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Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Violence against doctors

The rising knowledge base on the internet, growing awareness of the limitations on healthcare professionals, and a general rise in intolerance levels among lay people, combined with adverse publicity through insensitive media have made violence against doctors a "daily" affair - especially in India. The trend is disturbing, to say the least. Had it been limited to angry shouting or shunning the particular doctor, it would have been all right. The problem is, the violence is now actually causing harm to doctors and their hard-earned property. 

It would be difficult to trace the time-line of this process. Doctors were, at one time, perceived to be honorable, noble professionals whose only avocation in life was to save lives. Changes in society have caused this thinking to get eroded over time. And, it is not just doctors who are responsible for the decline in moral values. Today, the medical education sector is completely at the mercy of immoral, dastardly businessmen and politicians, who have increased the cost of learning to unthinkable levels. When I did my M.B.B.S., the cost of the entire course to me was less than Rs. 3000/= ... which, even 30 years ago, was not a very big amount. We earned back our investments during our internship, which paid us Rs. 450/= per month as stipend. Thus, there was no angst, or desire to earn back my investment, and doctors in my time turned out to have good morals and a more altruistic attitude towards sick people. Post-graduate education was almost free; we just had to buy our books. In fact, as house-physicians and registrars, we got paid every month for the hard work that we put in. 

Today, the investment is in lakhs of rupees, and for post-graduate entry into the choicest of branches, the investment amount is in multiples of 1 crore! (1 crore is 10 million, and 65 Indian rupees is equivalent to 1 USD). How can society then expect today's newly graduating doctor to be altruistic, to treat patients at low cost, to be charitable? Their first goal will be to get back their investment, not to give free treatment, right? Thus, society has reaped what it sowed. Today's doctors are not the brightest students either ... those who have deep pockets, regardless of their intellectual levels  are doctors today, while the truly deserving student with an economic disadvantage is often the one who misses out on becoming a doctor. So, you not only have avarice, but also incompetence added to your pot of miseries. 

Coming now to the media: in India, doctors were at the receiving end when one Mr. Aamir Khan, in his signature program on changing society, painted all doctors in the black. Falling short of calling them blackguards of today's India, he messed up the minds of his millions of viewers by convincing them that doctors over-investigated, over-referred, over-treated and over- everything in their bid to bleed their patients dry of money. This may be true of about a percent of doctors, and you will find that most such doctors are actually in this profession only for business and profit, and not for doing any good to society. The damage Mr. Khan caused to the image of the entire medical profession is yet to be mitigated. A small episode within a recent movie again showed doctors to be the modern scourge of society (Akshay Kumar in Gabbar Is Back, 2015). 

The negative media exposure that doctors got through the above few examples raised the intolerance of patients. Often, they do not know the effort doctors put in to save the lives of their near and dear ones. Do they realise that often they are the guilty ones: they bring their patient late ... just so as to try some alternative therapy, so that admission  and its higher costs can be avoided. Sometimes, they are actually not interested in saving the old parent or grand-parents' life, and make a show of causing violence to hide their dark deeds when the old person dies due to late arrival. Again, I am not saying that all care-takers are bad, but over 20% are in fault, regardless of their intention ... mostly because they do not have the finances necessary to bring their sick family members or friends in for emergency care.

In the last several months, tens of attacks have taken place in various parts of India, Pakistan, Bangla Desh and other South Asian countries. These populations have similar ethnic and ethical backgrounds; they have the same access to media; they have the same mental make-up. Is it therefore surprising that similar attacks are taking place in each of these countries? However, the problem is most serious in India, where doctors have been brutally and mercilessly beaten up for being the messenger of bad news rather than being negligent. Swift justice is meted out by a crowd of the relatives of the patient, accompanied by the student wing of recognised political parties (read hooligans) who break the hospital's furniture, create mayhem, beat up the doctor and his staff (including helpless nurses who are from the same society that the patient and their relatives are), and file a police case and a consumer court complaint against the doctor and his nursing home. Harrowing stories of doctors getting critical injuries and getting admitted to ICUs have emerged. 

But, I hear that doctors are now organising themselves to hit back at the belligerence with more of their own. When an attack of such nature is anticipated, doctors send out messages to all the other doctors of their area, and a group of doctors assembles at the venue before the news of a patient's bad turn or demise is communicated to the relatives. The relatives are clearly told that violence of any kind will be recorded on cameras installed at different locations of the hospital or nursing home, that there is a law that will punish the perpetrators with heavy fines and imprsonment plus recovery of the costs of the damage caused to the property and the treatment costs to healthcare staff who get injured in the attack. 

