Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chappal doctor

They should have named him mercury but he was called Chotu, fondly by all of us. His real name is Kailash. He is now a prim and proper 12 year old, but when the incident occurred he was around three or four years old. I have tremendous admiration for his mother Arti who being a mid level [now senior] business executive for managing this boy and his less troublesome elder brother, a very sick mother and still successful in her job which also needed constant travel. From the day Chotu saw me after his pediatrician gave up [not really, more so, because it was more convenient to see me] he decided that I am one person with whom he can do whatever he wants and get away with. He also found my clinic a treasure house of material with which he can play. I have a tray which has many odds and ends on it and these he found fascinating. Before his mother could stop him he would pick up a pen or a pencil or even my Knee hammer and throw it on the ground for his mother to pick up. This done he would go to the window and try and close it with a bang. Then he would hop on to the examination couch and curl up so that I cannot examine him unless I straighten him which took all our effort. Would he keep quiet when he was doing all this? He would be shrieking with unadulterated joy. I have never seen a child who got so much of pleasure with so little. These antics of his took more time than actual examination. His favourite position for getting examined was to sit on my lap. No other position was acceptable. If I tried to put him on the table he would jump down or cry loudly. Soon I realized that to get his cooperation I had to make to do with examining him as best as I can in this position of his sitting on my lap with feet dangling. This position he was most cooperative and would open his mouth if asked him to do. But imagine my plight. How would I examine his throat or for that matter his abdomen with him astride on my lap?

Chotu began getting sudden episodes of abdominal pain. He would hold his abdomen and double up with pain. He would also give out loud howls. You have not have had the benefit of listening to Chotu’s howl. It brought the roof down along with the neighbors of the two houses on either side of Chotu’s house. When the concerned neighbors arrived they would find a laughing and smiling Chotu whose pain would have gone by then. Occasionally the same would happen when the panic stricken mother would bring to him to me. I began to suspect whether he like my other child friend like Meghna [see Meghna’s ear pain] is feigning pain to get his mother to bring him to see me and he can have his fun. He would get better whatever I gave him; even a glass of hot water did the trick.

But I was not satisfied. No child would do this repeatedly to attract attention even it meant fun with the grandfatherly doctor. I got an ultrasound scan done. The boy had narrowing at the junction of the funnel like structure which collects the urine [pelvis] that is produced by the kidney and the conduit which brings the urine [ureter] down to the collecting bag [bladder]. When sufficient urine got collected in the pelvis [funnel], it would try to push it down and the portion of the tube where the obstruction was, would not respond due to a defect [present since birth but came to light at this age in Chotu’ s case]. This would result in a colicky pain which could be pretty severe. This was the reason for Chotu's pains.

Dr R is my choice for handling surgical problems of my pediatric patients. Chotu was duly sent to Dr R. Some more tests later it was decided only surgery will provide lasting cure. Chotu came to see me with his mother. First thing Chotu said to me was,‘I don’t like your friend doctor who wants to cut my stomach’. I was very surprised. I thought the boy might be very scared of the surgery. I told him not to worry as it will be painless and he will be pain free after wards. 'I am not afraid' he said with his chest thrust forwards. He said, ‘you come there and do operation’. This kind of confidence is a bit unnerving. I explained to him why Dr R should do it and why I cannot do it. Chotu said, ‘he has coat, shoe, tie and the nurse holds me tight’. Now I knew the reason why my little friend doesn’t like Dr R whose nurse must have held him tight when he was being examined and Dr R must have appeared to be forbidding in his dress.

His mother added,'he has been telling me, ‘take me to chappal doctor', this is what he has been calling you ever since we started visiting the hospital where he is seeing all the doctors dressed in suits’! The boy is comfortable with this grandfatherly doctor with grey hair with his feet in chappals, who allows him to ride on his laps, sit on his table, play with all the odds and ends in the consulting room and thus thinks he is more qualified to operate on him!

Consultants and doctors who work in the hospitals wear either jackets or white coats. This is because of tradition and habit. One consultant friend who came to the golf course on a sweaty hot Sunday afternoon after his hospital rounds was in his full regalia of suit and matching tie. When I asked him how come even on a hot Sunday afternoon he wore a jacket,’ he said,'I feel naked if I did not wear my jacket’!

