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Recently, an orthopaedic doctor at Government Medical College (GMC) in Dhule was at the receiving end of an angry mob's ire that left him with a blind eye. On Sunday night, a patient was wheeled into the hospital with a head injury. Since the hospital didn't have a neurosurgeon available on duty that day, Dr Rohan Mamunkar did whatever a sensible medico would have: He asked the relatives of the patient to seek treatment at a different hospital where the patient's injuries could be treated appropriately by the right specialist. Not only did the advice fall on deaf ears, the relatives also took umbrage to the doctor's supposed act of medical negligence and beat him black and blue.
For those who can hold their lunch down, there is also the image of the injured doctor himself with the left side of his face bashed in. The sight of his blood red sclera can send shivers down your spine. One can only wonder the tremendous pain he must have gone through when the angry mob rained blows on his defenceless person.
Dr Mamunkar, while we pray that you physical wounds heal and that you return to your job at the earliest, we sincerely hope that you don't lose heart and give up on your profession that is centred on service and empathy. But I won't be surprised if you do, because India is clearly not a country for doctors.
A strange dichotomy
I believe, in India, more than anywhere else in the world, there exists a dichotomy in the way we treat our doctors. When we need them, we place them on a pedestal, lapping up every piece of advice without any questions asked. Side by side, there also exists the image of medicos as money-grabbing Shylocks, who have zero empathy. Part of it, I believe, stems from our own resentment of the adulation medicos enjoy in the society.
The violence that unfolded on the premises of Thane's world-class Singhania Hospital in 2001 is a testimony to the above fact. When a leader belonging to a political party breathed his last at the hospital following a heart ailment, irate members of the party went on a rampage damaging the hospital's property, which also included state-of-the-art medical equipment.
Nobody is infallible
Why this strange God-Devil dichotomy when it comes to doctors? Are we forgetting that we need to treat them as human beings first? An episode from the Bible comes to my mind. When Mary Magdalene was punished by the villagers for adultery, Jesus Christ dared, "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone." Not a single person came forward. Doctors may be more intellectually gifted than the rest of us when it comes to diagnosing and treating diseases, but that doesn't make them infallible. Is each one of us truly so perfect that we have become so intolerant towards who make mistakes?
Anyone in the medical fraternity would tell you that their lives are rife with stress. Add to it the odd working hours and the pressure of dealing with something as sensitive as human health. If you have lost a relative or suffered because of medical negligence, your anger is justified. But that doesn't mean you resort to violence; which is why we have law and order in our country. Press charges against the errant doctor and let law take its course.
If such assaults against medicos continue, then the day is not far when hospitals will turn away critical medical cases for the fear of reprisal from angry relatives. Parents will discourage their children from becoming doctors one day and soon enough, the quality of medical care in the country that we take so much pride in, will one day wane.
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