We’re not God, we’re just doctors

Published: December 26, 2013

We, as doctors, need nothing from our patients except for their faith and trust in us. That is our reward. PHOTO: REUTERS

You must have heard stories about doctors or hospital staff giving the ‘wrong’ injections and blood transfusions which were said to be the cause of death. Although I agree that such tragic mishaps do happen in the field of medicine, I assure you that most doctors would not do anything deliberately to harm a patient.

My maid once told me that her nephew had been admitted into the hospital due to some critical illness. Her eyes widened in fear as she told me the way the doctors applied pressure on his rib cage, almost as if trying to kill him, when according to her his condition was not that critical at the moment.

On probing further, I found out that the doctors were pressing the boy’s rib-cage only to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation in order to save his life.

I was appalled that she was telling me that her nephew had been admitted with a critical illness and that he was not critical when the doctors applied pressure to his chest – all in the same sentence. This shows how unaware and distrustful our public really is.

In another instance, during one of my house jobs, a Canadian family admitted their child to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) in our hospital. The child had been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome and was suffering from severe pulmonary hypertension. Needless to say, the child was critically ill.

I was on duty as the house officer along with a senior doctor, when the child began to experience difficulty in breathing and started to hyperventilate. Rather than trusting the doctors to help save the child, his father started screaming at the doctors on duty that that he would kill them if something unfortunate happened to his child.

I was shocked because I would have expected more understanding from someone who has lived abroad. Unfortunately, these people may have had brilliant degrees but they lacked the basic skills of etiquette and cooperation. He knew that his child was in a critical condition but instead of accepting reality and appreciating the efforts of the medical team, he began to blame and threaten the doctors.

As doctors, people often argue with us about the administration of intravenous fluid for a child with no visible signs of dehydration. Yes, they have a right to question us in order to enhance their own knowledge, but when their tone becomes accusatory, I feel disheartened as a doctor.

I was talking about this discouragement with the nutritionist at the hospital I work in and she told me about her own experience,

 “Working at The Children’s Complex in Multan as a nutritionist has been an eye opener for me. Amna, a one-year-old baby girl, was among the many patients who were victims of malnutrition simply because their mothers believe in age-old myths and wrong ideologies regarding diet.

Although I counselled the mother and told her that her child needed complementary feed, she refused because her mother-in-law had forbidden her, saying that it causes pneumonia. After many pleas and explanations, she did start giving her child the complementary feed but God knows whether she continues it at home where the authority lies with her misguided mother-in-law.”

As I listened to her, I felt hopeless because as doctors we face such incidents daily. Obviously it hurts me and my colleagues a lot and does have its impact on our efficacy and morale. But although I often want to escape from such a negative and ungrateful environment, I also think this is the best opportunity given to us to serve humanity since in our small ways we are trying to educate people and improve their lives.

Another friend told us about the negativity for our profession from another angle. She told us about receiving threats from representatives of the government and local bodies. These officials even pass comments like,

Koi ahsaan thori hai. Tankhowa lete ho us tax se jo hum dete hein.  Nokar ho tum sarkar ke hamare liye.

(You’re not doing us a favour. You get paid from the taxes that we pay. You are a servant of the government for us.)

Although these threats and comments disturb and scare us, we still try to do our duty responsibly in spite of working in such an unsafe environment.

I have a humble request to make from people who think that doctors are their enemies.

Most doctors have knowledge and practise and we try our best to restore the health of our patients.  But we are not God. Contrary to what people think sometimes, we are usually not responsible for the death of their loved ones.

Don’t we all believe that death is a natural event and it is pre-destined? Then, why are doctors blamed if the patient dies even after they do everything to save that patient?

Believe me, the death of a patient hurts us as well while their survival and revival brings us joy, strength and hope.

Have you ever given a thought to who doctors really are?

We work hard all year round, even on all gazetted holidays often without any compensation. We have to do up to 30 consecutive hours of work without any break. And yet, we struggle on because we feel that this is our duty to mankind. We, as doctors, need nothing from our patients except for their faith and trust. That is our biggest reward.