In contrast I have no such inhibitions. My normal working dress is a half sleeved shirt and trousers with Hawaii chappals [slippers] for the feet. On the rare occasions when I am forced to wear a suit [once or twice a year] I feel like being in a straight jacket!

Nevertheless it was comforting to know, at least my children patients appreciate my dress code!

The boy duly got surgical repair done and became pain free.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Convert to allopathy

Worry writ large on her face, she sat stiffly facing me. I asked her, ‘How come you are here?’

This will appear a strange question to ask a patient, you may think. But you don’t know Saroj as I do. Her first court of appeal is her favorite family homeopath who is also her close friend. By the way of answer she gave me a hard stony look. Her husband, Sanjay prompted her,’ go ahead tell him’. Thus encouraged, she said,’ I have it again’. What you have it again? I asked her. She said doctor,’donot make fun of me, you know what I am referring to, I have it again’. Those of you who have read my last posting know Saroj’s travails with tuberculosis of her neck glands and how she was managed by her homeopath.’ If you have it again why come here when your homeopath friend is still around and kicking’ I couldn’t help taking a dig at her half jokingly and half seriously. She was quiet. That meant only one thing. She had already consulted with her friend and then has come here. I told her, ‘first of all I don’t know what you have got, let me have a look’ and then I said rather pointedly, ‘with your cooperation this time, we will tackle the problem, provided you keep your friend away when you are under my care’.

Her being quiet meant acquiescence. I proceeded to examine her.

Her right neck was empty in the sense there was no tissue under her skin, thanks to her old infection, the lymph nodes have been wiped out there and only an ugly scar was seen and felt. But the picture was different on the left neck. There were several matted [adhered to one another] nodes, a hall mark of gland TB. She also had low grade fever and felt unwell. She agreed to whatever I said. A piece of tissue was taken out of the lymph node and it confirmed TB. She also agreed to take the treatment for the next six months and come for follow up as advised. Not even a whimper about drug induced side effects etc. This kind of resigned acceptance is not in keeping with the character of this spirited young woman. ‘What? You have no questions, I asked her’. ‘What questions?’ she said, ‘what I am going to go through with your treatment cannot be worse than what I went through last time when I had this illness’. That said it all.

Had she taken, in the first instance, the six months anti tubercular chemotherapy she would not have had this relapse as the organisms would have been effectively removed from her body. I was prudent enough not drive home the point.

Later I came to know from Sanjay that they both had done an extensive net search and found the consultation with the homeopath did not answer their questions as well as mine did! She successfully finished the treatment about a month ago and I can now say I have a convert to allopathy.

Sometime later I will tell you all how Saroj saved her homeopath friend’s life, which is another story.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Belief and faith

I have known Saroj since her school days. The young man she fell in love with and married to is also a patient of mine. This does not mean she always came to me. It needed two separate disease incidents to make her believe that the system of medicine that I practiced compared with her and more importantly her mother’s diehard belief in the curative powers of homeopathy.

It was some six years ago that she came with a swelling on the right side of her neck. Gradually increasing in size she ignored it for a few weeks wishing it to go away. The swelling did no such a thing. Instead it grew some more and she was brought by her husband Sanjay to see me. It was obvious that it is a lymph node mass and by the way it felt most likely cause was tuberculosis, Tuberculosis popularly known as TB spares no one in our country and I sometimes feel it is an Indian’s birth right to suffer this disease. A fine needle aspiration showed the typical histology of lymph node tuberculosis. When she came this time for review it was with her mother who was grief stricken that her precious daughter has TB and her attitude said that the doctor [me] is taking it lightly. This to certain extent was true because I was happy that the swelling turned out to be tuberculosis and not lymph node cancer. We doctors practicing in India eat and drink TB and at any given time a doctor has couple of TB patients taking medication and TB, especially gland TB is eminently treatable. I told the mother that it is easy to treat this provided she [the daughter] took the prescribed treatment for the duration of six months. The mother ignored this excellent prognosis. She said,’ none in our family has had this terrible disease, how did my girl get it?’ ‘What crime she has committed to be punished like this?’ I couldn’t relate to this grandiose idea of suffering and said that it is our birthright to get it as it so widely prevalent and family and ancestry has nothing to do with this. This, instead of satisfying her seems to upset her more. She said I don’t understand her problem. I agreed. I asked her daughter who is the patient whether she is willing to take treatment and almost certainly get cured.

