This past week I caught a really bad flu on a day that was, quite unfortunately, my day in the emergency. Apart from the peaking fever, the thought of having left my colleagues alone, in a setting already scant of doctors, kept vexing me all day long. Such odd hours, when the only thing you can do is idle all day lying on your bed, pull into your mind certain gems of thought that are otherwise repelled by the bustle of daily life. This time, as I was compelled to take some time off the commotion doctors witness everyday, I realized how flat my life has become. It’s about everyday that my plans of reading Hume, envisaging my first book, giving 30 religious minutes to fitness and even writing a sensible blog post are killed off by the constraints of time. Still, I reckon myself to be in the relatively fortunate bunch. Around me, it’s no rarity to find young doctors witnessing a crescendo of frustration that culminates into sickness absenteeism. Today, as I found the picture below somewhere in my gallery, I was prompted to write this article. Couldn’t find the person who took the picture of this newspaper cutting- anyways, thanks to him/her for providing this timely thing:
To summarize the above for those of you who are having trouble with the print, the cutting adumbrates the stress that doctors in general, and internal medicine specialists, pulmonologists and anesthetists in particular, come across due to an acute shortage of specialists in the country, and which leads quite a few to alcohol and anxiolytics. The recent attempt at suicide by a resident doctor in KEM hospital, Mumbai, said to be frustrated over the inhumanly working hours, bespeaks the veracity of this report. To cite one more of it’s kind, the June 14, 2015 print of mint on Sunday, besides highlighting how Indian doctors are amongst the most stressed in the world, brings out impressively the way corporatization of healthcare imposes repugnant pressures to generate profits. And there are many more.
It’s one thing to lead a busy and responsible life, and I feel a rational and industrious mind would have no problem with it- but slogging away days and nights with little leisure in between and covering it up with a pretense of ‘sacrificing profession’ ain’t going to take us a long way. Anyone taking a closer look at medical professionals today, especially those in their early years, would recognize how extortionate working hours rob them of the flavor of life. Hobbies die out; extracurriculars get decimated; personal life, and often food and sleep suffer cuts. Do we need high toned, high fidelity research to convince us how calamitously this could affect healthcare? Even a primary school student would appreciate the need of diversion, in proportion with work, to balance physical, mental and spiritual energies. What surprises me is that we need to resort to strikes and walkouts to ring the ears at high places asking for this very fundamental prerequisite. It reminds me of Robert Owen, who would slogan ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest’ during the industrial revolution. Unsurprisingly, the application of this principle saw the industries scale up their efficiency quite convincingly, in comparison to the earlier 12-16 hour shifts.
Now, I believe there are few who would misspend their energies expecting 8 hour work days. Still fewer would find it sensible to draw comparisons with Western European nations with 35 and 40 hour work weeks. The widespread disregard for labour laws in our country, which mandate a maximum of 48 hours of work per week and atleast one weekly off, is something we have become immune to; it’s something that has been swallowed and digested by people over time. But the fact that we’ve taken it to such an extreme that we have no problem throwing resident doctors into over 100 hour weeks- while we simply cannot allow other professionals like train drivers (who require good mental acuity) to work for even half of that, is something that staggers me to my core.
Over and above, you have to subjugate your dread and work in an environment that affords little security from rampaging patients (which reportedly, has prompted 4000 Mumbai doctors to hire security covers). Ruckuses while dealing with VIP patients (and their cronies) are sadly so predictable that it keeps hospitals frequented by them from using costly fixtures and furnishing. And then, those who decide to take the already blustery road to a US residency are welcomed with shackles, attributed to rather half-baked figures of brain-drain. How long can one envision this to continue? Eventually, I can foresee the splendid image of the medical profession implode, sending forth a bitter bang that would resound across schools and colleges, precluding every top notch student from even thinking of taking up a career in medicine.
Don’t take this write up as a rant coming from a frustrated doctor, neither assume that I am trying to make my fraternity look like a martyred hero. There are plenty of reports and articles all over the media trying to put forth convincing figures, evidences and formal appeals regarding the travails doctors take due to ills like doctor shortage. I don’t intend to present another list of evidences; neither do I feel I’m the right person to cite them. I wish this article to let out a rather informal, close to the heart voice that conveys the terminal effect of the problems plaguing us today. We can’t keep shoving men into a system that would give a hard time even to androids. Laws, policies and logistics aside, the final link in healthcare is a soul dressed in flesh and blood, and to preserve it’s sanity should take precedence over every other consideration. It’s high time we do something to add zest to the life of the doctor- and prevent this profession from turning into a ramshackle, haunted house for the generation of students and doctors to come.