You see, there is a thing about doctors that one needs to know before walking into their lairs. And that thing is: all doctors have questions, but all questions don’t necessarily have doctors who can answer them.
When confronted with a Google-search-qualified layman patient, who asks a lot of medical questions, these doctors busy themselves with other things like lab reports and other doctors with more questions and no answers.
So when a woman with a badly hurt back and a lot of lab reports returns to her doctor a day later, all she gets from him is a piece of paper with more tests scribbled down on it and a recommendation for her to go see another doctor.
“My job is done with you,” he says, “go see Dr So and So and get back to me with a report.”“It has been a day since I got injured, doctor. Can you give me something for the pain please?” Says the woman.
The doctor prescribes her a Rs45 painkiller and tells her to go. A cheerful attendant with a toothy grin blocks her way in the corridor. “Dr Sahib kee fees please.” The cheerful attendant flashes her teeth. “But I paid it yesterday. Today I came just to show him the reports,” says the woman.
“Aap ki consultancy ho gaee hai jee,” the attendant grins some more, “a medicine has been prescribed to you. Please pay.” The woman pays Rs1500 for a 45-rupee medicine prescribed against tests which would cost her Rs7000 and silently walks into yet another lab to face a fat needle and more bills.
An hour and a half, and an expenditure of Rs4735, later, the woman sits down and dials Dr So and So’s number on her cell phone. A telephone operator picks up. “Jee, is there an appointment available for Dr So and So please?” “Of course, why not,” says the operator. “Should I book you for January 5, 2013?”
“Excuse me, this is June 2012,” says the woman. “I fell down and got hurt this year and I need a doctor preferably in the same year too. If I wait six months, I might be dead before I can pay your fee...” “Sorry,” says the operator. “Dr So and So doesn’t deal in hit-and-run accidents. And no appointments till January please.”
The operator hangs up.
Needless to say, our woman with an almost broken back sits there with an unbreakable spirit and turns to the attendant with the toothy grin who surprisingly appears even toothier than before.
“Why don’t I book you an appointment with the next best thing to Dr So and So? She is available tomorrow,” she offers.
“Why is she available tomorrow if she is such a best thing?” The woman with the broken back turns suspicious.
The toothy grin rolls her eyes.
“OK then. Keep popping those pills,” she grins again, “but be careful. They make you dizzy and you might fall down.”
“Book me that appointment please,” says the woman with an almost broken back. As it turns out, the next best thing to Dr So and So is a female dragon with oversized glasses and a no nonsense attitude. She takes one look at the reports, and throws a fit. A file is thrown at the floor and the roaring begins. “Join a gym, take a walk, swim. Do whatever you can but lose this weight. Get these tests done again from another lab. I don’t trust this lab. Go home and eat these pills for a month, and don’t bother coming to me if you are too lazy and too weak to follow my instructions...”
“But I have taken these medicines before and they don’t suit me. Plus I am badly injured and cannot work out. Aren’t you going to check if I have broken a bone or something?”
“If you had broken a bone, you wouldn’t be sprinting around in my office being fat like that. If you can’t do as I say then go ahead, keep falling down the steps. Don’t blame me if you are dead before you gain another two pounds and your children don’t remember what mommy looked like,” the doctor smiles a sinister smile, her face lightening up with an inner glow at the prospect of it all.
At this point it is important to note that nothing breaks a woman’s heart better than a doctor who makes jibes about her weight and drags her children into it. The woman with an almost broken back, breaks another little thing right there and then. Her spirit.
Tears well up in her eyes, and she sits there feeling exhausted and drained and terribly sorry for herself. The pain in her back intensifies and a muscle spasms somewhere down a limb.
The doctor sighs, removes her glasses and comes around the table to sit beside her. “Look,” she says, “I am not worried about your injuries. I am worried about you. And if these medicines don’t suit you, then go to the So and So women’s clinic. They are expensive, but they will put you on an alternative treatment. See them tomorrow morning and then see me in the evening to discuss what they say.”
The woman with the almost broken back wipes her tears, gets her broken spirit together and does a quick math in her head.
“How expensive?” She asks.
The dragon doctor stares back.
“How expensive?” She repeats. “And what if I go to them and they ask me to get more tests done and then I come back to you and then you charge me a fee two days in a row, and then send me back to them and they charge me a fee for coming back and then...Look, doctor, I can’t sit anymore. My back hurts and I have a vacation coming up. I need to go.”
It has been a month since the woman who fell ill walked out of that dragon doctor’s lair. She plans to visit the So and So Women’s clinic one day. But only after her vacation. And only after she has paid up all her credit card dues, her children’s fee and electricity bills.
In the meantime she has hired the services of a local woman who specialises in broken spirits and ruptured muscles. She heats an onion on direct fire, dabs some turmeric paste in it and makes an ointment for our woman that lasts a long time. With onions at the rate of Rs30 per kg plus Rs50 for a free massage, this is not a bad deal at all.
For her weight issues, the woman is consulting yet another gem; her neighbour’s niece, a self-taught herbalist, who brings some sweet tea for her every day, smiles at her, and doesn’t even charge her anything.
The woman who fell ill, is quite happy with this little arrangement. Somebody just told her that the young doctors’ were on a strike these days.
“It doesn’t matter if these doctors are on a strike,” she dispenses her wisdom, “as long as they don’t throw files at their patients and the patients don’t have to pay them for their strike, it’s all good.”
Don’t you think?
ConcludedThe writer is a teaching fellow at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS. Email: adiahafraz@ gmail.com