A warm, sunny afternoon, the murmur of the patients and their attendants conversing amongst themselves, the efficient click-clack of the nurses’ heels, and me listening to the rhythms and the rumblings of my patients with my faithful ‘Litman’ stethoscope – everything seemed to be well with our hospital. But Chaos – the devil’s lackey – is always lurking in the wings, ready to pounce on the first chance of mischief. Unaware of his designs, I looked up and smiled as a pleasant looking young man walked into my chamber, wished me good afternoon, and told me he had fever. I asked a few questions, poked and pounded him over, picked up my pen, and wrote on a prescription pad.
“Here,” I said, “I’ve ordered a simple blood test. Go to the cash counter, get the receipt and show it to the lab technician. You’ll get the report in the evening.”
The guy at the cash counter has a computer screen in front of him, in which are fed the codes of the various lab tests that doctors in their omniscient wisdom chose to inflict upon a trusting humanity. This guy sees the doctor’s prescription, types in the code for the test(s) into the computer, which miraculously prints out the name of the test onto the receipt. He did the same today, except that Chaos, the devil’s valet, saw his chance and entering the cash clerk’s mind, made him enter the wrong code into the computer. So that instead of the blood test that I had ordered, what got printed on the receipt was ‘Semen analysis’, and this my unsuspecting patient presented to the lab technician, a worthy mallu by the name of Jibu. Jibu looked at the fateful paper and gave the patient a measuring look. This is how things went on from here:
Patient (with a sheepish smile): Is it going to be painful?
Jibu (with a lopsided grin): Painful? Pain is not the emotion I would associate with it. Quite the contrary actually.
Patient (frowning): No need to be sarcastic. Its just that this is my first time.
Jibu (this time genuinely surprised): Really? Then you don’t smoke either, or drink?
Patient (frowning more intensely): No, I don’t. But how does that matter?
Without further conversation, Jibu took a vial and handed it over to my patient. Then they stood in silence, staring at each other, both waiting for the other to make a move. Finally, a full minute later, the patient broke the silence.
Patient: Aren’t you going to—–.
Jibu (suspiciously): What?
Patient: I mean, aren’t you going to take out my sample?
Jibu (transfixed with horror): Me?
Patient (hastily): Or someone working under you, someone younger? Forgive me if you are too senior for such things.
Jibu: No, I’m not! I mean, no one will take out the sample for you. You have to take it out yourself.
Patient: Take it out myself? How can I? Besides, I told you this is my first time.
Jibu: Its really quite simple.
Patient (folding his arms across his chest): Really? Can you tell me how?
Jibu (his glossy dark face purpling with a deep blush): You just hold it – tight.
Patient: Hold it tight? That’s all?
Jibu (stuttering with the effort): And then- then- you-you, just squeeze it.
Patient: Okay, so I hold it tight and squeeze it. That’s it?
Jibu (his face resembling a colour palette): And then – just – rub it.
Patient: I thought you are supposed to rub first. Anyway, so I hold it and squeeze it and then rub it, right. (Jibu nodded) Now tell me my good man, if I’m doing all these things, who will give me the prick?
Jibu (confused images drifting across his befuddled mind): But that is what is in your hand.
Patient (striking his forehead forcefully with his palm): Look, let us think it over with a clear mind. I hold tight, and squeeze, okay? And then according to you I rub over it, right? (Jibu nodded dumbly) Now who is going to take out my sample? Am I clear?
Jibu (wondering how such innocence could have survived in the big, bad world for so long): The sample will come out by itself.
Patient: How? Without the prick?
Jibu: But that is already there! In your hand!
Patient: Listen fellow! First you refuse to take my sample, and I damn well know that it is your job to take everyone’s sample, seniority be damned; and then you talk to me in silly riddles. I tell you what; either you take my sample yourself, or I’m going to complain to the doctor about you.
Jibu: (his turn to fold his arms across his chest): You can complain if you want. I will not, will not, will not take your sample.
A while later they stood in my chamber, both looking flustered and outraged.
Patient: Doctor! This fellow refuses to take my sample.
Me: Jibu, is that true? You refused to take this gentleman’s sample?
Jibu (petulantly): Of course I did.
Me (mystified; Jibu had always been an efficient, dependant worker): But why?
Jibu: He wants me to take his sample with my own hands.
Me: That’s reasonable, isn’t it?
Jibu: You don’t understand, sir. He wants me to extract his sample with my own hands (in his outraged excitement he made a few jerky movements in the air).
Me: Don’t be so excited Jibu. After all you’ve probably done this a thousand times already. So what’s one more time, eh? All in a day’s work I’d say.
Jibu: Admittedly, I might have done it a few times, but taking another man’s sample, that’s a different thing all together.
Me: Oh, come on Jibu; I’ve myself seen you take several men’s samples, sometimes several together at the same time.
Jibu (jutting out his square chin): Sir, how can you say that? You are insulting me.
Me: Come on Jibu, you are being needlessly melodramatic. I’m only telling you to do your job. Just pull out the man’s sample, for God’s sake. It’ll only take you a second with your expertise.
Jibu: Sir, I’m telling you for the last time. I’m not going to take this man’s, or for that matter any other man’s sample.
Me: Jibu, are you planning to change your profession?
Jibu: No, sir.
Me: Well then Jibu, this duty of taking people’s samples is a part of your profession. Always has been and always will be.
Jibu: Not at all sir. I tell you I won’t do it.
Me: If you won’t, and I don’t know what’s wrong with you today, I will have to ask a nurse to do it.
Patient: Neither am I too keen to be handled by this lunatic. I would vastly prefer a nurse.
Jibu (glaring at the young man): Of course you would prefer a nurse, you pervert! Handled indeed!
Me: Jibu! I can’t believe you are being so obstinate. I’m warning you, either you take this young gentleman’s blood sample, or I’m going to complain to the Medical Superintendent about your atrocious behaviour.
Jibu (gasping): Blood sample?
Me: What else am I gibbering about all this while?
Wordlessly, Jibu handed me the receipt of the test. I saw it, and for a moment I stood paralyzed with disbelief. Then I burst out laughing.