A tell of a lady doctor's struggle to balance between her professional and family duties.
The shrill of the telephone interrupted the quietness of a dark, chilly room in the middle of the night. It also made Dr. Neeta Alva to stir in her light sleep. With the deftness acquired over a time she reached for the receiver of the intercom kept on the side table.
Without getting up from the bed, she spoke in the receiver, “Hello, Dr. Alva here.”
Person at the other end spoke, “Dr. Alva, nurse Shanta speaking. Mrs. De Silva, form room no 302 is very restless and complaining of head ache and giddiness. She also says she is getting palpitations. I – I think...”
“Okay. Don’t you worry sister. I will be right there as soon as possible.” Dr. Neeta assured the worried nurse.
She remembered Mrs. De Silva – a patient admitted under care of physician Dr. Mohan Nayak. She had seen his name under Mrs. De Silva’s on a name plate put on her door.
Neeta reached for the light switch near the side table. Instantly the room was bathed in a very bright light. The room was big, well furnished and very comforting – a very luxurious quarters for a resident doctor! Such a residential accommodation was just a dream for residents in other general hospitals.
Now was the time for Dr. Alva to get up and go. When on night duty like this, she usually slept with her day clothes on, so that she can go attend the patients without delay. Again with the quickness required of any resident doctor, she reached for her apron and put it on. Lifting the stethoscope from the table she hung it around her neck. Within minutes she was ready to go and see Mrs. De Silva. She yawned once; then closing the windows of the room put off the light.
She was working as a resident doctor in internal medicine and was supposed to attend the patients for routine checkup, carry out all the day-to-day work related to patients, supervise treatment advised by the senior consultants and attend night emergencies, if any arose, in their absence.
As a post-graduate resident doctor, she had to work round-the-clock in the hospital for three years. For two years of her residency tenure she had worked in a very busy Goa Medical College hospital in Bambolim. She had attended outpatients; worked in the wards; attended emergencies too. She had worked sincerely and gained good experience to her credit. Today she was able to attend to any serious patient as well as could tackle any sort of emergency.
Since heavy work at the government hospital was not allowing her any time to study for her MD exam, she had opted, for her last year of residency, to work in a trust run Star-Care hospital where the work load was less.
Star-Care Hospital, was located near Panvel-Kochi national highway and was some distance away from Mhapusa. If one looked at the five storied imposing ultra modern, glass–metal fancy building of the hospital, one would have thought it to be a five-star hotel rather than a hospital. Run as a profit making venture by a Star trust set up by prominent industrialist of Goa, Star-Care Hospital, true to its name was indeed a five-star hospital!
It was constructed on a very vast plot of land, surrounded by a high fence wall. Tall palm, beetle nut and coconut trees lined the compound wall. The original plot was a wooded one and it was cleared only where it was required to construct the building. One could still see the original forest preserved at the back of the hospital building. Half of the front ground accommodated the covered parking lots for the cars of doctors as well as those of patients. Other half was converted into a landscaped garden which, not only was very beautiful but was very well kept too!
Star-Care hospital was unusually quiet for a hospital. There was no hustle-bustle which is usually seen in any big hospital. It didn’t run outpatient department and catered only to the inpatients. These inpatients were the referred patients seen by the consultants in their consulting offices and who needed to be hospitalized.
The hospital didn’t have general wards. All the inpatients had their own separate individual rooms, which were big, furnished, luxurious, well equipped rooms like in a five-star hotel! Here, the only exception being the presence of the well furnished, medically equipped nursing stations with uniformed, professional, quick and sympathetic nurses on all the floors instead of the spic-and-span reception counters with impersonal managers!
The food served by the hospital too had variety and was very decent and tasty.
The slogan of the hospital was, “You are Not in a hospital but at home!”
Indeed for patients it was a home away from a home – although at a premium.
A five-star room doesn’t come cheap. Naturally the charges of the hospital were very high. It goes without saying that to get Star-Care for themselves, the patients had to be very rich to get into Star-Care hospital.
