Give Me Some Sunshine!
Today and everyday, reach out to someone you don’t share a relationship with, and experience that flowering from within you… everyday of your life. The creator cares for those who care for the creation.
Sunflowers! I love them. Bright yellow, facing the sun, and radiating life. There are lots of them around me, everywhere till the horizon. I am sitting amidst them, basking in the morning sun. Wow! This is life. But what am I seeing now? I see my stethoscope hanging on the sunflower bush. What is it doing here? I am on a vacation and do not want anything associated with my profession to bother me. I need my much-deserved break.
Suddenly, the alarm bleeps. It is 6.30 a.m., a Monday and the beginning of workplace blues. I had been dreaming in my deep slumber. I am late. It is an outpatient day at the clinic and is expected to be very busy. By 7.30 a.m. I am in the outpatient department of a large tertiary care hospital, where I am posted during my training for a postgraduate medical degree. There are 150 patients registered for our unit. It is going to be a long, tough day. One thirds of them are new patients who take at least thirty minutes for a detailed history, examination and counselling. Our department gets referrals from all over India – overwhelmingly from West Bengal. Faith is what draws the patients here, akin to a massive influx. Doctors need to have a working knowledge of Bangla to comprehend patients’ problems, as the patients usually do not have a language interpreter. I do not possess the much-needed linguistic skills so as to twist my tongue in a way to pronounce ‘rosogolla’.
I commence my day with a new Bangla speaking patient. It is a child with nephritic syndrome, a kidney disease that requires long-term treatment. His parents know only Bangla and all questions asked to them are answered as ‘he, he, he’ with rapid nodding of neck, a gesture so typical for these patients meaning ‘yes’. They answer in an affirmative tone to all my questions. From the prescriptions and documents they had from their local physicians I get a clue about the patient’s condition. I dedicate a good 40 minutes to them. I go from one patient to another without realising that the day has moved so fast. By noon, I am done with most of the patient charts.
Being on call duty I have to go for rounds. I take my penultimate chart, which is thick and defaced. It belongs to Kumaran, a fourteen-year-old patient, who has longstanding nephritic syndrome. I call him to my cubicle. A tall and lean boy, dressed in clean, tattered but mended clothes with a cloth bag on shoulder, enters. I offer him a seat. I am hungry and exhausted by now. I ask him his current problems to which I receive no reply. The boy is silent and is looking down. I ask, “What happened?” He replies that he is in need of his medicines. I check his medical records chart. He is taking a drug called Prednisolone and pills to control his blood pressure. I check his blood pressure and that is quite high. I ask him, “Did you take your pills today?” He says ‘No’ that is barely audible. These are the type of patients who take their medicines as per their whims and fancies, I think to myself. They need counselling to explain the importance of regularity and the untoward consequences if they fail to comply with the instructions. I discuss these aspects with him. It is getting late. “Why didn’t you take medicines?” I ask, overtaken by hunger and mental fatigue. For the first time Kumaran looks at me. Those big, bright eyes express despair. He says, “I don’t have money.” Oh! These are the patients who always ask for free drugs and investigations, I think. I ask him for his father. He says he has come unaccompanied. I check his chart. He is from a place at least 100 miles from this hospital. It is high time. I lose my patience. I ask “Why are you here then? I cannot give anything free. I don’t have the authority to do so.” I write in his chart to continue the same drugs. I turn around to explain to him. His eyes are full of tears. I pause. It’s not that I haven’t seen a patient crying or pleading for help for their genuine concerns. This is an innocent boy. He is looking like my sunflower asking for a bit of sunlight to grow and prosper. He is mature enough to understand the chronic nature of his illness. His zest for life has made him travel this far all alone with no money in hand. His belief that somebody would give him his much-needed sunlight seems so innocent. What if I don’t help him? I shudder at this thought. I ask him if he has had his meals. He replies “No”. I remember my mother calling me every other day, post lunch and dinner, to enquire if I have eaten food. Who would think about this boy who has come here all-alone, travelling a long distance? What about his medicines? I am not authorised to give free prescriptions. I take the chart to my seniors, most of whom have left for lunch. Luckily I get hold of Dr.Shekhar, my lecturer. He countersigns on the free prescriptions and the follow-up blood tests. I return to my cubicle. Kumaran is standing in the corner of my room, looking down. I hand him the prescriptions. He is silent, but his eyes light up like the sunflowers of my dreams. I think about his food. I search through my wallet, but discover that I am penniless. I feel extremely sorry that I could not help Kumaran with food. I stand watching him leave the room. I give my last chart to a colleague as I don’t feel like seeing any more. I cannot swallow a morsel of food. Thoughts of Kumaran have occupied the recesses of my mind, images of his lean stature, yearning for help flashing before my eyes.
Fast-forward… 20 years later… Today I work as a professor in another hospital. I encounter many anxious souls daily. I try to spot a Kumaran amongst them. I don’t want to miss him. And nowadays I don’t forget to carry money in my wallet…
-Dr. Indrayani Salphale