Imagine for a minute that you have been diagnosed with a, let’s say for arguments sake, a minor disease which requires surgery. And you request your doctor to do it on such and such a day- an auspicious day or a sentimental day or something which is of great significance to you. On that day, with friends and family surrounding you to offer moral support, mentally prepared for the ordeal to come, you go all ready to the hospital, only to be informed that your doctor has suddenly been called away on an urgent summons and you can either postpone or get it done by another replacement doctor. What would you do? Which choice would you take? And what would you think of the doctor who suddenly went away?
I try and imagine all these questions, putting myself in the shoes of a patient, every time I get a sudden call to join a get-together or a party or a date on a Saturday. The last one being the most significant dilemma indeed – as it is the only one I cannot avoid without feeling the pangs of great regret. The profession of a doctor is indeed a throwback to older times, when men worked all the time and just came home to sleep. Most doctors I know, though there are always exceptions, work round the clock and don’t have any family life to speak of. The neglect their wives and kids and often have unhappy family life, even if they do become filthy rich. I have always been careful to learn my lessons from them and have tried to structure my life so as not to end up in a similar condition. But sometimes you just can’t change things all the way; you have to go with the flow.
Most of my friends work Monday to Friday. Their weekend starts from Saturday morning. Unfortunately, for us doctors, we work from Monday to Saturday and our weekend starts from Sunday mornings. There was a time in my younger and more foolish days when I used to even work on Sunday mornings- half a day till noon in a mistaken belief that I was a “go-getter”, but thankfully I have stopped doing that now after spraining my back and suffering constant low back pain and nowadays I take a full holiday on Sunday and sleep-in till 10AM. But for all doctors, Saturdays are one of our busiest days- because a lot of office-goers, who have a holiday on a Saturday, decide that is the only day they can go to see a doctor for any aliments they have suffered throughout the week. And we doctors have to necessarily adjust with our patients preferences because we are after all a service oriented industry and we have a duty not to turn away anyone who comes to us for help, Hippocratic oath you know? And if that means being woken up at 2 am in the morning by a random stranger who sees the board and decides to ring the bell, to ask for a pain killer tablet from your sample medicines for his alcohol induced headache, because all the medical shops are closed at that time, then you have to grin and bear it too- this a true incident, btw.
And this kind of commitment to the job creates a hell of a lot of problems in our social and romantic lives. I have forgotten the number of “hip and happening party” invites I have turned down because I had to work on a Saturday evening. I have even forgotten the number of movie invites I have turned down because I was working on a Saturday, movies off all my favorite actors too. But what I can’t forget are the number of possible-spouse girls I never had an opportunity to date because I was working on a Saturday and that is the only day they were free to date. Their lives run around the Saturday free? So let’s date, concept all the time. Me? My life runs on a appointment register, which we doctors take so much pride on boasting among ourselves “I have a full appointment list for the next two weeks”. That is my reality.
The problem worsens when the girls I date, incongruously expect some spontaneity from me, expecting me to turn up for outings suddenly, to surprise them with my presence or even when they call me on a whim and expect me to be there with them immediately when they need me to. But forget spontaneity, all I do is get to worry over how to call up a patient who had fixed up an appointment almost a fortnight ago and tell him/her that I suddenly can’t make it that day and they better get a new appointment after another two weeks, regardless of how much their disease will worsen in the meanwhile. Should I let that patient wait that long? Or should I ask one of my friends or colleagues to substitute for me and carry on that treatment on the given date. Which option is good for the patient? This is the kind of dilemma I, and most doctors, wrestle with on a daily basis.
My friends who don’t have such questions to ask of themselves, merrily fix up every party, every get together on a Saturday after Saturday and then when I don’t turn up, complain that I am neglecting them. They can even get to party on weekdays quite spontaneously, as their office superiors are somehow most considerate and when they ask for an hour long’s permission – they grant the rest of the day off and ask them to come finish their work later that night or whenever convenient. Unfortunately my job doesn’t work that way. I cannot work when I want to; I have to work when other people want me to. And this has led to a lot of misunderstandings and confusions with my friends who feel that I am creating a “always busy” scene and who fail to appreciate the real facts.
