By Dr. K. Javeed Nayeem, MD
Almost all over our country and even in our own city you can see some itinerant families who practice traditional medicine on the roadside. All of them invariably ply their trade from a dilapidated van that has changed many hands and has certainly seen better days in better hands before landing up with them. I cannot help feeling that since it spends the last lap of its life in the hands of ‘doctors’ its fate can be said to be very similar to the fate of people who as patients spend their last days in the care and company of their doctors!
This ramshackle van is parked conveniently under a large roadside tree which provides its owners much needed shade all day long. By day their van serves as their dispensary and repository of drugs which are displayed on the shelves inside while its road-facing side which is enclosed by a cubicle becomes their consulting room. The vinyl walls of their consulting room proclaim both the long lineage and experience of the family in the field of native medicine and also the list of diseases they can effectively cure. It is a different matter that to a qualified doctor like me who practices only the so- called modern medicine, this list seems very amazing as it lists all the diseases for which modern medicine has not yet found a permanent cure!
After they shut shop the consulting room becomes their kitchen-cum-dining room and their van becomes their tiny bedroom. They may thus have the tiniest of homes but we can safely say that their home has the biggest bathroom-cum-toilet because it extends all over the countryside !
Their day begins quite early as they have to finish their ablutions in privacy before the world around them wakes up and their ladies have to cook for the day before they too start serving their patients. Yes, like in the field of modern medicine they too have lady doctors who see lady patients and this information is included in bold letters on the walls of their clinics. However, as the notice is silent on this matter, I’m not too sure if the men too who go there can opt for treatment by lady doctors!
As traffic picks up on the road and as footfalls increase on the pavement they place a loudspeaker next to their van which starts proclaiming how effective their traditional medicine is in curing some of the most chronic and difficult to cure diseases that afflict mankind. They announce that their healing is done through the power of herbs which are painstakingly gathered from the inaccessible nooks and corners of the Himalayas which were once the abode of our saints and sages.
How far this is true is something I cannot comment on but as a practitioner of modern medicine I certainly envy the complete freedom that these native healers enjoy in pursuing their livelihood in an era where all doctors who practice modern medicine are practically bound in chains! Yes, that is the state of medical practice in our country today. Only after I became a doctor I realised to my dismay that when the great philosopher, Rousseau said that ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’ he was speaking about modern day doctors!
One has to be among the topmost few of one’s classmates to even dream of becoming a doctor or one has to have filthy rich and very indulgent parents who think nothing of parting with their life’s savings to get their children past the minimum post-graduate qualifications that can make them decently qualified doctors in a society that has sadly consigned the adequately qualified family doctor to the dust bin of history. Becoming a doctor and acquiring a post-graduate degree is itself a very arduous task today. But your troubles do not end there. In fact that is where they begin!
You have to register at the State Medical Council which is the body that is supposed to examine your certificates and then certify that you are a qualified doctor. Only then can you summon the courage to buy yourself a pen with which you can write your first prescription! But, don’t be too ecstatic yet. If you are planning to start your own private practice or hospital you have to approach another portal of power under the Private Medical Establishments Act to convince the Government that your livelihood as a doctor is not going to violate its rules or pollute the environment in any way. The former you do by informing it that you have clearance from the Medical Council to practice medicine and the latter you do by showing that you have clearance from the State Pollution Control Board that the bio-medical waste that your practice generates will be disposed off safely as prescribed.
It is a different matter that this waste that is collected by a licensed bio-medical waste disposal agency is in turn sold to an unlicensed rag-picker who makes a living out of it by day while only dreaming by night of doing what his film hero does in the rags to riches blockbuster that he has just seen! Otherwise how do you explain the sale of decorative lamps and flower vases made out of intravenous fluid bottles and catapults made out of used rubber catheters that may still be having loads and loads of urinary pathogens?
Yes, if someone from the Government is willing to accompany me on a short ‘Discovery Walk’ I’m willing to show them where to buy these and some even more deadly things! Considering that catapults are among the most favourite toys that any boy would love to have, imagine what harm we may be doing to the children who buy them from street corner shops and hang them around their necks all day long with glee.
Qualified doctors in our country can only prescribe drugs which have gone through years of extensive trials and are certified as safe for human use. But persons who practice medicine on the roadside can pluck anything that grows on the roadside and peddle it as medicine without anyone asking whether it can cure or kill! How wonderful it is to be a wayside doctor in our great country!
Mera Bharath is really Mahan!
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