I was a four-year-old kid when I was about to begin my first day of school. I was born and raised 20 kilometers away from the big city in a small rural area with minimal essential amenities — for example, schools, roads, and hospitals. Like all other kids, it was a momentous occasion for me to start my first day of school, and I remember how exciting it was.
As I started to attend regular classes and enjoyed participating in different sports activity, I began to have shortness of breath with little exertion, cough and recurrent chest infections that only would decrease after taking antibiotics. My father took me to a local doctor who took detail history and examined me. After that, he told my father that he could hear an abnormal heart sound in my chest which may suggest a heart illness requiring further evaluation by a cardiologist. Although I was not able to understand what the doctor told my father, for the first time, I could see him anxious and realized that was a worrisome situation for me.
A few days later, my parents brought me to a cardiologist, after traveling for 250 kilometers, in the capital city of Bangladesh. The cardiologist interviewed us, listened to my heart and investigated further. It was a disaster for my parents when the reports came, and doctors said that: “Your son has a hole (VSD) in the heart that needs regular follow-up until it closes off spontaneously or becomes large enough to necessitate fixing it with open heart surgery.”
That’s where it began. Starting with a congenital heart disease, regular follow-up for years, traveling from home to the capital city to meet doctors, waiting in the long queue for an appointment, missing school days. The time finally came when the doctor advised that I needed to undergo open heart surgery. I was eight and could understand that I needed a major surgery, but my parents were completely lost in a conundrum of whether to undergo surgery or to seek a second opinion outside of the country. The decision to go outside of the country for the second opinion was complicated by the financial constraints, my educational interference and long travel time.
Finally, we started our journey to Kolkata which is about 700 kilometers from our hometown in Bangladesh to consult another cardiologist named Dr. G.
Dr. G asked about my problems, and while describing it, I was terrified. He did an ECHO on me, he was astonished and had a talk with his colleague.
Dr. G was silent for a while before talking to us. With a deep breath, he surprisingly told me that, “You don’t have a hole in the heart, but have a rare kind of congenital heart disease where a membrane dangling below the aortic valve (termed subaortic stenosis). It is obstructing your ventricular outflow tract which requires an open heart surgery eventually. We shall wait until the age of maturity. Doing it before that has a high recurrence rate.” He asked us for a regular annual follow up without prescribing any medicines and restricted me to do only non-exertional activities.
This was the beginning of the long stressful journey where we had to travel all the way to India with difficult travel conditions every year to get a follow-up after multiple waiting times. It had an impact on my family, my education and our emotional pain. I continued to travel to India for more than 15 years. During this time I carefully observed how other patients were dealing with the same stress — shifting between various experts of respective fields and desperately seeking answers to the cause of the problems. I also saw that how certain patients were developing complications, especially people from outlying areas for some it takes days to get to a doctor and they cannot afford this additional expense, and some people are not aware of how to take care of their health.
While touching my back, my doctor reassured that: “Everything will be right, have the courage we will provide you the best care, and your surgery is not a very major operation.” This was the moment I felt is worth living for my family, myself and for the community I live in. These circumstances strongly influenced me to get into medical school and fortunately, I am lucky enough to study medicine.
During third year of medical school, my doctor a cardiac surgeon named Dr. DPS told that we need to do this surgery soon because of severe transvalvular aortic pressure. We took our time to manage the cost of the surgery and also took into consideration an unexpected education gap from my medical school. Finally, after a decade of the stressful journey, my operation was done successfully.
During this journey, I realized the importance of love, compassion, touch, and empathy. Now whenever I clerk any patient in the hospital and during my BMJ elective in India, I look at them and realize: “Yes, I know how it feels to be a patient and what patient might be expecting from me like I realized being a patient once.” I can make a connection of empathy and love with the patients and can understand that within every human being there is a physician inside who knows only to love and care humanity.
As Hippocrates said, “Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.”
With the perspective of being a patient and a medical student, when I will become a doctor I would love to serve the community and deliver a cost-effective, evidence-based care to prevent patients from going into poverty so that they can say leading a stress free life, and prevent travelling distant places between multiple health care professionals.
Vivek Podder is a medical student.
Image credit: Shutterstock.com