190613 hospitals
In most government-run hospitals, the constant flow of patients accompanied by their attendants round-the-clock makes it a monotonous affair. Image Credit: Getty Images

It is not from any film. It is straight from the hospital. Years ago, my sister Mithlesh was undergoing treatment in a government hospital. She was fast asleep when a nurse who was on her routine round came to her side.

Looking at the patient’s face, she shouted in a shrill voice, “Are you asleep? How could you, without taking your sleeping pills? This is not done.”

The caregiver’s loud query woke up not just my sister but a few other patients who were in deep slumber. Even before Mithlesh could understand what was happening around her, the nurse commanded her to open her mouth and take her tablet by obediently following the instruction. The patient popped in the pill quickly.

“Good, now you can go to sleep,” she said and moved on, unaware of the fact that she had come to put the patients to sleep but had done just the opposite.

What an ironic situation: Sleep vanishing due to a sleeping pill! A dutiful nurse had only followed the doctor’s instructions.

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Interestingly, a wall poster above the administrator’s desk in the ward had a photograph of a model dressed as a nurse with her finger on her lips advising all to maintain silence. This was not an isolated instance. Such anecdotes in various forms are quite common in our hospitals. Their nature varies from person to person reflecting his or her traits, habits and attitude.

In most government-run hospitals, the constant flow of patients accompanied by their attendants round-the-clock makes it a monotonous affair. The patient justifiably seems to think as if he is the only sick person needing all the attention and care. However, for the hospital staff, he or she is just one of the many who keep trickling in all the time. The position taken by the two sides frequently leads to frayed tempers and even skirmishes.

Wilful mischief

This kind of indolence was best exemplified several years ago when in a reputed hospital in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, I happened to notice that a female nurse who was supposed to record every patient’s body temperature and scrupulously enter it in the patient’s chart, had cut short the exercise. It was one of the three or four wards under her with each having about 20 beds.

Recording every individual’s fever by itself was a time-consuming and tedious task. She was carrying a thermometer and a bottle of sanitising liquid to clean it after every use.

So, the gracious lady would skip some patients and would just enter a random, imaginary reading in the chart and move on. I had just arrived from home to attend to my younger brother and could not immediately realise what she was doing.

Later, a preliminary investigation showed that apparently, the nurse was using her experience to gauge from the patient’s appearance and body language. Without taking any reading, she would enter 98.5 Fahrenheit in the chart and move on to the next patient. I wondered if it was the mean of the collective reading exercise.

However, she would record the temperature of the deserving patient. Whatever it be, it was wilful mischief, which no patient dared to speak about if he was to ensure proper care from the ‘mischievous staff’.

Incidentally, I have observed, many blood sample collectors coming home in most places in India’s largest state, do not find it necessary to wear gloves or at least disinfect their hands before conducting the pathological tests.

I continue to hold the view that while we may be planning to live on the moon we are hardly making any efforts to defuse the population explosion, which is at the root of all our ills.

—Lalit Raizada is a journalist based in India.