The Heart Of A Desi Doctor: Balancing Emotions And Resources In Oncology


By Dr. Damane Zehra

I am a Desi doctor, where Desi refers to someone from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh.

I am currently a final-year resident in radiation oncology at a private-sector hospital in Pakistan.

During my medical school and house job, I worked in a public sector hospital where I experienced a high patient influx, a heavy workload, and limited resources. This environment made me a true “Desi doctor.”

Now, in this private sector hospital, I have access to all the latest technology and facilities, but I don’t want to use them.

Although the majority of patients in this hospital can afford the treatments, my transition from the public to the private sector has made me frugal.

I know that in this hospital, we can charge for a separate thermometer for every patient in the outpatient department, but sometimes I still check their temperature using the back of my hand on their foreheads.

I usually check sensations using my fingers, dress wounds with limited supplies available, and perform most of my work with limited resources.

As our flashlights often don’t work, I use my phone’s flashlight to examine patients’ throats or conduct pelvic exams for gynecological malignancies. I feel as though my phone is the dirtiest phone in the world.

My colleagues often joke about my clinical skills, asking what kind of method I use to check temperature. I just laugh it off and don’t respond.

Working in oncology can be emotionally demanding, and at times, I become overwhelmed. I hug patients, give them a kiss on the cheek, or sit with them and hold their hands as they speak. Sometimes, I even cry with them, and in the end, they are the ones consoling me.

“Jadu ki japphie” (magical hug) and “Jadu ki Puppie” (magical kiss) have become jokes in my department among the patients.

I struggle with maintaining boundaries and sometimes form such strong emotional bonds with patients that I end up hurting myself more.

One of my friends always whispers in my ear, “Won’t you give him a magical hug?” whenever she sees a young man paying attention to me.

This is the funny world I live in.

Damane Zehra is a radiation oncology resident in Pakistan.


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