Humanising Users Of Healthcare

In the cornfield

On the way to a patient’s home somewhere in Dalsinghsarai

A paid internship right out of the college—even though underpaid and compulsory and obligatory—is a perfect opportunity to assimilate the four and a half years of knowledge and finally rub one’s hands clean enough to be granted a chance to suture that open wound. That chance, by the way, didn’t come before appreciating the surgical art for six standing hours.

Even though it may seem so, I am not complaining about standing, neither do I have an iota of remorse about walking into the operation theatre that evening. Learning is an involving process; observing keenly and thinking about the observations, corroborating them with the learned knowledge, and asking vapid questions unabashedly. If not anything, the evening taught me about the importance of learning.

Learning can come in the most unexpected of situations. One of the foremost guiding principles I appreciated in the first few days of internship was to ‘learn from everyone’. None is naive enough but I to ignore it as drivel.

This reminds me of an encounter few years ago. A patient walked into the out-patient department with the complaint of pain in his ear and sore throat for a couple of days. The professor examined the patient, assured him that it is nothing serious and wrote a prescription. The patient was visibly anxious even after the reassurance and pulled out a newspaper-cutting from the health section of that day’s vernacular daily. It was a summer morning with a beeline of patients waiting and a couple of them crammed in this particular doctor’s chamber waiting for their turn. Even though the doctor occasionally requested them to maintain a queue, a few of them crowd over the complaining patient repeatedly. A guard came to rescue every few minutes to cool down argument on the sequence in queue. The patient pointed out the number of common symptoms to self-diagnose cancer. The fear was uncalled-for but his mind was already made.

The time for each patient is already short and he had already taken good 10 minutes. A decision has to be made quick whether to refer him to the psychiatrist or to just send him home. The first may have been an unnecessary visit and the latter could have added to his suffering. To further counsel him would have added to the unease of queue.

Those few minutes taught me an important lesson: patients in the questions they ask and their behaviour can teach a great deal of know-how beyond the textbooks. It is one’s responsibility as health care provider that their quality of life improves instead of just trying to alleviate the symptoms. It is imperative to focus on humanising instead of opting a reductionist syndromic approach.

Tushar hopes that a ‘Pedagogy of Oppressed’ is written for medical education. 

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