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When hospital apathy is more than patient's respiratory distress

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Picture a scenario where a 70 year old patient of advanced Parkinsonism disease suddenly develops pneumonia and goes into respiratory distress. Picture his 65 years old wife who is up till four in the morning tending to him and monitoring him as a doctor. At four ‘o’ clock in the morning, after an exhausting ordeal of helping the rigid patient expectorate, she decides that the respiratory distress is getting worst. She calls an ambulance. It arrives within ten minutes, identifies the gravity of the situation and immediately puts the patient in the gurney to wheel him to a nearby hospital.

At four in the morning at 11th Rabi-ul-Awwal when no one in his right mind would go out on the streets of Karachi, this old woman in the bitter cold gets in the ambulance and rushes her husband off to the nearest hospital. The hospital takes ten minutes to take the patient off the ambulance wheels him to the emergency. The doctor arrives, a young one of course, since no senior doctor is expected to be present. One look at the patient and the doctor refuses by simply stating there are no beds available. She forgets the need to administer oxygen which does not necessarily need a bed, although the four storeys of South City Hospital must be housing one bench at least to accommodate the old man.

The old woman now exasperated mentions to the doctor that she herself is a doctor and personal friend of the administrator of the hospital. Even this has no effect on the doctor, who obviously has orders not to take any cases, which seem unprofitable? Difficult? Risky? May require the senior doctor to visit the hospital at the middle of the night?

The question is, why did the entire hospital waste time to take the patient off the stretcher and wheel him in the emergency when there supposedly were no beds available?

Dr. N Khan states that this time lag in a patient who if was suffering from a cardiac arrest could have proven fatal. The hospital administration was not even interested in administrating an oxygen mask, let alone empathize on the fact that this old woman is out in the freezing cold on a dangerous night at four in the morning on the streets of Karachi with a possibly dying husband.

Dr. N had no choice but to wheel her husband back on the ambulance, leave the expansively posh and incompetent medical facility it claims to be, to head for Ziauddin Hospital at Clifton. In half an hour, the patient was placed in ICU, due to the dangerously low oxygen saturation levels, and monitored by a buzz of medical staff and senior doctors. This half an hour for the old woman became a blessing, for each and every staff member of the hospital, including the guards not only treated her with respect as a medical professional but also as a senior member of the society. For the next five days, the hospital continuously tended to the patient, assured the wife and motivated the patient. Once discharged, the hospital personnel continue to monitor the patient with regular visits twice a day at the patient’s house, thus bringing the hospital to the home.

Dr. N has been a principle adminsitrator and medical registrar at a private hospital for over 15 years, where she says no emergency case was ever sent away. She claims that this criminally neglectful attitude is the fault of the administration of the South City hospital who is busy furnishing the hospital with expensive paraphernalia, while lacking in basic human empathy which is the core ingredient of medical care.

Is she just one case? No she isn’t. There are many more tales of the haunting system our healthcare has turned into. She expresses disbelief in the low morals and concerns that the healthcare systems which charge hefty amounts of money display towards patients. She says the money was not the concern for her; the oxygen for her husband was. The question is, is acquisition of oxygen for a 70 year old man suddenly the most difficult challenge he has faced in his entire life? Woe unto the lavish healthcare systems of Karachi. May be a dose of reality and swallowing their own medicine will bring some sense into these lavish yet useless hospital systems. Meanwhile, kudos to the healthcare system of Ziauddin hospital who made this old woman feel she had a family taking care of her husband at the hospital. Such healthcare systems retain hope that not all medical professionals have become corrupt.

February 6, 2014
Dental is part of the Medical News Group of publications which in 1968 became the pioneer of medical journalism in Pakistan. Medical News is the only periodical in Pakistan which has 3 simultaneous editions from Karachi, Islamabad and online.

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