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The gift

A few days back a close friend of mine received a gift. A large box wrapped in purple gift wrapping, ribbons and all, with a note saying “thank you doctor, from the Martins family” * (name changed to protect privacy)

A sweet gesture which a few patients still followed. A token of gratitude apart from the fees they paid and the medical bills. The medical profession has been subjected to major mud slinging in the past few years and small gestures of gratitude and appreciation mean a lot to us trying to do the best we possibly can.

But this gift was different.

“your patients must really like you.” I said, especially since I knew that many of his patients considered him family, and would get him fruits from their gardens, home made wines or cakes for Christmas, sweets on Diwali.

the patient died. She had terminal cancer, there wasn’t much that I could do. I didn’t want to take the gift, but the family insisted…” he replied

The doctor patient relationship is a tenuous one. The giver and the taker.

 It is true unlike many other professions this was one where the joy of ‘saving /curing’ was immeasurable in terms of money, and so was the gratitude on being “saved /cured” . thus leading to a ‘job satisfaction” which could not be encashed at the bank, and yet was coveted by so many from other professions.

In recent years Doctors have been relegated to ‘service care providers’
Here is the money, now do what you were supposed to do

Relatives beat up doctors, doctors turn away patients because they are unable to pay the fees, government trying to bring consumer protection laws and taxable services against doctors. Newspapers having a field day, one day reporting how doctors are being mistreated, beaten up, verbally assaulted by patients and relatives, then reporting on how the doctors on strike are doing a grave unjustice to the needy public.

Doctors disillusioned by the innumerous years of training, months of sleepless nights, years of underpay, harsh working conditions and being compared to their more “settled” classmates who opted for engineering, marketing, social media professions, or commerce courses now owning cars, houses and even retirement plans, have started to question the sanity of choosing a profession which only expects one to GIVE , until there is nothing left to give, with no expectations of any remuneration.

The environment is rife with strife.

And so when the relatives of an already dead patient, acknowledge that the doctor did all he could, are appreciative of the care and kindness their mother got in her last dying days, when even after losing someone they had such a magnanimous and large hearted attitude then it is a moment worth more than any words I can think of to explain the feeling.

When things go right , as they sometimes still do in the medical world, a lot of people take it in their stride, some are grateful still. So boxes of sweets are distrivbuted after a childs birth, or bouquet of flowers are sent to the doctor after a successful surgery. These incidents are few and far between these days, for the reason as mentioned above, doctors are just service providers, it is their job to treat, no more no less.

When things go wrong, as they sometimes do in the medical world, inspite and despite the doctors ‘best intentions’ things can become volatile. Many accept the ‘ways of God’ and the fact that there is just so much that the Doctor can do. Yet we have incidences of a man with a sickle cutting killing an obstetrician because his pregnant wife died during child birth. The fear of these incidences has made doctors turn away critical patients in the fear of backlash, they are reffered to government hospitals where the doctors and atleast the hospital is protected by the law of the government. Small nursing homes, with no guards, no security cameras, feel ‘threatened’ by the patient. What an irony that the needy is feared and care denied because of the ‘what if the patient dies, then the relatives will blame us.’ attitude.

This gift, THE gift, restored my faith in the doctor patient relationship, atleast for the time being.


If we live by these, then hopefully some day doctors will once again live without fear, will care without hindrance, and give of themselves and people will know that we did the best that we could.
As I looked at the purple box with ribbons, My heart filled with overflowing emotion.

Sure, we don’t earn as much as our engineering counterparts, sure our marketing friends own houses while many of us worry about rent, sure we don’t have pay hikes and pay packages, and company holidays and annual perks, sure we work 6 to 7 days a week, and some nights even, but when have you ever heard a ‘customer’ ever gifting an engineer a gift when the “software was not fixed or the coding not working.”  Saying thank you but I know you tried. 

Let us all strive to be that doctor a helping hand to all in need, but more importantly let us all strive to be that patient, let us lead a life of gratitude knowing the basic goodness of Humans.  


