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The patient’s dilemma

  • Published at 11:53 pm May 25th, 2018
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Is there a doctor (we can trust) in the house? / MAHMUD HOSSAIN OPU

Your medical report could very well be lying to you

When doctors interpret medical reports inaccurately, the common people have no place to turn to.

My story began in a blood donation campaign. A medical service-providing organization had come to our workplace last month to run such a campaign. We do that every year -- we invite an organization to run a donation campaign for our own workforce, who willingly come and donate blood for people who may need it.

Every year, I become the first person to donate blood. This year was also no different. After taking our blood to their bank, they run some blood tests first before transfusing it to the patient who needs it. That’s a compulsory task everyone should perform. I, too, received such test results.

When I received the report by email, someone -- a doctor from that organization -- called. She informed me that I was carrying the virus of Hepatitis B and I must see a hepatologist along with my partner, who might also have been infected by me. 

It was a moment of fear and worry. I didn’t believe her, as the lifestyle that I maintain in order to keep myself away from diseases doesn’t conform to what she was informing me. I asked a few questions, and she provided confident replies.

My heart sank and I sat in a silent room of my workplace for a few minutes, helpless and clueless. Then I looked at the report with more keenness. The column for Hepatitis B was divided into two parts. One part said that my HBsAg is “negative” and the other said my anti-HBcAb was “positive” -- she was referring to the latter one. 

I checked out for all other diseases with a “negative” stamp on the reports. At the end of the report, it was written that “aforementioned diseases were not detected and you’ll be eligible to donate blood again on May 6, 2018. Hope to see you then.” 

The question that popped up in my mind was that if I had Hepatitis B, I wouldn’t be eligible to donate blood until complete treatment of the virus. So why did they write that I was eligible? Was there any problem with the report? 

The doctor said I was Hepatitis B positive, the report said aforementioned diseases were not detected. I concluded that there must be something wrong with the report.

I called up my physician friend who is a diabetologist working with Birdem Hospital. I also sent him the scanned copy of the report. After looking at it, he said I didn’t have the virus and the doctor who explained the report to me was wrong. He told me to relax and continue with my life as before. 

I insisted that he show the report to his other colleagues who were liver specialists. He did so, and came back and said that I didn’t have any Hepatitis B. He also added that the virus might have entered my body long ago and may have left some residue, insisting that currently I had antibody against the virus.

I contacted the report-provider one more time, and the director of that hospital confirmed that I did have the virus, but the comment that was written at the bottom of the report was inaccurate. I hung up the phone in dismay. 

I didn’t know who to believe. After all, both my friends and his colleagues and the director of a hospital were all physicians and specialists in their own disciplines.

Although my physician friend didn’t have any doubt in his mind about his colleague’s interpretation, he advised me to run a test to see how protected I was against this virus. I thought that was a great idea.

Still sad and scarily anxious, I went to a renowned diagnosis centre and explained my problem. The assistants of that centre took me to a vaccine specialist. I showed the report to her and sought her advice. She looked at the report and told me what my friend and his colleagues had told me. 

She quelled my anxiety down and said: “HBsAg is the virus itself and you are free from it. And Anti-HBcAb is your antibody against the virus which came as ‘positive’ -- this is perfectly clear in the report. You don’t have to worry, you’re perfectly OK.”

After knowing that I had not taken the vaccine against Hepatitis B, she also advised me to see a hepatologist to know whether it would be OK for me to get vaccinated. 

I was relieved. The way she explained everything to me was unparalleled. I haven’t ever met any physician explaining in such depth a medical problem to the patient. 

On my way home with my partner, the bile of anger rose in me for the organization that had drawn my blood and tested it. 

I thought about the overall picture of my country’s health care and about all those stories about pathological labs and diagnosis centres providing wrong information to patients based on tests they ran. 

There’s a serious problem in either with the equipment for running the tests or with the specialists who interpret the test results.

Finally, I called up my friend again and thanked him. 

Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.