THE DOCTOR IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD
The year was probably 1976. I was suffering from a bad throat, cough and high fever. The doctor in the neighborhood (whom I consulted for my routine ailments), felt my pulse and stuck a thermometer in my mouth. After noting down the results on his pad, he peered at my throat with a torch and after I had made the funny Aargh….Aargh sounds, shook his head disapprovingly, “So again you have been drinking iced colas! How many times will have I have to tell you that your tonsils can not afford chilled drinks?”
With a sheepish smile, I admitted my crime, my only lame excuse being the intense heat and the chain of dinners I had been attending. “Come back for a checkup after two days if you do not feel better. I fear I shall have to start you on anti-biotics”, the doctor announced in a menacing tone, as if taking anti-biotics was a great disaster!
‘Daaktar Saab’ (as he was called by all his patients) scribbled a few illegible lines on his pad and send me off to the ‘Compounder’ in his clinic, a friendly man peeping from the small window of his cubicle, which had shelves loaded with all sorts of medicines. He was so familiar with this scribble, that he easily doled out the pills and ‘mixture’ the doctor had prescribed. I came back home with my bottle of labeled pink syrup and a pouch of pills. Feeling much better and the end of the second day, I had my medicines repeated and found myself hale and hearty after four days. Total cost of my illness; forty rupees! And the time spent at the doctor’s clinic, just half an hour!
Fast forward to 2011! I had the same symptoms as my sensitive tonsils keep troubling me off and on. The good old doctor of my neighborhood has long since departed for his heavenly abode and I am always at a loss at whom to consult whenever I am down with some minor problem. I rang for an appointment with the ENT I had been consulting for the last couple of years. As the doctor was very busy, I was asked to come two days later. The wait was long and the doctor after asking me a few questions and a thorough physical checkup, wrote down a prescription and a battery of tests. I watched with a sinking heart as the list went on and on. Chest X-ray, Blood CP, ESR and Culture and Throat swab Culture! I paid the specialist a hefty sum of a thousand rupees for the consultation charges and more than triple this sum for the investigations. As expected, all the test reports showed was what the doctor had diagnosed after the physical examination and my inflamed tonsils settled down after the course of anti-biotics. The total cost of the illness was around five thousand and time consumed (at the clinic and laboratory) more than four hours!
Medical science is advancing by leaps and bounds, thanks to the huge research budgets put aside by most developed countries. Nowadays, we have a specialist for every ailment, and usually doctors refuse to look at our bodies as a whole and often know little beyond their specialized fields. Once a doctor has explored his domain, if one of us has multiple problems, he refers us to another specialist and we have to pay the consultation charges again and often go through another battery of tests.
In a third world country like ours where few people can afford or have access to specialized health care, more and more people are turning towards self medication and over the counter prescriptions, as they can not afford the money or time required to go to the specialists. The middle class is the worst affected, as with the soaring cost of living, health expenditures often take a back seat in their tight budget. The easier option that they have is to gratefully accept the advice of friends and well wishers (?) who have gone through similar symptoms and are ready to give advice or share their prescriptions. The salesmen at the medical stores are also eager to play the doctor and readily hands out medicines after listening to the symptoms of their customers. And tragically, quacks and fake hakims are making a hayday out of this situation!
Due to lack of information and a low literacy rate, most of us do not realize that self medication can be hazardous, and medicines taken in the wrong combination or dose can play havoc with our health.
The economical and friendly doctors found in every neighborhood who knew us, our health problems and those of our family, are hard to be found today! Instead of laboratory tests, these doctors relied on physical examination, observation and questioning for diagnosing our disease. Instead of a big consultation fees, they just charged us for the daily medicine they gave out from their clinics. They rarely sent us for tests, opting for simple medicines first and only in the case of a complication did they advise us to consult a specialist.
No matter how much medical sciences advance, most of our illnesses are best handled by these family doctors. We don’t necessarily need a gastroenterologist for every stomach ailment, a pulmonologist for a bad cough or an ENT specialist for all problems of the ear, nose and throat. What we need and most of us really want is a sincere doctor who we can trust to manage our ordinary health problems, sniff out the serious diseases and who is concerned about our health. Sadly, the affordable and friendly doctor of the neighbourhood, who only on a phone call would come to ease the pain of a seriously ill or worse still dying loved one,towards whom we could turn for reassurance, comfort and, yes, even bad news, is hard to be found today!