She [the daughter] asked me one simple question. Will you promise me that he drugs will have no side effects? I said,’ I cannot promise’. She then said, ‘my homeopath has promised me that she will cure this disease without causing any side effects’. Now I knew that the mother and daughter combination has made up their mind to take Homeopathic treatment and were enacting a drama to get rid of my nuisance. I felt bad not because a homeopath has scored over me which has happened often enough, but because the suffering this young woman is going to go through if she were to take homeopathic medications. I told her the swellings will increase in size and will become soft in the centre and in a matter of few months will burst and ooze pus which will form tracks and will ultimately heal leaving ugly scars. They said nothing and took my leave.

Few months passed. I met Sanjay one evening and asked him how Saroja was doing? He said, ‘doctor, the swelling has burst and the pus is oozing out and the homeopath says that is what exactly the medication does and all the pus will drain out and she will heal’. My wife is virtually home bound with a bandage tied around her neck. I don’t know when the misery will end’. The misery ended some months later and as expected the natural healing took place with a hideous scar. Fortunately the scar was in the dimple next to the inner end of the collar bone and Saroj was able to hide it well with a strategically placed necklace. The matters thus stood for a few years and the homeopath continued to manage them. Saroj’s husband however kept in touch with me and came to me whenever he had a problem.

Their daughter Kusum is a pretty fifteen year old who occasionally came to see me with her father. The homeopath was managing her too, till she came down with a mysterious illness. She began having fever which would come and go and the girl would complain of fatigue and was listless. This went on for a few days and the family homeopath’s ministrations were tried but the problem continued. Now the family thought it best to get an opinion from yours truly. Fortunately that inveterate believer in the merits of Homeopathy as a cure all form of medical discipline, the mother of Saroj, did not accompany Kusum when she came to visit me. The girl was really off colour, had fever and had palpable glands in her neck and armpits. She also had enlarged tonsils which were unusually red. Her spleen was palpable. These signs and symptoms in this age group could be harbingers of serious disease. I kept the possibility of serious illness to myself and asked them to get some tests done. The results came back as positive to Glandular fever or what we call in medical term Infectious mononucleosis, a disease of viral etiology which after a variable course of time limits itself. The girl and parents were accordingly advised as to the need for no active interference and were asked to see me a week later. When she came for review a week later she was back to normal. I later came to know that the grand mother took her to the homeopath after the diagnosis was made and administered the recommended medications and the spontaneous cure was attributed to Homeopathic medication

I often face these situations. I have one simple philosophy, if a treatment does no harm I will not interfere. If I know that it is going to cause problems I try to interfere but often fail as it happened in the mother’s case of gland TB. But then, I did not really fail as the post script to this posting will show next week.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Dropping a brick

Some time ago I wrote about the numerous castes and sub castes that divide us Indians. One such caste is the Brahmins. Among this large group there are hundreds if not thousands of subgroups and one of them is the predominantly Tulu [a dialect] speaking Brahmins who reside in the coastal region of Karnataka. Like in any other caste for the social functions of these communities only those who belong to this sub caste are invited and therefore when I found a Tambram [short form for Tamil Brahmin] Thyagarajan in one such function, I was naturally surprised. I know Thyagarajan pretty well and wondered whether his wife is a Tulu Brahmin and he by marriage qualified for the invitation. But I had met with his wife and she did not look or behave like a Tulu Brahmin woman. Still I was glad to see him after two years and went to him to exchange pleasantries. Seeing me he gave a smile of recognition and asked me how am I doing. I said fine and asked him, ‘Thyagu, how is that you are here at this function?’ He appeared surprised,’ he said, my name is not Thyagu, it is Srikrishna and Col Acharya is my father in law'. The function was a housewarming ceremony of Col’s new home and naturally the son in law has the right to be invited. A bit crestfallen at the mistaken Identity, I apologized which was well received.