In the coming months, the entire issue will be more and more clear as society and doctors are at loggerheads with each other. I hope that good sense prevails. 

Thank you for reading this article. Although it does not directly address a health issue, it is highly relevant and appropriate that we are even discussing it in a public forum. 

Fever is a symptom and not a disease, but ...

As I have mentioned in my earlier post, fever is not a disease by itself. Treating it with paracetamol merely causes the fever to subside, without actually affecting the underlying cause of the fever. It is important to know the following additional facts about fever:

  1. High fever can produce fits in infants and toddlers; although these fits look very dangerous to parents and care-takers, they are merely a reflection of the immaturity of a small child's brain and nervous system pathways; no long-term medicine is needed except in the rarest of circumstances.
  2. In children (and adults) of all ages, fever increases the thirst and fluid requirements of the patient; thus, febrile children or adults must be given extra liquids - usually 10% more than the usual for every degree Centigrade the fever is above 38 degrees.
  3. A patient who is running a fever should never be force-fed food; nor should food be withheld from one who desires it. In short, let the patient decide what, how much and in what form he needs. Starving a child with fever is a criminal act, since it further weakens his/her body and prevents it from fighting the underlying cause of the fever (usually an infection with bacteria).
  4. Very high fever (more than 105 degrees Fahrenheit) is termed malignant hyperpyrexia ... and in the extreme case, it can be potentially fatal, i.e. kill the patient due to complete derangement of all systems in the body.
While most causes of fever in children are easy to manage and not life-threatening, fever accompanied by any of the following additional symptoms should be considered as "not just fever" and such children should be referred to a Paediatrician immediately:           
  • High grade fever
  • Uncontrolled or repeated or very large-sized vomiting or loose stools
  • Irritable, excessively jumpy or crying child
  • Older child who remains in bed all the time and refuses to drink liquids or appears inactive, dull or lethargic
  • Has had fever-associated fits in the past, or during the present illness
  • There are significant symptoms pointing to a serious infection such as arching of the back (meningitis), dark coloured, blackish urine (malaria), stomach bloating (typhoid) or moist, hacking cough with sputum and chest pain (pneumonia)
Learn to understand fever and try not to panic.  Check out the link to my earlier detailed post on fever to learn how to manage fever at home. When in doubt, go to your child's doctor immediately.

My Child Care book is now available off the net

Dear Readers,

I have updated and revised my original child care book that I first wrote a decade ago, and have now made a soft copy available on the internet for sale at a very low price. Do check out the link below: 

Click here or see the full link below, copy and paste it into the address bar of your browser and click "go".

I trust that you will like it and will buy it. Proceeds will be shared between the marketing site and me, and I will use the money to help children from poor communities in Mumbai and around Mumbai to realise their true potential. Thank you very much. 

If you do buy it, please write a comment about this in this blog and I will be sure to add you to my prayers. Also, after browsing through it and using it for a few months, do write to me a testimonial, telling me how you found the book and send it to my email address

Thank you.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Hidden Disabilities

I am writing this post to sensitise my dear readers about disabilities in people (here, I will stay with children, since this blog is about them) that are not obvious, but need attention all the same.

First of all, disabled people are also people. Just because a child is deaf, or visually challenged, does not mean he/she has no other aspects to his/her character; such a child can, and does, have emotional needs, ambitions, desires, etc. They still experience pain when hurt; they still laugh, cry, express anger, feel depressed, agonise, enjoy, and so on. We must look beyond the disability and express not just sympathy, but also try and understand what they need and how they must be integrated into society.

This post is about children whose disabilities belong to one of the following categories:

a) They are not routinely symptomatic, but can develop symptoms when stressed - e.g. a child with epilepsy, or one with allergy
b) A child who is physically normal but has neuro-developmental issues - e.g. a child with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or a child with behavioural issues related to a neurological disease (e.g. a child with sensory perception disorder (SPD)
c) A child with visible disability, but who is ignored or misunderstood - e.g. a dyslexic child is punished for getting poor grades because the teacher and parents think he is faking, or is naughty, or anti-social.

What is needed here is to understand that such children are all children with special needs. They need understanding of their condition. A sensitive healthcare policy at the national level, a sensitive person who is bearing the brunt of facing such a child, and a sensitive family are all important, nay, pivotal, to the well-being of such a child.

What such children can undergo are the following:

a) aggravation of their medical problem if they are not understood
b) violence and injury at the hands of disciplinarians, peers and parents
c) misdiagnosis leading to improper treatment
d) humiliation and ridicule - sometimes worse than physical violence
e) loss of opportunity/time/ etc. because the society has not begun to modify their environment for such children.

