A recent ordeal when I took my 16-month-old daughter for medical care, after a horrifying accident, gave me a reality check to the decline in the quality of the health care services in Sri Lanka.
Holidaying in Nuwara Eliya, I fell on the doorstep of the bungalow, while carrying my daughter on June 11, resulting in her head hitting the cold stone floor with severe impact. After briefly attempting to calm her down, my husband and I found a tennis ball sized lump on her head.
Holding some ice cubes to the affected area, imagining the worst, my husband and I rushed her to the Nuwara Eliya General Hospital. When we reached there around 11.30 a.m., seeing our distraught plight, the heart-wrenching cries of the baby and my own tears and the vomit-splattered clothes, not only did the security guard allow us to drive into the hospital’s car park but many hospital staff ran with us, guiding us to the admitting Medical Officer.
As we rushed in, a nurse cleared the patient’s chair adjacent to the doctor’s chair and as I sat, the doctor sternly asked me whether the baby passed out or vomited on our way to the hospital. When my husband said no and explained that the baby vomited on the trip only after crying violently and coughing, he then asked me rudely, “Then why are you crying? Go to a corner and stop”. He stood up, without so much as a look at the baby and marched off to another patient.
Being the daughter of two senior doctors with 31 years of service — my mother is a deputy director of a leading General Hospital and my father a senior Consultant Anaesthetist in charge of the ICU of the same hospital — I was astonished at how cold and rude the doctor was.
Attendants and nurses were in sympathy with us and a kindly nurse asked me to calm down and try to rock my baby to calm her as well. My husband and I were shocked by the no-care attitude of the Medical Officer who did not deem it fit to examine the baby, but walked away, dismissing this case as not being urgent.
When he came back after awhile and heard my husband angered by his negligence and inattentiveness suggesting that we leave to a private hospital, the Medical Officer sternly asked him, “What did you say?” My husband then asked him, “Is this the way you treat your patients? We come rushing here in dire need of medical attention for our infant and you just dilly-dally playing with the health of our precious child”, the doctor responded very heatedly.
Then I stood up and asked him, “Do you know I am the daughter of so and so and is this how you treat patients who come in an emergency to you?” When he realized I was connected, he was embarrassed, although he said falteringly, “I don’t care who’s who you are”.
Our primary concern being the well-being of our baby, we walked out. The doctor then sent attendants after us, telling us to come back, but we rushed to our car and went in search of a private hospital. I am concerned that I needed to mention my family links in the healthcare sector to get my injured baby noticed.
After showing our baby to a doctor at a private hospital, where the doctor immediately took us in regardless of the patient he was seeing, we were on our way back to the bungalow to pack up our belongings and leave for Kandy to be near a hospital better-equipped to deal with such a crisis, when we were stopped by the Traffic Police. Thinking we had been stopped because my husband had forgotten to wear his seat belt, he explained our plight, only to be told by the policeman who looked troubled, “I can’t let you go. This vehicle number has been submitted in a complaint to the police and even if I were to let you pass, you will be detained further on”.
Realizing this was a retaliation by the doctor, we drove along with the policeman, to the police station and explained our situation including the negligence at the hands of the doctor, evoking sympathy among the policemen, with several policewomen gently touching the baby’s head.
In the face of the injustice perpetrated by the doctor, firstly of not attending to our baby and then harassing us by complaining to the police, we took the matter up with the HQI. He immediately asked the officer at the hospital police post to come to the police station, when the doctor concerned refused to come. The hospital police post officer informed the HQI that the doctor had wanted us to be warned never to do such a thing again.
When my husband asked him whether he witnessed the incident, he said he hadn’t but the Medical Officer had told him.
The Nuwara Eliya Police were understanding and treated us with kindness and empathy, urging us to leave. They assured us that they would do the needful and warn the doctor.
This incident made me think about the plight of the poor people who have to go through the state health sector and what injustice they may have to bear in silence. This doctor played with the health of a baby.
At the same time, there are a large number of doctors who will forego their basic needs to save lives and luckily they outnumber the bad ones.
However, one negligent doctor can influence the perception about doctors. We will seek an inquiry and intend to write to the Health Ministry.
Ashwini Surage,�Via e-mail