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Sunday, August 5, 2007


(Circa: some time in this century, in a hypothetical hospital in Kolkata)
Mohit Bansal was a businessman who normally made his bucks count by selling second hand mobile phones as new ones, in his multiple shops littered in the markets of Kolkata. Nothing made him as happy as when he could clinch a portion of his customer’s bank balance just by the sheer gift of being able to flex the metaphorical muscles of the frontal cortex. As it happened that day, when he was about to scam a couple of thousand rupees from an unsuspecting clerk out on the prowl for a bargain phone, he felt a discomfort that needed a bathroom call. To his shock, he bled blood from his rectum, quite like money from a bride’s tight-fisted father. An alarmed Bansal fled to his family GP, who tried things like Thank God, but to no avail. Bansal was somewhat educated, and did a Google search and came up with an article that seemed to answer his every cry for help. Piles, he read, could be operated without painful cuts, and clean up his health and wealth.
With great trepidation, like how Harry Potter’s creator must have viewed the launch of her first book, he set out to meet a surgeon, with the rather phoren sounding name of Dr. Urs Truly. The surgeon truly did not bat an eyelash, nor did his nasal vibrissae move (as the patient noted indignantly) when he pronounced a need for Bansal to undergo immediate surgery. In fact, it seemed to Bansal that Dr. Truly, the way his myopic eyeballs were popping out, seemed to relish the prospect of chopping up his posterior, and profit from it. In a strange way, Bansal pictured himself at his last sale, when he convinced a college student to part with ten big ones for a Nokia phone that would do a favor on its owner by not exploding by his ear-side, or worse, in his trouser pocket.
When the surgeon, using an irritating matter-of-fact tone, stated the total price tag for the new-fangled surgery, Bansal didn’t know which organ he needed to use to gulp the figure inwards. With the difficulty with which dentists extract an impacted molar tooth, or first time mothers deliver babies obstinate on coming out butt-first, he managed to arrange for the ransom quoted for his surgery.
When he came to the hospital for his admission, he was shown in with great gusto, as if he was the first-ever swindling shopkeeper to grace the linoleum floors of the institution.
As soon as he settled down in his room by 9 pm, a nurse came in and expertly poked in an IV line in several places till she found no fault in one. By this time, his wrists had swollen up enough to bear comparing with that of a pugilist who gets his ears habitually bitten off by Mike Tyson-types.
All night, Bansal fretted, unable to sleep because the darn IV cannula would get stuck in the sheet somewhere the moment his eyes closed. After all, tomorrow morning, 7 am, he was due for surgery.
In what seemed like five minutes after he drifted into sleep, he was woken up by the nurse in a way that is normally reserved for the more exceptional inmate of the Guantanomo Bay facility. When the nurse demanded that he get ready for surgery, he asked to be given a little time for freshening up. He brushed his paan-stained teeth, bled some more in the pan, and drank two glasses of water. The nurse, when she heard of this, behaved in a way as to suggest to Bansal that he actually deserved to be in the American facility north of Cuba. Normally, Bansal was as unflappable as an Indian Airlines hostess, if you could imagine Bansal dressed up in a sari and exposing a two-inch deep umbilicus to the scanning eyes of 456 bored passengers with nothing better to look at. No one told him not to drink water, though the nurse had said ‘No breakfast” tomorrow!
The patient was getting increasingly stressed out at the injustice of putting in an IV channel at 9pm in the evening when the first drug was to be given at 7 the next morning. When he asked the nurse why he had to suffer this through the night, when it could very well have been done just when it was needed, she looked elsewhere and said, “We are only two of us in the floor, and don’t have time for all this in the morning”. That got Bansal’s goat, though he never sanctioned identifying said animal for man’s selfish needs. A brief verbal skirmish ensued, not dissimilar to a tired Hamas-Israeli exchange long after the world had got used to the sound of sundry missiles and all-knowing bunker-busters monopolizing the otherwise silent night. You see, both sides know it is nothing serious, but just like dogs urinate by their favorite lampposts, they both declare their differing positions and sentiments. In Kolkata, Bansal then went one ahead. He questioned the ancestry of the nurse in question, and