Painful solutions

I couldn’t sleep well last night. I shivered and shook, and tossed and turned as powerful antibiotics tried to fight off an infection and a growing fever. I’m a lot better now. But my whole body aches. I feel drowsy. And I spent most of the day in bed.

The cause of my misery is my tooth. Yes, it’s the same one that I treated about three months ago. This time the dentist, Dr Pratap Tamang, a veteran, examined my tooth, ordered an x-ray and decided that, if I wanted to save the painful tooth, he would have to administer a root canal treatment.

“Shouldn’t we just extract it?” I suggested. “No!” Dr Tamang decided firmly, “the opposite tooth is good, so you should undergo an RCT”.

Images of my son – then only 13 years old – enduring the painful ordeal flashed in my mind. And I thought, “Why me?” But those same images of a brave young man readily agreeing to take to the dentist’s intimidating chair, many times over a whole month, reassured me. So I agreed.

Dr Thapa opened his appointment book. He flipped page after completely booked page, and announced that he would be able to start my treatment only after three weeks. I’d have to wait before I undertook the infamous ordeal.

In order to avoid the normal morning rush, I’d gone to the dentist a little before their closing time, 2:30 PM. As expected the hospital was almost empty by then. Nurses, technicians and doctors were making their way out of the hospital to meetings, to their homes or to attend to personal work. And by the time I left, the cleaning staff were already preparing the hospital for the next day.

This is a waste of resources. Especially, since the demand for health services in the capital is still growing and growing exponentially. So, I’m glad that the government is seriously considering ways to extend the hospital time by starting “off hour clinics”. But we continue to be plagued by a shortage of health personnel. And we cannot expect our professionals to work beyond their normal working hours without adequate incentives. So we need to recruit more people. Or we simply pay the existing staff for working after hours.

This, obviously, is easier said than done. A patient’s treatment involves a whole range of health professionals from doctors and nurses to technicians and administrative staff. And, of course, cleaners. So calculating who should get what and how much will not be easy.

But we must make a beginning. And the dental department, which is mostly independent from the rest of the hospital, is a good place to start. Lessons learnt from there will be useful if and when we develop a hospital-wide system.

Off hour clinics, whether fully subsidized by the government, partially privatized or fully privatized, need to be seriously considered.

I don’t want to wait so long for the root canal treatment. And I certainly don’t want to bear another tooth ache before the treatment. So, right now, I am in the mood to welcome an off hour clinic for the dental department.