My day had an unusual twist today, when I heard the words “Enga doctor, ellaya?” (in English: Our doctor is not there?) and came out of the inner examining room to the outer screening room to find a group of gypsies waiting for me. Now let me state categorically at the outset that I don’t have a drop of gypsy blood in my veins (not that there is anything wrong with it of course), its just that I failed to see the connection as to why I was being hailed as “their man”. And then I remembered a incident which had occured a few months ago.
My working day was winding down and I was packing up to leave as usual- on time….my theory is, if they expect you to be on time always when checking in, its fair that you leave on time too- thats real punctuality. Anyways, I had removed my coat preparatory to putting it inside the locker when I heard voices outside arguing. The voices were of the female nursing attenders and the staff nurses and they were arguing vehemently with someone, shooing them away. Usually, the nurses/attenders would be the ones who would be ready first and waiting for me to leave, after having cleaned up the instruments of the last patient we saw and having packed it all away, they would leave the minute they sighted the relief shift -they wouldnt even wait a minute longer than necessary. And so it was strange to hear them arguing in the hallway outside that I dared to risk a peek- although it was a maixm of mine to avoid getting involved in my subordinates fights.
I saw a large and anxious group of gypsies, along with a bleeding boy of 8 years or so , who had obviously taken a fall and hurt his face and was bleeding and in pain. The nurses were arguing that the group had turned up when it was their off-duty time and they didnt have the required documentation (OP chit/number) with them but had just wandered in off the street. Well, having once seen what they they had tried to prevent me from seeing, I had to take action. I invited the kid in to the operatory, along with what I presume was his mother and in a mixture of a pidgin tamil-romany I got the mother to reassure the kid and stop his bawling while I went to work cleaning up the cuts and stopping the bleeding and finally sutured up the torn lip with the strongest suture available at hand, as I knew that they will never return for suture removal and will undoubtedly try and test the strenght of the sutures by manhandling them roughly as soon as they were out of there. You have to anticipate such patients and take care that they dont re-open the wounds.
Meanwhile the nurse and attender were standing far back from us wrinkling their noses, justifiable I guess, given the state of hygiene of my patients, but as I had no other choice, I had to endure- with my mouth mask firmly tied on. They were giving me black glances for forcing them to reopen the cupboards, take out the required instruments again and re-sterilize everything as they would have to stay back for washing and packing after I finished and would be further delayed. I could sympathize with them, but you have to make an exception once in a while, right?
And then when the gypsies left after thanking me, the nurses surrounded me in a group and started complaining. “They look like they take a bath only once a year” said one and another corrected her “No, maybe once in 5 years” . And then one of them said “Sir, you are great, I never thought you will touch such a dirty beggar, especially, given their caste and your caste”…Now this got my attention and irritated me no end….how can they judge me by their own bigoted, intolerant standards? what has caste, creed or community got to do with it? I am a doctor and when I see a patient I only look at the disease and nothing else. I may have cribbed a bit about the reservation sytem in my younger days when i didnt know better and was only irritated that my being from a forward community disqualified me from getting the group/college of my choice but I had learned better when I had grown up and learnt that the sins of the forefathers must necessarily be atoned by their descendants. I have a more open mind about the whole caste thing now and am surprised when people act so bigoted, especially when they belong to the noble field of medicine where nothing matters except the ability to use your knowledge for the greater good. And what puzzled me more than anything else about the attenders/nurses obvious contempt for the gypsies was, how can they be so intolerant of someone from a traditionally deprived caste like the gypsies when the attenders too were from the deprived castes. Was it a case of the newly emancipated being more intolerant of others in similar state? Guess, I don’t know the answer to that one..being no sociologist.
I really forgot that incident after a few days until today when the same band of gypsies passing through our city again had turned up to visit me and thank me. The boy I had treated had healed perfectly with no scar formation, but he was still so dirty that i had difficulty recognizing him. Guess, some things never change. And I had now officially become the gypsies “emergency doctor”- the one they turned to, when they wanted someone to treat them with dignity- a honorary member of their tribe- a “Gypsy Doctor” or “Enga Doctor”.