To prevent these from happening, let us all decide to try and be more empathetic towards children with hidden disabilities; let us be sensitive and non-judgemental towards them; let us be sincere and honest about our knowledge gaps and try and learn more about these problems; and, if we are caring for such children, let us be more caring and careful while dealing with them.

I welcome your comments. Thank you.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Taming the Throat

Throat infections come in different forms in children, and toddlers are especially vulnerable to them. While bacteria cause major infections, viruses are not to be left behind in the frequency with which they occur and the misery which they cause. The commonest throat infection is the SORE THROAT, or what is called as PHARYNGITIS. Caused by bacteria or viruses, this infection is so common all over the globe that it ranks as the COMMONEST respiratory tract infection among children.

A child with pharyngitis will usually have a soreness of the throat, be unable (to some degree) to swallow food, liquids, or even his own spit, have fever, body pains, throat pain (expressing itself as a feeling of "pins and needles" when he attempts to swallow something) and, sometimes, a cough. 

Most of the times, such infections are imported through day-care or nursery schools. A pediatrician would, when asked to examine such a child, look at the back of the child's throat, his tonsils, his neck glands, take his temperature, and then take a call on what level of urgency and which kind of treatment is thought necessary. Bacterial sore throats would need to be investigated by a throat swab to look for "strep" and if positive, the child would receive oral penicillin or other alternatives (if the patient is allergic to penicillins). The duration of treatment must be up to 10 days to completely eliminate the germs from the body. If the sore throat is deemed to be viral in nature, an antibiotic is not usually required, but the child must be given good supportive care such as rest, increased intake of liquids, steam inhalation if there is blockage of the air passages, etc. 

The next form of throat infection is something that rarely occurs nowadays, but it has not yet been eradicated from the US of A. This is whooping cough, an illness that is pretty ancient. It is caused by the pertussis bacteria. This was a killer disease in pre-vaccination times, but, thankfully, with universal immunisation of children with the pertussis vaccine, it occurs rarely. However, it can still be potentially fatal, especially when it occurs in smaller infants less than 3 months of age.

The child with a whooping cough has a whoopy sound at the end of each bout of cough. The bouts can be really long, very tiring, and be very taxing on the rest of the body. The huge cough bouts can exhaust the child; they can cause haemorrhages in the conjunctivae of the eyes, tear chest muscles (the ones involved in breathing), paralyse the nerve that supplies the voice box (and cause difference in the voice) and so on. 

Patients with whooping cough are diagnosed with blood tests and with a nose swab that is cultured in the microbes laboratory to discover the pertussis bacteria. Treatment is with an appropriate antibiotic (though it does not much work) and with cough syrups that can suppress the cough. In addition, nutrition must be looked after as well as addressing the fluid needs of the child.

The last common infection I am going to discuss is infection of the tonsils, or tonsillitis. We all have several tonsillar tissues in our throats, but the one I am referring to are the pair located just behind the tongue on either side of the mid-line. When the child is an infant, they can swell up especially in bottle-fed babies; when a toddler, they can get infected by cross contamination in a day-care school or the nursery. 

A child with tonsillitis presents in much the same way as the one with pharyngitis; however, the pain and discomfort is usually greater with tonsillitis. Usually, the child with tonsillitis has enlarged neck glands in addition to the swelling of the tonsils. 

Treatment is once again with antibiotics used for at least 7-10 days. Some children keep getting repeated attacks of either pharyngitis or tonsillitis. In the latter case, they sometimes become candidates for a form of surgery where the doctor removes the tonsils (most of the time with the other pair of tonsillar glands - the adenoids - that are situated high in the roof of the mouth). There is a clear trend nowadays to NOT REMOVE THE TONSILS as they have a key role to play in defending the body against bacteria, viruses and other offending organisms.

I hope you liked this primer on throat infections. If you have to ask any questions, feel free to ask me through the comments section.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Rules for Using Antibiotics

