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      Volume 10 |Issue 23 | June 17, 2011 |


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The Importance of Being a Doctor

Rifat Munim

The title is redolent of one of Oscar Wilde's acclaimed plays The Importance of being Earnest. In that satiric comedy, the protagonist Ernest Worthing through so many of his spurious actions, comes to the final realisation that it is exceedingly important for all to be earnest in life. As a Dhakaite, if you ever are in desperate need of a good doctor, you will go through a similar set of changing perceptions like that of Worthing, with as many dramatic encounters and spurious actions, some even unscrupulous. Yet, you will be struck by one difference: the consolidated effect of uncertainty and stress. Nevertheless, while dealing miserably with the resulting frustration, you too will come to a crucial realisation that you should have studied medicine, or for that matter, at least someone in your family should have. Hence the title alludes partly to Wilde's play and partly to mine, establishing a parallel storyline in our tales. Let me enlighten.

My father has been a diabetic for over 20 years now. About six months ago, his blood sugar level shot up abruptly. Since then, his health had been going through many complications. So we were looking for an endocrinologist, a medical specialist who treats problems related to hormone secretion into internal bloodstream, for a thorough check-up. This is where my play begins.

When most of our acquaintances suggested Mr Bathan (not his real name) to be the most reputed doctor in this field, we decided to visit him. Only we did not know an appointment with him had to be preceded by the most strenuous process of getting a serial. For one thing, you cannot just go there and ask for a serial. It does not work that way. You'll have to follow rules that are much stricter than the ones followed by army personnel. You'll have to make a phone call at his chamber and that too, between 8.00 and 8.10 sharp in the morning. Neither earlier nor later. So my early riser elder brother embarked on the journey, trying to keep calling from three different numbers throughout a week within the stipulated time, but all in vain. All the numbers were either busy or rang but no one answered. Meanwhile, my father's health broke down again, this time his sugar level drastically decreased. Before contacting another doctor, my brother took up the phone on the ninth consecutive day to make sure that we did not leave any stone unturned. Thankfully, this time it worked and if it was not for his pertinacious try, the miracle of actually getting a serial and consulting this doctor would not have happened.

The doctor examined him and pointed out the irregularities my father had been indulging in matters of diet. Then he gave him a counselling in a prolonged session. My father got better and admitted that Mr Bathan was indeed the best doctor he had ever consulted. We just smiled at him and lest he should lose heart, we concealed the fact that meeting a cabinet minister, with a bit of good luck, is much easier. Hyperbolic as it may sound, it came true in a few days. In one month, one of my sisters-in-law fell sick. She was suffering from problems caused by the thyroid gland. Once again, everyone suggested Mr Bathan and accordingly, we re-enacted those roles, keeping on calling in between 8 and 8.10am. When we were sure that the stroke of luck had failed us this time, we pulled out. Eventually, my sister-in-law sought an appointment with another doctor but many of her problems remained. Dissatisfied, she started browsing through the internet and found a way out of it. But not everyone in this country has faith in online medical groups, nor do all such groups have easy remedies for complicated diseases.

Then came my mother's turn who was afflicted with sporadic chest pain and breathing problems. After a heart specialist confirmed her problems did not relate to her heart, we began to look for a medicine specialist. So we decided to consult SM Kalam (not his real name), who is unanimously regarded as the most seasoned expert on this. With this decision began our most prolonged waiting session. At this point, my play took an absurd turn since our waiting session was marked by the same uncertainty featured in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. However, at the expense of our suffering, what might come as a comic relief to the readers is the information that in order to get a serial, as we were told by the personal assistant of this doctor, one has to go to his chamber in person between 4.00 and 5.00 in the morning. It was not only ludicrous, but also the weirdest thing I'd ever heard in my life. Even so, I was ready to stay up the whole night and go there at that time (remember Bayezid Bostami!). But my mother herself stood in my way and barred me from going there on the grounds of my safety. Then one of my cousins shone as a saviour who knew someone having a direct connection with the doctor, and with a little bit of extra money spent on his PA, we finally got the appointment. As the doctor carefully examined her and talked very amicably, my mother was half-cured. The rest was done by the medication.

While it is proven that those two are among the few best doctors in their respective fields, it really takes me by surprise why they should choose such bizarre ways to grant appointments to patients. Some say the pressure of numerous patients has left them with no choice. As a result, patients and their attendants are put to the test characterised solely by uncertainty and nepotism. After hearing the extent of such weird tests, one of my friends rightly suggested the best doctors should introduce a lottery system much like some schools have already done for admitting new pupils.

Reasons behind this unthinkable demand for good doctors who combine their expertise with good behaviour are quite understandable. In this country, you don't have a lot of good doctors, and even if you have some, most of them are serious-looking sullen people sparing as less time as possible on a patient. The key to resolving such problems lies in proliferation of such good, responsible doctors. Additionally, the government may have something to do with the whole process by enforcing the new health policy whereby doctors will focus more on service than on money-making.

Whatever that is, the parallel of Wilde's play with mine lies in the moral lesson. In Wilde's case, the lesson is the universality of earnestness whereas in my case, the lesson is culture-specific. Speaking of morality, I'd like all Dhakaites to forget such grand, universal messages, and share the lesson that I've learnt: instead of resigning to fate or waiting for the government to intervene, let us all Bangladeshis make sure that we've got at least one doctor in our family.



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