I would not quite call myself a hypochondriac, but I do end up visiting the Doctor a tad more often than most other people do. Well in my defense, I have always ended up a victim in the eternal tussle between my desire to eat everything and the ability to do so. It also doesn’t help that where most normal human brains would conform to the “Fight or Flight” reaction in stressful times, mine deviously registers “Throw-up” as the only response.
When I first moved to Bombay, my version of acclimatization involved throwing up every once in a while. Vani, my friend, flat-mate, and fashion pundit very succinctly summarized the situation and labeled my weekend vomiting bouts as the “Sunday Syndrome”. Being new to the city, I refrained from visiting the smaller neighbourhood clinics; not due to a misplaced sense of snobbishness but because of a generic assumption that the bigger the medical facility, the more credible it would be.
The first center on my list, was what seemed to be a fairly huge medical college and hospital. A familiar landmark around where I lived then. It was a weekday and Simi, my friend, flat-mate, and philosopher very sweetly offered to take me to the nearest hospital before heading to work. I found myself in an elongated room with three doctors sitting at identical tables aligned in a row; two of the Doctors were already attending to the patients seated opposite them. A grim-looking nurse brusquely waved me towards the empty stool while the remaining patients at the doorway watched on impatiently for their turn. A scene from the CET counseling room during my pre-engineering days suddenly surfaced from the depths of my memory as I walked towards the Doctor.
The moment I seated myself on the rickety stool, I was assaulted with a barrage of questions in rapid Marathi by the Doctor. When I hastened to explain to him that I didn’t quite understand Marathi, the ward-boy (who in this case just happened to be a burly, middle-aged lady) clucked disapprovingly and nodded her head reproachfully with a ‘Don’t-know-where-they-keep-coming-from’ expression. The Doctor switched to a less rapid Hindi interrogation and I answered with equal parts relief and uncertainty (my barely functional knowledge of Hindi was no match for his medical terms in textbook Hindi). I must have managed fairly well though, for I did end up with a prescription (albeit in Marathi) from the Doctor; but the Consultation fee of a mere thirty rupees left me quite confounded. When I went to a Chemist to buy the drugs, my confusion was fuelled further, for they told me that they did not stock “that kind of medication”. It was when my confusion switched to alarm that they patronizingly explained that I had just been to the local Ayurvedic hospital!
If the thirty rupees fee raised my eyebrow, I soon ended up at a hospital where the consultation fee made my jaw drop. This time around it was a case of burning eyes and a nagging headache. Triggered by suggestions from colleagues at work and a spot of ‘Googling’, I went to a renowned (non-ayurvedic) hospital close to my locality. They had insisted upon creating a file for me so that “it would be easier when I would come for a treatment the next time around”. Their confidence in my falling ill again was mildly disconcerting. I was then ushered into an elaborate eye examination room where after much ado I was told that the discomfort was not due to some exotic eye infection but because my power had increased from -0.5 to -0.75; and yes, the fee was an astronomical eight hundred rupees! It only added insult to injury when Simi (who had in her unfailing show of solidarity accompanied me to the hospital) wanted to pick up a pair of glasses. When we reached the Optics Showroom, the optician offered to check her power; and yes, for FREE!
That did it. The day I was attacked by a vicious bout of cough, I resolved to advance to the next segment – non-ayurvedic, non-highway-robbing medical centres. This time, I took my Landlord’s advice and visited his family physician whose clinic was a stone’s throw away. When I turned up at the hole-in-the-wall clinic however, I was a little miffed to find that he was a child specialist. I hung around nevertheless amidst wailing babies and curious mothers (probably wondering where my ailing child was, for clearly, why else would I have turned up!). I was the last one to see the Doctor who thankfully, unlike the mothers outside, wasn’t very curious. In a very matter-of-fact-way he asked me for my symptoms and before I could finish, he started penning down the prescription while simultaneously calling out to his assistant to bring the prescribed drugs.
And that was when I practically fell off the stool in shock. I don’t quite remember which caused the greater impact - the prescription that he handed to me on a yellow Post-It note or his instruction to his assistant “Sheela, woh naye sample waale tablets lekar aana”! I quickly spun around to scan the room for some sign of reassurance- a framed MBBS degree certificate or even a graduation photo with a stethoscope around his neck but the search was interrupted by the sight of Sheela walking in with a big yellow box with STD, ISD, PCO written on it. She went towards the small bed in the corner and emptied what was clearly a public telephone booth signage box. Out came a deluge of colourful pills in various shapes and sizes. She sorted through them and handed over a few of her favourites to the Doctor who promptly folded them in a used math notebook sheet and passed it over to me. I just managed to register a blur of blue capsules, yellow tablets and a dozen baby pink pills staring at me with a few algebraic equations in the background. No expiry date, no pharmaceutical composition, and definitely no logic.
The Doctor mistook my incredulous expression for one of gratitude and launched into a friendly banter which was more of an interrogation of my personal life (definitely more detailed than the discussion of my symptoms). When he surmised that I was working in a bank, staying on rent and had done my Telecom Engineering before my MBA, he actually said, “Why don’t you send me your resume and I’ll try and get you a job with BSNL. Government jobs are more stable and you will even get a Government quarters. But no promises, huh?”
This time around I left with both, a raised eyebrow and a dropped jaw.