The Family Doctor
I am not greatly given to mourning the passing of time…to me, in general, the present is as interesting and good as the past was. Things change, and what seems to us to be deteriorating is actually only evolving, I feel…
But there ARE certain things that I wish would continue to exist….to me, they contribute a lot to the quality of life.
One of them is..the family doctor.
We all grew up in a culture where the societal structure WAS like Happy Families. I was in a large city…but we had our little community, where we knew a lot of the people who provided us services. We had our regulars…the professionals who made life easier for us.
Starting with the “doodhwAlA” (milkman) who arrived very early in the morning with his zinc bucket full of milk with some straw floating in it, and ending with our “pAdA” (area) night-watchman, calling as he passed…we knew all these people as people. My mother would have long conversations with the milkman about when he was going for his annual visit to his village in Bihar, with the carpenter about how good Burma teak was getting scarce because all the big trees were getting cut (that was an environmental conversation, long before the term was invented!), our rickshaw-puller’s indigestion… and so on (those are actual conversations that I remember.)
But part of our circle was our family physician. Part of the social circle in a limited way; he would attend special events at our home, and I remember attending weddings at his (his clinic was on the ground floor, and he lived above it.)..but other than that, he was always just a phone call away.
The family physician knew you as a whole person, as part of the family. He knew what tendencies to ill-health you had, and what your parents had, that you were likely to inherit. He also knew when an ailment was NOT likely. If an anxious mother worried about some major illness, the doctor did not ask her to run expensive tests…he knew, in general, what the child might have been exposed to, and took decisions accordingly.
There was no medical insurance in my early childhood…or maybe I was not aware of it…but the same doctor would attend to all the basic health problems in the family, and we would go to specialists only when the family doctor told us to. When my brother fell while flying a kite, and gashed his leg, it was our family doctor…the wonderful Dr. Ghosh, of Jatin Das Road…who went with my mother to Woodlands Hospital, to ensure that a surgeon, an anaesthetist, and so on were found, during Puja time when everyone was on holiday.
Not that these General Practitioners always stagnated after their studies. Dr Ghosh interested himself in Dermatology, and was perpetually acquiring some diploma or certificate in this field…my brother had a moderate-to-severe case of icthyosis (go Google that!) and it was Dr.Ghosh who prescribed a lotion for him, that kept the inherited skin condition under reasonable control.
When I developed severe stomach-aches when I was 12, it was Dr.Ghosh who explained that much of it arose from the severe tension of being under-aged at school (I had had two “double promotions” in school, which was a matter for pride for my parents, but a matter of intense difficulty for me)…being intellectually able to take the class workload, but socially, far under-developed for the set of fellow-students I was with. His diagnosis for my stomach-aches was that I should be made to change schools and repeat a year…since this had a severe social stigma attached to it, I did not accomplish it easily, but…to some extent, my stomach aches got better.
I do mourn the passing of the famly physician. Now, when one of us feels us, we go to some unknown doctor…where, and when, was he trained? We have no way of finding out what his credentials, or his skill levels, are. We take his opinion and his prescription (ok, let me be politically correct, hes or hir!) and if things don’t improve, go to another stranger….
Medicine, I believe, should be practiced holistically. A physician nowadays treats only the symptoms..not the patient, I feel.
We are very lucky to still have a “family” physician near our home, one who has been content to conduct the same small clinic where I met him when my daughter was 6 months old (she’s now 32!) and who still makes house calls…. he is wise in terms of experience with patients, and when it goes beyond the field of general medicine, tells the patient which specialist to consult.
Thank you…Dr. Ghosh, and later, Dr. Basu, Dr.Dawn of the CESC in Kolkata…and Dr. Suresh in Bangalore….between you, you ensured that I had a healthy childhood and that my child, too, was healthy without recourse to a hundred “tests”.