The Family Doctor!


Just as Covid was beginning to resurrect the tarnished image of the doctors, few private hospitals were again found to be over-fleecing the patients. That is why it is said:

वैद्यराज नमस्तुभ्यम् यमराज सहोदर: |
यमस्तु हरति प्राणान् वैद्य: प्राणान् धनानि च ||

(Salutations to the ‘Vaidya raja’, the brother of the ‘Yama raja’. While Yama takes away just the life, the doctor takes away both life and life’s earnings!)

How much this noble profession has changed, over the last few decades, is quiet perturbing. Earlier, we just had the concept of family doctors who attended to all the ailments. My description of a family doctor is not someone who treats a family, but someone who feels the pain of their pain, helplessness of their helplessness and suffering of their suffering. When a family doctor arrived on his old Lambretta scooter, with a square first aid box strapped to the rear, in those days, he personified positive hope and unending possibilities. “All would be well”, was an un-told assurance to the worried family. Even if the situation was grim and hopeless, he would still guarantee the members, of timely recovery and that there was nothing to bother: Compare that with today’s plight, fear surrounds when a doctor enters a house. In treatment, he stubbornly stuck to Hippocratic oath and did not administer more than what was absolutely necessary. His treatment was based more on his intuition than on a battery of diagnostic procedures.

There was a relationship of reciprocity and highest reverence. When the doctor moved around, the whole town felt concerned about someone sick in some house. While the doctor treated the patient, the entire chawl or mohalla prayed for the quick recovery. Prioritization of the patients was on the severity of the illness: monetary considerations did not exist. If a patient suggested an injection or an anti-biotic, the man in the white coat would generally retort, “ Who is the doctor, you or I? Their treatment was always graded and they hesitated to deploy everything, at once. They often healed the wounds more with their words than with their medicines. Many doctors typically assured their patients, “Don’t worry, if something happens to your leg, I will give you mine.” That was the level of ethics, empathy and concern. A lot of today’s doctors are reductionists; they look at humans as machines.

The doctor was barely an MBBS, they were not super-specialists, but had in depth knowledge of the arc of ailments. More than the medicines, they knew their patients well. He knew of everyone’s niggling cough or persistent cold or nagging diabetes, many a times, more than the patients themselves.

Decades ago, healthcare looked vastly different than it does today. The family doctor knew and treated every member of the family, from birth to death. Earlier there was one doctor for all patients. Now, for one patient, there are many doctors.

In sum, it would be inappropriate to describe him as a ‘family doctor’: He was more than that, a ‘doctor in the family’. In that semantics lies the whole difference!!


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