“Don’t get too close!”
“Take your bag away!”
“Yuck, yuck… go take a dip in Dettol first!”
These are some of the reactions a medical student receives from his/her loving family on returning home.
It’s been almost a year now since I started clinical postings and from day one, I (and certainly my family) have started seeing my college stuff as extensions of the hospital. My college bag, lab coats, my own clothes – nothing has been spared.
Before you become all sympathetic towards me and rush in with handkerchiefs, I must make some confessions! The hospitals associated with my medical college are both government-run and are perfect representatives of the typical third-world country health care system (did I say system?). The concept of hygiene is a deeply muddled one… you might find sweepers ‘sweeping’… but don’t ask me the color of the sweep-water, much less it’s odor and constituents. In many wards, you’ll find maintenance to be so poor that apart from insects and such infesting the bedding, you’ll see a sizeable population of cats of all ages. There’s also the occassional rat scurrying away with bread from the patient’s lunch tray (I saw this myself!). I could go on and on…
You’re wondering HOW a hospital could possibly be that dirty? Wouldn’t that be completely opposite to what a hospital stands for – hygiene, health, healing? No doctor would approve of what’s going on but then, with a general lack of funds and more importantly, misuse of what we have, it seems to beyond anyone’s reach to fix things. People who visit these hospital are generally from the lower-middle class and even poorer, so they are not well aware of what counts as ‘clean’ and what counts as ‘dirty’. Chewing betel nuts and all sorts of addictive rubbish that’s sold in the markets, they spit wherever they like. That’s why, you’ll see every wall, footpath, staircase landing spattered with red marks – where do you start working when the people are spitting everywhere and no one’s bothered to check the sale of such garbage?
Coming back to the point – the public hospitals are no where close to the acceptable level of ‘clean’. If that wasn’t enough to warrant the exile of my college stuff from the general areas of the house, there’s also the fact that I mingle with the patients. As a medical student, or a doctor, conducting examinations of the patient is one of the main things we learn. An examination of the abdomen or the chest will, of course, involve contact too. Palpating the patient’s abdomen to examine the liver, spleen or percussing the chest wall to check for resonance are routine procedures. There’s also the General Physical Examination which includes everything from checking the patient’s hair, to checking out the state of his oral cavity and even – something my sisters thoroughly dislike hearing of – palpating for the patient’s lymph nodes… even those in the armpits!
See, after all that, even you could agree with my family. I don’t blame you! I’m the medical student in question and with all due respect to my profession and the patients I must take care of, the lack of hygiene even makes me take extra precautions with my things. My hospital clothes, lab coat, watch, stethoscope – once I return home – find themsevles shoved into a corner untill the next day. I find this to be the best I can do. What was that you said? No, I CANNOT take Dettol dips everyday!