This morning, as I browsed through my Facebook wall, I was alarmed to see a friend's post that he was trying to enjoy the last few days of his life! This guy is on dialysis and has been on dialysis for a year. I was wondering what could have happened that he thought these were the last few days of his life?
I called him immediately and realised that he was thoroughly depressed. I tried to cheer him up and realised that many people on dialysis are very depressed.
Unfortunately, in a country like India, where there are hardly a thousand nephrologists for a population of more than a billion, doctors do not have enough time to spend with their patients and give them 'all-round' care. A dialysis patient has multiple problems - the basic issues around dialysis itself, diet problems, co-morbidities, psychological issues. There is just not enough bandwidth for a doctor to attempt to address all these problems!
The patients themselves find it hard to grapple with a multitude of problems. Add to that the horrible problem of paying for treating all this.
"Its all in the mind", goes the adage. Now, there's proof to back this. A paper in Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation states, "scores on the emotional components of (Quality of Life) questionnaires are in fact strong predictors of patient outcome." A study quoted in this paper actually found that "patients with scores of 0–37 have twice the relative risk of death than those patients with scores of 51 or higher".
In India, what can we do to address this very significant cause of patient mortality among the dialysis population?
First, we need to acknowledge that this problem exists. We need to at least start tracking depression among our patients. It is not very difficult. Standard questionnaires are available. A beginning can be made by administering this questionnaire to our patients and then figuring out the magnitude of the problem at hand in our country.
Subsequently, steps can be taken as arranging support systems for those affected. We, as a country, may not have the resources to treat every patient who is depressed. Let us at least make a beginning. Rome was not built in a day. Treating dialysis patients is honestly, a more arduous task.
The medical community owes this to the patients. Dr. Victor Gura said, in response to a question on how working on the WAK helps him:
"Why would somebody go to medical school for any reason except because you want to alleviate pain and suffering or save lives. If you go to medical school that's what you want. And I would be basically fulfilling my endeavors and my hopes of becoming a physician. Alleviate suffering, make life better and hopefully save a few lives."