Some months later I met him again in another function which was secular and there were persons belonging to all communities as the local bank had called a customer meeting. This time when I confronted him I began,’ you know Thyagu, what happened last time’, and proceeded to narrate the story of mistaken identity. He heard the story in stoic silence and said,’ doctor, I am sorry to disappoint you, but I am not Thyagu, My name is Srikrishna and we met last time at my father in law’s house warming ceremony’. I was taken aback. Such uncanny resemblance and speech! Again apologies were in order but were accepted with some asperity.

There was another function where the participants were mostly Tulu speaking Brahmins and this time too I found Thyagarajan, sorry, Srikrishna. I made sure that he is indeed Srikrishna and then went to meet with him and to prove correct the third time. On seeing me coming towards him, he hurriedly got up and walked to another corner obviously afraid that I would once more call him Thyagu!

I did not have the heart to chase him to prove to him that this time I have indeed made the recognition right.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Identity crisis

‘Why are you not on inhalers’? [Inhaled steroids are the main stay in the treatment of chronic asthma] I asked. He did not respond but the sheepish look on his face told me that he has not been taking it. I asked him,’ where are my case notes’? He did not have them with him.

Here some explanation is required to understand this conversation between the patient and I. With rare exceptions all my regular patients carry my case records and some of these go back to over 40 years. They are a reflection of not only the quality of my practice but also the patient and his disease characteristics. I find it extremely upsetting when a patient comes without my notes because the treatment often depends on what I did when he visited last time. This patient had not only come without my records but also was not following my instructions. ‘When did you last see me’ I asked. Five years ago he said. This was a blatant lie. I knew Jayaram to be not a very good patient and often did not keep appointments and came whenever he was in trouble with his asthma and not when I had asked him to come. This led to my having problems of management and caused lot of worry. I had even told him last time he came, which was certainly not 5 years, that if he does not keep the appointment and regular follow up, he better find another doctor and I really meant it.

Here he is again up to his old antics and adding insult to injury was also lying.
I could barely control my anger. I told him to get lost and not to see again. He started saying something in placation. But I had enough of this man who had bothered me over the years and it is a good opportunity to get rid of him forever. He stood for while wiping his sweaty face and seeing me unrelenting, went out.

I got busy seeing other patients and after an hour or so, in walks Jayaram who must have been waiting outside. By then I too had cooled down. He said, ‘Sir, I really saw you five years ago and you did not put me on any inhalers and I did not see you for asthma, this is the first time I am seeing you for this trouble’. I had a closer look at him and asked,' are you not Jayaram?' He said, ‘Saab, my name is Abrar Ahmed, I am Abbas Ali’s nephew. You know my uncle very well’.

I could have sworn that the person in front is Jayaram but the fact was that this poor man who took the flack was indeed a different person with remarkably similar looks. My apologies were gracefully accepted and of course the treatment details are of no interest to you.

The errant Jayaram is still my patient and continues to persecute me!

Next week I will narrate another episode where in I had dropped a brick not once but twice.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Ring side view

They called me by many names. For some who were my friends it was a white boy. For some others who were not so friendly it was white cockroach and for some others it was cat’s eye. With my thin build, fair complexion, green eyes and red lips, I stood out like a sore thumb in the sea of brown and black. Occasionally a snide reference was made to my ancestry. The small town I grew up had schooling up to high school and it was not very pleasant to be constantly reminded of one’s body and colour. Occasional physical encounters ended in my getting the worse of them. Though unpleasant, most of the times they meant no real harm.

