Once upon a time, when doctors were like angels

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: I was once treated by a doctor who was a ‘Gold Medalist’, a fact which was emblazoned after her name on the signboard outside her door.

She first treated me for malaria, which on its own or due to the doctor’s medicine soon turned to typhoid. After two weeks of various medicines, visiting gastro-enteritis and pneumonia on the way, both the doctor and the patient were nearing the edge of (her) knowledge bank and (my) existence.

The reputation of the gold medal was fast turning into silver and bronze.

It was around that time, somebody asked me to see Dr Mitra (name changed), a rare doctor in Delhi who most of the times never behaved like one. As I staggered into his clinic when my name was called, I found a youngish sort of man smoking in between large helpings of elaichi and diamond sugar bits.

Before my wife could finish my case history, he beckoned me to come out in the open and I followed him. Amidst the throng of patients waiting to see him, he asked me to gaze at the sunlight first and follow his fingers which kept moving sideways. He quickly went back to his room.

As we ran after him, he pronounced: “It’s jaundice. Throw away all the medicines. Bed rest for two weeks; only pathli dal and double-cooked kichdi. Next!”

We settled his bill and came out. How right he was!

Dr Mitra soon became our ‘family’ doctor and gradually, a friend. Once I went to him with a heavy cold and sour throat. He said, between puffs: “Salt water. Gargle thrice a day. No smoking till this stops!” I asked him, “How come you are smoking, doctor?” Quick came the repartee, “Who is having a problem? You or me?”

Whenever my wife and I would visit him, his first question would be, “Who is sick now?”

Once, when we were near his clinic, we felt like saying hello to him. We waited for our turn and when he threw his usual who-is-sick-now glance, we told him we had just walked in to say hello. He laughed heartily, “Looks like both of you are sick this time!”

When we invited him to come for dinner the following Saturday with his wife, he was surprised but agreed. He came in a suit with his wife, had a beer before dinner and gave a beautiful exposition the architecture of various Delhi heritage buildings! Otherwise laconic, he could talk of cricket for hours keeping the syringe in his hand much to the relief of the patient!

Once when we met him at a party, he was holding forth on the Emergency that had been clamped then, with a motley crowd gathered around him. When I asked him, “Long time, no see Dr Mitra,” he shouted back, “It’s fine. Keep it that way!”

While he was examining a patient, a persistent call from a big wig irked him no end: “Listen! I can’t drop my patients and come to see you. Just hop in to your car and come over. I will see you as soon as you are here. You won’t die! I will take the responsibility, if anything happens on the way.”

After a couple of years, I visited Dr Mitra with my colleague, who had two children and the elder of the two was mentally challenged. The family was going through tough times, unable to come to terms with the situation. Dr Mitra asked me to bring them home.

After spending some time with the family, he asked his wife to take care of the family while he sat with my friend and me.

He said: “Vijay, don’t feel bad if one of your children is mentally challenged. There is nothing you could have done about his birth. These are God’s ways of testing us. You can do one of the two things. Go and leave the elder child quietly somewhere in a forest and come back. Your problems due to the elder one will disappear forever. Your second son will grow normally and will do well. The other thing you can do is to accept the reality and bring them up. Dono, dilpe pathhar rakh kar karna hoga. May be one day the younger fellow will understand and he will protect his elder brother and will be a support to the entire family. You do your best and Bhagavan pe bharosa rakho. The choice is yours.”

The doctor refused any fee, and my friend was happy that he had sought Dr Mitra’s advice. The family went home a happier unit.

As I bid goodbye to the doctor, I thanked him profusely for the encouragement he had given. Dr Mitra just smiled and told me, “It’s nothing yaar. I am a doctor, na?”

As we passed a bedroom to go out, he showed his two children playing with a toy.

The elder one was mentally challenged.