I was told to do a lumbar puncture in a few days old baby by my registrar. Lumbar puncture is when we insert a needle into the spine of a patient to draw cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) for testing in the lab. The baby had high fever and was throwing convulsions. My meek submission that I had never given an injection to a neonate, let alone into the spine of a baby, brought a smirk on his face mocking my ‘lack of courage’ and low levels of testosterones. He immediately asked my braver fellow intern to do the needful, and show me how to do it before the night was over. It was his first night in paediatrics as well, but as I said he was braver and accepted the challenge. There was no time to train us by the standard medical school technique of ‘watch three’, ‘assist three’ and ‘perform three under supervision’ to learn a medical procedure, though we would have needed only one night to do 9 procedures. My co-intern’s belief was that the assisting nurse would know and guide him. He did poke the spine a few times, and I would not like to recount the horror i saw there and all the gory details of the rest of the night. I do remember however that it was a night of ‘living out’ the worst horror movie I had ever seen. Before the night and the nightmare was over we had filled up more than a dozen death certificates. All the newborns died of tetanus. When our duty was over, I was still sitting in a corner and crying ‘like a girl’ (as my male colleagues put it). I was told by colleagues that it was a routine (to have a dozen or more babies dying everyday due to infections), and that I should get ‘used to it’.
We had read in our book of ‘Preventive and Social Medicine’ that Dais (Traditional birth attendants) apply ‘Gobar’ over the stump of the umbilical cord (Cow-dung, or bullshit one can never be sure just looking at the shit) after cutting the cord. They believed it would heal the stump as it had magical healing powers. It is this superstition, and general lack of antisepsis in these deliveries which caused most of these tetanus deaths in our neonatal wards when we were interns. They even had a dedicated ‘Tetanus’ ward for the deluge of these patients. ONE SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEF that COW DUNG HEALS caused millions of deaths over the years in our country.
An extensive program of immunisation and education against use of cow-dung and instead using real antiseptic precautions during childbirth brought down the numbers admitted with tetanus down to a trickle before I was a specialist myself. Thankfully the tetanus ward was actually shut down before i left MAMC. This was one immunisation program which actually had an impact. Cow-dung stopped being used as a ‘standard procedure’ (SOP) by Dais more or less. It took years to bring people to give up this ridiculous and fatal practice.
Now of course we are being told that cow dung and Gau-mutra are great remedies for everything by the people running this country these days. Moreover, we are being told everything is wrong with modern medicine (partly true) and everything is right with all other systems of medicine especially Ayurveda (WHOLLY UNTRUE). Remember We have given up these systems ages ago because they are unscientific, unregulated and do more harm.
35 years after this ‘Gobar’ induced tetanus epidemic, I saw another tragic case last month. Last month I got to see 3 young women in a short span or 2 weeks with Lead / Mercury poisoning. All 3 had taken Ayurvedic ‘Treatment’ from the new Superstar of Yoga Ayurveda Tycoon selling ‘wonder drugs’ and ‘cosmetics’. In one TRAGIC-COMIC case the lady was being treated for infertility when the problem was with her husband. (the couple had been told repeatedly by many doctors that the man needs to be treated not the woman but they chose the path of a ‘wonder drug’ influenced by promises of acche din like ads). Ayurvedic ‘Bhasms’ have unacceptable levels of heavy metals notorious for causing long term health hazards including nerve damage and kidney failure.
MY humble submission to the poor sods who are the citizens of India, both Bhakts and Cynics, please do not fall for these misleading advertisements. I admit that Modern medicine has very few answers, and over-treatments, too many surgeries, cuts, commissions, over charging are all serious problems we need to address. Yet, the toxicology of our drugs are fairly well documented and reported, within limits of course. BUT to assume all other systems of medicine are great, and cow dung is the greatest, would be a grave mistake the nation will pay for in the long run.
With a decent public health system conspicuous by its absence in India, and there no improvement in expected in foreseeable future, it is dangerous to flirt with harmful concoctions (‘medications’) in the name of herbal, natural or Ayurvedic. The tall claims have no more truth in them than the claims of the Madari who sold ‘Sande ka tel’ and other remedies for anything and everything, especially impotence, on every street corner when we were kids.(I do admit impotence has reached epidemic proportions amongst doctors, press, public, judges, IAS, police and you name it – other Indians, but the treatment is education and respect for others, not ‘Sande ka tel’) The toxicological studies on these concoctions (‘Medicines’) have never been done and effectivity is unknown. Any magic formula which actually gives relief may have dangerous modern medicine drugs rarely used in mainstream medicine, and that too as a last resort, like steroids. PLEASE BE CAREFUL ! in the end these fly by night tycoon will fly away like a kingfisher and you would be left high and dry, with possible permanent damage to your bodies.
Dr. Puneet Bedi is a consultant doctor who has been everywhere, Seen everything, Done everything, and NOW … Living a Normal Boring Middle Age ‘Life’…