The room was small, and two young doctors were seated in one corner by a table. One of them was tapping away on the computer. The patient and daughter stood respectfully before them. There was a chair but it was pushed away to the other corner of the room, to be used perhaps only in very rare cases. The daughter wondered why the doctor did not suggest moving the chair forward and seating the patient on it. If for nothing else, at least because the patient was a much older man. We do generally pride ourselves on our Indian sense of respect for elders. He instead discussed the illness, asked about this or that relevant to the case and the patient answered politely, his body language conveying respect. The doctor sat back, threw his arm over the arm rest, and seemed to have an air of superior knowledge. He might have made himself more comfortable but the tiny room did not permit much luxury. His knowledge was superior, without doubt. The patients who visited him were ordinary people, who knew nothing about human anatomy. If the doctor said the blood test had to be repeated, the blood test had to be repeated. If he said the heart had to be taken out, it had to be taken out.
A few minutes later, the daughter, barely concealing her annoyance, pulled the empty chair from the other side of the room, and said, “Sit down, Dad.”
Nothing changed in the doctor’s countenance. Whether he regretted not asking earlier or whether he found her action unnecessary was not clear. He continued talking. The discussion was over quickly enough and they were given a form to sign. As they left the room, the next person was called and two men of forty-five or fifty years of age came in.
The daughter, leaving the room, observed in part-astonishment, part-understanding, that the men who went in had left their footwear by the door. She had earlier observed the same outside the laboratory door, and other doors in this hospital. In some rooms, for certain tests, it was necessary and there would be a notice asking patients to leave their footwear outside. But everywhere else, people were doing it just because of their tradition. One did leave footwear before entering a house or a temple. Why should a doctor’s room or a lab be any different?
A few minutes later, realising that she had dropped a certain important document at the doctor’s room, she went back to find it. She saw that the two men inside were standing and listening attentively to the young doctor. The chair that she had pulled forward was ignored and they were clearly not asked to sit. She said nothing, picked up the document and left the room.
Dear Doctor, those men took off their chappals at your door, not because they were idiots, but because they revere you. Show them some kindness, ask them to sit, speak compassionately. One of them has complaints of the heart, for God’s sake.
With great power comes great responsibility. Spiderman may have been the one to popularise this quote, but it is certainly not limited to him. We all hold power over something or someone. Doctors certainly do hold a lot of power over many of us. More than anyone else, doctors are the ones we visit the most.
As a very wise man once said to me, we must remember that every single person we meet is superior to us in at least one thing. He / she is an expert at something that we have never been able to master.