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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 15  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 156-157

Patients who taught me

Gandhiji Health and Development Centre, Latehar, Jharkhand, India

Date of Web Publication18-May-2017

Correspondence Address:
Jeevan Kuruvilla
Gandhiji Health and Development Centre, Barwadih, Latehar - 822 111, Jharkhand
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cmi.cmi_28_17

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How to cite this article:
Kuruvilla J. Patients who taught me. Curr Med Issues 2017;15:156-7

How to cite this URL:
Kuruvilla J. Patients who taught me. Curr Med Issues [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 May 24];15:156-7. Available from: https://www.cmijournal.org/text.asp?2017/15/2/156/206518

Patients teach us a lot about life. I'm thankful for these patients, whose lives have instilled qualities in me which I value very much. I'm sure that the stories I have encountered are not one-off incidents - these are stories that are common all over India, especially in rural regions, even today. Here is one such incident.

This incident occurred during my previous stint at Nav Jivan Hospital, which is a mission hospital in Satbarwa, Jharkhand. Ms. RK was a 9-year-old girl who came to us with a perforated intestine, most probably following enteric fever. In my estimation, the family did not look poor or unable to afford surgery at our place. The treatment which included surgery went on without any hitches. Their total bill had come to around 12,000 INR. Since there were no complications and the admission period was uneventful, we did not remember much about RK and her family.

Not until about 6 months later.

I had been part of setting up a TB Clinic at another hospital about 100 miles away from our place. I usually traveled to this place by jeep early morning. In one of the trips, I stopped at a wayside shack for tea early in the morning, when this middle-aged man who was making the tea came out of his shop and touched my feet. He told me that we had saved his daughter's life some time back.

I could not place the identity of the family till RK came running out from behind the shack. The shack comprised mainly of four heavy pieces of wood in the corners and plastic sheets and sackcloth dividing the space into three rooms. Bricks were arranged in a very haphazard manner to make the outer walls. It took me some time to recognize RK and was surprised at the severe poverty, in which the family lived. The father was ready with the tea. As I sipped the tea on that cold winter morning, I asked the father how he was able to pay our bill 6 months back, considering the poverty he was in. I was in for a shock.

The father replied, “We had seen better times till RK fell sick. By the time, we reached your hospital, we had already spent about 20,000 for RK's treatment. It was just after planting our crops that RK fell sick. So, I did not have any money with me. Therefore, we had to take a loan from the local money lender. Unfortunately, the crops failed because of a poor monsoon. We had to sell our home and the little land that we had to repay the moneylender. After that, our life has been this shack.” He took me about 50 m down the road and pointed to a hut, much better than their present residence and told me that they used to live there before RK fell sick.

We had to sell our home and the little land that we had to repay the money lender. After that, our life has been this shack.

The winter appeared to sort of envelope me in a terrible chill when I heard this. We had not even bothered to ask the family about their resources when they came to pay their bill.

The family was very thankful that their little girl did well after our treatment. There was no hint of any remorse in the father's or the family's conversation with us about the poverty they were dragged into because of their daughter's illness. But, I learned a very important lesson. I have heard only about statistics of how 40% of poverty was caused by ill-health in the family. I was seeing a real life story of one of our patients. From that time onwards, I have made it a point to inquire if our patients are selling their only possessions to pay their health-care bills. Yeah, the situation has occurred because of a poor public health-care system.

I've heard only about statistics of how 40% of poverty was caused by ill-health in the family. I was seeing a real life story of one of our patients.

I'm sure that I may be taken for a ride by many of my patients when they know about my attitude toward patients who have to sell their land or homes to pay for their treatment. However, I believe that there will be genuine patients who will be benefited for life if we inquire about where their resources come from. The ultimate answer would be to push for a well-oiled and competent public health-care system. But till that happens, mission hospitals like ours can make a difference in the lives of at least few of such families.

About the author: Dr. Jeevan Kuruvilla (MD. Community Medicine) and his wife Dr. Angeline Zachariah, serve with the Claretians Missionaries in a remote part of Jharkhand. He had been with the Emmanuel Hospital Association from 2003 to 2014 where he served at Nav Jivan Hospital, Satbarwa and Kachhwa Christian Hospital, Kachhwa. The couple are into primary care for marginalized people groups in Palamu region and have also been involved in exploring alternative livelihoods and improving nutrition in the community with emphasis on traditional diet.

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There are no conflicts of interest.


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