When ‘playing doctor’ is more than just a children’s game

Published: August 25, 2013
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Self-medication is fatal, and can at times lead to severe consequences. PHOTO: REUTERS

Pakistanis are known as the most versatile people on the planet. Each person thinks they have it all covered; they have enough knowledge to handle all the tasks like a pro. However, what really gets on my nerves the most is our well-read (not) fellow countrymen’s ability to diagnose a disease and prescribe the best totka or medicine to combat ‘that disease’.

For me, it all began when I started getting fever every evening. Initially, I did not give it much thought but when I started losing weight gradually, some acquaintances decided to begin their diagnostic practices on me. Measles, viral fever, malaria, iodine deficiency etc. were on the list of detected diseases — after my case was studied, of course. Apparently, just detection wasn’t enough, so they also forced me to take the drugs they recommended for these ailments.

Eventually, I consulted a real doctor who ran some tests that revealed that I had typhoid – not measles or dengue as some of my well wishers vehemently believed I had. The day my relatives found out about my illness, the phone was bombarded with phone calls and I got tired of scribbling down the most bizarre herbal or desi totkay.

One of my relatives went as far as to advise me to shave my head to prevent hair loss after typhoid!

While these peculiar home remedies were annoying and irritating, the efforts my family made actually showed how much they cared about me — and I did eventually realise this, however, I don’t know if they and many like them understand that sometimes self-medication can be fatal.

My 24-year-old cousin was falling sick every other day and his mother started giving him pills for fever, instead of sending him to a doctor, because popular opinion dictated so. Eventually, we found out that he had measles.

It is common knowledge that there is no medical cure for measles; the illness takes its own time to subside and medicine only worsens the case. That’s exactly what happened to him. After a few days, he had a really bad headache. His mother gave him a painkiller and just as he swallowed it, he fainted. He was rushed to the hospital. Doctors ran some tests on him and found that his brain had been badly damaged, and within two days he had succumbed to his ailment.

People should remember that self-medication can be very dangerous. One should consult a professional doctor when the need arises. That is the only proper and quickest route to recovery since this is what doctors are trained to do.

 

kulsoom.inam

Kulsoom Inam

A sub-editor for the web desk at The Express Tribune

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Confused

    YAWN …zzZZRecommend

  • qaisar

    When all the qualified doctors give symptomatic treatment and not interesting in diagnostic then what should be done by a conman man who also know the name and symptoms of treatment Recommend

  • Parvez

    Absolutely agree, very sound advice…………the catch is that most people ( and I am not talking about the affluent lot ) can not afford to pay the doctor let alone the cost of medicines, so for them it is difficult. The medical profession especially the large pharma companies could think a little more of the human side and not just their profits.
    Recommend

  • Asif Rasheed

    Hello dear writer,
    I am realy grateful to you for writing this. I think even a more horrible picture is required to be portrayed as great proporton of literate upper middle class is in the habit of self medication. The more the delay in going to a doctor, more confused becomes the picture of the disease for treating physician. Such a habit not only delays the diagnosis but it can lead to rapid progression of the disease process. A self limiting disease might halt on its own, it is a progressive disease which when goes untreated or mistreated may cause a LIFE at risk. Thankyou.
    Asif Rasheed. I am doing my Post graduate Fellowship FCPS Residency in General Surgery at a Government Hospital Rawalpindi.Recommend

  • http://[email protected] Noor Basha

    nyce write up and equally informativ one , same is the case with me but now onwards i will rush to a doctor in such cases Recommend

  • SomeOne

    From the history you just described about the diseases, the diagnosis was obvious, even for a medical student. Measles and typhoid are the bread and butter for doctors. Each area/locality no matter how remote it is, has some local GPs, with a reasonable low fee, one should consider them before starting his self medicine. People in our setup usually visit doctors only when situation gets worst and then the doctor is blamed for all the misfortune! :/
    Measles+ Aspirin(or other pain killer like paracetamol)= deathly outcome! :/ Recommend

  • Indian

    Terrible about your cousin who died.Feel sorry for his parents.Recommend

  • Azmat

    Misleading title. Recommend

  • Parvez

    I did comment …….. but it was disallowed……..possibly because I criticised the big pharma companies. Whats up ET ????
    Recommend

  • http://NewYork Jibran

    Nothing special. You just compiled common sense, which you probably learnt the hard way.Recommend

  • Nimra

    Neem hakeem khatra e jaan !!!Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Pakistanis are at all times, politicians, analysts, security expert, scholars, doctors and sports coaches. Because they feel like they have seem enough of it to earn the label of “expert”. Recommend

