My friend’s son was getting married. We were all in a procession when I caught sight of a tall, handsome man with an unruly shock of snow white hair. “I know that man” I declared fervently. “Get real Mom! Not even in your dreams” said my daughter as she saw the target of my attention.
I was offended at the implication that at my age I would not know such a handsome hunk. I walked across and boldly addressed him, “Excuse me! I seem to know you. Have we met before?” “Yes, we have. I am CRS and I admitted you for treatment in the Hospital for status asthmaticus a couple of years ago”. Gobsmacked, I came out of the medicated haze two years too late. Not to be blamed am I? I had last seen him in the ICU going for my jugular, literally, as he could not find a robust vein to give me intravenous fluids and medicines.
I have always had a day to day relationship with the medical profession. I went through most common and uncommon complaints associated with infancy, childhood, puberty, womanhood and menopause and now as a senior citizen my repertoire is getting wider. I am not a hypochondriac, but I just seem to be the target for every possible ailment personally or vicariously.
Holidays were spent in the village. Lots of epidemics would be awaiting our arrival. A doctor lived in the nearby town, called Payalu, a pet name meaning a little boy in Tamizh. That he was pushing 70, balding, with patches of grassy grey hair and a two-day stubble on his face was another matter. Doctor would arrive in a bullock cart with jingling bells announcing his arrival. He was dressed in a veshti, a thin muslin vest and a red gingham towel thrown over his shoulders. In his hands was a beaten up, tin biscuit box containing his betel leaf and its accoutrements. He would directly make for the wooden swing, sit down, move forward and backward a couple of times and gesture for a glass of water from the mud pot. Next was his requisition for some fresh betel leaves from the garden. He would then dip into my grandfather’s stash of aromatic Kumbakonam tobacco and betel-nut shavings and generate a good red chew. For the next half an hour, he would discuss harvest matters and village gossip.
The mental image of a doctor is a well dressed professional with a medico bag containing all his equipment. Payalu Doctor used bags or briefcases only when he travelled overnight to the capital accompanying patients who needed hospitalisation. His stethoscope and thermometer were ingeniously tucked into the folds of his veshti around his waist. My mother would bring him a glass of watery buttermilk spiced with salt, curry leaves and asafoetida. He would then remember the reason for his visit and with his mouth full of betel juice, lift up his head to keep it from drooling and incoherently mumble, “Who is ill?”
A line of kids would hover around the swing at any given time. My mother would gesture and Doctor would close his eyes and grab the hand nearest to him and say, “Shhh, no talking” and check the pulse. “Hmmm. Pulse is okay” and he would open his eyes and say, “Stick out your tongue? No coating. Did you clear your bowels this morning? What did you eat?” Without waiting for a reply he would stick the thermometer into the mouth. A few minutes later, with the thermometer showing normal, he would deliver his diagnosis “All okay. Nothing wrong with this child?” Then my grandfather, sitting across in his railway chair would reply, “It is not Ramana who is ill. You have been checking the wrong child!”
Back in Chennai we were privileged to have a family doctor pay us house calls when we fell sick. Dr. Ranga was a doctor by accident. He preferred motor vehicles that had been in accidents. He bought them and spent all his spare time repairing and refurbishing them. Every few months or so the outermost wall of his house was broken down and rebuilt. You see, he would put together the dismantled car in the front room as that had the best lighting. Once the car was reassembled, it had to be driven out and down would come the walls like Jericho!
Dr Ranga drove an old Austin to pay calls on patients. His prescription for any illness was simple. For any ailment above the abdomen he gave us a pink mixture; the region below the stomach region was treated with a white mixture. Both these mixtures were doled out in green bottles with the dosage marked in a white serrated paper stuck on the sides. Dr Ranga’s pharmacy was the boot of his car. He would open it, take the concentrate medicines from large flagons and dispense them with élan. For coughs and cold the diet was rasam and rice, for stomach upsets it was curds and rice, both for the next three days.
Years later, on a visit to Chennai as an adult with my kids, I had to visit Dr Ranga’s clinic as we needed typhoid vaccinations. My son, who was eight at that time, had a pathological dislike for injections. To demonstrate to our son that it was only a simple prick, my husband got vaccinated first and then I followed. I turned around and called out to Jai, “See, that was so simple”. There was no Jai to be seen. With my stomach rumbling with fear, I desperately called out, “Jai, where are you”. My husband in a panic ran out into the waiting room and searched for him. We asked the other patients and the compounder if they had seen a little boy. All of them replied in the negative. Then we heard Dr Ranga calling us, “Come in. Jai is here”. We rushed back into his consulting rooms and discovered our son hiding under a bench, hoping to escape the vaccination. Dr Ranga just walked up, sat down and finished the job with Jai still cowering under the bench!!
Our orthopaedist was a top Consultant in Mumbai. Inevitably, he would give me the last appointment after 8 PM. The reason was simple. He would build up a good appetite by seeing all his patients. On demand, I would take a hot pack full of the softest Idlis, Sambar and Chutney. He would eat this ‘feast’ as he called it while discussing cricket (giving us juicy insider information as his nephew played for India), politics, real estate, investments, travel etc. with my husband and me. An hour would rush by and his phone would ring with his wife asking him when he was coming home for dinner. Then he would ask both of us, “What is the matter…is it you or Raju”. His diagnosis was always spot on with a prescription for Ibuprufen, physiotherapy and exercises. His bill for the consultation was more than what he would have paid for the idlis at a five star hotel!
Dr CRS ended our encounter at the wedding on a positive note. “I hope you are following my advice and doing weights at a gym. I don’t want to have any trouble with your veins next time I see you in the ICU’.
I have been doing weights for the past two years apart from cardio and power yoga! You would think my veins would have become like fat centipedes snaking through my arm….well I had a blood test a few weeks ago and my technician had a wonderful time digging tunnels and exploring for uranium in my arm!
So now you know why I chose this topic.
Welcome to the Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where Akanksha, Anu, Ashok, Conrad, Delirious, Gaelikaa, Grannymar, Magpie11, Nema, Noor, Ordinary Joe, Paul, Maria the Silver Fox, Rummuser , Will Knott, and I write on the same topic. Please do visit the linked blogs to get seventeen different flavours of the same topic.