The following is an article I wrote under the pen name Po Tha Khwa in my SIDE GLANCES column that was published in the 8 June, 1970 issue of the local English-language newspaper The Guardian Daily here in Rangoon (now Yangon). The newspaper ceased publication after 1988.
Someone I knew too well died some days ago. His last twenty-four days were spent at the RGH(Rangoon General Hospital) mostly under oxygen. He put up a silent but valiant fight for his life. His was not a lonesome battle. The seemingly untiring team of doctors of the ward were his worthy allies in this mortal combat. Those angels of mercy did all that was humanly possible beyond the call of duty. Friends and acquaintances alike rallied round his family in their frantic search for drugs and medicines which the ward could not supply.
It was a losing battle, a groping in the dark, a case worthy of a William Harvey-cum-Sherlock Holmes. Nevertheless it was an unforgettable experience for everyone concerned. A stocktaking, I think would not be meaningless here.
Four distinct but inter-relating factors come on stage when a person is hospitalised:the cooperation of the patient, a continuous supply of drugs and medicines either from the ward or from the People’s Drug Stores downtown, the experience of the doctor and an understanding on the part of the senior doctor of the anxiety of the patient’s family.
The cooperation of the patient is two-fold:taking the treatment with patience and the will to live. Most patients are equipped with the latter, but not with the former. A will to live minus the patience to take the treatment properly is as meaningless as a scalpel without the surgeon.
The availability of medicines in serious cases becomes something of a lifeline for the patient. The ward concerned being not in a position to supply all drugs the doctors prescribe is understandable. This is so for the simple reason that the ward hasn’t got the prescribed drugs. This everybody willingly forgives and very well understands. But a drug store salesman shaking his head (not unlike a vibrating tuning fork) when he has the medicine concerned under the counter is something that seldom fails to arouse the animal in a man.
The experience of the doctor is something everyone takes for granted. Everyone looks up to the senior doctor. This is more so when the patient is in a critical condition. To the patient’s family the doctor is the only ray of hope, the one and only saviour. The doctor therefore has no choice. He (or she) must be experience. A doctor is experienced. That’s what the man in the street understands and accepts with implicit faith.
The last factor — an understanding on the part of the senior doctor of the anxiety of the patient’s family — is often forgotten in the web of medical bureaucracy. A doctor’s public relations is part of his (or her) experience. In spite of the robotism of this age of machines, man still feels. A nod, a smile, or even an “imitation smile” from the senior doctor can be immensely soothing to the anxious family.
The patient’s family having little or no medical knowledge (and that exactly is why they are not doctors) tend to get over-anxious at every little symptom. More so if the patient is under oxygen. This should not be taken as an affront by the doctor. The accepted assumption is that both parties — the family concerned and the doctor — wish to see the patient discharged from the ward alive . This is a common aim. No misunderstanding should be allowed to creep in. Cooperation, coordination and understanding between these two parties can contribute considerably towards a successful treatment.
A biased stock-taking this has been, perhaps. And it could be that I have a bias towards that dear old soul who put up such a mighty fight for twenty-four days of agony. He was my father.