It also rained cats and dogs for almost six months in a year and I frequently fell ill during rainy season. Attacks of asthma and bronchitis were constant companions. I must have suffered all the childhood illnesses like whooping cough, diphtheria and any number of episodes of diarrhea and dysentery. These illnesses we hardly see these days thanks to the successful immunization in childhood. Looking back I sometimes wonder how I survived this illness ridden childhood

This was the negative aspect of my life but the positive side was also there. There was plenty of open places to pay and virtually no pollution. You could play to your hearts content and not worry about regular school attendance. The school was run by the government and the teachers were not very particular about attendance. And my illnesses came in very handy to bunk school. Few teachers were even indulgent because of my frail build and disease prone nature. There were other attractions like the local cinema and cheap eateries. There was also a major weekly attraction which we all looked forward to. That was the weekly fair.

The fair was held on a large piece of flat land [this was difficult to come by in that hilly terrain] located on the outskirts of the town. To the fair came villagers from nearby villages to buy and sell produce and products. It also attracted travelling salesmen of all kinds who set up their stalls where ever they found a place. It was a kind of haphazard mela and our weekly delight. We children preferred some stalls to others. There was one guy with a bioscope which showed magnified photos of distant lands and famous people and also some weird and exciting scenes that interested us. There were wrestling matches where well built men wrestled in specially made sand pits. This was special to me, being physically thin I liked watching these wrestlers. One of them was called Mutton Usman and the other was Dhobi Bojanna. One was Mussaleman and other was Hindu. What was surprising was the Mussalman wrestler trained with Hindus and the Hindu with the Mussalmans.The rabid differences between the two communities which have come to the fore recently were not that visible those days.

There was another who sold medications and I must tell you about him because I was his victim.This person was dressed in a coat and trousers which in itself were a novelty. He also had an impressive belly. He usually held court under a tree and I was a regular attendee till the narrated incident occurred which made me avoid him. He hung several large banners with pictures of well built men and women. There was also picture of a skeleton next to the picture of human anatomy showing what lies under the skin. Muscles in pink, blood vessels in blue and red, bones shown as white and a skull with mouth open. This gave the face a curiously melovelant grin. The sales man would wait for some thirty or forty people to collect and then would get his assistant to distribute handbills to the adults. These handbills proclaimed the sales man as a doctor with many degrees and accomplishments and miraculous cures. He had a cure for arthritis, snake bite, phlegm, impotency, head ache and to build one’s body. He would then proceed with his sales talk which would last for about ten to fifteen minutes. He held his audience spell bound with a mixture of demagogy and humour. This done, he would go around with various pills and his customers would choose whatever they thought was good for them. This done he would get his assistant to collect all the hand bills from the audience for reuse next time.

Once he was demonstrating the effects of his medicine for body building, repeatedly showing the picture of the well built body and the skeleton and how he would make the skeleton look like what is shown in the other picture. I had occupied the ringside seat and was so engrossed with this superman’s talk that I did not realize being caught by the arms and dragged to the middle of the ring by his assistant. Now he had a living skeleton to show his power. He asked another who was well built to come forward and comparing us he said he would guarantee the result if I took his pills that I would become like the other person. This sales talk brought many forward to buy his pills as many in that crowd were under nourished and thin. His work done he let me go and that was the end of his show for the day and he started winding up. He sent his assistant for his much needed cup of tea. I stood there waiting. He turned and saw me standing alone with the entire crowd having gone and what business I had to be waiting. He asked me. I told him I need to have some of his body building pills for free as he had used me as an object for public demo. He became very angry and gave me a shove with a shout to get lost. I walked away with some disappointment and lots of anger and after having reached some 50 yards or so took a piece of stone and hurled at him and was rewarded with a strike and a cry of pain from the doctor. He of course could not match me in running and his assistant was away. I stood there for a while as though to challenge him to catch me if he can and seeing no challenge forthcoming went my way. Then on I carefully avoided visiting this travelling doctor.

Some years ago there was a product launch and I attended that meeting. A well known doctor was hired by the Pharma company for the talk with many colorful slides the doctor made his case. He was impressive and his talk was punctuated with lots of wit and some wisdom. He never once used the pharmacological name of the drug but repeatedly used the trade name being promoted by the Pharma company to drive home the message that we fools in the audience will be better off using this magic pill on our hapless patients. The additional bonus was the cocktails and dinner that followed.

I wonder if there is any difference between the itinerant salesman cum doctor of my childhood and the hired qualified professional who promoted the product of the Pharma company.