Monday, August 10, 2009

The Menacing Malady

A well to do family. Parents and two kids. One boy and one girl. A metropolitan city. Good school. Swimming at a posh club each evening. Various other activities to keep fit and busy.

One morning the little girl complains of a slight fever with headache. The Mother worries about the ongoing swine flu cases. She is taken to the best paediatrician in town by late morning. The doctor offers cal pol and advices rest for a couple of days.

Mother: "That's it? No test for the flu? There are so many cases in town, it's spreading like wild fire, lets do the test, she has fever, she's just come back from a holiday, she has headache, lets do the test."

Doctor: "We don't have the kit! we don't have the medicines either, its available only with the ministry of health. Wait for a couple of days, let's see what symptoms she develops, as of now its just fever, don't worry, give her cal pol three times a day."

Mother: "Can I take her to the Ministry for a test then?"

Doctor: "No, they have their own system based on a flow chart that they are following, they won't test unless referred."

A helpless feeling. Stories of the 14 year old from Pune who succumbed to this disease causing havoc in the mind. What if we get late? How long to wait? why is there no way out, why is the testing kit not available to all clinics? Endless questions. The day goes by with the mild fever and headache staying. News comes in from various sources of a lot more cases being detected in the city, many from the same school, from the same school bus even. The helpline numbers for H1N1 cases are called, only to be met with the 'on hold' music.

The second day dawns. The fever is less. By afternoon the fever has completely gone, just the slight headache remains. The little girl is getting bored at home. She calls up her friends, who are also in the same boat, suffering from fever and body aches, unable to attend school, missing out on portions covered and also on the lively chit chats. The small boy keeps going to school, though reluctantly.

The third days also passes without fever. Parents are breathing easy now. The girl is studying at home, the little boy is angry that he doesn't have the flu and so he has to go to school, while his sister can be at home. A call from the school, the teacher informing that the little boy has high fever. He needs to be collected from the school immediately. Panic rises, the throat is dry. A rush to the school, there are other similar parents collecting their wards who are red with fever. The little boy smiling mischievously through his bloodshot eyes. The mother hugs him to her and carries him to the clinic.

Mother: "Please refer this case, the fever is so high, he is too small to talk about other symptoms."

Doctor: "Lets see how he responds to these medicines, a lot of ordinary flu cases also happening, people are panicking unnecessarily. Bring him back to me after 36 hours, he should be fine by then. Its the heat, temperatures are soaring. How is his sister?"

Mother: "She does not have fever since the last 2 days, just a slight headache."

Doctor: "OK"

The little boy is brought home. He is asleep by the time he reaches home. The daughter has in the meantime vomited two times. She complains of stomach cramps and slight breathlessness. There is no support of relatives, just friends to count on... The boy is left home in the supervision of a neighbour, while the daughter is again rushed to the clinic.

Mother: "Now what? are we supposed to wait till she dies for the test? or can we do it now?"

Doctor: "She is showing the symptoms, don't worry, let me call up the ministry"

The Ministry of health takes long to reach. A thousand forms follow. the little boy is also brought to get tested. Queues and red tape make the wait frustrating to say the least. Numerous parents with kids in tow, waiting for the test. Money might get the best doctors, but in this case its proving so useless. Nothing seems to be working. the officials chat, smile, crack jokes, they have their tea, they have their masks, while the family waits... and waits some more, with children who are burning with fever.

Finally the turn comes, both the kids get tested, both the results are positive. The appointment has to be made with the doctor in the ministry who alone has the medicine that can cure the kids. The mother is on the verge of tears, the father is silent. the kids still burning. The appointment is for later that evening, masks are provided for the parents and the kids. The little girl has rashes now and is slightly delusional, the little boy making friends with other boys, unmindful of the seriousness.

They say its late for the little girl, she cannot be taken home. She has to be admitted to the ICU. How late? why late? we came to the doctor the first day itself? what now? The parents mind get tizzy with fear and worry, the despair is too much to bear. the little girl is being taken to the ICU, the father is strong no more, he breaks down and starts abusing the authorities, the mother just cries, the little boy is scared into silence.

Its been two days now. The little girl is still in the ICU. The little boy recovering with medicines at home. he misses his sister and wishes to go to school.

Again, a fiction but based on the frustrating situation that I along with many parents are facing to get their kids tested in private clinics for Swine Flu. Why is the kit not available with our regular doctors? Its said its treatable when medicines start within 48 hours, then why the wait?