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Family Doctor : A Crumbling Institution

Not too long ago, our medical needs for the entire family used to be catered to by a single person termed as the ‘family doctor’. He would be like any other person from the family; caring, concerned, and full of reassurance and promise. In those days, the medical needs also used to be normal. Bad throat, seasonal cough and cold, and aching stomach mainly caused by overindulgence in a feast or party. Some cuts and bruises from falls, and domestic mishaps.

The first line of home remedies and treatments from grandma’s medical wisdom used to suffice our needs to ease out and mitigate our aches and pains. But whenever a need to visit a doctor was felt, our family doctor was always there.

In small clinics, very frugally furnished, and equipped with number of bottles of pills (that looked almost same to me) sat our magician. Behind a plain table and a long examination table by his side, he would smile and ask, “What brings you here?”

“How many ice creams did you have?” With a deft movement he would nudge you on his long table and make you lie down. With his stethoscope, quickly he would listen to your breathing. Occasionally, he would make you sit with a wide-open mouth and push down the back of your tongue, asking to make a sound aaaah using his L shaped implement.

His throat examination was assisted by an articulated retractable lamp, which threw more shadow than light according to me.

While doing all this he, would have already checked your pulse and your temperature. And that’s all he needed for his diagnosis. But I used to pray fervently that he doesn’t approach his steriliser, which contained syringes. He would read fear in my eyes and say smilingly, “Don’t worry I will give some pills and syrup.” But if he had said “keep lying down” then I knew what was coming - an ominous syringe prick was on its way. But that was very rare.

The liquid medicine was dispensed in a peculiar flat hexagonal bottle with a long round neck, and a cork fitted into it. A compounder would fold a narrow strip of paper as if doing some origami with the paper. And it turned into a hexagonal multi-portion measure strip for dispensing right portion of liquid medicine. He then stuck it to the bottle with glue.

His normal treatment would use, applying throat paint, or gentian’s violet in mouth. Cleaning wound and applying some Mercury Chrome on the wound. ‘Orisul’ was most potent drug in his arsenal. It was a Sulpha compound.

Our family doctor was Dr. K. Shyam Rao, in later life known as Kalmadi Shyam Rao. Very renowned personality who founded Karnataka High School, Pune. He was handsome, always fresh, and with a sunshine smile. With a burning cigarette dangling from his lips, he would give you a oblique look over his spectacle frame. His dispensary was in ‘Pade Bhavan’ opposite Good Luck. His compounder 'Raja' was a bongo and a guitar player and you could see his instruments in the inner room.

Family doctors dispensed their lotions, potions, and myriad tablets.

There were no prescriptions. There were no pathological tests recommend, and fees were never demanded. You could also pay during your next visit. Visiting home for a medical check-up and treatment for weak and debilitated patients was still norm of the day.

Today, this old concept of family doctor has vanished. Home visit is history. Doctors rely more on symptoms and lab results for diagnosis. No injections are administered in clinics. Medicines are only prescribed and not dispensed in clinics. Higher grade antibiotics, very expensive nutraceuticals, antihistamines are routinely used. And of course, a sizable fee is charged.

And on top of it you may be sent to a super specialist for further investigations,

MRIs, and sonographies that are routinely advised to ‘Rule Out’ other possibilities. Medical representatives may get prior slots. I have even seen weird scenarios like declining to give death certificate, if a patient was not a very frequent visitor to the clinic. Though medical treatments have advanced, and technology has made leaps of progress, but that smiling, reassuring, comforting face of Family Doctor, who was your extended family, has faded.

One good humane social system is crumbling, especially in today’s bustling metros and cities. I feel sad!!!

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