Living in Karachi entails dependence on all kinds of people but the predominant ones fall into two categories: doctors and drivers.

At first glance, it may seem like an odd coupling but they do share a few common features. Both can demand astronomical prices for services rendered at the drop of a hat. Both act as if they are doing you a favour, even if it is to your detriment. Both can disappear on a whim, leaving you high and dry. And neither will ever admit their mistakes, because the error is always yours.

Space constraints lead us to cast an eye at doctors first, with drivers coming up next month.

We cannot always trust healthcare providers in whose hands we place our lives

At any gathering, you will find Karachiites discussing the merits of doctors and hospitals. Who’s unwell, you ask. No one at the moment, but God forbid (they touch their ears) that anyone should be at the mercy of any insincere doctor. Since there is no system in place to sue doctors and the law has not yet cast its sage eye on their malpractices, they are free to fleece patients before killing them off.

Recently, a lady who was unwell was rushed to a swanky hospital but the surgical procedure could not be performed at night because the technicians had gone home. The attendants ran helter-skelter to no avail, until one called a friend who was a relative of the owner of the hospital who then asked the technician to report for duty. The next day, the patient was dead with the hospital refusing to divulge what led to the demise, or to release the medical report. Finally, the family shelled out 800,000 rupees for an overnight stay without any operation. Why pay such a hefty amount for such malpractice? Because the hospital refused to release the body until they got the cash.                

Emergency rooms are usually staffed by junior doctors learning at the expense of groaning patients with the odd senior doctor thrown in for good measure. Take the example of the junior who had to look over the ECG report of a patient with heart trouble being released. She proudly admitted to not being a cardiologist, undoubtedly impatient to get back to her pungent aaloo ghost lunch. On another visit to the same emergency room, her expert reading of the ECG amounted to an irregular heartbeat which caused the patient’s wife to slide into a fit of gloomy despair until the report was shown to a senior cardiologist who said it was normal and there was no cause to fret. Undoubtedly, the junior doctor is still wandering around the emergency room spreading fake news faster than Cambridge Analytica.          Then there was the senior doctor in charge of treating a young dynamic professional who went into the hospital with an ear ache and emerged in a shroud a day later. When questioned about the cause of death by the irate father-in-law, the solemn bearded doctor pointed to the ceiling and said, “Yeh tau Allah ki marzi hai. [This is God’s will].”  

A hospital with rolling gardens like in a Karan Johar film set is universally acknowledged as the best in Karachi. But even here stories abound about lack of care. For instance, a patient with UTI and laboured breathing was put on bed rest but his chest was not screened despite pleas from the family.

Finally, the family shelled out 800,000 rupees for an overnight stay without any operation. Why pay such a hefty amount for such malpractice? Because the hospital refused to release the body until they got the cash.     

When his condition deteriorated, his lungs were found to be full of water and he was rushed to the Special Care Unit. This unit is a torture chamber for the patient and family. Granted that the doctors are way more cheerful, but the space is tiny, there are no windows and you are wedged in with other seriously ill patients ,with no privacy.  

After a few days there, every patient wants to escape by hook or by crook. Except that when the UTI patient was sent home, he was in a great deal of pain and unable to articulate the source of the pain. It was only the next day when his shirt was removed that a potentially fatal bedsore was discovered and he had to be rushed to the hospital again.

Hearing complaints about the attitudes of doctors, a doctor friend said: “Of course, we will have attitude. Look at how much we have studied.”

The columnist is a freelance writer. She tweets @MaheenUsmani Email: maheenusmani25@gmail.com

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 25th, 2018