Doctors should manifest more decency and humanity when dealing with the terminally ill

Dear Editor,

I appeal to our medical practitioners, specifically doctors, to manifest more decency, kindness, understanding, and humanity when they deal with the sick, especially the terminally ill. In my limited travels across Guyana, while sharing with the sick and their caregivers, there have been too many complaints from the despairing of the treatment meted out to either themselves, or their loved ones.  I have listened to horror stories of disrespect, exploitative overtures, and near total lack of tact or care.

Let me be clear: I understand that schedules are tight, the number of patients overwhelming, and the operational environment challenging, but what has been shared by the suffering and family members is inexcusable.  I point no finger at any single professional, or at any one institution, be it public or private.  All I say is that five minutes can make a difference, can comfort, and can console those most in need of this at a very traumatizing time in their lives.  Let there be less of the brusqueness and more of care and courtesy. And humanity, too.

To support my appeal, I submit the following three face-to-face revelations. First, I heard from a very sick patient of being told, “Take two Tylenol …go home and wait to die.”  Then, I heard from a distraught mother being told after a surgical procedure that her then 9-year-old daughter had to have chemotherapy treatments.  This poor woman relayed to me that she was thinking to herself, “This has to be cancer. Is this what my daughter has? Why is no one telling me?”  She further told me of calling on her cousin, who is a doctor and asking whether her child has cancer, given this development about chemo, only to be told that she has to “check her book.”  The cousin apparently never responded. It may – may – be the white smock of silence in action.  The mother decided to confront the doctors, and her worst fears were confirmed finally: it was cancer.  That child died last Saturday at the age of 11.  She is without pain now.  Last, a hairdresser in New Amsterdam told us of a doctor informing her, “You have a year to live.”  Who really knows with that degree of precision in some cases, and here where the technology and expertise is severely limited?  That hairdresser is still alive today and doing better.  It is way past a year.  There are other stories, but I think the point is established in these three instances of cancer.  I wonder if it is unreasonable to extrapolate that similar conduct – in whatever form –occurs with other diseases, and other patients.

Patients have a right to know, a right to be treated like a human being; why, even pets get better treatment from vets.  It is my belief that those who are blessed with higher callings through education, skill, and opportunity have a responsibility – indeed, an obligation – to fulfil the same through decency and compassion.  And never more so than in the medical field, when man is at his lowest and most vulnerable.

I condemn no one; I only seek for this message to lay bare the anguish of the sick and suffering.  I ask that a new and different resonance be exhibited in the professional lives of our medical personnel, when they deal with those devastated by the unexpected; and now clinging to the ruptured promise of a suddenly interrupted life.

Yours faithfully,
GHK Lall

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