When it comes to treating bacterial infections, antibiotics are THE main form of treatment. Most patients have heard the word "anti-biotic" but do not clearly know what they are and how they work.
To make a long story short, antibiotics are made from bacteria themselves; they are special agents that prevent the multiplication of, or actually stop the growth of other bacteria, or even kill them. As you know, anti- means against, and bio- means related to life; hence, antibiotics are "against life".
Some examples of antibiotics which are frequently used by Paediatricians for sick children are the penicillins, drugs like erythromycin, drugs like the tetracyclines, and so on. To this list must be added some synthetically derived chemcals that also perform as well as the antibiotics - they too can either stop the growth of, or actually kill, disease causing germs (bacteria). As the term implies, antibiotics do work to stop bacteria, but they do not act of other forms of microbes like viruses, fungi, etc. For these other types of disease-causing life-forms, we have anti-viral drugs, anti-fungal drugs, and so on. These medicines are not our focus, so I will, simply, move on.
Patients and their care-givers are never too happy to receive antibiotics, since these are often bitter, induce side-effects like nausea, vomiting, loose bowels, etc. in addition to rarer but more troublesome side-effects like falling hair, blisters in the mouth, rashes on the skin, and so on. Also, antibiotics must, once begun, be continued for the entire prescribed duration. This increases the risk of side-effects even more.
It is therefore imperative to know what rules and principles govern the use of antibiotics. Here is a basic list. I hope readers go through this basic list and then seek more information should they desire it through a comprehensive source such as an internet search or access to a text-book of pharmacology.
1. Use an antibiotic only after consulting a physician.
2. Never use an antibiotic for a period longer than that told to you by the physician. A shorter period than that advised will probably not hurt the child, but it, still, is not the correct thing to do. Most common illnesses need use of an antibiotic for about 5-7 days, though the period can vary from just one day to as many as 42 days, or even longer, depending upon the characteristics of thei llness as well as the drug being used.
3. Store an opened bottle of antibiotic inside the refrigerator, or, if that is not available in your home, in a dark and cool area of the house, such as in the bathroom wall cabinet, or a special drug cabinet, or whatever. Exposure to heat can cause denaturation of the active medicine inside the bottle, so that, at the very least, it may change colour, or at the very worst, it can cease to be effective.
4. Do not repeat an old prescription thinking that :what worked for the patient the last time will also work this time. This almost always never happens, as illnesses that look alike in appearance and manifestation may actually be two different illnesses, needing different medicines.
5. Even worse, do not use antibiotics used by other friends or neighbours; for the same reason, of course, but also because as they may not be related to the patient genetically, the same medicine may not just not work; it may even prove to be harmful to you or your child.
6. Antibiotics should not be used for viral illnesses, fungal infections and so on, as, clearly, they won't work in such illnesses.
7. Dosing and frequency of use should be strictly adhered to, as germs and antibiotics complement each other: for example, if the recommended dose is 5 ml twice a day, do not arbitrarily change it to, say, 3 times a day. This can prove to be disastrous to the child.
These are the basic rules. There are many others, such as whether to have them before a meal or after, which other medicines to avoid taking WITH it, and so on. Do ask the treating physician about the relevant questions and be guided by the light of knowledge.
Thank you for the read. Do leave your comments.

Friday, February 21, 2014

The most effective prevention against diseases

Returning to this blog after several months, I found, happily, that people continue to visit my blog as before. I decided to re-enter the world of advising lay people and this entry is a step in that direction. 

Most readers would agree that there are many measures to prevent diseases; some include making major changes in life-style, some involve taking expensive vaccines or medicines; some involve relocating oneself from a harmful environment, and still others call for expensive investigations to detect the harbingers of an illness that is yet to affect you. However, the most beneficial and most inexpensive method to thwart diseases - specially infective illnesses, which are a significant cause of illness and death all over the world - is correct hand-washing

As doctors, we all do it countless numbers of times every day during our busy office practice. Surgeons wash their hands so thoroughly that they sometimes spend minutes on this pre-op preparation. It stands to reason, therefore, that the medical fraternity is convinced that hand-washing is extremely important. The reason is simple: our bodies are colonised by billions of bacteria, some harmless, but many, the cause of skin infections as well as more deadly internal infections that have the potential to kill. 

About 2.2 million children under the age of 5 die each year from diarrheal diseases and pneumonia, the top two killers of young children around the world. Handwashing is not only simple and inexpensive, but remarkably, handwashing with soap can dramatically cut the number of young children who get sick. Handwashing with soap could protect about 1 out of every 3 young children who get sick with diarrhea and almost 1 out of 6 young children with respiratory infections like pneumonia. Although people around the world clean their hands with water, very few use soap to wash their hands. Washing hands with soap removes germs much more effectively. (From:

The Center for Diseases Control, USA has several articles on hand-washing, and THIS ARTICLE forms the important backdrop. THIS ONE is the one that details when and how hand-washing must be done. Be sure to click on the "Show me the Science" link on the left to better understand the rationale behind hand-washing. 