C Suresh said…
That's a chicken-and-egg situation, Kuheli! There is no denying the fact that commercial hospitals have gone in for a pay-first and pay-through-the-nose attitude to treating patients. Quite a few doctors are also into prescribing a lot of unnecessary tests etc. When this get done - and lay-people would club together everyone in a hospital into one heading and it invariably is called 'doctors' even if it is the hospital administration - it creates the impression of doctors having labeled themselves as 'service providers' like any other. In India, there is an additional tendency to not answer the questions of the relatives of the patients in full for whatever reason, which further leads to distrust which erupts when something goes wrong. With a doctor who discusses the issues in detail and is open to answering questions, regardless of the social position of the patients, I would think that this issue of patients beating them up would be much lesser if not non-existent. Yes, there is a lot of problems for the doctors from Society due to the ways it has changed but, yes, some problems get created by the way doctors behave as well.
You have portrayed the current state of affairs between the doctors and common people and visa verse very well .
I have few doctors friends who still keep the doctor -patient relationship alive by expressing their gratitude towards each others as doctor are also human beings . who love appreciated .
Have nice day doc <3.
cheers to the doctor community
Anonymous said…
Very touching gesture by the patient's family. Doctor-patient relationship has had a sea-change, at least since the advent of the Multiplexes of the Medical world, the Multi-speciality Hospital chains. It is great to know that despite the corporate nature of some these places, interpersonal interactions remain intact.I am not a doctor, but I certainly know that doctors have a demi-god like status in our society. You are right,Kuheli, they may not earn as much as ought to, but they are venerated by all and sundry.
Liked the way you took up a sensitive issue and weighed both ends... Interesting and a bit unsettling as well. :)
Sini Rachel said…
Good to read the perspective of a doctor. I never knew the fears and worries they had. It's true that medical industry as a whole need more regulations, to protect both parties. And Kuheli, software industry isn't all that soft either. I have worked in teams where everyone considered each other as the enemy, vying for an onsite chance or a promotion or a good appraisal. Surviving today in any profession, we need an iron hide.
Dr Debashis Deb said…
The story though uncommon is not unknown. I have had similar situation quite a number of times, when patient died despite my best intentions and effort. Thirty years is a long period for any surgeon and therefore I have seen all types of patients, good and bad. Some people still touch my feet even after a simple laparoscopic gall bladder surgery. The trust is now not universal though, but still there, and my observation is poor patients trust their surgeon more than the well-heeled.
True. But this is about exceptional ppl, doctors and even more exceptional patients. Honestly I can say that I would never have gifted someone or thanked someone who has not 'provided the service I was looking for' would we thank someone who didn't fix our washing machine, or gift some one who stitched my clothes unwell, or didn't get me great food at a restaurant . That is why doctors are special, because we as doctors need to know it's not always about cure, sometimes it's about care, I hope more patient understand that aswell
I know. We doctors are patients as well. There are certain courtesies that we need to give outlet fellow doctors. I am an ophthalmologist but as a pregnant doc at the moment , I try an be a good patient as well to my obgy. Everyone needs to practice an attitude of gratitude doctors and patients.
Wonderful gesture by patient and it needed to be highlighted. We talk only about the bad, we need to talk about the good as well.
mansi.khanderia said…
Bang on!!! Just when I was feeling like giving it all up!!
Walter Vaz said…
Kuheli : This reminds me of a time long ago when I was a Senior House Officer in the Department of General Surgery in St. Martha's Hospital in the erstwhile Bangalore. One of my patients, who ran a small store in a village that sold items of stationery was a diabetic whose foot had turned gangrenous. Although we amputated it, the gangrene continued to spread, to a point where we had to finally disarticulate his lower limb at the hip joint. All along, I used to personally attend to his dressings. When he was finally discharged, he told me that he had a gift for me, and with tears in is eyes, said that it was very small, hoped I would accept it, and handed me a box of pencils.I have treasured it to this day because to me the greatest reward for any true physician is to see a patient leave his care a healthier person than he was when he walked in. I never cease to tell my students not to worry about or be after material gains -- treat your patient as another human being, and the money will come rolling in.
...Radha said…
Very nice read ma'm. I agree with your thoughts!

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