By Irfan Bukhari –
A penny held very close to eyes can even hide the stars
‘To serve humanity.’ That’s what our parents and teachers told us, when spelling out why medicine would be a noble calling. This mantra became a meaningless cliche for me by the time I reached second year at medical college, when I observed my teachers – who were practitioners as well – and learnt that the sole purpose of the profession was to earn money. More and more of it.
Leaving aside all the tools and tactics I employed during my stay at the medical college to get through the exams, I started taking bribes right from my days at the ‘house job.’ I must have written up thousands of prescriptions without even looking at the patients in question. Gave them what they wanted.
They say a habit is like a cord; we weave a thread of it every day and at last we cannot break it. Same is the case with me that till today on my prescriptions there are around fifty percent medicines that I would have prescribed unnecessarily. That’s what ‘Big Pharma’ does to you.
The trick is, in the beginning, to get a job in the public health sector. It eases you in this ever lucrative market. Government hospitals. That’s where you make your contacts.
Right from my house job till many years later, I did every experiment I could on the patients and felt no shame as every other doctor was practicing the same methods. I never missed any get-together of friends and family to attend emergency patients because I always thought that I was not alone to treat the whole world. However, on the flipside, I neglected my friends and family, too, whenever I got an opportunity of money-making through any deal with any pharmaceutical company.
I thought it was the duty of the nurses to attend patients all day long and through the night as well and that the doctors’ responsibility ended once the disease was diagnosed and the medicines were prescribed. Initially, I never remained absent from the ward during the visiting of senior doctors or officials of the hospital, but this fear also evaporated after some time, after I made friends within the hospital administration.
After that, my first and foremost priority was to establish my own clinic. I was generously helped by those pharmaceutical companies and medical laboratories who had money off me in the past. With the launch of my own private clinic, my attention fully diverted to it and my visits to the hospital were few and far between. And whenever I visited wards my priority was to encourage patients to visit me at my private clinic.
Thanks to over-crowded government hospitals, my private practice was rapidly growing, with long queues of patients at my door. Apart from fees charged from the patients, I was pocketing huge shares of commissions from pharmaceutical companies and private medical diagnostic labs. It became a fashion in my clinic to refer every patient, even of simple infections, to clinical labs for multiple expensive tests.
Then I decided to establish my own lab and a little pharmacy in my own clinic. I did abdominal ultrasounds of even those patients who had no complaint leading to such investigations just to mint money. I earned millions of rupees from giving medical drips to patients without caring standard procedures that also spread Hepatitis B, C in the community telling the patients that they were suffering with hypo-tension and a drip was a compulsion.
Dispensing painkillers and tranquilizers became the trademark of my clinical practice. Every new pharmaceutical company set up in any corner of the country was selling its stuff at the store located in my clinic. Owing to these services, I was gifted with a brand new automatic motor car and dozens of trips to charming destinations across the globe.
My bank balance was growing at high speed. I decided to establish a private hospital as the lust for money ,too, was growing unabatedly. The launch of the hospital landed me into a new world of seemingly unlimited monetary opportunities. I hired the services of my colleague surgeons and a state-of-the-art maternity ward was definitely a must. It is the distinction of my hospital till date that no baby was born there with normal delivery. Hundreds of unnecessary operations of appendicitis were carried out in my medical facility while the patients had no inflammation of the appendix at all.
On the other hand, my journey of promotion as government servant was oiled with my wealth and success. I assumed charge of medicine ward registrar. Now every decision regarding procurement demand was to be taken by me and I fully exploited the position. I even felt no hesitation in taking surgical tools and devices to my private hospital whenever needed. Due to personal intimacy with the Medical Superintendent (MS), I remained partner in crimes of financial mismanagement, favouring bids that could provide personal benefits, hiring people without merit and not paying heed to corrupt practices of the office staff. The medico-legal certificates were issued by upon payment of bribes.
I still remember with a streak of shame in my mind that once my hospital authorities refused to release the body of a patient who died in our care because the relatives could not afford to pay the medical bills. The psychiatrists at my hospital fearlessly diagnosed children as young as two years old with bipolar disorder and treated with a cocktail of powerful drugs but I never stopped them.
I was inducted in the Board of Governors of a private medical college initiated by one leading businessman of my town. I taught him the techniques how to sell seats and charge unofficial donations from medical-education-crazed parents.
An apple a day, my friends. Take care of yourselves; I’m not a nice man to know.
The writer is the managing editor, Pique