There is always a particular calmness in mind when I sit in the waiting room of Dr. Sai Sriram’s practice. Almost everybody in the room would be frowning while waiting for the doctor because of the pain or illness they bear. But I have not seen even one person who came out without smile from his consulting room. “A great doctor is not the one who is master of surgeries sir.” He said to me once. “It is the ability to communicate with the patient who is in pain and is at the verge of losing hope”. As for me, I had always been half cured in the waiting room whenever I visit him. The humour sense I knew not possessed, comes out only in his waiting room. I consulted him first when my wife noted that I looked like crying when I actually laughed. The tests showed that it is some nervous weakness called Facial Palsy. My wife and I were the only people who would be laughing during our waiting time at the doctor’s place. He cured my nervous defect in eight months.
“Do you know there are at least 140 types of nails identified in the world?” I asked the patient who was sitting next to me, waiting for his turn to see the doctor. Of course he was impatient. But that didn’t stop me from chatting with him. “And there are around 64 types of hammers to handle these nails. So obviously there are around 217 types of thumbs which had held the 140 types of nails while using one of the 64 types of hammers. I wonder if there is any statistics about the thumbs that got smashed while trying to nail.” I held my bloody nail which was plastered haphazardly by my daughter. The man smiled. He was weak and hence I had no more damage than the smashed thumb till I was in the Doctor’s room.
He carefully examined the wound and then dressed my thumb up. I was waiting for chiding remark from him but I got none. “Good that you decided to do some household work. It keeps one busy. That’s a good thing.” He was filling up his syringe when two young boys rushed in.
“Can you please come to our place? My dad is not well” one of them said.
“Did you not see I am treating a gentleman here?” The doctor pointed me. “Kids these days have no manners” he said looking at me.
“No. I am sorry. We are sorry. But please do come.”
“I am sorry chaps. I don’t take house calls”
“Please. He was treated by you last year. He was OK till today morning. You can save his life”
“If you don’t waste time here and take an ambulance to bring him here, you too can save his life” the doctor didn’t seem to pay attention to them at all. He came near me and started rubbing my upper arm with cotton, getting me ready for the injection. One of the guys looked at me with his pleading eyes. There was so much helplessness in it. I wish I could help him but couldn’t gather the courage to speak for him to the doctor. I have not seen the doctor blatantly refusing anything like this. I was almost the last patient that day. They left knowing nothing could be done standing there. The doctor finished injecting me with the medicine and took his seat.
“I haven’t seen it in a long time. The house visits I mean. I have seen them in movies. But not in real life” I said rubbing the spot where it was injected.
“Crude business that” said the doctor putting his head up in exhaustion.
“I was doing it till ten years before. But things really got out of hand.”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you have enough time to listen to the story?”
“Anything for a good story”
He was too tired to sit at his consulting room. We walked to the veranda. There was no one waiting for consultation too. It was pretty late.
“Do you remember Kumaran Mudhaliyar?” he asked me.
“The one who used to sit in front of his house and chew betel leaves”
“Oh I remember him. I used to avoid his street. That man always asks for change even when he owned a house”
“Yeah correct! He was filthy rich. This guy had the whole property in his hand. He didn’t give it his children for the fear of being thrown out. They didn’t believe him. The saddest part of a man’s life is to live after his wife is gone. He was cursed in that way”
“Oh! But he died few years back right?”
“Yes! I was his visiting doctor”
“They forced me to come. At that time, I was foolish and was service minded. They asked me to come and have a look at him. He was weak, because they didn’t give him anything to eat for days together. He started eating papers and stuff which choked him eventually.”
“So why exactly did they want you to go and see him? They didn’t care about him anyway”
“Money! My dear friend. They wanted me to get him OK till he can sign some documents, which he did. Then they stopped paying for my visits”
“I still visited him. I took pity on him. He didn’t believe anyone except me. It was strange but I really felt good. With the money they had inherited, the children started ignoring him. He couldn’t move out of his bed. He shitted and pissed and laid there till the others in house couldn’t bear the stench”
I couldn’t hear the story anymore. I wouldn’t have gone near the man in such situation. I couldn’t understand what makes a doctor go there and treat him even when a person is drowning in his own shit. Literally and figuratively. Is it motivation or responsibility?