The hospital was very popular among and favored by rich Goans and foreigners visiting Goa all round the year. Recently the hospital had started medical tourism programs.
The hospital also didn’t run a nursing school as was expected with such a big hospital. The trust had tried for a medical college. But, with catering only to the private, rich patients, it didn’t fulfill the requirements set by Medical Council of India for starting a medical college.
But then such a big hospital cannot be run without the residents doctors to work round-the-clock and do all the daily routine work. So the hospital management had approached the government--run Panjim Medical college authorities and had the hospital affiliated for the residency program.
Because of this affiliation Dr. Neeta could opt for the residency in this luxury hospital. The work-load was not as heavy as the crowded government hospital and she could get more time to study for her post–graduate MD degree.
Catering to richie-rich patients, there were no strict hours for the visitors. The patients and their visitors could fix their own visiting hours in consultation with the treating doctors.
But now, it was past midnight and even the last of the visitors had gone. Still the lights glowed everywhere in the hospital. The duty nurses had finished their dinner and were present at their duty places. The Night super too had finished her first nightly round. Emergency surgeries were being carried out in the operation theatres and the babies were being born in the delivery rooms. Most of the medical and surgical patients were resting in their own rooms. Some of them were deeply asleep while some slept lightly! Some slept under the influence of the drugs! Some were under the nurse’s observation. Those who we were ready to be discharged were dreaming of going home tomorrow and some were worried about the surgeries they have to undergo tomorrow morning.
Within minutes Dr. Alva was present in room number 302 examining Mrs. De Silva.
After some time Dr. Mohan Nayak was disturbed from his deep sleep by the persistent ringing of his bedside telephone. He woke up willy nilly. Taking extra pillow reclined on the headrest of his bed. Combing his graying hair with the right hand fingers he prayed silently and hoped that the telephone ringing should not disturb Shama – his wife – sleeping in the adjoining room. Shama was a night creature by her own choice – always enjoying late night parties with her friends. But whenever she was not at some late night party, she preferred to turn in early to catch up with her overdue sleep.. At such times, she didn’t tolerate the disturbance caused by her husband’s profession, and hence preferred sleeping in the separate room adjoining to their master bedroom.
“Damn it!” Yawning, Dr. Nayak grumbled to himself. Then lifting the receiver slowly with his left hand spoke very mannerly and in a cultivated authoritative voice “Hello…?”
He listened attentively what was said at the other end and after some time responded, “Yes, surely. That’s right. Yes. Calmpose – I mean injection diazepam. Okay. Yes. No…no. Surely. Sorry, you were disturbed. Thanks, Neeta. Tell her I will see her tomorrow.”
Then with a professional manner he gave some definitive directions about the treatment of his patient. Yawned again and said sleepily, “Good night. See you in the morning.”
Dr. Alva returned to room number 302.
Like all the other private rooms in the Star-Care hospital, the room 302 too, was big, well-furnished and was having all the comforts of a five-star hotel room! And of course, was well equipped with all the modern medical gazettes.
When Dr. Neeta reentered the room, Mrs. De Silva was sitting on her bed. With her right hand she was clutching that part of her chest where she thought her heart lies. As soon as she saw Dr. Alva returning, she, dramatically started complaining that her heart is beating faster and she is experiencing palpitations.
Mrs. De Silva was a short heavy set woman in the middle of her life. She was rich and bored with equally bored and tired husband. She had a married daughter with whom she couldn’t get along. Apart from all the fancy complains usually associated with the middle age and the menopause, she didn’t have any physical illness.
Rich women like Mrs. De Silva were the backbone of the Star-care hospital. They not only provided for the cost of their five-star treatment but earned very substantial profit for the hospital too!
Naturally she expected that Dr. Alva to examine her again after her consultation with Dr. Nayak. Though there wasn’t any need but Dr. Alva had to oblige the patient. With reexamination over, she explained Dr. Nayak’s orders to the nurse and left the room.
