The Urban health team had planned to meet officials at government health departments and at hospital superintendents to share our KG Halli area experience and figure out ways to work together. After our first “waiting day” stint in the corridors of government offices, we decided to visit the hospital staff next day. Since our 7 month pregnant community health worker Ms Leela had a problem, we asked her to come to the same tertiary public hospital for checkup
I followed Ms Leela to the door of the OBG outpatient department, where the lady gate keeper stood blocking the way. Normally (so Leela told us) only a ten rupee note is the key, but today took her blocked hands from the door to let us in. She asked only Leela to leave her slippers outside…”Why not me?” I wondered.. “Maybe I didn’t look like poor patient!!” Next Leela went to the nurse who was deciding where the patient should go. Sister pointed towards long waiting line of pregnant women and said “Go there”. That is when I intervened and asked “Why not in the next room where doctors with hardly any patients? She grinned at me and guided me forward.
Now it was Leela’s turn to follow me, I walked towards a doctor who was sitting with another senior, introduced myself as doctor and explained Leela’s problem. After a minute she looked at me..that look was like “Why are you standing here ?”….I continued to stand …after listening to Leela, the doctor said (without looking at me): “ We will see her … The unsaid message was “Why are you still standing here you can go” . I continued to stand…after few minutes looking away she said “ you sit”…I was not sure whether she was addressing me or someone else…. but there were no one around …so I presumed she addressed it to me and decided to sit comfortably on the chair!! She gave me a dirty look when I sat on the chair .. “May be she did not mean her words, I said to myself but this chair does not belong to her you don’t get up”. The senior doctor who was sitting opposite me gave a warm smile…wow that was such a nice feeling ……someone in that outpatient department smiled for the first time!! I decided to ignore that grumpy doctor (by then I had decided that doctor was an insensitive/inhuman lady!! ) and initiate conversation with the senior doctor.
Before I could initiate talk with the senior doctor, medical representatives started coming near her one after the other, and I got no time to talk. I was just observing all the activities around me…in that next 10-15 min..this grumpy doctor had told her students many times to.. “Go see my patient who was in the examination room”…may be she was not happy to see me next to her… but for some reason I stayed put …that gave me more time to observe!! Two incidents diverted my thought process from this grumpy doctor.
A lady with fifth pregnancy requesting help was told “We do not do abortion unless you want to go for permanent sterilization, either Tubectomy or current operation (Laparoscopic sterilization). If you do not agree then you continue with pregnancy”. When she said even her fourth child was not planned, the question rose in my mind whether she had been given information about contraception methods or were the doctors forcing women to go for sterilization because it is the easy option? I know with my experience of working with the Muslim community for some, it is against their cultural belief to undergo sterilization. Only educating about contraceptive methods works for many of them..but are the doctors aware of this and do they have time and patience to explain?
Another incident was more shocking and uncomfortable to witness. The grumpy doctor shouted at a young girl who looked not more than 14-15 yrs sitting quietly in the corner, “Why are you here ? Go out.” This young girl with a dazed look started walking towards this doctor…in the mean while the post graduate student said, “ Madam, her pregnancy test is negative”. But her tummy was saying something…and she was pregnant..5 months confirmed the grumpy doctor!
The next thing was in a loud voice doctor screamed “Who has come with you..you are pregnant, what you want to do?” She turned towards the senior doctor and said “UM” (unmarried) that was the code word!! The very next moment more than 15 pair of eyes…were staring at that young girl…I was trying to read that girls mind..but I failed…may be because her expression was so cold …I felt she did not know what had happened to her. Her sister in law came inside..grumpy doctor had two “VALUABLE” suggestions to make , very matter of fact and devoid of sensitivity.
(1) Carry on with the pregnancy and then give away the baby later….as if it was as simple as giving away book or pen to someone. I asked myself ‘Does she even know what she is suggesting?’.
(2) We can abort if the girl’s guardian, preferably male can come and sign for minor girl.
The sister in law who appeared to be in her later 30’s had no right to do so. ‘Who made this rule?’ I wondered ….I guess doctors decide on case to case basis. It was sad to witness the sister in law pleading with this grumpy doctor “Madam nobody in the house knows, if they come to know it will create lot of problem in the house, I will take responsibility and you please abort.” Her words fell on deaf ears, statues who sat with white coat and stethoscope around their necks with knowledge gained from medical books but lacking common sense or humanity.
A very interesting conversation followed after the young girl and sister in law was shouted at to leave and come with someone elder while I thought ‘30+ is not minor to consider as guardian for that doctor’. The senior doctor said “We didn’t have UM cases for some time, how come suddenly we are getting many cases?” Reply from grumpy doctor was… “May be this is the season”. Then they said “We should also do like private doctors…..…I was finding it hard not to ask what private doctors do? but I said to myself ‘the grumpy doctor who was giving dirty looks now and then will show you the way out, sit quietly’.
But the conversation continued and they revealed that in the private sector if an UM ‘case’ goes, they will not even say she is pregnant…. they will continue treating for anaemia till full term and then say she needs to be operated for some stomach tumor and give away the baby without anyone in the family knowing. By now I was in semi shock! When I heard this, I thought…does this really happen?’ I heard this story for the first time and could not believe my ears. And another thought came ‘Where the medical ethics has gone…Forget about ethics, where has the humanity of the individual gone…may be it is lost in the process of becoming so called white collared DOCTORS!’