(Photo - Kandy Hospital, kandy-hospital.health.gov.lk/)
In the year 2006, three of my family members were hospitalized due to a viral disease which affected much of Sri Lanka, including myself. This was the time when Chikungunya was an epidemic in Sri Lanka, where I remember hearing most hospitals were filled with patients due to this outbreak. But fortunately, my family members and I were unaffected by this particular virus, and only a similar infection with reduced symptoms that still needed hospital attention.
I was very young at that time, and perhaps a little naïve to think getting admitted to a hospital would be fun and that everyone would be kind and caring. My family admitted me to a government hospital due to the lower cost and immediate service we required – private hospitals being a little too expensive for all of us at the time. The day I got admitted to the hospital it felt like the worst day of my life, at that age.
That evening I was in enormous pain. At night symptoms get worse than in the day time. So I could barely walk or talk, drink or eat - I was so shaky I couldn’t even stand up. Every inch of my body was in pain.
After my family admitted me to the hospital, they put me to a ward where all the hospital beds were filled. They gave me a bed where I had to share it with another lady. Imagine how that might have felt. Yes, it felt like hell. They gave me Panadol until the next morning when a Doctor came to diagnose me. With that pain, sharing a small bed where I could barely move, was a bit like torture. The only thing I could think of to bring relief was going back home. However, I could at least at that time take comfort in the fact I even had a bed to sleep instead of the floor. Yes I’ve seen people sleeping on the floor because the hospital didn’t have enough beds. My aunt was there to take care of me thankfully, trying to get the nurses attention when I was in great pain and distress. Each time what they said was to wait until the morning to get any medication other than a Panadol. I remember them being quite rude to my aunt because of her persistence. Did they have to? I was a child at the time and in pain. This must be the demand and pressure they were under where bedside manner was affected.
I stayed more than a week in that hospital and it was the worst few days of my life at that age. I promised never to fall sick ever again.
Not so long after this, my mother fell seriously ill and needed to undergo surgery as soon as possible. We admitted her to the same government hospital where I was earlier admitted in 2006. She had to wait several days for test results. In that time, I stayed with my mum, where government hospitals provided female-only wards. The only thing I had to sit on was a stool. When talking about the hygiene of the washrooms, this was the most difficult. It’s scary how potentially infecting those spaces were, where you would expect hygiene to be a high priority at a hospital. I understand resources being tight in order to see more patients, however what’s the point of seeing someone for one condition, putting them on a bed or the floor for the sake of speed, only for them to gain another infection or medical condition purely down to hygiene? This presents a huge risk.
Why do people go to government hospitals? This is a free service, anyone can receive treatment no matter whether they are rich, poor, middle class etc. – and that fact is one of the greatest resources for the country for which we can be proud. After the surgery my mother had to stay in the hospital for a few days to recover. And they discharged her saying she’s feeling better now. But after several days, her surgery cuts started to get infected due to a doctor error when stitching. Then again we had to admit her to a different government hospital. This time they performed the surgery correctly and she was cured. Something serious could have happened to my mother because of this error.
After completing my school studies, I started to fall sick again. This time we sought medical attention from our Family doctor, who works at a Private Medical Centre where each time I visited him he gives me candies and biscuits. At the time, I had a genuine fear of needles, so they had to be very patient with me. Nurses were very nice there & kind they always spoke softly, always had a big smile on their faces. To be honest I wasn’t even mad about getting sick all the time. But before you leave they would charge you a lot of money for all the services provided. It’s certainly less costly to be healthy, but I imagine the majority would struggle to pay these amounts frequently.
My next experience with government hospitals was not so long ago, when I suffered from a respiratory disease. My sickness got worse day by day and I was admitted to a government hospital. The first doctor I met told me I had pneumonia with little to no diagnosis. My family was shocked hearing this and I burst into tears. This was particularly worrisome because of the risks associated with this disease, and the thought of developing a serious illness like pneumonia made me more fearful and mentally down. Another doctor came to diagnose me properly and was a lot more considerate. She wasn’t sure about the earlier pneumonia diagnosis so decided to run a blood test and X-Ray.
When an attendant lady took me to the x ray room, I had to wait in a cold and small room with 6 women inside. The cold room made it difficult to breath where we had to wait more than a half an hour. Whilst we were waiting visibly uncomfortably, I was surprised to see the workers nicely laughing and gossiping not looking to see how we were, however scolding us heavily when we tried to leave. I understand they may have been waiting for something procedural, however a little communication and care here would have gone a long way.
After the X-ray and blood report they found out I had an ordinary respiratory infection and not pneumonia. This was a relief. I had to stay for 5 days, without a bed with all the physical pain, however I didn’t pressure for one because I was put in the kidney disease ward, where I observed these patients needed the beds more than I did. I’m assuming they put me there because there was no space in the other wards. This is the demand of Government Hospitals it seems.
In those few days I was hospitalized, I met a mother in the same kidney disease ward, who had a daughter of 12 years old at that time. Both her daughter’s kidneys had failed, where she had been on a waiting list for a kidney transplant for over a year. Her belly had grown to an unbearable size due to complications, and she had to be kept on dialysis to keep her alive. Her parents suspected that the wrong injection was given to her when a baby by a doctor at a government hospital for something that was meant to be routine. She was born completely healthy, and only began having complications after that visit, needing to have her hand amputated at the wrist as a result. Now she had to wait on dialysis for a kidney transplant. I don’t know if the poor girl still lives or not, I hope she does. I understand mistakes can happen, but if so, there needs to be due process. One mistake of a doctor has potentially put a healthy little girl’s life in the dark. What might her mother have felt? She given birth to a beautiful healthy baby girl and one doctor’s mistake just took it away from her. How can we justify this? Is this because of the demand and pressure experienced by Doctors at Government Hospitals? In my lifetime I have seen many incidents like this.
My experiences highlighted a difference at both Private and Public Hospitals. I noticed that better communication, cleaner toilets, and more time per patient could make a big impact on patient care and recovery, which do not take vast resources. I accept not everyone can afford private medical care, and free medical care at our Government Hospitals is one of the greatest boons of this country which we should be proud of, however I am mindful of the how small changes can make a big difference. If we could improve the patient experience, particularly at Government Hospitals, this could impact the wider majority of Sri Lankans, and potentially save lives. Such changes we can be proud of.
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