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A new wrinkle

I have a creeping suspicion that the healthcare industry secretly prays all the time for human beings to have a long life, for some very good economic reason, as it finds a highly lucrative business opportunity in geriatric medicine. Perhaps, the very survival of the medical care ecosystem is, to a large extent, based on this hypothesis.

A little before SARS-COV-2 started spreading its wings in India, I accidentally discovered that my vision in one eye was not what it used to be. Being in my mid-seventies, I suspected that it could be cataract. A visit to a specialist revealed that it was something else, and a test, with hospitalisation, was prescribed. However, the ensuing lockdown made me defer it for more than a year. Next visit to the doctor, egged on by a doctor relative, revealed that the story was something very different. It was diagnosed as age-related macular degeneration, or ARMD. It required injecting a “life-saving” drug into the retina.

Tedious process

Given the “life-saving” nature of the drug, the procedure for acquiring it from the government dispensary was tedious and a bit time consuming.

An application with four enclosures, in triplicate, was required to be submitted at the local wellness centre. After a couple of SMSs, I was asked to collect the medicine from another unit close to the medical depot a few days later, while surrendering two copies of the applications carrying the despatch number. The government rate for the drug was ₹11,000. The price of administering it was close to ₹4,000.

In all, I got three retinal jabs over four months. Each of the injections was administered by a different doctor.

There was a “visible” improvement after each of the first two doses. So when the doctor asked whether I would care to take a third, I readily said, “Why not.” Talk of a “booster dose” was in fashion then.

First time around, I was given a royal treatment, much beyond my expectations: a private room with attached dressing-cum-bathroom. A cup of tea with two tasty biscuits followed the equally surprising nearly painless jab.

Second time, a curtained closet in a general ward followed. Third time, I was kept patiently waiting in the lobby for my turn. When I was asked to change my clothes, I dared to ask why I had not been given a private room as per my entitlement. Pat came the reply that there had been a change in the management policy, about which the reception should have informed me; which, of course, it had not. The only saving grace was that a cup of tea with a pair of biscuits was served. But this time, the tea was tepid and also a little less sweet.

During one of the visits, while waiting in the lobby of the super-specialty private hospital, for my turn to be taken to the operation theatre for getting the injection, I met a gentleman who kept repeating to the ward boy that he should take extra care with him because he was 85 years old, had been coming to the clinic since Independence, and was the only one in the world who had been treated by four generations of the owners of the establishment. He repeated this litany at every given opportunity.

On one such occasion, while waiting in the ante-chamber of the OT, having made a rough calculation of my own, I queried the gentleman that he must have been very young when he visited the clinic first time. He said that his family had then moved to India from the newly created Pakistan and it was a genetic defect that had brought him to the hospital.

The fact that his ailment could not be sorted out even in 75 years, says a lot not only about technology but also about the patience of the patient.

Long live the old and the disabled!

vkagnihotri25@gmail.com


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Printable version | Feb 22, 2022 2:36:45 am | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-new-wrinkle/article38273627.ece