Ashish Vaswani
I’m sure most of us know at least someone who has undergone cardiac surgery. My family is particularly prone to heart trouble, considering our penchant for desi ghee. So it wasn’t very unusual when my uncle was recently suggested to get his mitral valve replaced owing to calcification that was diagnosed through an angiography. Though going under the knife is nothing extraordinary these days, it still is a cause of concern for the family of a patient who’s been advised getting operated upon. But having gone through the ordeal of preparing for the same over the last few years, the mayhem in the family was far more organized this time round.

It all began with consulting a bunch of doctors, friends and family, who could provide the critical ‘second opinion’, possibly ruling out the need for surgery altogether, but more importantly, saving my uncle from burning a huge hole in his pocket. This only resulted in even more confusion since each one had their own two-bit to provide: yoga, ayurveda, and God knows what else. Then, came the jaago-grahak-jaago phase, with endless hours spent viewing articles and videos that explained the entire procedure in graphic detail. All this, in the name of consumer awareness!

After all the research, we finally zeroed in on Asian Heart Hospital since it claimed to be specialized in cardiac care. An appointment with Dr. Ramakant Panda was fixed and my uncle was excited that he’d be operated upon by someone who was entrusted of fixing even the PM’s heart. The doc turned up at 11 pm for an appointment that was scheduled for 9pm. Nevermind, doctors are busy people, you know. He skimmed through the reports and said that my uncle would have to undergo another operative procedure called the Minimaze procedure, in addition to the mitral valve replacement. This is performed on people suffering from atrial fibrillation. Estimated cost for both was mentioned as Rs. 5 lakhs, including 70k for the Minimaze procedure. This five minute interaction with Dr. Panda cost Rs. 2500.

A battery of tests was prescribed by Dr. Panda’s assistant. These included blood, dental, ENT tests, etc. When my uncle returned to Asian Heart with the reports, he was told there was an 8-day waiting period to book a slot for the operation theatre, by which time these reports would be void and the same tests would be performed again by them. This meant the previous set of reports would be redundant, and that spending 10,000+ on these tests was a mere waste, since they weren’t even looked at. Reluctantly, my uncle booked a slot for a week later.

He was now told that we’d have to arrange for ten units of blood matching my uncle’s blood group, at which we suggested that we could get these units from a blood banks ourselves. But this idea was turned down by the assistant, saying that the hospital would accept only live donations from walk-in donors arranged by us. Now strangely, there is a window period of three months before the HIV virus can be detected in blood, so live blood cannot be confidently claimed to be HIV-free. When made aware of this fact, the assistant was stumped and merely responded with a chuckle to display his ignorance. By now, the estimated budget for the entire procedure had reached Rs. 7 lakhs. This included pre-operative tests, blood transfusion and testing charges and the operation itself.

We weren’t very pleased with the kind of service being offered at Asian Heart. The lack of transparency and repeated faltering on the finances seemed absurd, coming from a hospital of this repute. It failed to convince my uncle, who’s now scheduled to be operated at Lilavati next week, for half the amount he’d have to shell out at Asian Heart.