In Defence Of Doctors

A few years ago there was a concerted smear campaign against doctors of the valley. Newspapers, radio and television talk shows, even the public at large joined the chorus. Senior politicians also joined the 'hate doctors' campaign but no responses were forthcoming from the normally vociferous leaders of our associations and unions. I felt compelled to write a letter titled "In defence of doctors' to the newspaper spearheading the campaign and was somewhat surprised to see that the editor had chosen to print my response virtually unedited on the editorial page.

Some excerpts:

It seems to be a long time ago that medicine was regarded as a noble profession. Today it probably is one of the most reviled ones going by the unending media crusade carried out against doctors with your esteemed paper being at the forefront. Hardly a day goes by without a screaming front-page headline against doctors. Do we really deserve this treatment? I think not, but who am I to think? The news media fraternity, being the moral guardians of Kashmir, has decided that the common public needs to be warned against doctors….

… Just think, while you sleep in your warm bed, who has sacrificed his comfort and family life in the struggle to save lives? Do we not have the right to hope for a better life? Do we not have families to take care of, children to nurture? Do we not get tired, or fall sick? Do we not have the right to have a cup of tea after a hard duty shift? Are we not human beings? Doctors are just as vulnerable to the pressures of society as everyone else. The physical and mental stress on doctors any where in the world is enormous. In each patient 'life or death' decisions have to be made with the onus being upon the doctor. Even though they are the highest-earning professionals in the west, doctors have the highest stress, addiction, divorce and suicide rates in society. In Kashmir the additional pressures are so high that its a wonder that we are able to work at all.

Years later I am somewhat wiser and sadder because just as there are good and bad people in every society, so it is with doctors. I must admit that some of the apprehensions of the finger-pointers were justified. In recent years the focus of medicine seems to be shifting from nobility to profitability. Privatisation of health-care is both necessary and inevitable but serious introspection is needed on the part of doctors. The businessmen who are investing in medicine cannot be expected to have altruistic motives so the onus is upon health-care providers to maintain keep both Apollo and Bacchus in good humour.

At this point let me quote Dr. J.F Foster :

The profession of medicine is potent for good and evil. For good in the hands of him who makes it his lifelong study; for evil in his hands who adopts it merely as a respectable means of obtaining his livelihood.

I share my profession, my birthday and a love for Kashmir with Dr. Foster. A strange kinship it is indeed, for he died almost a century before I was born. His diary of his wanderings in Kashmir – Three Months of My Life, by J. F. Foster – is a fascinating record of Kashmir in the nineteenth century.

Oh! Kashmir, loveliest spot on earth, I owe thee a deep debt of
I came to thee weak in body; thou hast restored my strength,
I was poor in thought; thou hast filled my heart with good things,
I was proud in conceit; thou hast shown me nature's grandeur and my own
With a voiceless tongue thou hast spoken and my spirit has
heard the unuttered words….

The good doctor died on the way back to England from Kashmir where he had come to recuperate. The last strokes of his pen in his journal are a fitting epitaph:

And now farewell.
May your shadow never grow less!
May you live for a thousand years.