lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, September 21, 2007

Getting cut up

*Long post warning*

Does anyone have a family physician anymore, I wonder? All doctors seem to be specialists now, and it is hard to find a doctor who practices general medicine and routine care of patients. Forget about house calls, they just don't do them anymore.

But we had a family doctor when I was growing up and a very nice doctor he was, too. He made house calls, but he had a clinic and dispensary too. His nurse Annie used to mix stuff, powder codopyrine tablets for us to take mixed with honey. There'd be glass bottles of interesting colours with a strip of paper stuck along the height with dosage levels marked. She'd give us the odd injections too. Dr. Varma even performed minor procedures like lancing boils and dressing wounds in his clinic. I loved the smell and feel of his clinic; and looking back I can only admire the quiet efficiency with which Dr. Varma and Annie went about making people better.

He lanced a boil on my arm when I was a teenager, and disdained to suture it. His son, a foreign-returned next generation doctor who assisted by holding the kidney-shaped tray as Dr. Varma squeezed and swabbed (and thereby kept me being brave, as I had a crush on him), was aghast. She will have a bad scar, he objected. She will have a healthy arm, his father retorted.

As it happened, the bad scar grew to be a keloid. By this time, Dr. Varma had retired and moved to Kerala, and we trusted other doctors to know family medical history in detail, traits of individuals and their proneness to ailments. My mother decided the keloid lowered my value in the marriage stakes, so it was removed surgically, in an operating theatre, unlike the informal surgery practiced by Dr. Varma. I went through sessions of radiation therapy on that arm that made me look like I had a bad case of sunburn for weeks.

After those two bouts with surgery of the basic of the kind, you'd think I'd grow up and quit getting cut up. No, I once tried to lance a whitlow myself with a sterlised needle and fainted. I must say, I don't faint gracefully. I toppled down and split my chin like a ripe guava and cut my lip as my teeth bit down in reflex. More stitches and let's pass over my family's remarks; it is kinder to me.

Then there came my son. Too lazy to make his way out of the womb, he had to be delivered by C-section before what remained of amniotic fluid drained away. As it was, he was underweight, having lost grams and grams in being slothful. My obstetrician consulted calendars and avoided rahukalam and fixed a muhurtam. Though I pleaded for a bikini incision, she did a vertical incision. You should worry about your baby's safety than about wearing a sari below the navel, child, she'd said.

Stitches galore and counting. Following folk wisdom that a tooth for every childbirth, I had to have a wisdom tooth extracted. I won't rant about our old dentist who gave us our braces here, okay; he deserves a whole post. Nor will I dwell on the identical twins, both dentists. One took the said wisdom tooth out, the other asked me what seems to be the problem when I went for a review; I won't tell you about the volcano impersonation I did either.

More stitches followed more procedures. A para-nasal polyp removed, with two dogs invading the room seeking me. Go home, I said sternly through gauze stuffed into nose and mouth. The Princess went, she had humans to take care of at home. The other dog, a stray that adopted me, merely retreated to the garden of the clinic, and stayed there until he could escort me home.

There were other mere niggles, like the ganglion cyst. B2 said that his father would have done a rough and ready treatment of it by smashing a heavy book down on it, but I could ignore it since it will go away as my veena playing hours get shorter. It did.

In Calcutta we had a nice doctor, a perfect GP for all that he specialised in postoperative care for bypass patients. My first thought when I read his first prescription was that he was in cahoots with some lab or the other. One check-up to diagnose spondylitis and he wants me to get an endoscopy? It was laughable and I laughed, until the duodenal ulcer struck three months later. This doctor had wonderful instinct for potential trouble.

He also pointed out that people take more time and trouble over their vehicles than their bodies, but unlike vehicles, people don't come with spare parts. With such philosophy, I trusted his judgment and demanded he be present when I was being cut up. He did, and I ended in ICU the last time I had a major surgery, simply because he thought my blood pressure was unsatisfactory for what he knew of my medical history.

So you can say I have observed many doctors and their methods. Some, like our dentist friend and Calcutta's most famous ENT specialist, are flamboyant characters. Stories about their eccentricities abound. There are doctors who are quietly efficient, doctors who prescribe a zillion tests for an ingrown toenail, and those who prefer minimal intervention.

This is an immensely long prelude, I know, but I come to the point of the post now. (I did warn you this is a long post.)

There was a surgery in the offing. We were discussing dates. I mentioned my reasons for waiting until after a special day. The surgeon verified his calendar. Listen, he lectured at his junior: you never disregard the patient's or the family's sentiments, you never sneer at superstitions or fears or wanting to avoid some dates. There is no such thing as a routine surgery, all are fraught, and all are serious, so the patient's frame of mind is important.

I thought back to another day. There was a surgery in the offing. I objected to the date, it was too close to an anniversary. The surgeon blithely said, so celebrate the day in the nursing home, makes a change from the regular, doesn't it? We did, in spades. Ironically speaking, of course.

The surgeon continued his lecture: you build a team. My team I can trust absolutely. You build up a network with other surgeons. My friends will give me time, leave their theatres to assist me. Build up goodwill. It is important. If a brother surgeon is in trouble, you scrub and assist.

I suppressed a smile as I heard this. It reminded me of Nanny Ogg. "If you go to their funerals, as we say in Lancre, they'll come to yours."

But what the surgeon said made sense; I am a veteran of many surgical procedures, so I appreciated his philosophy. My husband is a veteran of some surgeries too, but he has had dreadful experiences. The blithe surgeon operated on him a dozen years ago. Yesterday, the surgeon with the philosophy that no surgery is minor operated on my husband.

I fainted both times as he was wheeled out. The last time was in horror, yesterday in relief. But seriously, which doctor would you prefer to cut you open?



Anonymous Ash said...

You fainted? The indomitable Missus Em fainted? The mind boggles.

7:19 pm  
Blogger anantha said...

Yaay! When's he getting home? :)

7:32 pm  
Anonymous Rajesh said...

Did you split your chin this time too? Heh. Whats the biopsy report say? A Grumbling K sounds like K on his way to mending.

9:22 pm  
Blogger Raj said...

"Forget about house calls, they just don't do them anymore." I agree, Lalita. These docs need to be house-broken.

10:16 pm  
Anonymous Megha said...

As we've said before - A grumbly K leads to a sparkly Lali. And much happiness for readers everywhere.

So glad it all went well. He is home now, yes?

1:05 am  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ash- I never claimed I was indomitable. Yes, I fainted, so what? :-)

Anantha- Yay, indeed. I brought him home yesterday.

Rajesh- No split chin this time, yeah. :-) Report is due next week.

Raj- Sigh. Those were the days, when the doctor would come home, have coffee, check up on the patient, play a game of chess... whatever. Those leisurely GPs are no more.

Megha- He is back home, thank goodness. He can grumble all he wants now. I don't know about sparkling though we do matter in matte. :-)

10:16 am  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

Ever felt like punching a doctor in the face ? Just kidding ...

8:04 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Ram- Sigh, I wish you hadn't asked me that. Not kidding at all. But there are some mahvellous doctors I did come across, I duly marvel at their dedication and workaholic natures. It takes all kinds, after all.

11:50 pm  
Blogger dipali said...

Lali, one of these days we'll get together with our hospital stories!
The medical and surgical professions have had major roles in my life too,bless'em!Speedy recovery to K.

9:12 pm  
Blogger Lalita said...

Dipali- From your lips to the ears of any gods that are present and listening, thank you.

I bet you can't top me on horror stories though.

10:39 pm  

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