The nurse Shanta was a very efficient nurse. She entered all the orders in her nurses book. Checked that all the orders are carried out and tick marked them.
She smoothed the sheets on the patient’s bed and rubbed the patient’s back. All the while nurse was carrying out her work Mrs. De Silva was murmuring and grumbling. the nurse told her to lie quietly in order for the medicine to work and for her to go to the sleep. But Mrs. De Silva was persistent and said heatedly, “Dr. Alva should have called Dr. Nayak here. I think, I am sure she didn’t tell him how serious I am.”
The nurse disagreed with the patient’s opinion but made some sympathetic noises just to soothe the patient.
But ignoring her soothing words patient grumbled. “What is to be expected when Dr. Alva is on duty? I wish Dr. Bhandari should have been on duty tonight. He is very thoughtful and understanding.”
‘Why wouldn’t Dr. Bhandari be thoughtful and understanding?’ the nurse thought. ‘He is practical and knows very well the source of his bread-butter and the jam too. When he will finish his residency term and go into the practice, I am sure his hands will be full with the rich ladies like you with the overstuffed purses and many fancy complains like backache and boredom.’
But openly she said, “Dr. Alva is a very good and knowledgeable doctor!”
“But I don’t like women doctors!” said Mrs. De Silva.
And that was true. She didn’t like any woman whom she couldn’t dominate.
Again the nurse made some noises for the benefit of patient and prayed for the sleep injection to act faster. Only then she can go and sit in her chair and resume her book reading or some other personal activity. For a moment she wondered, ‘Why am I here pampering such a whimsy and crazy patient in this fancy hospital instead of taking care of a truly seriously ill patient in the crowded general hospital? I was trained to attend the serious patients and it’s my moral responsibility to give the care to the deserving. But how can I withstand such a heavy work at fifty?’
Nurse Shanta had a slip-disc problem. She was suffering from very had backache; her feet swelled after prolonged standing; her knees too were painful. No, she couldn’t go back to that heavy job in the government hospital. With her husband no more she had the responsibility of her children; had to bring them up alone and provide for their education and career. She needed money. If she gets it by pampering the impulsive patients like Mrs. De Silva, she will have to do it. No, she couldn’t afford to leave such a lucrative job.
Presently the sleep medicine acted and Mrs. De Silva went to sleep. Sitting on her chair, nurse Shanta resumed the reading of her current book.
Dr. Alva went to her quarters. Opening the door she reached for the light switch. She thought against the opening of the windows as there was chilly air outside and she was already feeling cold. Putting the stethoscope on the study table, she went to dressing mirror. Removing her apron, she put it on hanger and hung it on the nail on the wall near her wardrobe. She didn’t like to hung the apron with rest of her clean clothes in the wardrobe. For a moment she looked thoughtfully at her own reflection in the mirror.
She was a small built woman with very expressive big black eyes. Her nose was small; but her mouth was attractive with full lips. And short, curly black hair supplemented her beauty.
At twenty six, Dr. Neeta was an attractive woman.
At eighteen she had entered medical college. Within next four and half years had completed her MBBS, passing all the exams with good score. She had done her one year compulsory internship in the college hospital. Working hard in the hospital as an intern, she also had studied hard for the post-graduate entrance examination and scored high percentage. She was in a position to choose any subject for her post-graduation. She had chosen Internal Medicine.
Now she must study hard as she was appearing for her MD examination within few months. There were thick medical books scattered everywhere in the rooms – on the study table, the bed and on the window sill too. After MD she was going back to her aunt in her native town – Salgaon – to start her own practice. That was a decision she had come to thoughtfully.
She put off the lights and entered between the sheets but couldn’t go to sleep immediately. It’s the usual occupational hazard with residents. They had to catch up on sleep they could get in between the emergency calls. But the sleep cannot be commanded.
Invariably her thoughts went out to Dr. Mohan Nayak....
( from the first chapter of my novel "The Forbidden House.")