Doctors play God, or don’t they?

Many years ago, as a junior resident in a large overcrowded public hospital, I chanced upon an elderly man lying in bed looking very pale and ill and surrounded by two younger men looking at their friend(the patient) as if he was in death’s throes. As I breezed past on the way home after a rather tough stint, the younger man stopped me in my tracks and said if we could do something to help the elderly man as they had been told earlier by another doctor that the patient was terminally ill, nothing could be done and that the best thing would be to take him home to spend his last days comfortably in his own bed.

It was already late night but as there was a bit of extra time left before the call-duty was over, I took a brief look at his case-notes and summarised that the working diagnosis was that of advanced cancer of the lungs.

Having promised the patient’s friends that we would take a second look the next morning with the team, I headed off for home.

To cut a long story short, the diagnosis turned out to be a lung infection called aspergillosis and in next to no time, the patient was cured and able to walk home quite well.

I was constantly reminded of this gentleman as he would faithfully turn up once a year outside my office during the main festivity season bringing a celebratory gift. Although he did not speak English, the words, gestures and smile spoke volumes in terms of gratitude. These visits went on for several years till my staff took his visits almost for granted.

One fine day, we all realised that his visit had stopped coming for some time and it wasn’t till much later that word got to us that this fine old man had finally succumbed at home to what was presumably old-age.

This whole episode really got me thinking whether we as doctors do actually determine the fate of fellow human-beings. Much as the Hippocrates Oath or the Geneva Declaration on Health determine our behaviour towards patients, doctors are subjected to various constraints sometimes beyond their control. A missed diagnosis, inadequate review, insufficient resources are some of the factors which may hinder appropriate treatment and consequently lead to a different fate than what God probably intended…

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3 responses

  1. Azizah Abu Hassan | Reply

    I have always believed that our fate or destiny have been decided (by a power above) since the day we were conceived – only that we don’t know what they are.

    When we are ill, we seek medical help with the hope of getting well. Some doctors are more knowledgeable & experienced than others, and therefore may look at each case on a broader spectrum. Even then, the outcome could still be something different than expected.

    There are doctors…..and…..there are doctors…The difference being, that some are more compassionate, ethical and willing to go the ‘extra mile’ in providing health care to their patients. At the end of the day, do we know the outcome of our journey (or somebody else’s) in this lifetime…..???

  2. This has always been a sore point with me. About many doctors. Doctors to whom a patient is merely a number tagged to a disease. And if the patient died…oh well…next please. After all…”we can’t be responsible for everything”. True. I wonder how many doctors remember or know that patients need their doctors. They need them to re-assure them of the dianosis, of the possible cure, of the possible consequences. They need the doctor to treat them like people. People who are worried. Scared even.

    And these days too many doctors are more like businessmen. Attending to patients in between board meetings. Too many doctors make flying visits to multiple clinics. One day here, next day there. I would never consult one of these for anything. They have multiple clinics not to care for people over a wider geographical area. They have them to cover a larger market.

    “…various constraints sometimes beyond their control. A missed diagnosis, inadequate review, insufficient resources are some of the factors which may hinder appropriate treatment and consequently lead to a different fate than what God probably intended…”

    True. Maybe. More reason to give each patient the respect and dignity they deserve.

  3. There are many who share your view.
    It would be better if more doctors adopt the credo “to cure sometimes, to heal often, to comfort always”.

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