The economic strength and benefits of the medical profession was recognized as far back in early sixties in my native South Indian State. People in farming community have recognized that unlike farming, the medical business is neither risky nor cyclical, and the weather elements have very little influence. Farmers encouraged their children to study hard to get admission into medical schools. The rich farmers collectively invested, and built private medical schools for their children. The children of rich farmers rather than working on their farms started working on patients in the hospitals; rather than delivering calves in farmhouses, were delivering babies in maternity wards. Over a period of the last four decades, the farming community was transformed into a rich medical community.
Students from the lower social economic communities complained that because of their social environment, they received poor education, and therefore could not get admission into medical schools with their poor grades. These students with poor grades demanded, and received special reservation for acceptance to medical schools. Thus, the student from the lower social economic communities expanded their numerical representation in medical schools. Thus medical community expanded its membership beyond the traditional intelligent students to encompass the mediocrity from very rich families, and socially poor communities, both unfit to be accepted to any medical school based on academic excellence and merit.
Unlike a client of lawyer, an accountant, or an insurance agent, a doctor’s patient is a person in pain from some sort of ailment, some times serious and life threatening. Therefore, patients place their lives in the hand of a doctor to get well, and sometimes place the doctors on a pedestal, some even treat them like god.
This is my story of living in a den of doctors or Doctors’ den. I was born and raised in Doctors’ den. It wasn’t easy to be a son, brother, husband, brother-in-law, and nephew of a doctor. My uncles, their children, and their spouses were all doctors. In total, our extended family has around two dozen medical doctors counting all the dead and the living.
My poor grades at the college dashed my father’s hope of putting me through a medical school. At least he was happy that my older brother got accepted few years earlier, and my sister married a doctor afterwards to expand the medical membership in our immediate family circle. This triggered a rat race in our extended family circles to have their children go to public schools or private medical schools with hefty tuition fee. Some of our poor relatives grumbled for lack of finance to send their children to expensive private medical schools but they were contended if one or two of their children got accepted in the very competitive public medical schools with scholarships based purely on excellent academic records. Some were happy to see their children get married to medical doctors. Either way, the M.D. membership grew over the decades in our extended family.
To be directly related to a doctor has it’s own advantages and disadvantages. My father practiced medicine for over three decades in a town of over one hundred thousand people. He was placed on a pedestal because he was a medical doctor; some even treated him like a god. He commanded respect wherever he went, and so the family members as well. At movies, we received preferred seating for free, and refreshments during intermission. The down side being a son of a doctor was all my teachers expected me to become a doctor like my father, as well as my father’s colleagues, and their children who were attending medical schools who frequently inquired about my future career. It was hurtful, when people showed their disappointment openly when I mention I wasn’t attending medical school. But this was long time ago, I haven gotten over those ill feelings. If added up, all the benefits and negative aspects, I still believe I was lucky my father was a medical doctor.
To be a husband of a medical doctor was totally a different ball game altogether. When I got married to a doctor little did I know what to expect as a spouse of female doctor in comparison to a son of a doctor. As a son of a doctor, I enjoyed the attention, and benefits that came with it. As a non-medical spouse of a doctor, some experiences were not worth remembering. At social gatherings, when my wife introduced me to her doctor colleagues, they inquired about my field of medical specialty. On realizing I am not a M.D. but a Ph.D, some left me alone with my drink in my hand. In the company of medical doctors, a Ph.D. was not considered as a real doctor.
Personally I preferred to be addressed with my first name or Mr. depending on the situation, and never as a doctor, particularly among medical doctors when my wife was around since she is an M.D, and I am just a Ph.D.
Dr. Singh was a kind, and gentler doctor I came across. He was originally from South America. One day at his house, we had a chat about gardening since he has a large backyard with several orange trees, and other bushes.
“The oranges from my yard were sour you know, can you recommend some special fertilizer,” he asked me, since he knew I specialized in soil science.
“Perhaps a fertilizer with high potash is needed. I have to analyze the soil samples first before recommending anything specific,” I said.
“I think these soils need more nitrogen than potash,” he said.
“Well, nitrogen is more for plant growth than improving juice quality.” I wanted to make my recommendations more generalized than specific.
Dr. Singh kept insisting the need for more nitrogen than potash, so I left him with his decision to add more nitrogen, puzzled why he asked for my advice in the first place.
While Dr. Singh was a darn good medical doctor, but the problem was that he also wants to play the role of know it all in every other field like mining, agriculture, and fisheries etc. At his clinic as a medical doctor, he examine his patients to diagnose, and treat the diseases. In every day life, outside the clinic, he carried himself in the same fashion in dealing with other issues as well.
While I was a student in Trinidad, I went to see a doctor, an East Indian. I purposely went to him hoping I will get preferential treatment since I was from India.
After I filled in required insurance forms, his nurse said the doctor was ready to see me in the examination room.
The doctor was an older gentleman in late sixties, looked very graceful, and as he went through the information I filled in he looked at me with a glee on his face.
“Oh, you are from India, what part?” he asked enthusiastically.
“Very hot out there, nah,”
“In the summer, it is,” I was hoping he would ask me about my own body temperature.
“I visited India three times, you know. I saw the Taj Mahal, Banaras, and lots of other places.”
“Oh,” I hoped he would check my body parts as well for my symptoms.
“Lot of poverty in your country.” He kept his impressions of India in a philosophical way.
“True, lots of beggars,” I added. If I can’t beat him, I would as well join his discourse on India.
“Lots of cows and goats roam the street, not like down here.” The doctor was in no mood to examine me, medically.
