Stories about patients

As her doctor, could I have done more?

My ER shift started in chaos. “Does it have something to do with today being Friday the 13th?” I wondered, although not really being all that superstitious. I knew it was just a momentary thought. On bed 13 lay Aleya, a 13-year-old previously normal and healthy girl, and the youngest of 13 siblings. To add insult to injury, she got ‘tubed’ (intubated), unsurprisingly, at 1300 hours. But I get ahead of myself, so let’s start at the beginning. For the past 13 days, Aleya had been running a ‘very high’ fever, not confirmed by a thermometer.  “Jism bahut garam tha,” (The body was really hot) said her 18-year-old brother, ...

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Why aren’t there any well-equipped ambulances available in Karachi?

A few years ago, my cousin passed away in Gwadar. His wife had to transport his body from Gwadar to Karachi in a Toyota Hiace because she could not get hold of an ambulance. That memory resurfaced when I heard that ambulance services were unavailable to carry the dead bodies of the martyred cadets in the attack on the Police Training Academy in Quetta. Even if one tries to justify the legitimacy of such issues by claiming that Gwadar and Quetta are ‘remote’ areas, why is there a shortage of ambulances in Karachi and in other developed cities of Pakistan? Apart from the ...

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Is it ethical for doctors to accept gifts from big pharmaceutical companies?

A little over a decade ago, as a new and idealistic intern at Jinnah Hospital, Lahore, I was determined to put the patients first at this important juncture of my professional life. I was warmly greeted, to my surprise, by pharmaceutical representatives who were trying to increase sales of their medications. In the next few months, there was a weekly educational lecture given by a pharmaceutical company representative followed by a free lunch. The company selected the medication they wanted to promote in these sessions; physicians picked the menu. I realise, looking back, that my practice of medicine was very ...

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It’s about time we talk about suicide

A few months ago, I received a frantic phone call from a friend. He told me his 11-year-old son tried to hang himself. This was not the first time; he had made similar attempts in the past, and also had a history of harming himself. Luckily, the parents had intervened just in time and saved him before it was too late. The father consulted me over the phone – he was broken, and was desperately in search of an answer. He wanted to devise a plan of action that could save his child from further attempts. After many possible interventions, we drafted ...

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Why did the doctors of Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital refuse to treat a transgender patient?

Recently, in Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital, a victim of a gunshot wound was left unattended for three hours. The patient was critically injured and the doctors refused to administer treatment. Moreover, the hospital staff was callous and impertinent. The victim’s name was Adnan. The whole incident sounds unreasonable, doesn’t it? Why would the doctors refuse to touch a patient? Why would the hospital staff point and laugh at a dying person? Well, Adnan is a transgender person. The entire transgender community in Pakistan has had to endure repeated verbal, physical and sexual abuse. I felt particularly sorry when I learned my medical peers were involved in an act ...

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If my father dies, I will hold Islamabad’s Shifa International responsible for his death

As I write this, my father is fighting for his life, unconscious with a ventilator pumping oxygen into his frail body from a makeshift tank in the surgical step-down of supposedly one of the best health facilities in this unfortunate country, the Shifa International Hospital of Islamabad. But my father was not like this a couple of days ago. He came to this hospital expecting humanity, civility, hospitality, professionalism and some refined attitude. None of his expectations were met and instead he nearly lost his life. As his bed was being darted into the ICU, he was unconscious and heartbroken. He had ...

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“Could I have done more?” – A psychiatrist’s struggle with patient suicide

It’s a story I feel compelled to tell. It may be therapeutic for me and possibly for others as well. It’s a story that needs to be told. But I hesitate. I fear the stigma. I am afraid of being judged. I fear breaking the silence. I ruminate about the potential repercussions. What if I, a psychiatrist, wrote about my own emotional conundrum after a patient chose to end his life? Can I open the private vault of personal grief that filled me with his untimely and unnatural departure? I want to narrate the tumultuous aftermath of patient suicide, the distressing combination of ...

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Breast cancer: Pakistan’s most common cancer

It was the summer of 1999, when a bunch of us, final year medical students, were attending to patients in the crowded outpatient department at the Mayo Hospital in Lahore. Our professor had called us to come see a patient in one of the consultation rooms. The patient was a young woman, no more than 35 years of age. She had come to the hospital with a large breast mass. She said that she had first felt the mass more than a year ago. After ignoring it for months, she had finally mustered the courage to talk to her husband about it. ...

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Stop criticising the Ice Bucket Challenge!

My advice, to those criticising the Ice Bucket Challenge for being a waste of water, is stop! Stop criticising long enough to understand the rare disease community and their struggles. The kind of awareness ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), has gotten over the past few weeks is the kind of well-deserved attention, I as someone who saw those closest to me suffer with a disease nobody knew off, could diagnose or had even heard off, wish and hope one day all rare diseases receive. People from all over the world have taken part in the campaign that has spread like wild fire. Celebrities ...

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Doctors in Pakistan: Sumbal, only the peptic ulcer wali bibi, not a person with feelings

Her doctor thought she was an open mouth for him to dunk pills into. Instead, she turned out to be a person with thoughts, feelings and questions that were all left unaddressed. As part of Pakistan’s tightly-knit community of doctors, it is common for us to share our horror stories about non-compliant, abusive patients with laughable misconceptions about drugs and bodily functions. We softly giggle at them mistaking left-sided abdominal pains for appendicitis, when the appendix is in fact on the right side. And the unspoken conclusion drawn each time is that a patient is too uninformed to be trusted with his own ...

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