This sometimes even goes into the extreme when I am dating. There was this girl Ms.P, who I was dating a couple of years ago – who was very big on spontaneity. She used to call me on Saturday mornings- “I am at such and such a theater with two tickets for a movie. You have to be here in 30 mins to join me for the movie or else I will call someone else, some other guy friend and go to the movie with him” and she will put down the phone expecting me to follow her command. And you know what, in the next ten minutes I would plead, cajole and convince someone to cover for me at work and would be there by the end of the appointed 30 mins, sometimes traveling halfway across the city too. I would be so tired and hassled after somehow making it to the movie that I never used to enjoy the first half at all, till my pulse rate slowed down and my breathing got back to normal. She never used to listen when I pleaded my inability to join her suddenly, she was all for breaking the routine and spontaneity. It was “come or I will go with someone else” always with her. Till one day, in irritation and exasperation I told her “Go, with whoever goes with you” and cut off her call, expecting her not to follow through on, what I thought was an empty threat. Imagine my surprise when a couple of hours later when she called me up during the interval of the movie, and putting me on speaker phone, spoke to another guy, a colleague from her office who had turned up in the 10mins time left for the movie (seriously how do these guys make it?) and then told me that if I couldn’t appreciate her, she would find someone else who would. I was weary of antics her by then and I wished her all the best with her new (poor) guy who didn’t know what he was getting into.
And that’s been the story pretty much always. I have been accused of being not spontaneous. Me..the guy who used to catch a glimpse of a wall poster of a new movie and turn up at the theater for first day/first show. The guy who use to watch a noon show at 12 pm and then straight back to the counter to get a ticket for the next immediate show and go back again to watch another film. And I am supposed to turn down a movie ticket because I am “not spontaneous”. Can anyone imagine how hard it is to do? To deny myself the pleasure of following my own heart? To put duty before pleasure? And to be misunderstood to boot- its adding salt to the wound/insult to injury. And that’s the reason I have pretty much reduced all my social commitments to just on-line interactions and that’s why I avoid all get-togethers nowadays with a polite “oh, I will probable turn up later, so don’t wait for me” instead of saying a flat no or even trying to explain my predicament as I used to do in my younger days. I have learnt the lesson, the hard way, that people don’t appreciate being told that someone is working when they are in the mood to have fun; it kinda spoils the pleasure for them too. So it’s better to give a bland response then go into specifics. And hence my life nowadays is filled with work and more work all the time, without any social gatherings, get-togethers, romance or dating. But at least it’s peaceful to say the least.
One of the lessons I have learnt from all these dating mishaps and misunderstandings is – the reason why my friends married within the profession (something which I have always castigated them for- for being narrow minded). And also the reason for why generally doctors marry other doctors only. Because these things I wrote about in this post, they dont have to be explained to another doctor, they are already known and understood. And accepted too. But I hate to think that I should be forced into taking such a decision solely for this practical reason- leaving out all the romance and fun of dating someone unknown who just catches my fancy someday. Hence I feel I should look for someone who is even more busy then me, even more hard working than me and someone who when I call and say “hi, you wanna go to a movie today?” says in a energetic, don’t-disturb-now voice “oops, sorry, got a busy day ahead, maybe some other day”…now that’s the kind of girl I want to be with.
P.S. the reason for this long rant, I won’t qualify this as a post and dignify it btw, is that as I am typing this on a Friday night, I have before me a glossy invite from one of the most “Hip and Happening Up-coming Fashion Designers” a childhood friend of mine, who is launching his own line with a ramp show and then a rocking after-party at a swanky beach house and here I am already thinking of ways to excuse myself without even thinking over the decision. That’s my life.