Touching Lives

Doctors' day July 1: CW salutes doctors for their work in making our world a better, healthier place

Doctor with patientJuly 1 is Doctors' Day.

My grandparents religiously went to their family doctor for 30 years - for health problems, big or small.Two generations of my family were born at the same maternity home.

What's more, our old family doctor used to spend more time sorting out his patients' lives than he spent in prescribing medicines. This was the bond, the foundation of the doctor-patient relationship of yore, when doctors commanded both love and respect from their patients — who would not think of entrusting their health in anyone else's hands.

Though the prefix "Dr," continues to be associated with respect and glamour, the profession is not showered with as much trust and respect, today.

With medical information now accessible at the click of the mouse, everyone thinks of themselves as "half-doctors" - forgetting how dangerous half-baked or erroneous knowledge can be. So much so, your doctor's word is no longer the be-all and end-all of things. Reason: patient While Friendship Day and Valentine Day have been greatly publicised, Doctors' Day is yet to receive equal importance in our country. Patients are constantly challenging, or are distrustful and/or re-looking at diagnosis, advice, and treatment.

This is not all. Trust, the hallmark of doctor-patient relationship, is slowly diminishing to unsettling proportions.

According to Charaka Samhita, the ancient ayurvedic text, "A physician must be fearless, merciful and tolerant. A good physician nurtures affection for his patients exactly like the mother, father, brothers. The physician having such qualities gives life to the patient and cures their diseases."

This writer spoke to doctors, on what it meant for them to be in the profession, and what they thought, or think, of the relationship they share with their patients. Excerpts:

Dr Sanjay Garude

Dr Sanjay GarudeDr Sanjay Garude, arthroscopic and sports medicine surgeon, Lilavati Hospital, Nanavati Hospital & H N Hospital, Mumbai.

Being a doctor

I have always been in love with my profession. Having chosen arthroscopic surgery as my area of specialisation, I have the best of opportunities to use the latest technology in surgery as well as have the time to enjoy life. The deepest sense of satisfaction for me is when my patients tell me how delighted they feel to be able to perform activities which were next to impossible, prior to surgery. This could include anything from activities of daily living to sports at the recreational or professional level. Such small gestures of appreciation go a long way in giving us strength and encouragement. It makes my day!

Doctor-patient relationship

Trust is the most important factor. According to me, a patient needs to have a certain degree of trust in his/her doctor and treatment provided. This gives them a positive push towards recovery. Patients are always anxious when they see a doctor for the first time. It is up to us to reassure them, so that they confide in us their symptoms without being worried to discuss their problems. This comforting touch is the cornerstone of every doctor-patient relationship. This isn't taught in your medical school, but it has to be nurtured over time for you to be a good doctor.

It is also important to take your patient's emotional side into consideration, apart from the clinical condition, without invading one's privacy. Many clinical conditions are influenced by the mental make-up and emotions of the individual — so, an understanding of the patient's psyche is clearly important. Knowing their family background, workplace scene, and interests, helps in building a healthy bond with patients. This, in turn, goes a long way to successfully manage their ailments as well.

Doctors and society

There is a social obligation to being a doctor, and most of us fulfil this responsibility well. This does not necessarily mean charitable clinics. I cannot think of any doctor who would turn down a single deserving patient in private clinics. As you'd know, medical social workers' teams in hospitals make sure the under-privileged receive appropriate medical care at minimal cost.

Dr Aniruddha Malpani

Dr Aniruddha MalpaniDr Aniruddha Malpani manages one of India's best infertility centres, Malpani Infertility Clinic, with his wife, Dr Anjali Malpani, in Mumbai.

Being a doctor

We are privileged to take care of patients. We need to respect our role, so we can learn to respect ourselves. If you do what you love, and love what you do, you will find a higher purpose in your life .What's more, if you are passionate about your work, your life will be full of meaning. Getting paid for this should be seen as the ultimate bonus. Our medical practice gives us the opportunity to genuinely touch another person's life with our skills.

Doctor-patient relationship

We are fortunate to be doctors, because we can learn much from our patients. They open their hearts to us, and we are privy to their innermost world. This enables us to witness a ringside view of human drama, suffering, courage, life and death - the stuff life is made of.

Doctors have a chance to plumb the very depths of the soul, as they accompany their patients through their suffering. Our work also lends itself to contemplation and introspection - providing us insights which only a few are privileged. Our patients can also teach us how to live and how to die - and, we need to keep our hearts open to their lessons. While it is true that daily exposure to misery and suffering can drain some of us, causing compassion fatigue, or become hardened and insensitive, they also often invigorate and rejuvenate us.

