“You did it again?”, Vasudha asked.
“He was extremely poor. No money for dialysis either. He will go to an Aarogyasri centre and get dialysis. It was only the jugular charge that I waived off!”, Dr. Som responded.
“Exactly my point! If he is anyway not continuing with us, why did you have to waive off the jugular cost?”
“Come on Vasudha. You know how it is.”
“He could have got it done under Aarogyasri. He was going there anyway.”
“I know. But I just felt sorry for him. I just felt compelled to do something for him.”
“You don’t understand, do you? We have taken money from tons of people who expect some decent returns from their investment. We have invested our life’s savings in this hospital. We have spent three years working day and night to make this work. This is not a charity for God’s sake!”
“We’re doing pretty well Vasudha. We are about to break even.”
“Break even? Is that all you want? What about our dreams? What about returns to the investors? How much longer do you want to slog without taking a single break? Don’t you want to start a family? Don’t you want to give our kids a good education? Don’t you want to enjoy the fruits of our labour? Is breaking even all you care about?”
“Vasudha, it’s not that bad at all. I think you are over-reacting.”
“Yeah, right. I am the one who is over reacting. You’re the one who turns this hospital into a charity by seeing one poor patient. And no, don’t make me the villain here. I am all for helping people. But how many are you going to help?”
“Vasudha, I think once in a way, by doing this, we can at least feel that we have helped someone. I agree that we cannot help everyone. But what is the harm in reminding ourselves about the misery that exists all around us and feeling a little better by helping a few people. Its not like we have changed our policies to change the way this hospital functions, right?”
“I don’t deny that. But we cannot get distracted from our main goal of making this hospital commercially successful. And we owe that to our investors, damn it! How would they react if they got to know that we are treating patients free of charge?”
“Not ‘patients’, Vasudha. Just one patient.”
These were tough calls. While medicine was a noble profession, one could argue that doctors are also entitled to a good life. After all the years of hard work and all the toiling, what was wrong if they made a little money for themselves and got themselves some luxuries? At the same time, in a country like India, where a large part of the population had little or no access to quality healthcare and those that did, had to bear all the expenses out of pocket, moral dilemmas like this kept presenting themselves regularly.
Regularly seeing patients succumb to diseases that could have been easily cured but for want of resources made even the softest of hearts hard. For the first few years, you felt bad, you kept thinking of what could have been done better. But after a point, you resign to the fact that these things happen. You get over one patient and move on to the next. There’s not much time for grief.