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New dynamics in the field of medicine

It was another routine day at the hospital for me as an intern. Just as we were descending the stairs, I could hear a commotion in the ward where I had been just a few minutes ago. A nurse who was rushing past me informed me that a patient had just crashed and ‘Code Blue’ had been activated. Code Blue indicates a situation where a patient has gone into arrest and a critical care team is trying to revive him or her.

To me, it brought about a sense of excitement and I was beside the bed in seconds: it was an opportunity to witness a Code Blue situation. As an intern you try to learn as much as possible from incidents such as these, because they help you to save lives in the future. I could see a fellow-intern administering cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a nurse starting an intra-venous line, the critical care team intubating the patient, and ward staff gathering.

The patient could not be saved. I was present as the next of kin were informed and could see the tears in their eyes. The family members were devastated. Strangely, the fact that someone had just died in front of me did not seem to affect me. I went about my business as though nothing had happened.

A few days later when a fellow intern had a similar experience, we were discussing why the patient had gone into arrest and if she had performed CPR. Not once did we talk about the family of the bereaved. We were more interested in discussing about the possibility of learning skills.

It was later that I realised that the five years of studying medicine had changed us completely… we had become bereft of emotions.

I remember the day we first entered the anatomy dissection hall where there were rows of cadavers lying on tables. We were terrified at the thought of having to sit beside them, and a few were sick. That was a long time ago. At the end of our first year one could see us chatting happily beside cadavers, ever ready to cut open any part of the body in order to learn.

The next four years saw us transforming from teenagers to doctors. As each year passed we seemed to lose more of our humanness. Now we hardly wink at the site of a cadaver. We don’t even seem to hear the cry of our patient as we insert an intravenous line. It’s practice for us and hence we don’t mind doing it again if we couldn’t get it right the first time. A patient yelling in pain in the labour room gets no reaction from us while engrossed in routine steps to monitor her well-being. A patient with heart disease is seen as an opportunity to learn a different heart sound. We all end up putting our stethoscopes to the patient’s heart without a thought of the discomfort caused to the patient. A patient with appendicitis or hernia is likewise seen as an opportunity to learn. Gradually, we have turned ourselves into beings incapable of emotions. We have stopped empathising with our patients.

Of course, I would not blame the lack of empathy on the doctor alone. It is also the work of patients and the media. A few years back, anything a doctor said would be considered to be said in the best interest of the patient. People had more trust in a doctor’s words, and the doctor just saying that “the patient will be fine” brought a sense of relief to the patient and the relatives. Medical decisions were not questioned.

But all that was a long time ago. Now, we are questioned about every test that is ordered, every drug that is prescribed, every decision that is made. We end up spending a huge part of our time trying to convince the patient and the relatives on the need for various tests and imaging processes. Imagine trying to explain every medical detail to someone who has very little understanding of medicine. We end up getting frustrated and hence the point of trying to build a relationship with the patient is usually ignored.

The number of medico-legal cases is on the rise, possibly influenced by the west. We get pulled up for all sorts of reasons despite having put in our best efforts.

It is no wonder now, that I seem to be victim too of the loss of that important human emotion-empathy… I think it is high time we trained ourselves to put in our sense of respect back into the minds of the society. We are not to be taken lightly, not to be showcased as a money-ripping gang, not to be judged by “actors” who for the most part make huge sums hosting programmes.

We as professionals must take responsibility for our actions and see that we act with dignity. We must learn to empathise with patients, speak kindly and gently, enquire of their well-being as if they were members of our own family. Perhaps then we can bridge the gap.

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Printable version | Sep 15, 2021 10:56:10 PM |

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