Friday, January 19, 2007

A Visit to the Clinic

I crashed my racing bicycle the other day (entirely my fault.) One of the resulting wounds needed checking out. A doctor friend recommended another doctor, who happens to work in a "middle-class" clinic near Kolabagan (as opposed to, say, Apollo or United Hospitals.) When I called the doctor he asked me to come by his clinic.

I went with some trepidation. My past experiences with most Dhaka doctors and clinics, from the 1970s and 80s, had been dreadful (unless I went to my doctor friend or cousin for help.) There were nightmarish memories of obnoxious doctors, waiting forever and not getting to see them, and bad diagnoses. My worries were made worse as I walked into the second floor, where the doctors' chambers was. There were many many people milling around, some standing because there were not enough chairs. There appeared to be no way of keeping track of the order of patients.

I looked around to find the receptionist and tell them about my arrival, but none was there. Eventually I found a payment booth and talked to the man there. He in turn yelled "Jahangir! Jahangir!". Turned out Jahangir was the receptionist and gatekeeper to the doctor I wanted to see, and he was in constant motion, moving around the patients, then to the doctor chambers, and so on. I gave him my information and asked him to convey to the doctor. A little later he said the doctor had asked me to wait, since he was doing an emergency surgery.

I settled into a chair and watched the other patients. A nervous father and mother brought in a teenager daughter with a big burn covering her forehead. The girl was completely quiet. People freely talked to strangers about what was afflicting them. The man sitting next to me apparently had a very bad pain in his foot for no apparent reason - as I overheard him talking to another fellow he had just met.

Many men were in blazers or suits and ties. They held X-Rays and Lab Reports like medals of valor. There was a window behind my chair from where one could buy snacks - at very reasonable prices. Potato chips were a hit. I guess you get hungry waiting for the doctor. A patient bought two sets of soft-drink and chips and gave one set to the payment booth man - saying "You need to eat" - and walked off.

Another doctor walked through the hallway to his office. A small procession of patients followed him to the door of his office, at which point his gatekeeper decided whom he could see. Some of the patients stood up respectfully and offered their salams as he passed them beaming in a divine manner.

After about an hour of waiting, I asked Jahangir how much longer. He said the doctor was almost done with the surgery and would be here shortly. So I sat down again. Although I was running out of patience, I told myself it was really really important that I not lose this waiting-game. Then it would become a black-mark in my experiences here.

The doctor finally arrived, about an hour after my arrival. He saw several patients (mostly young children and women) before seeing me. I was very impressed at the way he examined my wound, listened to me, and pointed out the diagnosis (nothing serious.) My impression of Bangladeshi doctors improved considerably after this encounter.

As I came out of the office I saw the crowd had thinned. Many had already seen their doctor. One guy was wondering aloud if he could get a rickshaw to take him to Nakhalpara. Some had given up and left for the night. Once I had gotten past the fear of the crowd, I came away with a renewed respect for the patience and forbearance of the middle-class Bangladeshi.

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