There are good and bad people in every profession. So, instead of generalising, we should short-list the doctors that malpractice and revoke their license in order to make sure that this profession remains rooted to its noble origins.

So, please believe us when we say that we are maseehas (helpers) and not qatils (killers).

Our aim and promise is to help humanity under all circumstances.

Saadia Khan

Saadia Khan

A paediatric resident at the Children's Hospital and Institute of Child Health, Multan, she has a keen interest in preventative paediatric medicine and community work, and tweets [email protected] (twitter.com/drkhanchc).

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

  • Dureen A Anwer

    Firstly, when you wrote “does have its impact on our efficacy and moral” you meant moralE right? The editor should have corrected this.

    Now back to the topic. I couldn’t agree more with you. As a doctor’s wife I can tell you that its extremely difficult to be in the medicine profession not only for the doctors themselves but for their family members as well. We have to compromise on everything so that our loved ones (doctors) can be at the hospital to save lives.

    I have been married for almost 6 years now. When I got married to my husband, he was doing his house job. I can tell you one thing that till date there has not been a SINGLE eid when my hubby didn’t have to go to the hospital. But I try not to complain thinking that okay at least one of us is doing something for the community.

    But yes when people disrespect doctors by generalizing them as murderers and money minting machines, I hate it.

    Thankfully, none of my husband’s patients have ever complained or disrespected him but there have been instances of relatives and friends mocking his profession. I was seriously irritated when a semi-literate relative of ours started ranting about how he can’t trust doctors because they weren’t able to figure out what’s wrong with him until one of our cousins figured out that he was allergic to gluten. This cousin is also a doctor by the way.

    And we need to accept the fact that at times with over lapping symptoms or missing symptoms, it does become difficult for doctors to figure out the real cause behind a problem. While it might be frustrating for the patient, at the end of the day doctor is not God who would have instant answers for everything.

    What I am trying to say here is that yes like the writer said there are some black sheep in every herd, but that doesn’t mean all doctors are corrupt and killers.

    Show some respect and learn to empathize. Contrary to popular belief, its not easy being a doctor!Recommend

  • HumblePakistani

    Pakistani doctors are very arrogant…..heck their arrogance starts the day they gain admission to medical school and become part of the club.Recommend

  • Founder @ Ephlux Insights

    Perception is based on marketing. Talk less about the bad and focus on the good. Come out with a newsletter once a week on all the cute babies born in your hospital, lives saved and extended. Get a hold of Brainchild Communications to handle your social media PR. Then the people with the money will give you preference. The hammering of PR will convince them you are saints. Play the market and get rewarded.Recommend

  • Nishtarian

    I agree with most of this. As I’m doing house job myself, I see myself in these situations all the time. However, there is one problem that lies with the doctors as well, in my experience. Namely, callousness. Doctors here are callous and completely dismissing of the patient and patient rights, with none of the ethical considerations followed.
    You can see that when people here are not told about any treatment options, even when they are available. I KNOW that the patient might choose the wrong option, given that patients in public hospitals are either idiots or illiterate, but it builds a bit of trust. The current paradigm of patient treatment is very authoritative and no one likes being questioned, so this attitude trickles down from the professors right up to the house officers.
    This situation needs to be changed as well. We are *NOT* god. We should not be treated like one. We also shouldn’t act like one either.

    This, of course, is not a complete solution, but it is the one that doctors can implement. There’s a reason we have the hippocratic oath.Recommend

  • reema arshad

    beautiful piece!!!!
    n yes at all blame lies with the doctors, the patients and their relatives should also start humanising the doctors and especially the medical staff i.e nurses and ward boys etc.
    as they are treated worst than doctors.Recommend

  • Farhan Ujager

    I didn’t bother to read this article, doctors are butchers and they have nothing to do with humanity. They sell their services like others and no reason of getting arrogant. Ill mannered and untrained stuff adds fuel to fire. For God sake, go for the introspection and be realistic. Majority of people from this profession making it pathetic.Recommend

