It was almost time to close the clinic.
Like every other day, Dr. Ghosh called his assistant to switch off the light of the waiting room – a 6×4 feet space separated from his chamber by a divider. Same as most of the physicians here, who did not opt for a government job or could not associate with the lucrative hospital industry due to some ethical constraints their parents had injected in their childhood. He spent an entire day in that small rented space to continue his professional practice.
Maya, the frail-looking assistant entered the chamber hesitating, as she always did whenever a new patient arrived at that hour. She knew that the doctor would be too tired to stretch working hours any longer; even she was in a hurry to reach home which was an hour’s journey from there. Yet, professional ethics of a physician’s assistant told her not to refuse patients in need. Dr. Ghosh read her face and asked, “Who is waiting?”
“A new patient, I haven’t seen her before” – Maya confirmed.
Dr. Ghosh was a general physician treating local residents including men, women and children in this locality since last 15 years with Maya as assistant. There was hardly any chance of their not knowing a visitor. “Okay, send her”. He wanted to finish the day’s task as soon as possible. Maya informed before leaving, patient’s name was Rama Pal, aged about fifty, height five feet, weight fifty eight kg. She never failed to note down all preliminary information about patients before sending them to the doctor.
A woman with a pale face and fragile appearance entered in unusually slow steps carrying two large jute bags in hand. The doctor requested her to take the seat. She sat, and started taking out papers from her bag without a word. The doctor noticed the thickness of the bundle of papers. “This won’t be a common case of fever or cold or stomach ache for sure”, he thought and decided to tell her to submit her papers: “Madam, it’s time to close the clinic. I would request you to leave your case history today. Please come back tomorrow morning. I will look into the files in the meantime.”
The lady’s face became even paler. “But you are the only doctor who can save me. My last hope. I visited all doctors in and around this locality.”
The doctor felt little uneasy. A middle aged woman, visiting the chamber alone at this hour of night might not be very safe to handle. Politely he offered, “Okay, tell me what the problem you are facing is.”
The lady looked clueless: “I don’t know. I visited many doctors around and they all have checked me – and all their reports are with me now. I mean, I brought all papers with me today so that you can check and tell me.”
“Madam, it’s time to close the clinic. If you want me to check your case thoroughly, you have to leave your papers here. I will check and tell you tomorrow. Otherwise you have to tell me what are the problems you are facing! It is a stomach pain, or headache?” He sounded little impatient this time.
“That I don’t know doctor, you have to check these. I may not survive till tomorrow.” The lady unzipped another jute bag and started pulling bunches of papers from inside; old x-ray plates, prescriptions, colours of many were faded.
Dr. Ghosh took a desperate attempt to make her understand once again. “Madam, only if you could tell briefly about the problems you are facing, I could probably help you right away.”
“You doctors are so impatient, I am suffering from so many complications since so many years; how come I tell you in short?” replied the lady.
“Then I cannot help you tonight, come back tomorrow and I will see. I have to go home now.”
The lady looked distressed. She collected all her papers, placed carefully in the jute bag and left the room. The doctor told her once again, “Come back tomorrow morning.” She did not reply this time.
As soon as the doctor came out his chamber, Paltu, a neighbourhood boy entered with a worried face.
“Did my mother come here?” He looked at the doctor and then at Maya. Maya broke the silence, “Your mother?”
“Yes, a middle aged lady named Rama Pal. She started behaving insane after my father’s death.” Dr. Ghosh remembered, Paltu had brought his father to his chamber last year. He had recommended Paltu’s father to one of his oncologist friends. Unfortunately, even his friend could not help much. Cancer had already reached its most advanced stage. Paltu continued without a pause, “She thinks she will die soon and keeps on meeting doctors. None found any serious issue, but she is not ready to accept that. These days she slips from home whenever we fail to keep an eye on her. Today she ran away again. I thought she might have come here.” The boy finished, still looking disturbed.
Dr. Ghosh felt guilty about the way he had treated his last patient of the day, but couldn’t gather the courage to express it. He walked ahead without a word. There weren’t too many passers-by. Ailments needed doctors and medicines. Non-ailments needed feelings. Maybe, diffused to invisibility on the same lonely roads, Rama Pal too was lost somewhere seeking the same silence to cure herself.