Because Australian medical exams are expensive, I had to do extra ambulance shifts in India to make money to sit the exams. I worked double what I would usually. I would do 24-hour shifts in ICU and during my days off, I would do one- or two-hour ambulance shifts to get money. I was working 60-70 hours a week. There was one interesting incident — actually, I shouldn’t say interesting, because it was pretty scary. We were taking a patient from one city to another. While coming back, we had to drive for seven or eight hours. The driver of the ambulance wasn’t really alert, but I didn’t realise because I was sleeping behind him in the ambulance. Suddenly I heard a bang and then the ventilator fell on top of me. I had a big split on my right knee, a big wound. Then I realised people outside had more injuries than me. I stepped outside and saw the ambulance had crashed. There was another car that had hit a tree. I think the ambulance was hit from the side. The driver had died and one of the passengers was severely injured. I tried to resuscitate him, but unfortunately, we couldn’t save him. Another ambulance arrived and we took the other passengers to hospital. I was taken to the hospital as well. I had a few sutures in my knee and you can still see the scar. I think having experiences like that help in general practice. One of the good things about being a GP now is that I get more time off.
I’m setting up a charity, Remedi, with a couple of friends. It all started when I went on elective to India as a fifth-year medical student. I was born in India, and came to Australia when I was nine, so I thought I knew what to expect, but what I found was profoundly shocking. It wasn’t as if I went to a remote village. I was working with a general physician at a state primary care hospital in Ludhiana, a big industrial city in Punjab. He saw 120 patients in his clinic every day. The very first day I saw a woman, incredibly sick with post-partum sepsis. The stench was nauseating. I don’t know whether she hadn’t showered after her delivery or whether it was the smell of the infection itself. I felt so faint, I had to go and lie down. People were presenting at the hospital with chronic liver disease, end-stage metastatic cancer and disseminated tuberculosis. There was just nowhere to put them. They were discharged with a very basic medical plan. There were no medications supplied at the hospital. People had to buy them and pay for their own investigations. Usually they just didn’t have the money for any treatment. I had done some fundraising before I came. I had a feeling it would be needed. The $1000 I brought with me was gone in a couple of days as I used it on a case-by-case basis, paying for people’s medicines and tests. Now we are setting up Remedi to raise money to support the dialysis unit at the hospital. They have two machines serving 600 patients. Diabetes is a huge problem in India and many patients are in end-stage renal failure. We want to pay for people to have fistulas — something they can’t afford.
Dr Ati Jhajj
I initially did a degree in computer engineering. On finishing that, I worked as an engineer. But while I was doing my computer engineering degree, I realised I wanted something more fulfilling in my life beyond looking at a screen all day long. I wanted to do something with a human focus. That’s what prompted a few different electives in my degree — to see what I enjoyed. I found myself quite enjoying medical science electives, so I switched over to medicine. It’s ironic, because I still spend a large part of my day looking at a computer screen. A lot more people are now going into general practice who have had a fair bit of experience with computers growing up. However, some doctors of the ‘more experienced’ generation, tend to be apprehensive about their computer. When it doesn’t work, they’re very worried about what’s happening and how to fix it. I do still like to keep abreast of technological developments. The other day, I decided to try my hand at coding an Android application. I got it all ready, went to start coding, and then thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve forgotten it all’.