LIFE ABROAD – Part 39: DOCTOR, GOD, OR MAN?
Posted on August 8th, 2013

Dr. Tilak Fernando

The medical men and women stand out as the crƒÆ’†’¨me of any society who are regarded and graded as ‘God’ in human form because unlike butchers who use the knife to kill, surgeons use their scalpel to cut and give life to fellow humans.

Doctors are governed by a strict code of professional ethics, and people seek their assistance with implicit faith but what happens if those professionals break the trust of the public? It will reflect ghastly if a fellow doctor colleague working in the same hospital team becomes a victim and dies due to medical negligence!

This is what exactly happened to Sri Lankan Anaesthetist Dr Sandhya Senanayake, who worked at the Basildon General Hospital, Essex in 2003 after going through a caesarean operation. She suffered a major haemorrhaging hours after her ‘delivery’ and was rushed back into operating theatre where she suffered a cardiac arrest and died.

Negligence and inadequacy

Chelmsford Coroner, Caroline Beasley-Murrey, gave her verdict as “Medical misadventure to which neglect contributed”. She further commented on the incident as “an appallingly tragic death, I cannot believe the hospital’s inadequacy”! Basildon General Hospital immediately reacted by issuing a statement confirming they would consider the coroner’s comments very seriously.

In a separate incident, a friend consulted his GP for a severe headache. The GP prescribed a powerful drug to the patient which did not help. During the second week the physician changed the type of medication maintaining it as migraine. During the fourth week the patient became totally incapacitated, so his wife went on his behalf but the GP once again put it down to ‘side effects’ of the previously used drugs and tried to change the medicine at which point the unconvinced patient’s wife requested a referral from the GP to have a CT Scan done on her husband’s head in a hospital.

The procedure in the UK is that unless one has access to private medical facilities under a reputed insurance scheme one has to go through the GP with a referral to any specialist in the NHS. Similarly it is Law in the UK for a GP to refer patients to a specialist or a hospital after three failed attempts of treatment for the same complaint! Despite such regulations the haughty General Practitioner ignored the patient’s wife’s request and barked at her stating: “There’s nothing seriously wrong with your husband’s head!”.

Out of the frying pan into fire

After so much of vexation with the GP, and finally her determination to obtain a referral for husband to get a CT scan done in a hospital was finally successful but the patient had to mark time for another fortnight before he could be accommodated by the hospital!

In the midst of such a hullabaloo my wife and I visited the patient at his home to find him in agony. Buried his head under a pillow he was hiccupping and puking. Having seen the distressed situation we summoned an ’emergency doctor on-call’ who ordered an ambulance immediately with instructions to rush him to the nearest hospital in Wimbledon, South West of London.

At 10.55 pm the patient was taken into to the Accident and Emergency Unit of the neurology base- hospital but the patient had to lie on the stretcher till the following morning unattended! At 8.30 am on the following morning a blood sample of the patient was taken and sent to the laboratory for tests and his wife was advised that nothing could be done until the report arrived. Since we had broken rest the whole of previous night at patient’s bedside (stretcher really!) we proceeded to our friend’s house until such time some news arrived from the hospital after the blood test.

Around 10 am the patient phoned his wife and informed her that the hospital could not find anything wrong with him, as such he was discharged, which meant we had to go and collect him from the hospital.

When I reached the hospital I found him queuing up at the pharmacy to collect some medicine prescribed to him. Making him relax I took his position in the queue for nearly 45 minutes during which period the patient became sick once again.

Due to the long time lag in picking the patient from the ward my wife had walked into the ward and made enquires about the discharged patient where no one could tell his whereabouts! Only a vague answer had confirmed that he had been discharged. However, using her commonsense she walked towards the pharmacy area to find the patient lying down on four chairs and quite sick.

Immediately she summoned the Registrar who was in charge of the ward and gave him a piece of her mind about what the patient had to undergo all along. Unlike in Sri Lanka Doctors, Surgeons and Registrars in the UK are professionals with no narcissisms about them. The Registrar apologised profusely on behalf of the hospital and the patient was re-admitted to the ward. Having done all that, he personally attended to all the paper work to prepare the patient for a head-scan and advised that the scanning would be done at 15 hours.

Suspense in London

Result of the scan revealed that the patient was suffering from subdural-haematoma (bleeding from underneath the brain) which triggered an emergency operation by drilling two holes through his skull and draining out the blood!

The operation lasted a few hours and in a dark, cold, sombre night where a single Kobeyya (ill-omened bird) spotted by the patient’s wife in the hospital compound raised all our fears though it was a superstitious belief to have a sight of a single Kobeyya in that manner.

The patient recovered from the operation and was sent home after three days. However, within a week the patient had a relapse and once more having gone through a tedious procedure, hospital authorities decided to operate on him for the second time to remove some residue (blood) from the first operation.

In the evening a young Asian house officer (probably during his intern period) struggled to fix a cannula into the patient’s dorsal side of the hand but missing the nerve on multiple of attempts. At one point the frustrated patient requested some ‘experienced staff’ to fix the cannula stating the house officer was hurting him too much! Embarrassed young medico fixed the cannula and secured it with a dressing and fixed the IV line before the patient was transferred to the teaching hospital for the 2nd operation.

On the following morning it was revealed that a nurse had observed the saline drip in a stationary position. When, out of curiosity, the dressing was removed they found the cannula had been inserted into the tissue instead of the vein by the young HO which inflamed the patient’s dorsal side of the patient’s arm. Although it was illegal to operate on a patient without the due consent of the next of kin, in the second instance the surgeon had taken a chance of performing the operation for the second time to save patient’s life.

By a stroke of good fortune patient is still among the living, but it was a seen as a traumatising experience for the patient’s family due to unprofessional behaviour on the part of a medical team starting from the arrogant or the ignorant General Practitioner. The patient could have easily sued the whole line of medical men who were responsible for professional misconduct in this case for a tidy sum if he ever took the case up legally.

A few days ago I was appalled to hear of a female ‘specialist dermatologist’ at the Ayurveda hospital in Borella bellowing at a young male patient, (who is on holiday here from the UK) when undergoing treatment in a paying ward for a severe eczema condition (the patient could not even move freely due to dried up and a sore skin condition), and coming out with uncouth remarks such as “you are foul-smelling and I can’t treat you”!

This being an incident that took place in a private ward auxiliaries naturally followed suit which made the patient’s mother who was equally subjected to unwarranted denigration from this ‘specialist’ (which I must say was a total ignominy to the entire medical profession) removed her son to a Private Hospital in Colombo for treatment after making a challenging complaint to the medical officer( in my presence) who looked after the patients in that particular ward – Needless to say he was nonplussed to hear such gobbledygook coming out of someone wearing the label of ‘specialist in dermatology’.

If this is the level of treatment patients get out of private fee paying wards at Ayurveda Hospital in Borella, public is inclined to wonder what level of treatment a common man or a woman could expect out of such conceited pieces of humanity who adorn white overalls but forgetting their commitment, dedication and devotion to help the sick and the infirm.

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