Dear doctors, what happened to your bedside manner?

Why do so many doctors here treat their patients like mindless cattle?

Yes, I understand that doctors regularly treat relatively uneducated patients who may not be able to follow procedures or understand information. However, when a person comes along, clearly literate enough to make sense of what is happening, it is beyond me as to why doctors treat their questions or opinions with careless disdain, as if we have foregone the right to ask and respond by stepping into their domain.

Fine, you find it difficult to keep me in the loop about what you are doing and how you arrived at your diagnosis, but why do you take such extreme offence if I dare to part my lips to make a simple inquiry, dear doctor?

I’ll elaborate by narrating a recent experience:

“Why is there blood on your hand?”

Does this sound like a reasonable question to you? I think so. However, it was too much to take for my doctor at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

In response, she pursed her lips in indignation and snapped:

“It’s very normal. Why are you worrying so much? You could get killed by a bus tomorrow. Worrying won’t get you anywhere.”

Gee thanks! If the procedure wasn’t intimidating enough, this rude, flippant answer horrified me. To top it all, the wound bled for two days after – which on doing some research, I realised, was far from normal.

It seems as though several doctors in Pakistan are on a strange sort of egotistical trip. Their prevailing attitude is “question me not for I am the all-knowing, all wise.” The minute you let on that you might be able to understand what they’re doing and why (thanks to the Anatomy classes you took in college), they will condescendingly reply:

“Oh, so you are one of those who Googles everything and then freaks out about it.”

No Dr Sahab, just because I asked you what I can do to avoid getting Shigella again does not make me a hypochondriac who will “Google” everything.

It comes down to this. We must all be yes-men and wordlessly accept the verdict scribbled on to a piece of paper by the doctor. Worries, apprehensions, questions are a waste of time; in fact they are offensive to many doctors here.

Forgive me if I am wrong, but I thought doctors were meant to provide a much needed service – to take care of their patients and to reassure when needed. Nowadays, however, it seems that regardless of exorbitant amounts of money we spend on doctors’ fees, we are indebted to them. They act as though they are doing us the grandest favour possible, merely by doing the job we pay generously to perform.

Let me shed more light on this attitude via another terrible experience at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

I recently went for a gynecology exam. My appointment was for 9:30 am – I specifically requested this time because I have to be in at work at 10:00 am and I hate being late. It seems, however, as if my doctor did not reflect the same sentiment. She sauntered in to The Aga Khan at 10:00 am and took her time in calling me into her clinic. Once I was in there, she asked me,

“What’s your problem?,” without even looking at me and you guessed it, without a word of apology!

“I don’t have a problem, I just came in for a check-up,” I replied, quite taken aback.

This was followed by a few instructions. Long story short, I was on a table in a compromising position, pretty much just waiting. And I waited and waited and waited.

My doctor had vanished.

10 minutes, 15 minutes 20 minutes …

She is back. Holding a cup of tea. She went to make herself tea while I was on the table waiting.

Mind you, I paid just under Rs1,500 for this very special treatment. After much poking and prodding I was done and very happy to leave. The next day, I was called in for another test with a different doctor at the same hospital. I was alone and scared, and I expressed as much to the doctor, asking her,

“Will this hurt?”

She looked at me as tough I had said something as outrageous as “Michael Jackson is alive”.

“No,” was her curt and abrupt reply.

Then without any warning whatsoever, I felt a jab – an unexpected jab – and I clenched. I really couldn’t help it, I was so surprised, that I half sat up.

“Don’t clench!” She yelled at me.

At the time, I was too frightened, but a furious me wants to ask her right now, why she didn’t warn me about what she was about to do and how on earth did she expect me not to clench if I was taken by surprise?

I discussed the incident later with my friend – who is also a doctor. She said that maybe the doctor thought you knew what was going to happen and so she didn’t warn you. To this all I have to say is, no I didn’t and I made this clear by asking her if it was going to hurt. If I knew, why would I even ask?

I have been for medical exams in Canada and the doctors have always been so polite, reassuring me and holding my hand every step of the way. Whatever it was, whether a shot or an X-ray, they always told me that I was going to feel a pinch, this is going to sting a bit or that this will feel cold. Isn’t this how doctors are supposed to be, or should we expect the unexpected when we go to see a doctor in Pakistan?

I was absolutely dumbfounded at the lack of patient care coming from doctors in what is arguably the best hospital of Karachi. Doctors are meant to be the most educated rung of society, but after the way I have been treated, I am beginning to doubt this.

Now, after my terrible experiences here I am curious to know, dear doctors, did they not teach you any bedside manner in med school?

Note: If The Aga Khan hospital requires details pertaining to the names of doctors I saw and the procedures I was in for, please feel free to email me. 

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