My husband’s problem began when we went to the US last time. Within a week of our arrival he caught a persistent cold. Change of weather could be the cause he insisted. He refused to see a doctor and stuck to mild, over the counter pills that we had taken along.
A fortnight went by and there was no relief. My husband calls me adamant but he was now stuck with a companion that made me appear the most adjusting soul mate. It was perhaps due to non - stop air conditioning I suggested and my daughter regulated the temperature to a suitable level. Two months gone and still there was no relief.
“My system is perhaps used to air pollutants so this dust free environment does not seem to suit me” my husband tried to make a joke of it. I knew better. He was beginning to get worried. A running nose was now accompanied by a nagging headache and breathlessness.
“His resistance is low mummy ask him to give up tobacco” whispered my daughter.
I knew that it was easier said than done so I kept quiet. We finally cut short our trip and returned to India. I was kind of certain that once we reached India his condition would improve but that was not to be. Courses of antibiotics supplemented by steam inhalation, a switchover to homoeopathic treatment, and chest massage with mustard oil were all tried but none of these gave him any relief. Now I was beginning to get worried. I hadn’t realized that a common cold could give us sleepless nights. Unknown to him I looked up the Internet for the various causes of a running nose. We finally thought of going for master check up and headed towards Chennai.
Now, Chennai is a metropolis a far cry from the cozy township we live in. There were dozens of well-established hospitals and private nursing homes and each one of them seemed to have an impressive record. My husband suffers from selective xenophobia that gets worse when I’m with him. He is never comfortable with taxi drivers and prefers to take a bus. He is forever unsure of the routes and the mortified look on his face was sure to reveal that we were new to the place to anyone who had the time to observe. It took us a day to choose an appropriate nursing home that would cater to our need and suit our budget as well. We finally decided on a clinic that clinic looked impressive. We walked in and asked to see the doctor at the reception.
“Please pay an advance of Rupees Two Thousand at the counter” said the receptionist in an artificially sweet voice.
“We’re here only for consultation” I said “that can’t cost so much.”
The receptionist began to get impatient.
“Ma’am” she said in a tone that now contained no artificial sweetener “ any one who comes here has to have a few routine tests performed. The senior doctor will see your husband only after that.”
“And what would those ‘few’ routine tests be?” Now it was my turn to lose patience.
“ECG, chest X ray, lipid profile, CT scan, blood sugar and pressure, urine creatinin and culture test and any other test as the junior doctors decide as imperative. Next” the receptionist called out to the next patient.
“ What did she say?” my husband who was standing by my side asked.
One would have thought that he did not understand Tamil. I patiently repeated the entire conversation.
“ Ask her if we can get these tests done elsewhere.” My husband behaved as if he avoided talking to ladies.
Like a mediator I repeated his question to the lady at the counter.
“No way!” the lady seemed appalled “ The senior would never trust results from any other lab.”
We paid the money and awaited our turn. My husband continued to rave and rant against the system. His tirade continued non-stop making other patients turn around and take notice. I had a tough time in getting him to calm down.
It took us two hours to get all the tests done and finally a team of junior doctors examined my husband.
“Sir, your problem is due to water filled nasal polyps caused due to allergy” the doctor said “ the senior will see you and decide on the line of treatment.”
We waited patiently for another hour. There was no sign of being called in by the senior.
We went to the junior doctor to find out whether his senior would make himself available that day.
“He is now in the middle of a teleconference” he said “ he will start seeing patients once he is through”
Another hour passed. No sign yet of the teleconference having ended. The junior doctors continued to laugh and talk among themselves.
My husband just could not take any more of their apathetic attitude. He walked into the senior doctor’s chamber unannounced.
The senior doctor was seated in a high chair talking over the phone while taking sips of hot coffee in between.
“How is the weather in Singapore?” he was asking, “raining? Why don’t you send us a few showers? We’re being burnt alive in Chennai. We plan to come over to shop for our daughter’s marriage.”
We could only hear his side of the conversation and he continued.
“I’ll be sending you an experienced technician. Pay him 40,000/- dollars per annum. He will not agree to anything less than that.
He stopped short on seeing us at the door.
It was my husband’s turn to talk.
“Sir, so this was the teleconference you were having when at least a hundred of us waiting for our turn to see you. Don’t you realize that its our money that will pay for your trip to Singapore apart from the commission you may be earning by recruiting nurses and technicians for your friend….”
He might have continued but I managed to drag him out of the room.
In the meanwhile the junior doctor who came rushing apologized profusely first to his senior and next to my husband. As a reward for his outburst my husband was sent in immediately.
The senior doctor repeated what his junior had already told us and suggested that his nasal polyps be surgically removed.
“Sir,” said my husband “ How much would the operation cost and would the cure be permanent?”
“No guarantee” the doctor replied, “ The operation can improve the quality of your life for the time being but if your system is exposed to the allergen polyps can recur.”
“Sir” my husband asked, “Is there any means of identifying the source of allergy?”
“Dr. Mukund” called out our senior doctor “What are you doing yaar?. Why don’t you clarify this gentleman’s doubts? I cannot talk to him all day.”
His junior promptly led us out of the chamber and gave a new list of tests to be performed at the laboratory of the doctor’s classmate.
“Why not elsewhere?” my husband asked. “Sir, we are new to the place and have a lot of trouble in tracing different localities. There is a lab near the place where we are put up. Why can’t we get these tests done there?”
“The choice is yours,” said the doctor “you either go to the place suggested by us or go elsewhere for you treatment. But remember if you change doctors at this stage the tests already done at our clinic may not be acceptable to your treating doctor.”
“My mind is made up,” replied my husband “ I’m not interested in sponsoring your senior’s trip to Singapore. I prefer to pamper my running nose. Goodbye”
We left the place wondering if this is what educated people like us faced what would be the plight of villagers and the many who come to Chennai not knowing a word of the local language. God help them!