When Anil Jethmal tells people that he contracted typhoid at age eight while living in India, he gets a variety of responses. Some shudder at the ominous sound of the word typhoid. Typhoid, Anil retorts, is nothing more than bacterial food poisoning – very treatable. Most people, however, are particularly aghast at the notion of his having to deal with what they perceive to be a serious illness – in an Indian hospital.
Anil Jethmal is amused at both reactions. In particular, his amusement emanates from the false presumption that Indian hospitals are vastly inferior to those in the US.
To that point, forty years later, what Anil remembers most about his weeklong hospital stay was the luxury and serenity of the Indian hospital. His well-appointed and placid room overlooking the Arabian Sea had all the bearings of a world class luxury resort. Anil Jethmal’s doctor explained that that was a part of the healing process.
The opulence at the hospital was not simply extravagance for extravagance’s sake. Indian philosophy in healthcare stresses that, in addition to medical attention, the body can best fight off illness if it is well rested and is in a pleasant area free of germs. Human physiology, they reason, knows best how to heal itself. The white blood cells in our bodies know exactly what to do and where to go if disease is present.
This may all seem extremely obvious, even to a layperson. Yet, anyone who has had an overnight stay in a US hospital knows uninterrupted sleep is a virtual impossibility. Moreover, most of these hospitals are festered with germs. In fact, oftentimes hospital policy denies access to children under a certain age, due to children’s natural lower immunity and thus their heightened susceptibility of being afflicted with an airborne illness.
In such an environment where rest is difficult, patients’ white blood cells are not optimized. Worse, the limited white blood cells that a patient has to combat illness, now have to fight a war on two fronts- the germs within the body and also, the germs in the hospital.
Anil Jethmal recalls having a conversation with his US general practitioner about the paradox between the intent of many US hospitals and the physical condition of the very same facilities. Far from being offended by the comparison, he offered his own explanation.
US hospitals, he theorized, besides trying to help with patients’ medical needs are also corporations in the business of maximizing profits. One of the success metrics for a hospital is profitability per square foot – hence the incentive of hospital owners and administrators to opt for close quarters. The close quarters, unfortunately, compromise not only a patient’s rest, but also, the germ free environment that is ideal for a patient. This dual compromise leads to longer hospital stays – and thus higher billings to the patient’s insurance company.
Clearly, from a patient’s standpoint, a more restful stay with a shorter recovery time is preferable. However, both concluded their robust conversation wondering whether from a profit standpoint, an eastern medical philosophy is preferable. While such a resolution might seem quixotic, it is certainly worth a look.
By the way, eight-year old Anil Jethmal recovered quickly from his bout with typhoid, had a very pleasant hospital stay and, after asking, was told that the hospital bill was very reasonable.