Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The Asian Age

I unabashedly, unashamedly provide a link to an article in The Asian Age of 4th July 2006, in which a childhood friend of mine, David McMahon - journalist, author ("Vegemite Vindaloo"), more importantly 'Parish Boy' and my cohort on many jungle trips of centuries ago, has written a rather moving article about my sister! The article is called "The Tale of Kolkata's Samaritan". Clink on the link below to read it. And if you would like to know the kind of stuff that Dave blogs, go here.

(Sorry the link won't work as it was available only for the day of publication/posting. Added to which is the inconvenience of being able to view it only on IE. So if you're Firefox or alternative inclined like me, give it a miss. The Asian Age)

So here's the original piece copy/pasted for your reading pleasure:

The Asian Age (July/4/2006 12:30:39 AM)

The tale of Kolkatas Samaritan

Ive known Dr Ishika Ghose since I was six and she was about five. Fortunately, she never kept to her threat of removing my appendix without anaesthetic.

Being the sort of person that she is, her goal is something that has never been achieved before. She has already begun to raise funds to ensure that Kolkata, that heartlifting city where she and I were born, gets a world-class childrens hospital.

As she points out, there are childrens hospitals in the city but the services offered are "incomplete and fragmented." There are two crucial aspects to the hospital she envisages comprehensive services, at an affordable price.

A crore, she says, "would do very nicely to start with." It would fund a ward, one step in the journey to founding a hospital.

As a young doctor, she spent time in England, a phase that dictated her lifes direction. "One of the most comfortable aspects," she says, "of working in the much-maligned National Health Service, was never having to worry about who was paying the bills. I remember a senior nurse in a childrens ward giving me an entire box full of intravenous cannulas and telling me to get an IV line into a child with difficult veins."

Funding just wasnt an issue. "When things went wrong as they sometimes did, horribly wrong, you didnt spend sleepless nights worrying about how the family would cope with the mounting bills. You could spend that time worrying about the child and reading as much as you could about its problems."

But that experience was just the start of her journey. Dr Ghose is back in Kolkata, working at not one hospital, but two. One of those hospitals is the Rabindranath Tagore International Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Kolkata.

"A couple of years ago," she says, "this hospital got a very generous grant of seven crores from the Armenian Church Trust Fund and started the general (non-cardiac services) unit. This includes general surgery, orthopaedics, neurosurgery, urology and trauma."

But as Dr Ghose points out, there is just one stumbling block. "There are no paediatric services, apart from paediatric cardiology and cardiothoracic surgery." In her own words, she "barged in" there about a year ago and started general paediatric surgery.

So why do they need more money? There is a prolonged silence and I begin to fear for my own appendix. But Dr Ghose reaches not for her scalpel, rather for her inescapable logic. "There are no dedicated paediatric services in this hospital, insofar as we neither have a paediatric ward, nor paediatric intensive care, nor paediatric nurses. Children, including babies, are cared for in adult units. As all of us who are doctors know, children do better on wards and units specially geared to their needs.

"Childrens services have already been assigned the floor space in the new building. But until we can raise the money for equipping it, thats all it remains empty, useless floor space. The money we raise will be used for equipment and to train nursing staff and junior doctors."

She explains that the hospital caters primarily to the middle class. "Parents of a large percentage of children who need surgery, pay only for their medicines and consumables. Thats all their families can afford. They dont pay for their stay or the operating theatre or doctors fees. I know because 50 per cent or more of my patient load is made up of these families. They cannot all go to the government hospitals, mainly because of the bed crisis. There are not enough beds and never will be."

There was another epiphany for Dr Ghose. Despite her years of study and experience, nothing had prepared her to answer the most crucial question asked so frequently of her by parents. The question? "How much will this cost?"

"Worst of all," she says, "the most challenging patients were the poorest. So I started waiving my fees, cajoling my anaesthetist to waive her fees and pleading with the director to reduce hospital charges. As you can imagine, I was no ones favourite paediatric surgeon. But we were operating on children and the vast majority of them were getting better."

Even Ria and Pulak got better after free surgery. Ria was two years old, with only one normal eye and a distorted mouth. Pulak was 13 and lived in a village with his widowed mother. He had been horribly burned when he fell on an oil lamp. His chin, bottom lip and neck were fused to his chest, but photographs taken after the first round of surgery show him smiling.

Their tales bring tears to Dr Ghoses eyes. "You cannot talk to me," she says, "about profit and loss within a hospital and show me a balance sheet and say paediatrics and paediatric surgery are really not making us any money. Are the only parameters to measure progress in India the stock-market index, IT companies, Bollywood films or Indian designers?

"At the end of the day all we have is our children and our grandchildren ? none of my own, but all mine and all yours anyway."

For details on how to donate, email Dr Ishika Ghose at ishikaghose@gmail.com

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