In the hustle and bustle of my medical practice I mostly manage to maintain a cool professional demeanor. But every now and then, it so happens that I am thrown out of my ivory tower and forced to admit that like everybody else, I too am merely human. This narrative is an example of one such instance.
Mrs. P is my neighbour and as every possessor of XY chromosomes in my locality will testify, she is a perfectly delightful woman. One day as I was relaxing at home on a Sunday evening, this person entered our home. On being informed by my wife of the arrival, I entered my consulting room and greeted the visitor. This is what followed:
Me: Hi, Mrs. P.!
Mrs. P.: Hi, doctor!
Me (in a pleasant, professional tone): Is there anything I can do for you?
Mrs. P. (in a sweet trilling nightingale voice): Yes there is. Actually I think I am falling seriously ill.
To be truthful, at this point the idea of falling together with her does cross my mind, but I push the thought aside with a firm professional shove.
Me: Really! But you look so well! (It is always good to establish friendly relations with a patient)
Mrs. P. (blushing gracefully): So nice of you to say that doctor, but I really don’t feel well at all.
Me: Well I’m all ears.
Mrs. P. (looking a bit overwhelmed – hers was obviously not the literary mind): Oh, I think you look quite young. But I was telling you about my problem.
Me: Your problem is mine Mrs. P. (quite gallant I thought). Please tell me all about it.
Mrs. P.: Well, the problem is my chest you know.
Me (taking a good look at her problem): I don’t think there’s any problem Mrs. P. In fact its quite perfect.
Mrs. P.(hastily covering her problem with her saree; oops, I kick myself mentally for my misplaced gallantry): I mean my problem is my heart you know.
Me: And how does your heart trouble you?
Mrs. P.(leaning forwards conspiratorially, again uncovering her problem): Well doctor, it beats.
Me: Whom? (for a moment the sight of her problems benumb my mind and wash away my professionalism)
Mrs. P.(looking prettily confused – I mean, pretty confused again): No one in particular. It just beats against my chest.
Me (swiftly regaining my composure): Oh, oh, I see! But Mrs. P., isn’t that rather normal. I mean that problem is common to all of us.
Mrs. P.: Yes, but mine beats so hard, that it threatens to jump out of my chest. Would you like to feel it?
I nearly fall off my chair. There’s a faint crash in the background which I ignore.
Me (my professional instincts thoroughly aroused): Why certainly if you wish.
Slowly I advance my hand, anticipating the professional thrill I was about to experience.
Mrs. P.(again looking confused): Aren’t you going to use a stethoscope, doctor?
Me (feeling like a fool): Yes, yes, of course! (I feel an unpleasant tingling in my left foot which I ignore)
I use a stethoscope on her with an inexplicable feeling of being so close and yet so far.
Me: Everything seems to be fine Mrs. P.
Mrs. P.: Are you sure you did not miss anything doctor?
Me: Of course not. (Of course I had missed everything vital)
Mrs. P.: Then perhaps its my BP that’s making me feel uneasy. Would you mind checking my BP?
Me (wondering for a moment if she meant Beautiful Personality – in fact there are many full forms for B that I could think of and one or two for P as well; but again I use the firm professional shove): I’d love to.
I search my table for the BP instrument but cannot find it.
Mrs. P.(with wonderful insight): Its lying on the ground. You dropped it when you were examining my chest.
So that was why my foot was tingling. I checked her BP.
Me: Your BP is perfectly normal (of course it was. It was mine that needed checking)
Mrs. P.: Then what is the problem? Why does my heart beat so?
Me: Are you getting proper sleep?
Mrs. P.: Oh no I’m not. My husband keeps me awake the whole night.
With all her Bs and Ps I did not doubt that, though her candidness astounded me.
Mrs. P.: Oh yes. And he does it so loudly, I’m afraid he will wake up the whole neighbourhood.
Me (with eyes widely dilated): Really?
Mrs. P.: Yes doctor. And he does it in all possible positions.
Me (eyes threatening to pop out of their sockets): Really?
Mrs. P.: Yes he does. On his back, sideways, even with his face down. You know, he just drives me crazy. And I think its his tongue – its so large and thick, that it blocks up the whole passage.
Me (wiping the sweat off my brow): Wow, I mean, he must have a lot of stamina.
Mrs. P.(with the by now familiar confused look): Does it take a lot of stamina to snore?
Me (feeling like a fool yet again): Oh, you mean he snores?
Mrs. P.(now a bit suspiciously): What else did you think I meant?
Me (hastily changing the subject): Well, I think there is nothing wrong with you physically (and I meant it quite literally).
Mrs. P.: You think so? But I still think you should give me a full-body check-up.
This time I was sure the BP instrument broke my ankle.
Me (stammering): Oh r-really? I-I th-think that is a—g-good idea, great idea.
Mrs. P.(after waiting five minutes for me to make the move): Well, aren’t you going to take it out?
Me (could this be really happening?): Take out? Take out – what?
Mrs. P.: Your pen, of course.
Me (totally losing my bearing): P-pen? What pen?
Mrs. P.: How else are you going to give me a full body check-up? I mean prescribe blood tests, sonography etc.?
By now I am feeling tailormade for the fool’s role in one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Bending my head low to mask my blush, I write down the tests for her.
Mrs. P.(standing up to leave): Thank you doctor. You have been really nice. No, no please don’t stand up. I will find my own way outside.
I am glad she said that. For I am in no fit position to stand up; after all, despite all my professionalism, I’m still a human being.