No sooner had I reached my village than Nathan came to meet me. Nathan was the one, I was certain, I would see. He had grown roots in the village. Nathan knew all men by their first names in nearly fifty villages around ours. Be it a marriage making, a business with a bank, or advice for medical care, Nathan was always there to guide them.
Talking of medical care, Nathan told me casually that doctors had diagnosed him with a heart ailment. That stunned me. Later he showed me papers and I counted twenty-three investigations scribbled therein. I doubted many were superfluous and my thoughts went to late Dr Paul, who had been my family physician, in Shillong.
Dr Paul was ten years’ my senior, a little obese, five feet tall, and an expert on general medicines. He was unassuming like the street vendor round the corner. But he was a renowned referral physician and wouldn’t advise a single unnecessary clinical investigation, or even procedure.
As of procedures, when a radiologist suggested one for my Dad’s oversized prostate, Dr Paul asked if it was hassling Dad. And on Dad’s denial, he said why meddle with organs until they bothered you. My Dad had since lived for thirty years – no procedure for the prostate. Unnecessary investigations apart, Dr Paul wouldn’t ever recommend you any clinical lab or a specialist.
We had been his patients for fifteen years – until his death – but he had never suggested us a clinical lab; or a medical specialist – unless, of course, we asked him for that. No more so now. Such physicians have grown as scarce as Javan rhinoceros.
I am aghast at the unashamed referrals by the current crop of physicians to their choice of clinical labs, and specialists; and if a patient dared to defy them, to treat her as second rate as dirt. Passion to serve humanity, avowed through Hippocratic Oath of “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm”, has gone begging. Many an immoral physician has debased medicine into an amorous money-mining machine. And money hadn’t mattered much with Dr Paul, ever.
When Dr Paul raised his consultation fee from rupees one hundred to two, he had been charging it to his patients for last thirty years – his first fee would buy him a week’s meals, and the last, only a single breakfast. What a self-effacing apostle of Hippocratic Oath!
Gopi, Nathan’s wife, hollered that people were waiting to meet him, it fell into my ears and jerked me out of my thoughts. Still stunned, I relooked into Nathan’s papers. I guessed, if he followed the prescriptions, he would have to sell himself into a landless farmer and a homeless family head. I knew instantly, he wouldn’t ever do that. He would survive on the gourd-juice as far as he could, and then, fade away, leaving young Nathans into his shoes. What a public person, and what a fateful fate!
Nathan knows he will die soon; but he guesses he will be happier dead than alive for young Nathans would survive – what if, only for a while?
I wish Nathan to have had a never-say-die attitude of Udho or to have monetized his social relationship, as Murat has done, to propel himself within the striking range of the crown. Alas, if wishes were horses, beggars would have ridden!!
I yearn for the days when thousands and thousands of Dr Pauls would be practicing medicine in the Indian countryside for millions and millions of Nathans; and the morbid money-mining medicine machine wouldn’t be edging Nathans to slow self-slaughter via treating hazardous ailments through kitchen-cures.
Would that happen, ever?