When was the last time you felt cheered by your visit to the doctor? I don’t remember, personally.
Barring my grandfather, who let me play around his Ayurvedic clinic when I was five or six while he tended to his patients, my doctors have tended to be of the cold variety. Impersonal and clinical in demeanor, they have frequently made me feel like they didn’t want to have anything to do with me as a person; they’d rather deal with my particular organ in distress. Many of them have been distracted and harried, trying to get on to the next patient in a hurry. And, worst of all, I have walked out of consultations feeling in the dark about my own body. I’m not sure they’ve seen me, even though I’m always told “the doctor will now see you.”
And then, earlier this week, I encountered Dr. D. It was a throwback to an era I thought long gone by.
“Hello, is this Dr. D’s clinic?” I asked, planning to ask for an appointment for my mum. I had my professional voice on, ready to counter rudeness. The muscles in my neck were tensed, aggression on standby to be unleashed against difficult gatekeepers.
“Yes,” a kindly and soft voice said on the other end. “Dr. D speaking.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed, startled that the doctor would be the one to pick up the call. The gentleness in the voice threw me off even more.
“Um, could I make an appointment to bring my mother in to see you?” I asked, fumbling to adjust to a friendlier tone.
“When can you come?” He asked, cheerfulness seeping through the phone line. “I’m here now, want to come now?”
“Er, okay,” I stuttered, again caught off-guard by his inviting openness. He had completely disarmed me. “I’ll bring her now then, I guess.”
“Sure, see you!” I was sure he chirped this.
About twenty minutes later, we pulled up to his clinic, a modest setup in an unassuming neighbourhood. Situated in a narrow side lane, the doorway was open to the world outside. Nearby homes had cool stone verandahs, where a few locals were perched, watching people come and go. A stray dog sauntered past us. The pharmacist next door volunteered, helpfully, that we were in the right place. I sensed that this was a place where people still mattered.
Inside the clinic, we waited for a few minutes until the inner examination room door opened and a patient walked out. I looked around, and not seeing anyone else ahead of us, let myself and my mum in.
He was a delight from the first moment. Average build with a slight paunch, his greying hair was neatly oiled and combed away to the side. He was dressed as simply as his room, only what was necessary to function. He must have been around 60 years old, the aura of experience emanating from him. And yet, or perhaps because of it, he also gave off a sense of calm. His face matched his voice – kindness etched all over. His eyes had the same softness, as he looked straight at my mum. I had disappeared. It was just him and my mum, so intently was he listening to her describe her pains. He didn’t mind as she rambled off into tangents about how nobody has time for anyone anymore, her favorite childhood memories from this area, and how he had tried to matchmake for her son, my brother, a long time ago. He absorbed it all.
A few pointed questions and he diagnosed her affliction, a kidney infection. Tests we did later just confirmed what he already knew. He reduced her medications, explaining why and what he was prescribing afresh. And then he uttered words that I have rarely heard from a doctor: “let’s get you better so you don’t have to come see me.”
I was blown away. In under ten minutes, this modest man, carrying around more wisdom and experience than most people I know, had made my mum feel heard, comforted, and cared for. He had shown me that he saw his patients as complete beings, where the state of the mind and heart is integrally woven into the condition of the body. His idea of success was a patient not needing to return.
As we left the clinic, he gave us a toothy smile that was infectious and we both broke out into our own big grins. My mum was already healing, and I felt grateful that such doctors still existed.