Cancer Tales: Chapter 5: Sympathy is not empathy – The trap ahead !!

© Dr Sujeet Kumar

Sorry sir, we made a huge mistake! We are now determined for further treatment here.

Dr Ankit saw across the table a well dressed father with tucked in striped shirt standing with a younger kid (his son) with swollen neck with nodules all round, puffy face, a visibly darker appearance than his father, fewer scalp hair and unusual depigmented spots over both the palms.

Ankit immediately recalled the father son duo who were seen by him in OPD few months back as the father at that time had created huge fuss in OPD. The father suffered from “VIP Syndrome” – the common disease among the relatives and parents of patients wherein they want to overcome the “chaos of over saturated government hospitals” by phone calls to hospital staffs from either bureaucrats or politicians. Cancer in many cases have now become curable but there is no cure to this “VIP Syndrome”.  As a hospital staff you got to deal with two diseases that comes with one patient.

Ankit was about to say impulsively “No phone calls this time ?” but held himself back thinking that now he has to deal only with patients disease as the father was somehow cured of the the syndrome that he had few months back – a miracle indeed.

Ankit then said: imagine your happy playing child and few pairs of hands throttling your child’s neck to slow progressive death. I bet you certainly don’t want one of these hands to be yours.
But the things that you have done to your child over last 5-6 months.
I mean your determination has come too late.
If educated folks like you do this then imagine what will a illiterate parent would do.

Sir please don’t say this, you are now only hope for our child.
Let me tell you this: the type of blood cancer your child have is normally curable in 80% of children but now I can’t give you a figure more than 30%. That too depends on how your child responds to initial round of chemotherapy.
Sir even if this figure is 10% i am now determined to give my kid a chance.

Ankit quickly went across patients file and notes which was in his own handwriting and it read the
diagnosis as: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (in smudged ink on a damp paper) – I won’t stop my fantasy with
ink pen and the patients won’t stop dampening these notes – he imagined.

As i can see from the file that your child’s current disease status has become much worse as compared to what it was 5 months back.
Was he undergoing any sort of treatment somewhere else ?
Ankit repeated his question when there was no response from the father.
Is he on some sort of treatment ?
Ankit sensed the fathers reluctance and his frequent eye movements to and fro from his son to Ankit’s face.
Ankit asked the child: Is your mother sitting outside?
Child nodded his head in yes.
Ok then go and sit with your mother outside.
Child looked up to his father and left the room only when the father head nod was affirmative.

Thank you sir, thank you for not letting my child know that how his father was giving him slow death. He is 12 and if he knows all about it, he won’t forgive me for rest of his life. Thank you for not letting his superhero’s idiocy to home in his mind.

Ankit interrupted him saying: but i am yet to get a answer to my question.

Father asked if he can sit on chair vacated by his son and sat on it.

Sir, once I returned from the OPD that day after you explained about the disease, it’s early stage, good outcome, affordable treatment and minimum side effects…. I was determined for treatment.
They were able to dent my determination and trap me into their web.

What trap ? Who where they ? – asked Ankit.
Sir in and around the area outside of hospital many cancer treatment pamphlets are pasted on walls. I saw one of these pamphlets saying “allopathy talks about percentages in cancer but we guarantee cure in all without side effect” then a mobile number was printed just below this quote. Out of curiosity or may be because it guaranteed cure over and above by 20% of what you had told or may be because it promised cure without side effect – I called on this number.
I was counselled regarding side effects of chemotherapy and it’s grave impact on my child’s life even if he gets cured and then was asked to meet a person. The person himself called me the other day and he met me just outside your OPD.

I didn’t gave in despite their persistent counselling attempts.

Over the next few days whenever i visited hospital area for preparative investigations before chemotherapy, i met many child patients with their parents and their parents told me about how their child got cured of cancer by “The bhasma from Himachal”.

When I asked them  – why they were in this OPD ?
They answered: just for investigations and follow up check up.
Now I believe they were just planted for vulnerable people like me – to make me cave in to their trap.

It wall all set up and I fell into the well or rather jumped into “the well” with my child.

What else could a father have done: I am sorry sir but i need to say this – when a doctor or a patient counselor tells us anything we interpret it as a mix up of their sympathy, their interest and their routine job to do so but when a patient himself tells us anything we think it’s a genuine advice and trust it without hesitation.

Sympathy is unidirectional and less impact full whereas empathy is bidirectional – that’s exactly the point on which i got lured into “the bhasma from Himachal”. I called them back and reached their address. I was provided monthly packets of powder of INR 20000 to be dissolved in water and taken.

Initial two months the swelling went down in size and child looked better but later he started getting darker and puffy with frequent complains of pain abdomen and the swelling gradually increased in size. His hands has become spotted.

Ankit interrupted him and said: yes i have already noticed these body changes in your child and you need to know that he was given steroids and a mixture of heavy metals as arsenic, copper, lead etc. He now has signs and symptoms of progressively increasing cancer and he also has developed signs and symptoms of poisoning by excess of arsenic in the body.

From the story narrated by father the line that stuck to Ankit’s mind was “sympathy is not as effective as empathy” and “sympathy has be bidirectional to be called as empathy”. This is when he understood the role of patient support groups and involvement of the patients and relatives of treated cancer patients in cancer therapy – Yes this is medicine and you learn from quackery traps also !

Ankit said to the father: Sorry! May be i failed in counselling you adequately but now i know why i failed to do so.
Let’s get back to treatment options for your child.

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