When ICU turns into a business opportunity:
Kochi photographer tells a horror story
R. Vijayakumar, a former journalist and the proud father of a medical practitioner, walked into a city hospital with fever early in February this year. When he left the hospital in April, he was taken out on a stretcher, his muscles wasted, his voice silenced and the family poorer by Rs. 15 lakh.
Things started going wrong on January 31, the day his son Rahul had a freak accident at home. Rahul had bumped his head on the bed while jumping out after a nap. He was admitted to a prominent city hospital, known for its emergency care, with a minor internal injury to his head.
The doctors said Rahul was critically injured. “Steel your mind to face any eventuality,” a doctor told a distraught Vijayakumar. Though, Rahul got out of the hospital and went home healthy a week later, Vijayakumar did not expect to be a victim of the healthcare business actually tying him down to a hospital bed for close to three months.
Vijayakumar contracted fever while staying at his son’s bedside. He was worried that Rahul, an MBBS graduate, would miss his entrance examinations for a postgraduate seat. Rahul was also scheduled to start working at the same hospital in February. The stress of his son’s injury, coupled with the responsibility of managing his photography studio and household chores took a toll on Vijayakumar and his fever grew worse.
He was admitted to the same hospital four days after his son was, after he bit his tongue at night during a severe bout of chills. Vijayakumar was taken to the casualty department around midnight. The doctors administered preliminary care and Vijayakumar felt better right away.
Around 3 a.m., the doctors said he would have to be admitted. Vijayakumar resisted, saying he did not want to get admitted and that he had to take care of his son. “When he said he wanted to leave, the hospital staff pinned him down and gave him a sedative injection,” said Libu, Vijayakumar’s friend, who had taken him to the hospital.
Rahul later found that his father was sedated with Serenace, a trade name for Haloperidol, an antipsychotic drug usually used to treat patients suffering from acute delirium and psychosis.
Vijayakumar said the hospital staff would put him under sedation every time he regained consciousness. “He was always sleeping whenever I went to visit him at the ICU. We were really worried,” says Bindu, Vijayakumar’s wife.
Vijayakumar was at the hospital for 11 days, during which he developed Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS), a potentially fatal condition known to be a side effect of using Haloperidol.
The family did not inform Rahul, a trained doctor, of his father’s condition as he was still recuperating from his head injury. Doctors at the hospital said his father was mentally ill. The family took Vijayakumar to a psychiatric hospital where the doctors completely ruled out mental illness.
Vijayakumar’s psychosis was temporary and induced by his fever, which the earlier hospital had done nothing to cure. A psychiatrist stopped Vijayakumar from taking a bunch of antipsychotic drugs that the first hospital had prescribed.
The family then took Vijayakumar to another hospital for treatment. While the psychiatrist there confirmed that Vijayakumar’s psychosis was fever-induced, the neurosurgeon had other ideas. He said the 51-year-old was suffering from a rare disease called Paraneoplastic Limbic Encephalitis, a topic of special interest and research for the neurosurgeon.
From there, things went steadily downhill. Vijayakumar was treated for the disease without any evidence to prove the illness. The doctor administered IV steroids, and withdrew them suddenly when the tests came back negative.
Vijayakumar almost lost his life at this point and the family saw no option but to take him back to the first hospital, this time critically ill and near death.
His trials did not end there. He was confined to the ICU for 32 days. This time, he had severe pneumonia and had picked up several bacterial infections due to his prolonged stay at the hospital. The doctors prescribed several high-end drugs to which the bacteria causing his illness were resistant.
It is now a month and a half since Vijayakumar got out of the hospital. He has been undergoing Ayurvedic treatment and can now manage to walk a few steps without support. Rahul is prepared to fight against the rot that has entered his chosen profession.