“Quality healthcare for ALL,” they promised. The question we forgot to ask is who the ‘ALL’ are.
We did not see any occasion where we would have to experience healthcare of substandard quality. After all, we have medical insurance that covers private hospitals that provide quality healthcare. We forgot that the greater majority of the population cannot afford food let alone insurance premiums. We keep chanting social justice but do nothing to achieve it because it is not a problem until we face it personally.
For a moment, let us step into the world of the less privileged. Maybe that is the only way we can see life from their perspective.
It is late on a Friday night, you are driving along the highway and because ‘Don’t drink and drive’ is just one of those things we say but don’t implement, a drunk driver crashes into you. You hit your head on the dashboard and get a concussion. You cannot remember clearly what transpires next because you become unconscious and so the paramedics cannot ask you if you have a medical cover. You have a deep laceration on your scalp and a fractured nasal bone.
You are rushed to the nearest public hospital. The ambulance comes to a halt at the hospital, one of the paramedics rushes out to get a stretcher trolley but none is available. The paramedics are forced to lift you and rush you to the A&E section. There is no one to attend to you and so one of the paramedics tries to control the bleeding while the other looks for medical personnel to attend to you. You are writhing in agonizing pain, you are wailing as tears roll down your face. At this time, you are conscious but you are not in a position to be transferred to a private facility because you cannot afford to lose time.
Half an hour later, a doctor who has just finished a surgery comes to your rescue. You are rushed in to theater so that your laceration can be stitched up and nasal fracture reduced. In the midst of suturing your laceration, there is a power surge (A common third world nightmare) and as the hospital does not have a generator, the surgeon has to opt to use torches. The surgery is done within half an hour because in public hospitals you cannot afford to ‘waste’ time on one patient.
It is now time for you to recover from the surgery. There is no recovery room really so you are taken to the general ward. The wheelchairs are not enough so you have to walk up two flights of stairs despite having paresthesia due to the anesthesia. In the general ward, two patients share one bed because the beds are not enough. You are left to share a bed with an emaciated elderly man who is still awake despite it being two a.m. “You remind me of my son,” he says immediately you sit on the bed.
The whole night he tells you stories of his stay in the hospital.
“I have stayed in this hospital for three months now. I know every nurse and doctor by name and they know me. They are like family. My children stopped coming to see me two weeks after I was admitted. I cannot be discharged because I do not have the money to pay the hospital bills.”
You cannot comprehend how he has endured for three months and you can barely survive for half an hour. The environment alone cannot let you recover. The hygiene standards are so low, just when you are about to fully recuperate, another disease gets hold of you.
“I was admitted because of pneumonia and was diagnosed with prostate cancer two months ago. A month ago, I was also diagnosed with TB. I was scheduled for a radiotherapy session for my cancer on donor funds but just a few days before my scheduled date, the machine broke down and it has not been repaired ever since,” he continues to tell you.
You are in disbelief right now because you cannot understand how someone can go through so much at that age. He has suffered physically and emotionally. You can see that his hopes are starting to die and you know that hope deprivation is the cruelest form of murder. “I like being here more than at home. I get food three times a day at least. It is not good food but at least I get something,” he says. You look at him with empathy and that is when you realize that poverty, hunger and the right to quality healthcare are all related. It is a vicious cycle.
You realize you were living in your cocoon and you didn’t notice how people lived outside your social class. You wake up to wash your face as you’ve been crying the whole time and the friend you’ve just made tells you that all the taps on that floor are dry and you have to go to the maternity ward to find water. WHAT? A whole general ward with over a hundred patients has no water? Either way, you head towards the maternity ward. He takes you because the effect of anesthesia has not worn off yet and you are still dizzy.
You are devastated upon reaching the maternity ward. You see women writhing on the floor because of labor pains. Neither are the beds enough nor are the nurses. You realize you have learnt a lot more about life in that one night as compared to your entire life. You realize that there is nothing like social justice or equity in healthcare. You want to help and you promise yourself that you will. The doctor tells you that you will be ready for discharge in three days and you decide you will not transfer to a private hospital. You will stay there and learn more so you can do something about the situation.
This case scenario probably drifted you to the world of the less privileged and you see the world from another perspective. We have not yet achieved quality healthcare for ALL but if each one of us decides to do something, we will be there before we know it. We are not where we were ten years ago, we’ve taken steps in the positive direction. Slow steps but steps nonetheless.
Justice cannot be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.
About the Author
Chandni Patel: I write to express my experiences in words. I believe nothing can be changed until we face it and we cannot face it if we don’t know about it. Life is bitter and sweet, good and bad and the challenge is to do something to change the bad into the best and the bitter to sweet. All we can leave behind is a legacy.