[Note: This is the unedited version of my column published 22 July, 2012 in The Deccan Chronicle & Asian Age newspapers]
I got a rude shock the other day. I went to see a doctor and she did several appalling things that you would never expect a self-respecting doctor to do. First, she saw me on time. Then, she explained clearly what was wrong and actually wrote out a simple, human-readable prescription. I was so flustered that I had to come home and lie down for a bit.
Of all the things, what bothered me the most was her seeing me on time. I mean, who does she think she is? I belong to a large family of hypochondriacs like myself, so many days are spent either going to the doctor or accompanying someone else. As a result, I schedule all sorts of tasks for that waiting time: choosing new ring tones on my phone, examining my ear wax, and, once, I even managed to read a 200-page book and write a review of it. Yes, I like to think of myself as a consummate professional when it comes to waiting for a doctor. Not for me the thumbing through ancient Reader’s Digests (13 Motivational Quotes from Random Losers, Why Your Vitamins Are Killing You) and Women’s Era magazines (How Gobi Manchurian Saved My Marriage). No, as a person of principle, I simply refuse to support this mafia ring that smuggles prehistoric magazines in bulk and circulates them across waiting rooms in the country. As it is, the medical world is rife with crime syndicates, like the one that sends ex prison-warders to work as receptionists.
I once went to see a skin specialist with the husband in tow. We went to one of those large hospitals where getting to the doctor requires the supernatural ability to be in two places at once. You have to queue up at the main building to get a hospital ID, while simultaneously coercing the surly receptionist in Block D to put your name down. Then you are shunted off to the billing department in Block Z to pay the registration fee. By this time, the receptionist has purportedly called your name twice already, so when you go back, ID and receipt in hand, you have to start all over again. Not only that, you are told you have omitted to pay the consultation fee, so off you go again to the billing department, which, by now, has run out of paper to print receipts, and is issuing scribbled notes instead. It is now time to approach the receptionist again (with humility) and pray that he accepts this little scrap of paper. Because of all this drama, it was past lunchtime when the husband and I finally got to see the doctor. We had barely walked into the room, when she barked, “Come on. What are the symptoms of Alopecia Areata?” Memories of school came rushing back to me, and I was just about to blabber something about not having had time to study, when a voice piped up behind us, “Hair loss in patches, typically on the head in oval or round shapes”. We turned to see a batch of nervous and badly dressed medical students. “And what is your problem?”, said the doctor, glaring at us. Suffice to say, we never returned to that particular hospital.
In the Tambrahm community, getting an MBBS degree is the ultimate achievement. Most families would have a Doctor Mama or a Doctor Athai. One never knows what their names are. (Apparently, it’s irrelevant because they are doctors.) If you have the misfortune to belong to a family with no doctors, you have to be prepared for the sorrowful rants of the elders, usually right after your 10th standard board exams. “Kanna, you are bringing honour to the family. But see, whattay family, we have no doctor, not even a dentist! ”
With the MBBS or post-graduate degree acquired, it is now time to conquer the arranged marriage market. The Indian Hippocratic Oath dictates that they only consider other doctors as partners, hence advertisements like: Blindingly fair, 5ft 4” MBBS, DM (Gastro) Girl seeks alliance from up to 36 years old well-established Urologist or Rocket Surgeon. Respond with degree copies in triplicate.
I’ve come to the conclusion that doctors in India are like rock stars in the West. They have prestige, power, sex appeal, and, reportedly, truckloads of money. They are above criticism. No matter what they do, you and I will still line up for their illegible autographs. Just don’t swoon when you see them surrounded by their medical-student groupies.