By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Last fortnight, we heard of a most gut-wrenching incident where a young and capable lady doctor was desperately driven to commit suicide, by a most despicable caucus of local political goons, yellow-bellied media personnel, corrupt and completely ignorant officials and the complete apathy of fellow citizens who were themselves the beneficiaries of her good service.
The deceased is 42-year-old Gynaecologist, Dr. Archana Sharma, herself a mother of two little children, who had been serving as a private doctor along with her doctor husband, Dr. Suneet Upadhyaya, in a remote and backward area of Rajasthan. She was hounded so badly for no fault of hers after she lost a patient due to a very bad complication, that she in a desperate act of utter helplessness, penned a deeply emotional suicide note and ended her own life.
She was a brilliant medical student with many academic awards and an impeccable record of her capability as a doctor, who along with her idealist husband voluntarily chose to leave a life of comfort, safety and luxury in a city where they were working and decided to shift to a most backward rural area and established a hospital there to serve the poor and downtrodden.
Even in this rural setting, the couple had established and proved themselves over the years as honest and hard-working souls who would not hesitate to toil round the clock to serve the local folk who came to them as their patients.
This kind of service had endeared them to all the villagers from the surrounding areas and yet in a most dramatic and tragic turn of events, they found themselves completely isolated and helpless when they lost a 22-year-old patient who had been brought to their hospital for delivery of her fourth child. This patient, who had ostensibly been illegally married off, well before she attained her legitimate marriageable age and had borne three female children in a span of four years, was due to deliver her fourth child. It is reliably said that she was under pressure from her very disappointed husband and in-laws to quickly bear a male child.
These antecedents clearly indicate that the poor lady was not in her best state of health to continue to bear children in such quick succession. So, as ill-luck would have it, she developed Post-Partum Haemorrhage, one of the most dreaded complications of child birth and despite the best efforts of the doctor couple to save her life, she passed away.
Despite their shock and sense of grief, this unfortunate occurrence was accepted by her relatives as an act of God and they peacefully took her body away from the hospital for performing the last rites. That was when a couple of local goons, with good political connections of the nefarious kind, stepped in and incited the villagers to take the body back to the hospital and stage a protest there demanding the arrest of the treating doctor and payment of a huge compensation of rupees fifty lakhs to the family of the deceased.
When things did not seem to be moving in the direction they wished, they enlisted the help of their unethical media friends and some ill-informed or even conniving Police officials and filed a case under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code which is applicable only to deliberate and premeditated murder instead of death due to accident or even negligence.
Now, this development was clearly to ensure that the helpless lady doctor would face an immediate arrest and imprisonment without bail till a lengthy legal process could establish her innocence and it was this fear and sense of imminent humiliation which drove her to her desperate act of self-destruction.
The background of this sad case does not end here. It has been reliably established after official investigation, that ever since she and her husband decided to establish their hospital in that area, they were being hounded by the same goons to pay them a hefty ‘mamool’ on a regular basis, a demand to which the doctors did not yield. And, it was this defiance and refusal that put them on the hit list, with their tormentors baying for their blood and waiting for a chance to strike them which they did at the earliest opportunity. Thankfully, after this case kicked up a wave of indignation and anger across the country, cutting across professions, the law started correcting its course and almost all the culprits have now been apprehended and booked.
But this much delayed act of placatory justice will in no way set the clock back and do any good to the unfortunate lady doctor’s two little children or her family members. It only gives society a fleeting glimpse of how unrealistic the expectations of people can become, especially with the slightest help from vested interests. It also exposes how fragile the lives of doctors are these days and how despite their best intentions and actions, they can turn from deities to demons in the eyes of the public, in the blinking of an eye!
Even as the anguish of this very unfortunate case was beginning to wane off, a similar incident from a tiny village called Tisgaon in Maharashtra has come to light.
Dr. Nilesh Mhaske, a young Gynaecologist, who too selflessly shunned a life of ease in a city and decided to serve in a village, was beaten black and blue and nearly lost his life, after he lost a patient due to the same dreaded complication of Post-Partum Haemorrhage.
Incidents like these serve only to demoralise and discourage medical personnel from taking risks and going out of the way to save their patients. They create an atmosphere of fear and mistrust between the treaters and the treated which is detrimental to both parties.
Most people do not understand that doctors however capable and hospitals however advanced and high-tech, cannot ensure immortality. For instance, some years ago, the highly talented movie actress, Smitha Patil, who could easily afford the best medical care at any of the best hospitals there, helplessly lost her life due to Post-Partum Haemorrhage in Mumbai which is considered to be one of the best cities for medical care in our country. The best hands and the best medical facilities there just could not save her life.
People must understand that there are some medical problems which can never be surmounted and thus learn to accept the inevitable. Death, the great leveller, can strike most unexpectedly and do whatever we may, it will always have the final say!
e-mail: [email protected]