.
You live in continuous anticipation of it, living your fear every minute, unable to make plans, unable to read a page even, for you don’t want to be taken by surprise. But you are. It is precisely when you begin to relax, thinking perhaps that the painkiller is working, that it strikes you, like a piece of lightning made of molten steel.
This is the closest I’ve come to being terrorized. If I ever became a terrorist, I would know exactly the effect to aim for. I was reacting to the pain in exactly the same way the state reacts to terror – by shutting down. If the cops go crazy with so-called security measures, put up mindless barricades all over, search anything and everything for bombs, or pick up youth at random from a certain community, I have my own ways of shutting down.
I haven’t gone to work in five days; I haven’t had a proper bath because I am terrified that the water going into the ear will trigger the pain; I don’t drink anything that’s too hot or too cold; I eat only the blandest food — food that’s neither sweet, nor spicy, nor possessed of any discernible taste. I wear a woollen cap all the time, to protect the ear from the rare gust of accidental breeze blowing through my window, which, if it passes into my ear, can turn into a knife and rip my eardrum apart.
I can’t even watch TV. In fact, I am astonished to discover that TV watching requires some amount of concentration. But even that bare minimum I am unable to give. My mind is continuously on tenterhooks – paralysed by anticipatory pain, perpetually flinching for a blow that is unpredictable but inevitable.
It’s not as if I haven’t been seeing doctors. I have gone to four doctors, sloshing through puddles, sweating under the thick woollen cap pulled low over my ears, waiting patiently in the rain for a cabbie who doesn’t say no. As for the doctors, they aren’t sure of the cause of the pain, but they’ve given me medicines. I have been taking them, more in hope than confidence. But the terror attacks still happen – at the same place.
I hope that they will be brought under control. Soon. But I know that it cannot happen only through painkillers — which is the law and order approach to the problem, and has terrible side effects. I know I will get lasting relief from the pain only by addressing the root cause of the pain – some infection somewhere, some inflamation somewhere, which is causing some discomfort to some unhappy nerve in my ear. Some nerve.
The only way this nerve has of telling me about its existence, about its unhappiness, is by causing me pain. By filling my face, my body, my entire being with this terrible, stabbing pain that makes me want to die or go kill somebody.
Maybe there is a lesson in this somewhere for all the intelligent people in charge of tackling terrorism.