The Horrifying Story Of How Medical Negligence Almost Killed My Husband

13 December, 2016

Fifteen days ago, my husband started showing symptoms of a viral fever. Since I myself was suffering from a common cold, I assumed that he had simply caught the infection from me. But two days later, his fever increased and he started showing symptoms of malaria – high fever, chills, shivering, headache and although it is not a symptom of malaria – vomiting as well. I live in Kharghar, Navi Mumbai and the doctors and hospitals here are so bad, I am surprised they haven’t been shut down yet.

My immediate reaction was to take him to a popular hospital in Vashi, not because I think the hospital is good but because I personally know a very good doctor who consults there. After a lifetime of illnesses, I have become extremely suspicious of the medical community and have developed an instinct to sniff out good doctors and can almost always tell whether a doctor is competent or not. However, due to a series of unfortunate events, the matter of my husband’s health and well-being was taken from my hands and despite my strenuous objections, he was admitted to another hospital in Belapur.

I would like to digress a little here because I want to highlight something important. Women are generally not taken seriously. It is assumed that a woman is highly emotional and cannot function efficiently in high-pressure situations. She is considered irrational and thus her ability to take decisions is considered suspect. In most households, the opinions of women are largely ignored and it is the men who like to take charge – irrespective of their ability to take sound and sensible decisions.

Something of this sort transpired in my case as well. All my objections and concerns were disregarded and it was not thought necessary to consult with me before decisions were made. Without my husband there to defend me, I was left alone – terrified at the thought of what would happen next. I did not trust the doctors at this hospital and I seriously doubted their ability to effectively diagnose my husband’s condition. My apprehensions were justified when I witnessed the incompetence of the two doctors who were present at the time. Even after the admittance process was completed, I kept insisting that we cancel the admission, ask for a discharge and move him to the hospital in Vashi. But my pleas fell upon deaf ears and I was once again ignored. This typical male ego would have cost my husband his life. Everyday sexism when encountered during emergency situations where all counsel and wisdom is snubbed off just because it comes from a woman can be downright dangerous. This experience with sexism specifically has infuriated me beyond measure.

By this time, my husband’s health had considerably deteriorated. His blood reports were negative for dengue and falciparum and we had no idea as to what was wrong with him.

The doctors at the hospital in Belapur disregarded my suspicions about malaria, despite my insistence. They suspected hepatitis A and called for a liver function test. Since my husband tested positive for hepatitis A, the doctor treating him stopped further investigations and disregarded his other symptoms. They were right about the hepatitis A but only partly. And that’s when I almost lost my husband. I was not allowed to stay at the hospital with my husband despite the fact that I am the only one in the family who is a little medically literate. So when his test results arrived, I was absent and when I arrived, it was not thought necessary to inform me about the results of his test.

Fortunately I was present when they wheeled him out to do a sonography and what was even more fortunate was that I insisted that I be allowed to observe his urine (something that I believe the hospital should have monitored). The radiologist told me that he had swollen kidneys, spleen and liver. With what the radiologist had informed me and the colour of his urine which was reddish brown, I started suspecting that his symptoms were not merely that of a hepatitis A patient – something was wrong. I then insisted on checking his liver function test reports. At that point, I was not familiar with hepatitis A and had no idea what kind of ‘abnormal’ is normal for this disease.

I immediately took a picture of the report (which was hand written) and sent it to a cousin of mine (who is not a doctor but a social worker who has been awarded for his work with kidney failure patients). He is the one who alerted me as to the seriousness of my husband’s condition. He informed me that his liver enzymes which are denoted thus – ‘SgoT’ and ‘SgoP’ – were extremely high than what was considered normal. The normal range is supposed to be within 40. My husband’s were 2500 and 2600 respectively. The next stage would have been liver failure.

My husband should have been in the ICU but the doctor who was treating him at the hospital in Belapur had kept him in a room with no monitoring equipment, no emergency life support, no availability of trained personnel and no warning to the family members as to the seriousness of his condition. He was left in a room with just a simple IV drip attached to his arm and was being treated for a fraction of what his actual medical condition truly required.

This is the moment when I put my foot down and demand that my husband be moved to the hospital in Vashi immediately. Thankfully, my panic combined with extreme anger did what my reasonable arguments could not and I was able to take over the decision-making process. I did exactly what I knew I should have done all along. I packed up all our stuff, got my husband out of the hospital clothes and waited with growing impatience for the hospital to give us his test reports (which they refused to offer).

My husband’s condition was serious and it was imperative to get him to the other hospital as soon as possible – something that I believe this hospital staff should have understood and helped facilitate a speedy discharge. But that was not the case. We were held there because they could not locate a INR 200 remote control for the television that they had provided in the special room that was allocated to my husband. I could not believe it – the life of my husband hung in the balance because they could not find their worthless TV remote! I still cannot believe it.

It was lucky that we had access to a car and were not dependent on the hospital to provide us with an ambulance. One of us waited back to sort out the remote control issue and I drove like a crazy person to the hospital in Vashi where luckily they were waiting for us – since I had already spoken to the doctors there and alerted them as to the condition of the patient.

Since this hospital in Belapur had refused to give us the medical reports, the doctors at Vashi had nothing to go on. Luckily, I still had the photographs of the liver function test with me and I promptly WhatsApp-ed those to the doctor. Upon seeing the reports, I was asked to make an immediate payment INR 85,000 so that my husband could be shifted to the ICU as soon as possible.  I keep thinking, what do people who do not have this kind of money do during times like these? If quality care can only be accessed at such high-end hospitals, where are the lesser privileged supposed to go? It was incredibly lucky that my husband’s family had access to sufficient funds – I shiver to think what would have happened if we didn’t. In no time, he was transferred to the ICU and he remained there for the next four days. I still turn cold every time I think about what would have happened if I had not sent those reports to my cousin when I did.

As it transpired, my husband had contracted hepatitis A and dengue at the same time. It was an unfortunate coincidence. The doctors at this hospital were able to diagnose and treat my husband for both the ailments. I was later on informed that my husband’s case was a rare one and had I delayed even a little in getting him to the ICU, they would not have been able to save him. The timely care that was provided at this hospital by their nursing staff was outstanding. Their treatment plan and systematic approach towards serious medical illnesses was at least in this case, unparalleled.

The previous hospital was not only unable to diagnose a major life threatening illness but they downplayed a very serious condition that was deteriorating continually. The hospital lacks the infrastructure and the expertise to deal with serious cases and should have alerted us regarding these issues. They should have counseled us to transfer our patient to a healthcare provider that was better equipped to handle our case. They failed on all counts. It is partly out of extreme anger and partly out of desire to warn others regarding this hospital in Belapur that I have written this article. It has now been approximately one week since my husband was discharged. He has not yet recovered, but thanks to the two amazing doctors at the hospital in Vashi, is on a sure road to recuperation.