  • javeria

    I completely agree with you. the patients and their families need to be more understanding. people out there need to understand that a doctor’s ife in Pakistan is the toughest by far. Despite that we choose this profession and unlike the rest, work within our country, for our people. So a little co-operation by the patients would be highly appreciated.Recommend

  • javeria

    you are being quite judgemental here. not every doctor is arrogant.Recommend

  • meemee

    what do we call those who clean our wash rooms and homes ? they get a much lower salary than you, are poor, malnutritioned and not considered humans by us?
    I have a personal experience of these so called doctors who are heartless. would you like to listen to my account? I am sure you won’t !!!!Recommend

  • M.Umair Masood

    As a Dr’s son I completely agree with the author. Unfortunately the media in our country has a large hand in denigrating the medical profession, turning even simple mistakes into malpractice issues. I know of atleast 2 cases in Jinnah Hospital Lhr when the relatives of patients who were brought in at the verge of death instead of realising their own shortfall in delaying their patients treatments began to beat up & blame the medical staff & the channels reported these cases as malpractice issues.Recommend

  • M.Umair Masood

    That is in all honesty a load of hooey! Try being a dr or a dr’s family member to realise just how tough these guys have it in their professional lives. I’m glad my mother steered me to become a chartered accountant instead of a dr. I’d never have been able to deal with people like this comment’s poster.Recommend

  • tungi

    yes we are arrogant and we demand respect!nai do gae to off we fly!!

    seriously, we are as pakistanis as every one else!aliens nai hain hum!Recommend

  • Parvez

    I thought that was nicely written and you have a strong point.
    Like with most things the bad aspects, though small and far in between, are magnified. While the loads of good that happens daily is almost taken for granted.Recommend

  • Ammar

    I think we have following problems in our society…
    1. Lack of Trust in our professionals abilities(being a Pakistani),
    2. Lack of information and knowledge that leads to hypothetical myths,
    3. Frustration being living in Pakistani society,
    4. Poverty basic root of all problems,
    5. VIP culture, that injects a Inferiority complex among common citizen.

    Many such other negative things to follow…Recommend

  • HumblePakistani

    Now we are having a lecture about how difficult it is to be a doctor’s wife and how we should continue lionizing Pakistan’s arrogant and mediocre doctors.Recommend

  • Syed Mubeen Hussain Sabzwari

    not all but some!Recommend

  • Dante

    I guess you have a homeopathy or hikmat business set up somewhere in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Dante

    About the “wrong injections”, here’s an interesting tidbit. Even in American hospitals, administering one patient’s medications to another is not all that uncommon. Mistakes happen and they will always happen, everywhere. We can try out best to avoid but it’s a reality of life. Most mistakes are innocuous, but some can be lethal.Recommend

  • Ali S

    I’m a MBBS student too, but you have to understand that if the patient is paying a ridiculous sum of money to get treatment from a reputable doctor at some high-end private hospital who act like they’re doing the patient a favour by seeing them (visit a specialist consultant at Aga Khan Hospital and you’ll know what I mean), then I think I can understand some frustration on part of the patient.

    But you’re right, the culture of entitlement goes both ways to the patient and the doctor. The same patient gets himself checked by a doctor abroad without a peep, and the same doctor will be working abroad decently with due diligence. It must be something to do with this country’s work culture that makes them behave this way.Recommend

  • Anthony

    My mother was admitted in serious condition to Liaquat Memorial in Karachi. For 10 hours she was on a stretcher in the Emergency Ward with NO one attending to her because they had ‘too many patients to attend to’. You know when my mum got attended to? When I – going against my own morals – called a friend to help. She in turn got a friend who was a board member at LM to intervene and within 3 minutes a swarm of doctors were available to see my mother. You know what’s worse? I was told thank God my mum was brought to the hospital in time.

