© Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker
When Chandrayan 2 fell short of just one more mile, from making history, no “failure” could be proclaimed to be more “heroic” than that. A true leader, the honourable Prime Minister, went out of his way to support our scientists and said that there is “no failure in science, it is a journey and one or two difficulties must not hold us back”. The entire nation stood behind ISRO like never before, and rightly so. It was a perfect example of embracing failure, expressing our solidarity with our scientists and a beautiful lesson in forgiveness. It was humane and graceful and makes me feel proud of my countrymen and women. On a lighter note, it was the hug of the century.
However, in the current times, when it comes to “failure in medicine”, it is neither heroic nor graceful. As a profession medicine is one of the most, “failure averse”. From our early days in medical school, we doctors are indoctrinated with the mantra that, “failure is not an option”. The paradox however is that, in life, failure is inevitable and the medical profession is no exception to this. As doctors we fight the toughest battles with the two of the biggest enemies of mankind- disease and death. To say the least, nothing can be more humbling and as we grow in experience we learn the lessons in humility the hard way.
So, first and foremost, why are we doctors, so hard on ourselves? Most of us have immense difficulty in accepting that despite best efforts, sometimes things may not go our way. Though we are taught lessons in detachment, are we really able to practice them? No one has ever escaped death, but when it happens on our watch, we feel the burden of the lost life on our fragile shoulders. Unfortunately, no amount of money can snatch away a loved one from the clutches of disease and death. As doctors, sometimes even we are guilty of suffering from the God complex. At times we ourselves tend to forget that we are only human at the end of the day.
Doctors and patients are two sides of the same coin. Let’s flip the coin and see it from the patient’s perspective. From time immemorial patients have reverred doctors next only to God. There is an extremely strong emotional element that is associated with the practice of medicine. Unlike other service industries, healthcare can never be proportionate to the amount of money paid. An x amount of money may guarantee you a business class seat in an airline or the best suite in a seven star hotel, but no amount of money can guarantee getting good health back. Money is just a way to define value for a service, but in case of healthcare it falls severely short. Money is never enough to make up for the loss of a loved one, and neither is it enough to compensate a doctor for saving a loved one. But until we have another way of valuing the services of doctors and healthcare, money will be the third prong in the wheel. I am not an economist, but I dont need to be one, to know that most people in this country are barely able to make ends meet. We may be close to eradicating polio, but we are nowhere near eradicating poverty in this country. India is a country with a burgeoning population and, in the absence of solid universal health coverage and public health institutes falling severely short, the burden of dealing with a disease and its treatment falls on individuals. A burden they probably cannot carry. I dont feel proud when I say that India has one of the lowest healthcare budgets in the world. Indian citizens are deeply dissatisfied and disappointed when it comes to the basic human right of being provided with good healthcare. Private healthcare is expensive and like all businesses the goal is to make profits. In an emergency, when public healthcare is not an option people turn to private healthcare, which unfortunately is unaffordable for most. And when expectations are not met, it leads to friction and sometimes escalates to violence.
For ages, Indian doctors have held a broken healthcare system together and have done a great job of it. Success stories of everyday never make head line news but what we have achieved in the realm of healthcare with our “meagre resources” is nothing short of a miracle. However, it certainly is not enough for a country with 1.37 billion people. Doctors are the face of medicine and while they are the foot soldiers who are fighting this battle with minimal support, they are repeatedly facing the ire of dissatisfied masses. Every other day, we hear of doctors being abused and hospitals being vandalized. Impatience has become the hallmark of today’s society. While the world becomes smaller and digital, we need to understand that we are still eons away from curing diseases of the complex human body with a click of a button or by using artificial intelligence.
Today, there is increasing dejection and demotivation amongst healthcare practitioners and doctors. Doctors are also citizens of this great country and it might help our morale if we received some grace too. For us, every patient is precious and we succeed more often than we fail. Death is invincible, but doctors are the only ones in this world who dare to fight it. If not a hug, atleast we don’t deserve to be chided by our dear Prime Minister time and again and be beaten up for failures that may sometimes be out of our control. It is our sincere appeal to the government to increase the healthcare spends in the upcoming budget and show some positive inclination towards supporting the Indian citizens for this basic human right that is “health”.
Dr. Aparna Govil Bhasker is a Bariatric and Laparoscopic surgeon practicing in Mumbai. Alongwith Dr. Debraj Shome they have published the iconic book “Dear People, With Love and Care, Your Doctors”, which is an anthology of short stories set in the healthcare environment. The book has consistently been in the top 10 best sellers list and is in its 4th reprint already, within four months of being released. To know more about the book, click on http://www.dearpeople.in