In the past ten years, I must have stayed over 15 times at different hospitals in Chennai, totalling perhaps around 70 hospital days. Only about 10 of these days were as a patient when I had a minor surgery in my small intestine in 2010.
The other 60 odd days, I was present at hospitals as a caretaker.
As a caretaker, you observe more about the hospital than as a patient, who obviously has more existential issues to be worried about.
If the patient has been allotted a room, as a caretaker your life is fairly comfortable. You will usually have an extra bed to sleep on, and all’s well.
But if the patient is admitted in the Emergency Room or in the ICU, the caretaker is left in the lurch.
If it was a bad day for many people in town, the hospital will be full and there will be no seats to even sit on. Many have been the times when I just kept walking here and there for hours, and sometimes sat on roadside benches outside the hospital.
But the challenges during the day are still a walk in the park compared to what happens when night arrives. For vagabonds like us to sleep, a couple of halls are usually – or should I say casually – allotted. Almost surely, there will be no sleeping amenities in these halls – you have to either sleep on the floor or pull together a few chairs and devise an uneven, uncomfortable makeshift bed for yourself. If you are a tad bit unlucky, the fans or the AC won’t work well. And in many instances, mosquitoes will have a feast on us.
There have been nights when I wondered if, by the time the patient recovered, the caretaker would have become a patient.
The other thing to note about most hospitals in India is their sense of time – or rather the lack of it. Many have been the times when I was summoned for an urgent meeting with the doctor. An hour later, the urgent meeting would still be nowhere in sight. And when I got tired of waiting and thought of having a coffee, the all-important doctor would emerge out of nowhere and talk to me in a tone that suggested that it was I who had kept him waiting for long.
The first couple of times, I just got frustrated waiting forever for the doctor. Post that, I started carrying my laptop whenever I was in a hospital, even when I had been called for an “emergency” meeting with the doctor. In the cardiology hospital where amma got admitted the most times (seven) and where I was a familiar feature, I was called the “computer man” by many of the staff because they almost always saw me working on my laptop.
Once, at a new hospital, I got really tired of waiting for a doctor for some relatively trivial ailment (muscle sprain) amma had. When I angrily enquired with his secretary, a sophisticated looking lady, she said, “He is just leaving for an emergency surgery.” That would be at least a couple of hours! I got more enraged and said, “Let him meet me and go, I have been waiting for over an hour.” She looked me up and down and said, “I don’t think it is wise to delay him when he is rushing for a critical surgery. Do you want blood on your hands?”
She had perhaps studied English Literature and was practising her education on me. Whatever was the reason, I was taken aback. I looked at my fairly clean palms for a moment and said, “I guess I will wait.”
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