all nurses in general. By the time the aggrieved nurse went to call her supervisor (one of the blessed breed of women who can still sleep in spite of the milkman, the school-going child, and those unsocial crows who shout abuses at their ilk from across buildings in Kolkata), a Class IV staff came into Bansal’s room. In the classless society that is India, Class IV staffs are those who line up at the time of surgery or discharge for the largesse of satisfied customers. They are to be found outside maternity wards, when a baby is born every time the minute hand of the ancient clock strikes a Roman numeral. At the time of discharge, each ward boy who had served tea in the room even once would line up along the corridor, like a victory salute, looking pointedly at the exiting and excited parents. The parents also know the ‘sistam’ (a.k.a. the ‘shistame’) whereby the Class IV staffs are rewarded appropriately for having successfully helped with the delivery. At least, the parents’ looks suggest that, as do the self-congratulatory expressions on the visages of the ward boys. Digression complete.
Aforementioned ward boy to Bansal: “Saar, shaving karna hai” (“Sir, I’ve come to shave you”)
B: “Theek hai, karo!” (Ok, go ahead).
If you remember, the patient was due for a piles operation. While self-declared modernists like Dr. Urs Truly scoffed at the tradition of shaving patients’ body parts before surgery, the ‘system’ had its way, and the doc was ignored. Surgery meant shaving, doc be damned!
The ‘barber’ pulled up the patient’s shirt, as if to shorn B of his manly growth on his chest and abdomen.
With a dangerous glint in his eyes, he asked, “ You know which part of the body to shave?”
The boy shook his head casually, as if it was quite an absurd question for which he had no time.
A shudder of abuses followed the barber to the restless door. To prepare the patient finally for surgery, a boy from the Housekeeping department came in with a towel: “please sponge yourself”. When the patient asked for hot water for this, the boy came back with a beaker of hot water and poured it into the basin, filling it up. Throwing the towel into the steaming basin, he waited. Bansal looked at the basin, and said, “You expect me to wash myself in the same dirty basin where everyone spits and coughs? What do you think I am, an asshole?
We don’t know if the boy was cheeky enough to answer in the affirmative, but all Hell , like an environmentalist’s movie on global warming, broke loose.
The patient, clearly, could not take the loss of advancing 50,000 Indian rupees (around $1300) for the operation, and be given such a raw deal in service. He almost empathised, at that moment, with a student who, two months ago, came back to him just weeks after buying a ‘new’ cell phone that now had no display. Bansal had shooed away the student, accusing him of dropping the gadget into his morning coffee or tea, with milk and one spoon of sugar.
Back to the present. Bansal refused to go into surgery, expressing great suspicion as to the behavior of the nurses and ward boys after surgery. He feared that they would take turns in kicking him (in his immediate drowsy post-anesthesia state) after covering him with blankets so that no marks would found of both the surgery and the post-surgical trauma.
Called to the scene of the battle, Dr. Urs Truly did the smart thing. Surrounded by a belligerence of relatives, he just laughed it off. He said they were right in every allegation they hurled, and said the Hospital’s deficiencies were incurable. He asked them to take the patient to his rival’s hospital, where (he assured them) the surgeon and the nurses were brilliant. He said sorry, and shook every hand in sight, till he realized one of them belonged to the bewildered self-professed barber. Smiling ingratiatingly at one and all, with the appearance of an American President waving at a crowd of prospective watch-stealers, he disappeared, leaving behind a feeling of awe in the crowdling. As he turned off the corner, Bansal thought, “Now if I had Him as a partner, I could make my own brand of mobile phone!”
He decided then and there that he would get operated only by Dr. Truly even if he chose to do so under the shade of a tree. He did not believe in being mobile with his requirements!


Samir Johna, MD said...


How true in any place or time! There is a big lesson to learn from this! Are you sure it is hypothetical? I doubt it :)

prerna said...

This sounds so real!!!!Who is the bigger villain in this?

B. Ramana said...

You tell me!

Krish Ashok said...

The real villian is the second hand phone. Why do companies make phones that last more than one hand? They shouldnt. They should be programmed to go up in a puff of smoke the moment they leave hand #1 on their way to hand #2.