By Demon Doctor Jul. 07, 2018
A few months ago, Suresh Narayan was operating in a government-hospital OT with a defunct AC. Now he’s bagged a job at a super-speciality hospital. The pay is better, the floors are cleaner but access to the washroom is restricted. What happens when he gets the runs?
It’s yet another day at work for Suresh Narayan, a doctor, working as a senior resident in medicine at one of Delhi’s super-specialty hospitals. He has little to complain about – his day no longer begins at 7 am (a little later) and those count sleepless nights spent in the OT of a government hospital with a barely functioning AC are now in the past. Now all he has to endure is a pesky peon, over-enthusiastic MRs, his quirky boss, and a “thief”.
The director of the hospital, his boss is a world-famous specialist with hundreds of prestigious publications to his credit. The first week in, he calls Suresh to his office and gives him a stern homily to uphold the high standards of care followed at this institution. He later learns from his colleagues that the director has given the same speech, word for word, to every employee since the last 10 years.
“Yes, sir, I won’t let you down sir.”
The director peers suspiciously at him, as if suspecting Suresh of being a sexual deviant.
“Do you read the New England Journal of Medicine?” he suddenly barks.
What the actual fuck is this, thinks Suresh. The NEJM is the medical world’s most widely acclaimed publication – which the majority of practicing doctors have never read. It’s full of awe-inspiring drivel such as studies on highly effective new treatments that cost $600,000 a shot; case studies on rare genetic disorders that occur in one in a million people – practical stuff like that.
“Yes, sir, whenever I can,” he lies.
“Don’t. It’s rubbish. If you must, read the guidelines, but don’t follow them rigorously. We are practicing medicine in a country that is socially and economically backward, among a demographic that is utterly alien to the United States. A good doctor,” he pontificates, “should be able to balance the ideal treatment approach with the ground realities, and plan the best possible course of action accordingly. Remember that medicine is the most human of sciences. We have a Calling to serve People, not some vague scientific quest for knowledge.”
Suresh is completely nonplussed by this speech. He’s faintly embarrassed when he realises that the director is in earnest and actually believes in the nobility of the profession. Unsure of the proper response, he assumes a sombre expression, pursing his lips in sham seriousness. In the months to follow, whenever he met his boss, he would automatically adopt this posture, like a physician about to inform a patient that they are terminally ill.
“You have lots of potential, and can become a great doctor. Work with me every day and I will teach you everything that I know.”
Wax on wax off grasshopper, thinks Suresh, then immediately feels guilty. He likes the man; he is honest, hardworking, and is actively trying to improve his patients’ and subordinates’ lives. You won’t ever get a better mentor and teacher, he tells himself, recalling the host of exploitative psychopaths who were his previous bosses with an inward shudder.
A couple of days later, Suresh shows up to work hung over. He lives alone and consequently, he drinks nearly every night to ward off the boredom of the evenings. The previous night, he ill-advisedly ate some chicken tikka from a roadside stall that practically screamed “cholera”. So now, he’s got the runs.
He pokes his head into a few doctor’s duty rooms which have attached toilets, but is defeated when he finds them all occupied (the rooms, not the loos). He has a privileged man’s horror at the thought of others hearing him defecate. Which is decidedly silly, he tells himself, when you live in a country where millions take a shit out in the open in broad daylight while presenting their backsides to passing trains full of people.
Persistence pays off and he finds a neat little bathroom in the unused wing on the second floor. In the middle of his business, there’s a hammering on the door followed by a woman yelling, “Who is in there?”
“I’ll be right out,” he mumbles, mortified, and proceeds to start playing the loudest track on his phone playlist. He can sense her standing right outside (God, what if she smells me), and in his panic he’s now constipated. Thanks a lot, you bitch.
Upon exiting, he’s confronted by his bête noir – one of the professors, as luck would have it.
“This bathroom is only for female employees, how DARE you use this? Who gave you the keys? Who the hell are you?”
“Well firstly, it was unlocked, and secondly there’s no sign which says that it’s for women only.” And thirdly, he adds silently to himself, do you usually go around banging on occupied bathrooms, you goddamned psycho, because there is no way that you knew beforehand that there was a man using it. On the other hand, maybe it’s a private refuge for her own chicken tikka emergencies.
Her eyes bulge with outrage. Oh shit, he thinks, talking back was a grave mistake there buddy.
It was, and this is now a (one-sided) feud.
For the next few months, she takes a special interest in his activities and in humiliating him in every situation possible. She mocks his case presentation during morning rounds. She implies that he’s unethical in the treatments he prescribes to his patients. She questions whether he’s actually achieved his medical degree through fair means, considering his abysmal lack of knowledge. She whispers tales of his absenteeism and unprofessional conduct into the director’s ears.
He bravely fights back. One morning, sweating nervously, he pours his cup of coffee onto her car’s windshield.
The feud finally culminates when he’s suggested by the director to write a research paper on a specialised subject. Under a tight deadline, he works overtime and finishes his abstract. He’s absurdly proud, like a new father, and shares the paper with everyone he knows.
A week later, and he sees her conducting a seminar in the conference hall, presenting his project with her name on it. There is no mention of Suresh. He automatically knows that complaining to the director will not achieve anything.
And thirdly, he adds silently to himself, do you usually go around banging on occupied bathrooms, you goddamned psycho, because there is no way that you knew beforehand that there was a man using it.
“Arré bhai, your mistake was that you shared the paper with people here,” this from Sandeep, a minor acquaintance from college and now Suresh’s only friend in this hospital. They’re sitting in the parking lot, smoking and drinking in the heat. “Everyone is horribly ambitious and jealous of each other. Someone must have forwarded it to her. In the future use DRM to protect your files.”
Oddly, Suresh now feels no fear of confronting her. I’ve got the moral high ground, and the next time she tries to talk shit about me, I’ll call her a fucking thief in public, he coldly thinks.
Only she doesn’t harass him any longer. If they happen to cross paths, they ignore each other and avoid making eye contact. This suits him just fine. He relaxes back into his old life.
But he never uses the second-floor bathroom anymore.