America’s Medical System: Better or Worse than the Developing World?

by Admin on January 2, 2012 · 0 comments

in News, Patients

Five years ago, I lost a dear friend to a situation that never should have
happened. Although, if I were to ask him, he would tell me otherwise.
He would say his life’s journey was over. I would say the ignorance
and arrogance of his adopted country’s medical system killed him.  I am writing about this five years later because I was reminded of him this week by the Dalai Lama’s presence in Bodh Gaya, India. Things in American medicine have not improved since Sri’s death;if anything, they are quickly devolving.

N.S. (Sri) Sidharan was a retired technologist from Intel who devoted
his life to peaceful causes. He travelled frequently to and from Bodh
Gaya, India (the place where Buddha received enlightenment) to visit
Dwarko Sundrani, one of the last active followers of Ghandi. Dwarko
runs the Samanway Ashram, a school for village childen in the Bihar
province of India, far from the Bangalores and Hyderabads. Bihar is
poor. Not only can’t people afford to educate their children; they
don’t even understand why education is necessary. Some of the children
Dwarko-ji cares for are tribal. They only come to school because he
feeds them, and he teaches them only farming. With oxen.

Dwarko-ji was 85, and had no succession plan for the Ashram. Sri spent
his retirement years trying to raise money for the school and figure
out a way for it to go on after Dwarko-ji passed. Between trips to
India, he helped a bunch of start-up companies in Arizona, including
one that has a new method for diagnosing heart disease, participated
in several meditation groups, and began a business called Technology
Initiatives for Peace. He was a big proponent of trust.

Sri was my friend, and I admired him. I went to India with Sri twice, the first time
when Dwarko-ji was travelling from Bodh Gaya to Dharamshala
for an audience with the Dalai Lama. We flew to Delhi, took an
overnight train to Pathamkot, stayed in an ashram that served as a
retreat center for the people who run other, more public ashrams, and
then went to Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile.
Not one touristy thing did I see.

Although I didn’t personally meet His Holiness, I did meet Dwarko-ji,
and see the Dalai Lama and the chanting monks from afar. It was a
life-changing experience. Sri took incredible care of me.

I went back to India, to meet Sri in Bodh Gaya for
Dwarko-ji’s “eye camp”, an annual event in which tens of thousands of
blind Indians are restored to vision by cataract surgery in a
week-long surgical marathon that takes place in tents on a dirt field.
In the years since the eye camp began, they have never had a fatality,
and rarely an infection, despite the sheer numbers of surgeries and
the dusty, hot, crowded conditions. Volunteer doctors come from all
over to participate.

Sri wanted to spread the good will of the eye camp from India to
Africa, and in July 2006 he went to Ghana to try to scope out the
situation and set things up. He was very excited.

And then I never heard from him again. One day I awoke in the
morning, opened my email, and saw this message: “NS Sidharan died last
evening in Good Samaritan Hospital. He had recently returned from
Ghana. Details to follow.”

I freaked. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what
happened. Sri returned from Ghana with a fever. He went to the
hospital. They diagnosed flu. He told them he had come back from
Africa. They suspected malaria. But they didn’t begin treatment.
They kept sending him home while they did tests. Some of the tests
were “inconclusive” (meaning the pathologist probably didn’t know how
to read for malaria).

By the time they got the diagnosis and admitted him to Banner Good Samaritan Hospital

11th Dalai Lama

Image via Wikipedi

his body was overwhelmed by the bacteria. Then they had to use drugs
so powerful that he died.

The friends who were with him told me he got good medical care. I beg
to differ. I googled malaria. Here’s the CDC web site: “Malaria should
be considered a potential medical emergency and should be treated
accordingly. Delay in diagnosis and treatment is a leading cause of
death in malaria patients in the United States.”

More: “Where malaria is not endemic any more (such as the United
States), health care providers are not familiar with the disease.
Clinicians seeing a malaria patient may forget to consider malaria
among the potential diagnoses and not order the needed diagnostic
tests. Laboratorians may lack experience with malaria and fail to
detect parasites when examining blood smears under the microscope.”

And the last quote: “This sometimes fatal disease can be prevented and
cured. Bednets, insecticides, and antimalarial drugs are effective
tools to fight malaria in areas where it is transmitted.”

In other words, if Sri had stayed in Ghana, or any underdeveloped
country, he’d probably be alive today. Only in America, where we think
we know everything about how everyone “should” live, from what they
should eat to how they should vote, is he dead. This teaches me
humility. And I grieve

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