“I learnt one important lesson in that case. A white coat is a uniform. Not a cape. I am just a doctor not a super hero”
“The old man died and I was sure he was killed. It was either his daughter in law or his own son. They should have suffocated him. He was of no use to them. I knew it because I was their house visiting doctor. I couldn’t take it well and shouted at them during the funeral” he continued “The actual interesting thing happened one week later.” He paused. A distant memory brought him a chuckle “I rarely go out anywhere without my driver and the car. They had sent a man to teach me some lesson” he signalled a quote with his fingers in air. “The worst thing was they didn’t want to lose money and he was as afraid as me. A first timer may be.”
I didn’t know doctors had to wade off death threats.
“So I noticed this guy following me and I kept on walking to the markets, theatres or somewhere crowded so that he couldn’t touch me at all. I got lost” The doctor suddenly started to laugh. I couldn’t follow him.
“Do you mean, you lost the person who followed you and escaped?”
“I wish. I got confused where I was and I don’t carry a phone which can show where I was and take me to my mother ship”
“I had only one choice. I stopped and walked back to the person who was following me and asked him to take me to my house. He was startled. It was nice to give back. He started walking and I started following him this time. He eventually passed my house and turned the corner without looking back. I talked to the son of Kumaran Mudhaliar and reached a settlement. I stopped taking house visits since then”
“Because of death threats?” It sounded funny in my head. But the doctor was serious when he answered “Seeing a patient in the hospital is different from seeing a person at home. He is a responsibility at hospital. He is much more than that when I visit his home. I got to see how painstakingly he had built his house and his earlier photos of good times he had with his family. I knew the reason he got ill and he is not responding to any medicines. People think that I admit people in hospital just for money. They may think whatever they want. I just want to be detached”
“Does that mean, when I am really sick, you will not visit me?”
“Lets see who goes first. And moreover, that is one more thing. I can’t even visit my friends these days. The elderly of the family puts his hand in my shoulder just before the lunch and ask if I can treat his constipation or loose motion. I am turning away from lunch invitations too”
“Don’t worry. And I am sure I will not get bedridden soon. I trust in my doctor”
I came home thinking about the hardships they are going through. Sometimes it felt bad to have an easy job. But then, I pacified myself for being smart. The smartest of the people in my class took medicine as profession. They toiled for five years and internship when I got placed. Few of them are still pursuing their speciality when I have moved the corporate ladder. I slept peacefully.
My wife woke me up early in the morning. She didn’t look good. She was sweating and the words were not coming out of her mouth coherently. If she had trouble articulating, something terrible should have happened. I made her sit in the bed and brought some water to her.
“Yes. What happened to him?”
“He is in ICU. They thrashed him” What? Our daily dose of gossip comes in the form of our milk lady. She must have brought the news. Our milk lady has a tendency to exaggerate but I didn’t want to take chances. I wanted to be sure. I put on my shirt and ran towards the hospital. She was true.
The hospital was unrecognizable. They had broken in. What would have they want? Money? This is one of the safest localities in the city. I found the attender who had dressed his head wounds.
“What happened? I asked him. There were so many people but no press. There were no police either.
“The doctor had refused to go to a house visit” he said.
“Yes! I was there” I remembered two young chaps pleading for the doctor to come to his home.
“Oh God! Did the man die?” Too much of bad news for a day.
“No. He is alright. They took him to a private hospital. But the youngsters couldn’t take the refusal well. They came with their people and thrashed the clinic. Doctor is also injured. He is in ICU now”
“He is admitted in the same hospital where they had admitted the other person. He was a good man sir. Nothing will happen to him right?” he was crying now.
“I don’t know. I am not sure.” I said moving away from him. I was too shocked to console him. There are many thumbs which escape the hammer but there is no statistics about the ones which get smashed. I looked at my thumb which he plastered yesterday and walked towards home.