    It gets better: before I made that call to my friend, I tried speaking to some doctors in the emergency ward. One of them didn’t even bother looking up from his paper when I addressed him with ‘good evening I have a question about my mum’. In fact, when I asked ‘when can she be seen’, he replied (without looking at me once) ‘soon’. When I I complained to him that I’m not coming free I’m paying for my mum’s treatment, he laughed and walked away.

    So, I really do sympathise with you, author, but try explaining your POV to those who’ve really been ignored and badly managed by hospitals in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Dureen A Anwer

    LOL well your comment is adequate to proof who is arrogant enough to call others mediocre :)Recommend

  • Parhakoo

    Very well observed and equally well written doctor, thank you.Recommend

  • humblepakistani

    My comments are based on the prideful nature of pakistani doctors and their penchant for always showing off their money and their mediocre performance in their own fields. Doctor wives also suffer from same disease.Recommend

  • humblepakistani

    They choose to go into that profession for money and status. That would be fine if they didn’t mock those who makes less than them, like chartered accountants.Recommend

  • Ayisha

    I just want to raise an issue over here. I agree doctors are not butchers but yet they are in a way qatils, when they go on strikes for an increase in their salaries and patients die then who is to be blamed?. and by the way i haven’t seen a single doctor who go on strike for poor sanitary conditions in hospitals, lack of technological equipments. doctors are just materialistic that’s what i have deciphered from the doctors’ strikes.Recommend

  • Ayisha

    I just want to raise an issue over here. I agree doctors are not butchers but yet they are in a way qatils, when they go on strikes for an increase in their salaries and patients die then who is to be blamed?. and by the way i haven’t seen a single doctor who go on strike for poor sanitary conditions in hospitals, lack of technological equipments. doctors are just materialistic that’s what i have deciphered from the doctors’ strikes.Recommend

  • khan

    well sir, i agree please dont come to doctors , go for actual butchers in case of any need.Recommend

  • Fizza

    Thumbs up to the author. Unfortunately, people will still call you arrogant and biased. I am a doctor too, and while working as a house officer, i can clearly recall three occasions in the pediatrics ward alone where once I was threatened because a mother did not feed her child with a cup and spoon and instead gave him milk from a bottle whence he choked, another time when a critically ill child came and did not survive and his father started calling people who had weapons, and the third was with another very very dedicated doctor who used to take rounds in the middle of the night but was beaten very harshly because the child who expired in his care had relatives who belonged to a very influential political party. In each instance there was not one thing that was missed by the doctors. Doctors don’t think they are Gods, unfortunately those who bring their patients in expect us to cure everything like we are(God). There are bad people in every profession, but its highly unfair to generalize it when we give our hundred percent to our work.Recommend

  • Farhan Ujager

    Nice sense of humour, its hard to imagine and realize when your dear ones are at death bed bcz of these stupid people. Its a ill logical reply from you bcz u don’t realize the gravity of the problem and the problem is when these butchers don’t know the meaning life, the most precious gift from God. Recommend

  • meemee

    what do we do with our teachers? reflect.Recommend

  • Confused

    Will any sane person invest his precious time to enlighten me, If all doctors are not hypocrites and heartless then why they all behave differently to the same patient at their private clinic and public hospital?Recommend

  • Half_life

    I agree with the article. I have seen my brother (who is a peads specialist) going through disturbed sleeping patterns because of his night duties and he has not being able to attend alot of occasions he was supposed to be a part of but he never complained that he is tired or he can’t take it anymore of this profession. The only damn thing he ever complained about was attitude and behavior of patients. The only thing disturbs him is when people really start giving him torture. People in the comments section are Mashallah blaming doctors but as the writer mentioned my brother also discussed with me how sometimes people can be parhy likhy jahil. Taking your own son, brother or family member to a stupid hakeem first and bringing it later on to a hospital. even if something happens, who is to blame? the doctor (and now your own jahalat at first place).
    If you are from banking, teaching, engineering, or any other profession and people ask you about something related to your field. Its because ” they dont know your field and they are asking for knowledge”…but if you are a doctor and someone asks you something about your field “They are actually TESTING your knowledge because somewhere in their minds they consider themselves nothing less than a doctor” and as soon as you say something that didnt match to “their limited knowledge” . They’ll tag you as… “Oye aay ty doctor hee jaali ha” lol… Funny are our people :)Recommend

