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The Jakarta Post
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The hypocritical oath

  • The Jakarta Post

| Sun, April 26 2009 | 01:06 pm

When we were children, so many of us wanted to be doctors, me included. I love the idea of going to work and cutting people open, injecting syringes into their bloodstream, putting my stethoscope on their chest and prescribing them drugs. I grew up to realize it takes much more responsibility and dedication to be a doctor then I could ever afford. Purple hair and piercings were more my thing as an adolescent. Now that I have grown out of that phase, I have discovered that being a doctor and being responsible aren't things that necessarily go hand in hand in this country. Sometimes cutting people open and prescribing them drugs are all there is to it.

I grow up hearing horrid stories and even witnessing people dying unnecessarily under the care of medical professionals -- from malpractice, to cases that shouldn't have been fatal had they been treated properly. This happened so much that at one point I was unable to sympathize anymore, and started taking it as a fact we just have to deal with.

Health is the rights of the rich. That phrase was written on a T-Shirt I saw someone wearing. God forbid you ever get into an accident while you are out without cash and your platinum credit card. First of all, don't expect an ambulance to come to your rescue, sirens blaring. Those 911 calls you see in cop shows on TV? Forget about it. The best chance you have is for a Good Samaritan to drive you to the nearest hospital, which is unlikely to happen in Jakarta. Once you get to the Emergency Room, while you puke blood, you will be asked to fill out a form. And then you will be asked, "How are you going to pay for this?" And then, once they're sure all the bandages they're going to be wrapping around your open wounds will be paid for, they will eventually treat you.

I know so, because I speak from personal experiences. My father, when he had a heart attack, was asked about payment as he was lying faintly on a gurney. My former assistant's three-year-old son suffers permanent brain damage because he was left untreated at the emergency room after having seizures and fevers of over 40 degrees Celsius. His mother had to find an ATM to pay for the shot that the child badly needed. That ampoule of drugs could have saved little Rayhan's future, but was instead held back until payment was made.

Just last week my colleague's aunt died after she was sent home after a major surgery on her digestive system. The family couldn't afford her post surgery treatment, so they had to take her home and handle I.V needles and catheters without any assistance from medical professionals. She passed away. That to me is plain murder. To cut someone open, reap profit from it, and then refuse to give them the necessary follow up treatment.

Just like restaurants and malls, hospitals in Jakarta are segmented based on their target market's economical status. There are hospitals for the elite, built to resemble five star hotels with plush couches in the waiting rooms, a Starbucks, and a Body Shop outlet. And then there are ghetto hospitals, where bleeding patients with screwdrivers lodged in their shoulders lies untreated on the Emergency Room floor.

But do elite hospitals actually give the health treatment their patients deserve? Well, you see the medicine business is a very profitable business. If you were sick, wouldn't you do anything to get the cure and pay any price you could afford? Wouldn't you demand the best? A high-tech medical procedure with robotic equipments fixing up your torn ligaments? A 320 slice CT scan? Or expensive drugs that they say you have to consume for the rest of your life?

It's no secret that doctors are endorsed by pharmaceutical companies. Hospitals invest billions in the latest technological equipment. What better way to profit then to make patients get treatment they sometimes do not need. Which patients? Wealthy patients of course. As the underprivileged patients are being denied treatment they need, privileged customers are given ones they don't.

That is probably the reason why so many Indonesians seek health treatment from our next-door neighbor, Singapore. With their state-of-the art hospitals and skilled physicians, Singapore reaps big bucks from their well-promoted health tourism, utilized largely by Indonesians, more specifically Jakartans. Certain companies are taking the opportunity to sell these medical services in different packages, just like McDonalds sell their burgers and fries. You can opt for a day trip to get a general check-up. Or if you need surgical procedures, they'll match you up with the surgeon of your dreams, sort out your hospital paper work, all your post operation needs and once you are good as new, they'll send you home. Pretty nifty, huh?

Me, personally, I like to keep my health treatments local. Not just because being in Singapore depresses me, but I know that excellent doctors do exist right here in this city if you do your own research and be a little demanding. After all, you only have one body. To me, a good doctor is the one who takes the time to thoroughly examine you, explain to you what is wrong with your body and answer your questions. They don't overmedicate you and they don't rush you to the operating room the first chance they get. If a doctor fails to do all of the above, leave and move on to the next. Because from millions of physicians that have taken the Hippocratic Oath there are bound to be a few thousand at least who took their vows without crossing their fingers behind their back.

- Kartika Jahja


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