Doctors and society

Doing some charitable work - for example, offering a free clinic, once a week, is one of the best ways of feeling good about oneself. It is a great feeling to do good for others, with no strings attached. The gratitude of patients we treat free of charge is worth much more than any amount of money. As doctors, we have had innumerable opportunities to being altruistic - and, I like to make the most of it!

Role model

My personal role model is my father, who's one of the most satisfied people I know. His primary source of happiness is his patients. They have provided him a major source of personal sustenance. He enjoys talking to them, they enjoy talking to him, and his links with them are deep and personal. He loves them and they love him. More importantly, I have learned from him that professional satisfaction does not come from acquiring money, but from gaining "social capital" through community ties. My father has a host of extracurricular activities, and he is also very well connected with his family, friends and also neighbours. These are social bonds that contribute enormously to his - and, my - satisfaction.

Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti

Dr Sudhakar Krishnamurti, an award-winning andrologist-microsurgeon, is founder of Andromeda, India's first andrology centre, in Hyderabad. He is also the only Indian to be on the panel of WHO Sexual Medicine Expert Committee, twice.

Being a doctor

It gives me a great opportunity to improve another person's life with my skills.

Doctor-patient relationship

Honestly, there's too much hype. In the times we now live in, it is just a professional relationship. However, this is very good and not at all a bad thing [much better than blind faith], because only the fittest of doctors and their patients survive.

Modern patients appreciate professionalism. Empathetic professionalism is the name of the game; emotional dramas are not essential. In "Quality of Life" specialties like mine, viz., andrology and sexual medicine, the gratitude quotient is high - for instance, when I facilitate a couple to having of a baby, or restore a man's erections and sex life. Some of them give their newborn my name, or a variation of it! This is very touching.

On approaching patient's problems

Humour. Humour. Humour. In my field, it is never inappropriate. It breaks the ice in an instant; with this, the patient's comfort level with the subject increases.

Moments of gratitude

I once successfully reversed vasectomy in a widower who remarried. He fathered a child, subsequently. There was a time when a man was harassed by his in-laws as being impotent, when he was not. I proved his potency, and he won the case in a court of law. These folks are always grateful; they express their gratitude in several ways.

One couple, whose infertility I treated successfully, still visits my clinic every year on my birthday. Their child is now 16-years-old.

It's Doctors' Day on July 1. Wouldn't it be a good gesture to call the caretaker of your health and wellbeing today? Express how much you appreciate him/her for being there for you. You may also send your doctor a greeting card, or a bunch of flowers.

Remembering B C Roy

July 1 happens to be the birthday of one of India's most eminent physicians, Dr B C Roy. Roy's career, as a physician, began in 1911, when he returned from the UK, with MRCP and FRCS attached to his name. He dedicated his life to the uplift of our society, especially the downtrodden.

Roy [Born, July 1, 1882] was not just a great physician, he was also a dedicated educationist, social reformer, freedom fighter [Civil Disobedience Movement], leader of the Indian National Congress, and Chief Minister of West Bengal. Roy passed away on July 1, 1962 - coincidentally his 80th birthday.

A Veteran's View

By Dr L H Hiranandani

Things are changing fast, today. The concept of the general practitioner does not exist - well almost. In the good old days, there was no specialisation. People had full trust in their family doctor. Doctors were considered close to God; people were ready to follow anything their doctor said, without question. This is almost extinct in our world today.

One reason is: patients are quite aware of their health. They also want to know more. The problem is: we have so many specialisation areas that people are bound to get confused.

There is also a major change in the attitude of both doctors and patients - this is another reason why their relationship has become more professional. We need to understand that this change is not only about money; it is about service and confidence doctors share with their patients.

I have spent my entire life treating patients, and I must say that if I am given another chance I would only like to do what I am doing now. The satisfaction you get by serving people is unique. Even today, patients come to me and thank me for treating them.

I am sure this goodwill gives me the energy to work, even at age 90!

I also believe that it is very important to touch the life of the patient. A doctor has to build trust in his/her patient. For this to happen, you need to repose faith in your practice. As doctors, we also need keep our cool and possess a humanitarian attitude.

I am grateful to my patients for their love and gratitude.

My mantra to our young generation of doctors is - work hard, and have ambition in mind. Have devotion, and patience, and you will succeed. God will always come to your aid.

L H Hiranandani, FRCS [Eng], DLO [Lond], FCPS [Bom], is a renowned Mumbai-based ENT surgeon, recipient of Padma Bhushan, and "Surgeon of the Millennium."

- As told to ASHWINI Ranade

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