The Need For Holistic Healthcare

Arun Datta,the COO of Seva At Home, describes his eye-opening experience of being on the other side of the healthcare system and his learnings from it.

It was early morning at 5am, on Saturday, October 30th 2021. I usually take it easy on weekend mornings and was planning to sleep late. However, I woke up with some discomfort in the left side of my abdomen and decided to get up and go to the washroom. No sooner had I gotten up from the bed, did the slight discomfort in my abdomen suddenly change into a sharp, shooting pain, the kind of which I had never experienced in my life!

I have taken pride in the fact that I have worked for four decades in healthcare delivery systems, but I had never been hospitalized in my life. There was a sense of accomplishment in being able to maintain myself and my health, even though I was entering the 69th year of my life.

I had also taken pride in having worked for almost four decades, heading HR departments of some of the leading hospital chains in the country. I have done a lot to make healthcare delivery compassionate and trustworthy. It is true, of course, that I have spent a large number of my working days, weeks, months and, in fact, years explaining the concepts of compassion and trust to employees working in hospitals, and training them to exhibit those competencies while at work.

Over the last few weeks, I have also been working to develop concepts in providing Palliative Care to oncology patients. I connected with a leading NGO that provides palliative care and spent some time with Doctors, Nurses and Psychotherapists, who were going from house to house, in the underprivileged sections of society, providing palliative care to patients suffering from cancer. The fact that this care, which was both selfless and compassionate, was being provided free of cost to patients who would otherwise be completely helpless, was an eye opener. My experience in healthcare delivery has mostly been in glitzy high-end hospitals, and this experience was in a way earth shattering!

The most glaring difference between what this NGO was doing and what we do in the hospitals, was that this NGO was providing a level of holistic care, including Clinical, Nursing, Psycho Social, and Spiritual care, which we in hospitals have been talking about for decades, but not been able to actually provide.

The pain in my abdomen was excruciating and even pain killers were not effective. Early in the morning I connected with one of the leading Gastroenterologists in Delhi, who advised me to immediately get a CT scan done and report to the hospital. I immediately complied, and on seeing the results of the scan he advised hospitalization. Within a matter of minutes, my pride in not having ever been admitted to a hospital lay shattered before me.

The scan showed that I was suffering from what is called jejunal diverticulitis, which is somewhat rare. What followed was two days of not being fed any food, severe pain in my abdomen, and being tied to the hospital bed with a drip feeding me drugs and glucose. The situation was so helpless that even to go to the washroom, I had to request the nurse to disconnect the cannula with the infusion bottles!

More importantly, what followed was two days of despair and depression, believing that my life, my career, my passion, my work would be severely compromised. I had assumed that whatever I was suffering from was chronic in nature, and the man who had taken pride in not being admitted to hospitals, will be admitted again and again! I looked around and found that everyone around me, the doctors, the nurses, were entirely unaware of what was going on inside my mind. They were, of course, monitoring my physical state very closely and very competently, but they had no knowledge of the state of my mind. Except for my immediate family, I could not confide in anyone, and could not share my fears with anyone.

Some more CT scans, some X-rays, a lot of poking me with needles at 3am to take samples followed. Later, the doctors—god bless them—told me that what had happened was actually an accident, and I may have ingested a bone with the chicken dish that I had consumed the night before the fateful day. All that was needed to give me a firsthand experience of the Holistic care that I was writing and reading about, was a small piece of chicken bone!

I have come back home, a more enlightened man having experienced the need for providing a more holistic care to patients. How I wish that someone had come during those first two days of my sickness, to provide the Psycho Social support that was desperately needed.

I have come back home a learned man. What I have been doing all this while in hospitals is to provide high-quality clinical and nursing care, entirely unaware of the mental state of patients. This concept of Holistic care, in which Psycho Social care and Spiritual care support Clinical and Nursing care, needs to be implemented in every case where healthcare is planned. It is this part of care that will distinguish healthcare experience from any other service or any other commodity buying experience!

Please don’t wait for that proverbial chicken bone experience before implementing it!

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