I hope this entry helps you to understand how important this simple method of disease prevention is. Be blessed.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Antibiotic abuse

Most parents and care-givers expect the doctor to prescribe an antibiotic whenever they take their child to the doctor for symptoms of cough and cold, a runny nose or a sore throat. In fact, during my practice, I had to face their (the patents') angry glances when I told them that the antibiotic was not only unnecessary, but likely to produce harm than good.

The CDC calls the misuse/overuse/abuse of antibiotics as one of the greatest scourges of the modern world. The reason for this is simple to understand.

The first thing to know is that most common infective illnesses are caused either by bacteria or by viruses. While bacteria are life forms and when attacked by antibiotics, are likely to get killed, viruses are pure genetic material that multiply inside human cells and thus cause illness. Treating a bacterial illness with an antibiotic may make sense if the child has been seen by a qualified doctor; managing a viral illness with the same kind of medicine is useless as viruses are not "life" forms in the way we understand life.

Well, then, you might ask, why all this hullabaloo over using antibiotics for viral illness? The reasons are twofold. The first is that antibiotic overuse may create an environment inside your body that makes bacteria get used to those antibiotics ... so that you need stronger and stronger antibiotic agents the next time you have the same illnesses that needed simpler antibiotics the last time around.

In addition to this problem of antibiotic resistant germs making their home in your body temple, there is one other major problem caused by the ill-advised use of antibiotics, which is the occurrence of SIDE EFFECTS.  As antibiotics are medicines, they can produce side-effects as varied as rashes, loose motions, fever, vomiting, body aches and so on. These side-effects are usually temporary, but can drain the little ones' energy and cause problems that may need a consultation with the HIGHER specialist. 

Thus, my advise to you all is this: try and resist an antibiotic prescription, and if you do need it, or think you need it, re-visit the child's doctor for him/her to endorse the need for it; use the entire course without interruption (usually, antibiotics are used for a fixed duration of between 6-10 days, but there are a few which are only needed to be given for 3 days, and some that are needed for longer than 10 days. The last bit of advice is to never keep the unused portion of a liquid antibiotic for future use as such antibiotics lose potency beyond the specified storage period of about 3-7 days.

An additional bit of caution: never use antibiotics prescribed for your friend/cousin/neighbour's child. This is simply disastrous.

I hope this post has helped to clarify the position about the captioned topic. Thank you for reading.

Friday, May 24, 2013

How to raise a genius child

I am posting this because of a personal request by Ms. Allison Morris to share this with the readers of this blog. I do not entirely endorse the point of view expressed by the site, because I believe bringing up a well-rounded child may be important, but should not be the only goal for parents. It is rather more important not to pressure the child at a tender age and let him/her grow at his/her natural pace. However, here is the link to the site:

Do go through the site and post your comments below in the comments section.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

How to Wean the infant off frequent Night-time feeds

Many parents have approached me with this very common problem faced by them: the baby has grown beyond her first birthday, and is still waking up the mother for breast feeds or top feeds almost three or more times during the night.

The problem is accentuated by the fact that many middle-class families have working mothers who need the rest at night time. Being woken up by an irritable, fretful child can be very taxing for both the parents and sometimes even the older children in the house or the grand-parents in case of an extended family.

Such a problem needs to be first understood from the child's perspective. The child wakes up her mother not because she is really hungry, but because she is habituated to fall asleep while suckling or needs to suckle every few hours. It is important to remember that mother's milk is no longer very nutritious by the time more than a year has passed in the age of the baby. If the mother does not discipline the child at this age, the problem may not go away until the child has grown older, much older.

So, how does one go about it? Imagine that a child is waking her mother up four times in the night: at 11, then 1, then 4 and finally at 6 a.m. When she wakes up at 11 p.m., feed her immediately. At 1 a.m., let the child cry for 5-6 minutes and then feed her. Ditto at 4 a.m. At 6 a.m., feed her immediately. The next night, the child will learn to wake at about 5-10 minutes past 1 a. m. Delay this feed by 5 more minutes the next night, and so on till one feed (the 6 a.m. one), gets pushed on to the morning. Repeat this till both the night feeds have been eliminated.

The following two changes may help prevent frequent wakings AND development of the urge to demand night time feeds: the first is letting the baby sleep in her own separate bed/cot/.crib from mid-infancy; the second is having a separate baby room so that the baby learns from early on (say from around the age of 10-11 months) to sleep alone. 

I hope the above write-up helps my readers.

On the face of it, the words "let the baby cry" may sound inhuman or cruel, but, believe me, there is no other alternative. People have tried giving sleeping medication or even opium to the baby ... but surely you aren't going to try that, are you?

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