A continuous bout of minor illnesses in the family over the last few weeks, led to a number of trips to the good ol' GP and set me off thinking.
How different is this dying breed of affable family doctors from the current crop of suave, detached 'medical consultants' attached to multi-specialty hospitals!
Image source: http://mdc.net.in/health/doctors/
Almost all folk born in the pre-1980's era, yeah besides dinosaurs, would have encountered these now endangered species - Your Friendly Neighborhood General Practitioner.
The species was characterized by typical bald/white-haired, well-groomed, bespectacled gentlemen garbed either in pristine all-whites or well-coordinated, pressed half-sleeved shirt with a tie of course. Doctor aprons were seldom seen.
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Let's not be gender-biased here as you did have a decent sprinkling of the fairer sex as GP's too. This breed most definitely went in for the no-nonsense, starched matronly look.
The GP I visited in my childhood was a jolly old fella, Dr G. Dr G cracked silly jokes when you got on the weighing machine, complimented you on your increasing height, made your dad cringe when he narrated his childhood mishaps and made you lie on the examination table only if he deemed your responses to his jokes unfavorable. Then again, he decided to put you on the table, if your mommy didn't look too pleased about him being so frivolous! Once you were on the table, he half-heartedly poked around with a stethoscope that barely touched you, often forgetting to plug it into his ears and cursorily dismissed your near-fatal fever as just an extension of a common cold. From your granddad to your neighbor's uncle, he knew everyone!
His biggest diagnostic tools, I believe were his tiny torch and his willing ear. His treatments were largely successful thanks to the faith we put in him and his fluke but bang-on prescriptions of in-house compounded mixtures, tinctures, pills, pastilles, ointments and salves. The combination of his dawa (medicine) and our dua (prayers) did the trick! Not one of us was spared a dab of the stinging iodine tincture for scrapes and cuts, sufficient deterrent to future accidents!
And then there was this Dr I who had this perpetually grave look. He never smiled, I actually thought it was a physical affliction that prevented him from even a polite smile to my father's lame jokes. He patiently listened to your symptoms without looking at you and took down copious notes in a large diary that had probably been passed down through generations. I was tremendously curious as to what he wrote in those notes in barely legible tiny scrawls, but he never left the diary idling within anyone's reach!
His lethal weapon befitted his foreboding demeanor - The one-shot-treatment for all ailments! Yes, his clinic was always filled with screams and wails of kids and sometimes the odd adult, trying to escape the needle. I was sure he gained some kind of perverse pleasure inflicting those pricks on all who came to disturb him in his sanctuary. But whatever the reason, the effect was absolutely instantaneous and infallible...practically miraculous! Most kids however feigned perfect health the minute they heard the parents discussing a visit to Dr I.
A special mention to the ubiquitous cubicle in the GP's clinic housing his man Friday a.k.a The Compounder. This gentleman had the unenviable task of deciphering the doctor's scrawls.
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All day long he dispensed through a tiny window in the cubicle, a complex combination of colorful pills and powders rigorously compounded with pestle and mortar, meticulously wrapped, filled up graduated bottles with a cherry red liquid that unvaryingly tasted vile and mumbled instructions that no one could hear. In fact this mysterious being never came out of his cubicle and we only saw his hands and heard his voice. I often wondered what the man did in there all day and how he actually looked. I had cooked up a male witch version, brewing potions in a cauldron and so I was terribly shocked and a trifle disappointed when I chanced upon a squat old man with twinkling eyes, pop in and out of the cubicle to assist the doctor with something.
Happy days were they, when you waited for hours sitting on the rickety benches staring at all the posters lining the walls detailing symptoms of every imaginable ailment, sniffing apprehensively the waft of spirit, listening to ladies catching up on gossip (almost everyone knew each other then), comparing notes on the doctors, there were distinct Dr G Vs Dr I loyalist camps followed by the strict hissing shhh...from the stern Sister on duty. The only thing common between the two doctors was the long queues at their clinics.
A vital part of the General Practitioner's reign was the Mrs GP, yes she was a virtual doctor herself or that's what her lady pals assumed. The ladies milked her for free tips and prescriptions whenever they met her for tea or at the market and the gracious lady never disappointed. Advising eager listeners on all their queries, this lady was a powerhouse of unlabeled expertise.
Coming back to present times, I don't really feel like discussing the niceties or the lack of them in the apathetic, business-mindedness of our current generation of medical consultants. Did you know, individual consultants affiliated to big hospitals need to bring in a target amount of business to the hospital each month? Yeah, that accounts for all those miscellaneous tests you went through on your last treatment at the fancy super-specialty hospital.
They say a Specialist is 'One who knows more and more about less and less.' Couldn't be truer! If there is a pain in the head, will the heart specialist tend to it? The nephrologist dares not venture where the gastroenterologist rules. And Super-Specialists? They are beings we lesser mortals discuss not!
Where the old GP took care of all your physical ailments and freely counseled you on other matters, the new age medicos find it blasphemy to infringe on drawn limits of bare minimum interaction with the 'patient'.
You will always remain a 'patient' or a 'case' to them. Who wants the complication of associating aches and pains with names and faces? No, the patients do not expect their doctors to give them a 'jaadu ki jhappi' (magic hug) but just a bit of empathy and compassion could go a long way in aiding with the treatment.
With great power comes bigger responsibility said someone, but who has the time...time is money isn't it?!
The term, 'Family Doctor' then actually meant just that, the healer who was a part of the family, in sickness and health. They just don't make 'em like that any more!
Do you have memories of Your Friendly Neighborhood GP? Do share, would love to hear!
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