It’s Friday evening. I step into the dimly lit lobby and I am wafted by the smell of shampoo, conditioner and other hair care products. Three pairs of eyes look at me. “Yes?” asks the seemingly senior looking lady among the three. “I need to wax my legs”, I answer meekly. Wait, before you decide that this is some frustrated post on feminism or the impossible beauty standards set for women by the patriarchal society, let me clarify, it’s not. I’ll save that for another day.
Anyway, she leads me to the room where strips of paper will soon pull out my body hair. There is already a lady waiting there for me with no expressions on her face. “Waxing no? Change”, she orders and hands me a very flimsy gown. I stare at her for a few seconds and as I realize she isn’t leaving the room, I’m yet again taken by surprise by how foreign a concept privacy is to Indians.
Resigning to my fate, I turn around and change into this not so modest gown barely covering my assets. She asks me to lie down on the bed in front of me face down. And she begins the ordeal of putting hot wax, sticking the strip and pulling out the hair from the roots. I have blissfully zoned out to my happy place. Doing this at least once every month kind of makes you immune to it. I know, being a girl is hard.
As she progresses northwards, I get shy. I pull on my gown meagrely to cover my modesty. The woman is into her apply-stick-pull mode now and pays no heed to me. Besides I don’t think she even cares. Nevertheless, I am shy. Just then another lady walks in, because what even is privacy? They have a brief conversation in a language I do not understand so I pick only scraps of what they’re saying.
Lady number 2 asks lady number 1 if she wants help. Lady 1 denies and tells her she’s almost done. That was it. But on her way out, lady number two bumped into something or someone, I do not know but something happened and lady 1 giggled. And I was instantly embarrassed. I am lying there almost butt naked and they are giggling. WHAT?
“Did they make a joke about me? Was it my legs?” I instinctively think. And that’s when it hit like a bolt from the blue; this must be exactly how our patients feel when we huddle around them taking history. Mind you, I do not have body image issues nor was this my first time. Yet I was embarrassed.
The patients that get admitted to our general ward are sick and in a lot of pain, physically and emotionally. They have serious medical conditions warranting them to be admitted in a hospital. Most of them are daily wage labourers and missing even a day of work is taxing to them. And we very-enthusiastic-eager-to-learn medical students hover around their beds, prodding their chests with our stethoscopes tossing out words like “ejection systolic murmur” “Velcro crepitations” “bilateral basal crackles” hardly hiding the amazement from our faces.
We go in groups of 10, sometimes more. While two of us actually talk to the patient and build a sort of rapport with him, eight others stand behind with our faces buried inside our textbooks reading about which disease the finding points to. Nobody is denying the fact that finding textbook features on a real patient is astounding. But there definitely has to be a code of conduct.
We probably don’t realize how our behaviour is coming off. Or maybe we know all these theoretically but fail to practise it. We grumble and whine when the senior doctors tell us how important empathy and ethics rather than medicine itself. We get reprimanded countless times for the same.
But what I know now is, they’re right you know? These doctors; they’re right in doing so. We’re going to be doctors, dealing with humans. Not just humans, sick humans and their very worried families. Our patients are human beings with real feelings and real disorders. So while learning to diagnose them is important, empathy and compassion are a big part of this job.