“So, how long are you in this Island,” he asked.
I replied politely.
“Be careful about the girls down here, it is not like India, you know,” said the doctor with sheepish smile.
I smiled and I thought he was joking.
“Do you have lot of girl friends?”
I replied negatively.
“You have to be truthful, now.” The doctor was making serious inquires now.
That was the last time I visited him.
The elderly doctor, almost at the end of his career while friendly, was no use to me medically, he advised me to take “over-the-counter” medications for my symptoms. While walking pass his clinic near the University campus, I used to speed up looking straight down hoping he won’t catch me again for a chat on his trips to India or the number of girl friends I have.
Immediately after migrating to the United States I lived in my sister’s home for a while before finding employment to move on with my life. Since my brother-in-law is a surgeon, I was found myself again in Doctors’ Den, of a different sort. These doctors were originally from India, now settled in the United States, and considered very wealthy by India standards.
At that time, my brother-in-law had a hobby of transferring old Indian movie videos borrowed from his physician friends onto blank videotapes for his own collection. Dr. Mohan was one of the doctors that lend tapes and VCR to my brother-in-law. Dr. Mohan divorced three or four time (nobody knew the exact number, since he stayed one or two years at any one location), after each divorce to his Indian born wife, he would travel to India to get marry again. A pilgrimage to motherland to find a wife or series of wives.
One day, Dr. Mohan visited my sister’s home unexpectedly when no one was at home except me. He knew who I was, and asked for his videotapes and VCR my brother-in-law had borrowed from him a while back. While returning his stuff, he was so impatient and rude that he almost pulled me down with the VCR. Somehow I managed to untangle myself from the dangling VCR cables without falling to the ground. That evening, when my brother-in-law returned from his clinic I told him about the incident. Apparently, Dr. Mohan was not happy with his recently married wife from India and I was a victim of his unexpected bad temper. I understood then why his wives left him one after the other. After a few months, Dr. Mohan left the town. It was rumored that his newly married wife left him. Dr. Mohan may have to make an another pilgrimage to get married and bring her to live in the Doctor’s den, even for a short period.
My brother-in-law once threw a party at his residence that was attended by several doctors. After exchanging few social formalities, the invitees were somehow segregated into groups based on either medical specialty like cardiology, urology, oncology etc., or other groups such as those interested in investment opportunities, tax shelters, etc. I was caught up in a small group of physicians discussing Medicare reimbursement for their services. At the end of the chat, one of the physicians who took me for a medical doctor asked my opinion. With no knowledge in Medicare business, I made a practical joke that every body in the group was entitled to earn one credit hour in CME (Continuing Medical Education) for the chat. He took that seriously until another doctor introduced who I really was. My wife was furious for my practical joke.
Selling timeshare of condominiums and vacation homes at resorts was a big business in 80’s. My sister’s doctor friend got into this business in a big way, and invited us to a freebee at a resort in Southwest United States for a weekend. I went along with my sister’s family on their insistence. A two-hour boring session of sales pitch was scheduled immediately after breakfast on the first day. Within minutes, I realized that the entire scheme was a sucker-deal for the participants so I left in the middle of the session to take a stroll outside. Apparently, the organizer (a physician) didn’t like my abrupt departure from the room. He slashed his referrals to my brother-in-law, a surgeon as a penalty for not signing any deal on timeshare. So, there were unwritten rules for the members of doctors’ den to continue their membership.
My sister’s another friend, a medical pathologist invited us to lunch. While sitting in their back porch I noticed their in-ground Jacuzzi was abandoned and out of use.
Out of curiosity, I asked her if she drained the water out of it or if something was wrong with the Jacuzzi.
“Oh, something was wrong, the sand in the city water was plugging the system, you know.” She said.
With some background knowledge in water filtration, I recommended installing a double filtration system comprising of cloth filter to filter the city water before its use in the Jacuzzi to prevent future blockage problems.
The Pathologist looked at me as if she was performing a full body scan to find my credentials to advise her on water filtration. This doctor certainly a specialist in medical pathology but unwilling to accept advise in a field which was totally unrelated to her. I wasn’t sure whether it was her ignorance, arrogance, or simply a misunderstanding. After few months, my sister told me that a sales person sold her an expensive Jacuzzi rather than installing an inexpensive filter to the old Jacuzzi. The doctor could have saved a lot of money had she paid little attention to what I was saying before looking down on me as if I were unfit to advise her.
On one occasion, I opened a letter addressed to a local doctor but delivered to my home by mistake. The letter read as follows:
My Dear brother Abdul (alias Sundar),
After waiting for several months for your monetary contribution to our mosque, I am writing this letter. You promised that you would contribute money on a quarterly basis but so far after six months, you have not sent any money to our mosque. We gave you a certificate that you legally changed your religion to Islam, and gave a legally registered Muslim name Abdul Haaq. Contributions from rich doctors like you would continue to help people in desperate situations at our mosque. I hope you would send your quarterly dues as soon as you receive this letter.
Immam Sayed Rasool
I was shell-shocked to find out that Dr. Sundar with whom I was acquainted was previously married and changed his religion to marry his girl friend without divorcing his wife in India. Dr. Sundar became Abdul Haaq after he paid a fee to a local mosque to change his religion to Muslim from Hindu. That allowed him having more than one wife, and to marry his long-term girl friend while still married to his first wife in India. Being a Hindu, he couldn’t marry his girl friend unless he divorced his wife.
Surely all of us have our own follies, since I was born and still live in Doctors’ den, I observed the doctors more closely than others.