  • Dureen A Anwer

    Aww no need to be so bitter. One day you’ll be rich, successful and intelligent as well :) Oh no wait, only money and success can be earned not intellect. However you can try your luck with wisdom, just try to be a little open minded and you might actually become wise with time and experience.Recommend

  • Dureen A Anwer

    LMAO you almost talk as if a doctor rejected your proposal :DRecommend

  • Arsalan

    A small correction, from one doctor to another.
    Indeed death is a natural event but it is not pre destined. Death is inevitable but avertable.
    worked in JPMC, believe me when I say this that most of the time it is
    the fault on part of a doctor’s behaviour for creating a distrustful
    perception in the eyes of the patients.Recommend

  • shafiq khan

    Yes you are right in most of the things you related as an explanation. However you must admit, the quality of doctors training is inadequate if not questionable. The equipment available in most of the private medical schools is more suited to the 19th. Century rather than the 21st. Century. The attitude and bed manners of the poorly trained doctors is abominable. In the Pakistani culture they consider t hemselves above t he patients. A higher social group born to dictate rather than to serve. So do not blame the people especially woefully informed and those who had not had the privileges the doctors have had.
    The admissions are based on the parents wealth rather than the ability of the studentsadmitted. It is unfortunately a part of a middle class daughter’s dawery rather than the academic rigueur to have a medical degree.
    The responses you enlisted are a function of poor professional standards and uncaring attitude officious persona of the pakistani doctors.
    Why is it that those who can afford it go abroad for medical treatment? They vote with their feet in the trust of home produced doctors. Yes theircare able doctors but in a sick culture you can expect culturally sick people as patients.
    Sad but true. Change your manners and be trustworthy helpers.

  • Farwa Manekia

    Being a current medical student, We all begin our journey in medicine by taking an oath that we would strive at our best of knowledge and skill to restore patients health and will respect there secrecy. I do realize that there are certain doctors who have played there roles in staining the reputation of the field, but most of us, majority of us strive to save lives.
    Contrary to it, the reactions from the loved ones of the patient are expected and understandable because of the feeling, we call concern. But lets just respect the field and those who restore health everyday.Recommend

  • sane

    “I assure you that most doctors would not do anything deliberately to harm a patient.”

    What is the percentage of those merciful doctors and those who are merciless and deliberately let a patient die. Is this 51 and 49 ratio?Recommend

  • S.Tirmizi

    Well being a software engineering student I’ve experienced MBBS students ko izzat milti hai (they really get respect) comparatively to engineering students and yeah it hurts a lot, mehnat tou hum bhi buhat kartay hain (we also do hard work).Recommend

  • Guest

    Just a few days ago, my mother had an appointment with a ‘specialist’ at his clinic for PKR 1500 for a measly FIVE MINUTES in which he did not even read her case history and prescribed her a medicine very similar to the one she is allergic too. A mistake the pharmacist easily pointed out on reading the formulas of the drugs… at no cost.

    These specialists (whose specialty seems to be making money) need to be reigned in, any one charging over PKR 1000 for 20 minutes of consultation should have his/her license revoked by PMDC.Recommend

  • Madiha

    when you wrote “adequate to proof” you meant “adequate to prove” right?Recommend

  • Dureen A Anwer

    Yes! Thanks for the correction :)Recommend

  • Nishant

    “Well being a software engineering student I’ve experienced MBBS students ko izzat milti hai (they really get respect) comparatively to engineering students and yeah it hurts a lot, mehnat tou hum bhi buhat kartay hain (we also do hard work).”

    this reminds me of a joke, a heart specialist called in a mechanic to repair his car, the mechanic while tending the car, asked the doctor ” why do you make millions, when you and i do similar jobs of fixing things up”
    the doctor simply said to him, “try fixing the car next time, with the engine running, and make sure it does not stop even for a second”Recommend