THE WAITING GAME
Visits to the hospital become a matter of routine as age and ailments increase. When our hospital introduced the advance booking system, I was thrilled. No more going to the hospital at an early hour of 7.00 in the morning to ensure an early position in the pile of notebooks (Yes, we all have our case history in note books), though the doctor would arrive only by 8, 9 or even 10 a.m. I could now not only ring up ‘appointments’ from home but also reach the hospital only a little before my turn.
But, just as I discovered the luxury of booking from home, many others also had become wiser and there was a huge demand for appointments too. The computer had been programmed to give appointments only one month ahead and so we had to be satisfied with the slot available to us.
Now we had to deposit our books in two heaps, one for the appointmentwallahs who would behave as if they were a superior species descended from heaven and the other for the ‘aam janata’ who had no appointments and thus would be given tokens on ‘first come first serve’ basis.
The doctor, after seeing the real early birds from the general group would attend to the appointment ones for two hours and then go back to the general queue.
Everything was working quite smoothly with a single man for collection of books, entering them in the register, issuing the token number, ushering the patients, regulating the traffic and finally copying the doctor’s prescriptions from our books for the dispensing section. But as the crowd increased and computers pervaded the whole system, separate sections for these jobs were formed necessitating the patients to run from pillar to post. A relatively fit inpatient would be detailed to regulate the traffic and to get the prescription chits signed by the doctor instead of the patients meeting the doctor again for signature.
This particular time I had an appointment for 24th of July. As I was complacently relaxing at home, I got a call from the hospital that since the doctor had gone on leave, my appointment had been cancelled and that I could meet him on the next OPD (Out patient dept)day.
Expecting to be in the priority list due to my earlier cancelled appointment, I was shocked to find my book pushed unceremoniously into the general pile and a never, never number of 22 given to me by the computer guys after a long wait.
With no other recourse I decided to wait patiently solving the day’s cryptic crossword puzzle in the daily I had brought with me.
I expected the numbers to go in sequence smoothly. But I could not hide my elation when whole lot of patients did not respond to their call and very soon we arrived at double digits.
A ramrod straight, tall, old, retired senior officer walked in and went straight into the doctor’s room coolly disregarding the waiting crowd outside. Probably at the altitude at which his eyes were situated he could barely perceive the lesser mortals. He had a talk with the doctor. When he walked out, we thought we had seen the last of him. But, he came back with an equally imposing wife and went directly to the doctor and had their consultation, queue and token number notwithstanding.
As the list slowly crept down towards 18, we suddenly found that the usher had been coolly overlooked and a group of people started pushing their way in__17a, 17b, 17c….? Could they probably be those from 1 to 10 who had missed their turns earlier? Whatever it was, the number 18 never seemed to be called out.
Next between 18 and 19, a ‘loving’ family of 5 members anxiously followed the head of the family and barged into the doctor’s room .The crowd outside got restive. 18.1 a, 18.2 a, 18.3 a,,,,,,,? But, thank God, I had seen another doctor entering the room who started examining the head of the ‘loving’ family. It was only that our doctor had permitted the other one to borrow the examination couch. But, the crowd unwary of this raised a ruckus. Our doctor had to come out and pacify them.
After that I could see the numbers going in a sequence. When my turn came, I found that a lady sitting in the doctor’s room whom I thought must be another doctor, slid quietly into the patient’s chair and started explaining her problems to the doctor. This lady must have sneaked in with the ‘loving’ family and established herself on one of the chairs.
Ultimately I found myself at the pearly gates with none to challenge me or supersede me. I went to the doctor and had my consultation.