The Family Doctor

OSWALD PEREIRA makes a fervent plea for the return of the family doctor of yore

I vividly recall as a boy our family doctor P Hajirnis’ dispensary across the main road, on the outskirts of our village, Kolbad, in Thane. The dispensary was crowded with patients, who were issued numbers on bits of paper. The doctor who had a perpetual smile, which often broadened into a grin, would call in five patients at a time.

Before you even completed describing your ailment, he would scribble on a paper the size of a notepad leaf, the medicine to be taken; and across a window carved out of his small wooden cabin, hand over the prescription to the compounder, who like the doctor, also had a smile plastered on his face. We carried our own medicine bottle into which the compounder would pour the doctor’s liquid medicine. Often Mother took us to the doctor, but sometimes we even went on our own. The doctor saw patients only in the morning.

By evening, or the next morning, we were cured of our ailment. Fevers, coughs and colds, the flu and other common ailments, vanished into thin air. When patients were ill with measles, typhoid, pneumonia or other serious illnesses, the doctor after he was informed, used to visit homes, when he had finished seeing patients in his dispensary.

I remember once as a teenager, I had a festered, broken (big) toe nail. Like a brave boy, I went to see the doctor on my own. He asked me to place my foot on a stool, so that he could examine the toe nail carefully. “Look up, look up,” he coaxed me, as I began groaning in pain when he touched the wounded toe. I looked up, away from the sight of the toe. In a split second, he had ripped out my toe nail, attracting the cuss word “B….d” from me.

“Nice words, you learn in school,” he said, laughing. Peeping from the window, the compounder, too, was laughing. “Dress the naughty boy’s toe,” he told the compounder, as he scribbled on a leaf of paper the medicine to heal the wound.

In barely a week, a thin film of a toe nail surfaced; soon blooming into a new, healthy looking toe nail. I visited the doctor every alternate day for the dressing to be changed. In addition to the liquid, I was given some capsules, probably antibiotics. No outside medicines from a chemist were needed.

Those then were the days when your family doctor was a complete package. Ours, Dr Hajirnis was an MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery); happy with his qualification and practice, he didn’t find it necessary to study further or specialise in some branch of medicine. We hadn’t really heard about specialists then and mushrooming pathology labs to conduct a multitude of blood tests, supported by urine (routine and culture) investigations.

There were hospitals, of course. They were like small, friendly homes, unlike the multi-storeyed, multispecialty hospitals of today.

Life was simple then. And we were healthy. Life expectancy, too, was high. Both my paternal grandparents lived beyond 85 years. My grandmother, who lived till 88, didn’t have even a single strand of grey hair. Her teeth, too, were fine.

Scientifically and logically speaking, advancement in medical science should have made us healthier humans. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

The pharmaceutical industry is booming. Doctors, are no doubt, saving lives.

Alas! If only the cost of being healthy and staying alive was a wee bit less expensive.

Don’t want to end on a negative note, considering that the tenor of our website is positive. So my fervent prayer and warm wish is that the family doctor of yore will stage a miraculous comeback!

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