Friday, October 29, 2010

Reaching a doctor in an emergency is not always easy

With the northeast monsoon setting in, Chennai residents are bracing themselves for a tough time ahead. It’s not just about having to contend with potholed roads, muck, snapped electric cables and wires, and, of course, floods, but with a host of illnesses that can leave you desperate at times. Almost every third person I meet or hear about nowadays is down either with malaria, typhoid, dengue, flu, diarrhoea or Madras Eye, quite frightening to say the least.

It was some days since we saw our neighbour, an elderly widow who is usually all over the place, gathering and disseminating information, locking her door and heading to her daughter’s, out on her morning and evening walks, or going just about anywhere. And then suddenly it struck me that we hadn’t seen her at all in quite a while. We knocked on her door a couple of days ago. The door opened just a little, enough for her to see us, and us none of her. Madras Eye, I think, she said and waited for anything we had to say. My mother and wife beat a hasty retreat and wished her speedy recovery, closing our door and leaving just as much as she had opened hers. Clearly, with sickness of that sort it takes courage to be friendly.

Ours is a middle-class neighbourhood, and we are middle-class people. Even so, when somebody or the other gets sick or injured we find it difficult finding a good doctor or a reasonably safe hospital. The other day, my mother fell down and bled copiously from her mouth. Fortunately, there were people at home. We rushed for ice cubes, towels, a spare sari… At her age, losing blood can be dangerous. Again, fortunately, my uncle is a doctor who runs a hospital, and my cousin a dental surgeon. So we had a place to go to. The challenge was to reach the hospital in Perambur in the shortest possible time – about 18 km from where we stay. It took us an hour to reach. God willing, mother braved it out till she was escorted to one of the rooms in the hospital and only after that did I breathe a sigh of relief. She is now recuperating, after stitches, injections and medication.

The shortage of good or competent doctors, in cities and more so in villages, the time taken to travel to medical centres, and waiting endlessly for possibly a ten-minute interaction with a doctor are the bigger issues involved. Many primary health centres do not even have adequate facilities. If there is equipment, it often does not work. You can only imagine the troubles most Indians still have to go through to get access to quality health care. More about it in the next blog.

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