A doctor narrates his encounter with corruption, and his hope for the future.
It was a regular day in my government dispensary attached to a mofussil town when a patient walked through the door. She was a 65-year-old woman accompanied by her husband. Both had a jovial disposition. In an area where violence against doctors is not a rare occurence, such patients actually make your day. She took the chair next to me after a heartfelt greeting and mumbled her complaints in Marathi, “Doctor, ashaktapana vatat aahe” (Doctor, I’m feeling weak). I examined her thoroughly but before I could prescribe any treatment, her husband spoke out with conviction, “Doctor, saline laava!”(Doctor, please give her a saline drip!).
You can imagine what it feels like to come across such requests when you are a qualified medical practitioner. Obviously, the patient had absolutely no inkiling of any scenario that would necessitate fluid infusion, a fact that I explained to them as clearly as I could. Even though the patient seemed content with my assurances, her husband had an air of disbelief. As she walked out of my cabin, her husband stayed back and sat besides me. In a servile fashion, he tried to push a couple of hundred-rupee notes into my pocket, saying, “Doctor, chaha-paani sathi theva. Pan saline laava!” (Doctor, you may keep the bribe. But please give her a saline drip!).
Lay people taking their health into their own hands is a prominent trend today. While those in cities often turn to Google to self-diagnose their ailments, search for remedies and even browbeat the doctor with that ‘information’, patients in rural areas have their own set of convictions. For many, a dispensary is little more than a grocer’s shop where you can buy whatever you like. For them, a visit to the doctor is incomplete until they have been given an injection infused with glucose and prescribed a dozen medicines in differently coloured bottles to carry home. You turn them down, being a doctor, often for their own benefit and safety, but they continue to pester you for the medicines they want. Sometimes, you risk being assaulted by a not-so-amiable patient. No doubt, our medical stores have no other option than to turn into grocery stores.
You may feel amused when you think of such an individual episode, but imagine how baleful the bigger picture can be. Not only does it mean affecting one’s health, it’s also wasteful for a country that is yet to see an optimal healthcare budget. Not to mention, it fosters unethical practices among healthcare providers.
There are certain rigid perceptions attached to corruption. One is that corruption is an underhand, condemnable practice that brings disgrace when let into the open and, therefore, we hardly see anyone boasting about having given/received a bribe. We tend to talk of the payer of the bribe as an unfortunate, unwilling victim – while the one on the receiving end attracts our condemnation. However, such stereotypes do not account for the complexity of the bribery scenario. People are offering money even when it is not asked for. A byproduct is that nearly every professional is being painted with the same dirty brush, obliterating the clean, honest ones.
What maintains order in a society are rules and laws, and what holds those laws in place are the prevalent virtues and sentiments. What we’re witnessing today is a gradual decay in such sentiments. If this continues, the very perception of bribery as unacceptable may start to fade. The feeling of normalcy and familiarity towards corruption is gradually leading us into a darker future and no one – at either the giving or receiving end – will be left unscathed.
Corruption as a problem needs to be tackled on both legal and psychological planes, and our relative inability, even today, to work effectively on the latter remains a serious problem.
The author is a medical doctor with special interest in medico-legal cases and medical education.