  • Anonymous

    In some people, the enzymes that metabolize the Aspirin, among various other drugs, are slow and hence the possibility of adverse reactions is increased. Seems like your cousin suffered from Reye’s Syndrome ;a common outcome in children with measles who are self medicated with aspirin.
    Also, please help spread the awareness that a disease not having a cure does not, in any way, mean that it can’t be managed perfectly otherwise. Measles care is established and depends upon the stage and complication it is accompanied with. Don’t suggest that people wait it out at homes because “it takes it to me to subside”Recommend

  • Insaan

    There is no specific treatment for measles. Most patients with uncomplicated measles will recover with rest and supportive treatment. It is, however, important to seek medical advice if the patient becomes more unwell, as they may be developing complications. Complications may include bronchitis, acute encephalitis and – very rarely – panencephalitis, which is usually or always fatal.

    Source WIKIPEDIARecommend

  • Nishant

    This is unfortunately the culture here. Lot of people in fact act smart and ask the chemist himself for the medication.
    The reason being the long waiting lines at the doctor, and expensive consultation fee. Recommend

  • Anon

    Pakistanis are at all times, politicians, analysts, security expert, scholars, doctors and sports coaches. Because they feel like they have seem enough of it to earn the label of “expert”. Recommend

  • Anon

    In some people, the enzymes that metabolize the Aspirin, among various other drugs, are slow and hence the possibility of adverse reactions is increased. Seems like your cousin suffered from Reye’s Syndrome ;a common outcome in children with measles who are self medicated with aspirin.

    Also, please help spread the awareness that a disease not having a cure does not, in any way, mean that it can’t be managed perfectly otherwise. Measles care is established and depends upon the stage and complication it is accompanied with. Don’t suggest that people wait it out at homes because “it takes it to me to subside”Recommend

  • Anon

    Nishant, are you really labeling the cost of health in our country as too much?
    How much, or even more appropriate, what proportions of their annual income do people save up for one of the important part of their lives- the health. Health has never been the priority. Look at annual health expenditure per capita and you’ll see what I am talking about. You can’t spare 10-20000 per annum for health, while buying a cell phone is okay. We need to re-prioritize big time!Recommend

  • SJ

    @Azmat:
    Hmm!! what did you have in your mind when you read ‘playing doctors’?Recommend

  • M. Saleem Akhtar Bodla

    Undoubtedly, it’s terrible dilemma of the society_ especially, upper-class. Once, even many criticized the country-men for such treatments. However, they don’t do so; even, it’s the educator-strata of life. The more they educator are; the more they’re practicing the wrong_ considering, they’re more qualified than the expert one. Must be everything done by the expert one not by so-called versatile.Recommend

  • Zaheer-ul-Bari

    First of all , a very good article . I really appreciate the way you shared your experience . I believe we ignore to consult with professional doctors because the money we spend on our health is considered as “Waste” among some of our educated-illiterate community . The second reason may be that we all have 1 granny or an aged uncle who always stops us from using proper medications through constinously mentioning that “In our era , we had never use any medicines , we always use our desi-totkay, they are best and result-oriented” .
    However , some of the greedy doctors have also played a bit role by giving slow medication to patients so that patient will come to them more than one time so they would be able to earn more fees . Some of them also use improper medicines in order to earn commission from the supplier, which does not help patient to recover from his disease and at last, patient accepts to adopt “desi-totkay” .Recommend

  • M. Saleem Akhtar Bodla

    Undoubtedly, it’s terrible societal-dilemma_ especially on the part of privileged-class. However, it’s highly provoked that the country-men are practicing obnoxious or detrimental treatments. You know it’s less painful or stunning because they’re mostly uneducated and don’t afford even 10 to 20 rupees. Contrarily,the educator-strata has become more funny and hasty or self-egoistic. The more they educator are; the more they’re practicing the wrong_ considering, they’re more qualified than the expert one. But actually, everything must be done by the expert one not by so-called versatile.Recommend

  • Sohail khan

    @ AZMAT :DRecommend

  • Hina

    @Insaan:
    Wikipedia??? Seems the article did not influence you in the right directionRecommend

  • Insaan

    @SomeOne:
    Measles+ Aspirin(or other pain killer like paracetamol)= deathly outcome! :/

    Aspirin and paracetamol belong to 2 different classes of drugs.

    Avoid Medications Containing Aspirin during Measles.
    (Acetylsalicylate) and Aspirin-Like Products

    http://www.reyessyndrome.org/pdfs/medicationscontainingaspirin.pdf

    Paracetamol is sold as Tylenol in many countries. It does not cause same problem as Aspirin but is actually recommended for fever treatment during measles.

    Paracetamol (Tylenol) can be bad for liver if taken more then recommended doses.
    Best thing is go to the doctor.Recommend