Today Sanjay takes his mother to her hospital appointment.
He’s a nice young man, a character from my novel One Night at the Jacaranda. Although I made Sanjay up, maybe you know someone like him?
He and his mother walk past a sign warning of the symptoms of Ebola.
Not surprising the font on the sign is massive. This is the eye clinic.
The morning is a learning curve. They arrive at 9.30am to find there are over 40 patients there already.
“Beta, I should have brought chair from home,” says Mrs Shah. Here comes Lesson One: in addition to bringing glasses (including bifocals), appointment letters, and any medication they are taking, in original containers, patients should bring something to sit on.
The only empty seat belongs to a man who’s just gone to the loo, which doesn’t flush, as he explains to all and sundry on returning to waiting-room.
A poster on the wall advises patients that clinic visits can take up to four hours. The notice on a board by the receptionist says the clinic is running 90 minutes late. Sanjay isn’t sure if this time should be added to the four hours, or whether it is already part of it. Nobody knows. Lesson Two: don’t ask stuff. Just accept it may take some time.
They stand in the corridor for a while. A nurse emerges from somewhere and calls out, “Philip Nutmeg” or something similar. When Mr Nutmeg fails to respond, she says it again, looking meaningfully at Mrs Shah. Sanjay says helpfully, “She’s not Philip Nutmeg.”
The nurse glares at him.
Eventually Sanjay’s mother is summoned into a little room to have her vision tested by another nurse, and to learn Lesson Three: computerised medical records do not necessarily contain any medical records. The entire hospital went computerised two months ago, this nurse says, but there are no clinical data on them. So Mrs Shah gets to recite her entire medical history. She looks over the nurse’s shoulder to make sure she writes everything down.
When they come out again, a cleaner in a hijab is here to deal with the loo. And Philip Nutmeg still hasn’t shown.
Lesson Four: nobody gives old people a seat, not even when they are rubbing their knee and looking around hopefully. It shocks Sanjay that not one person has stood up for his poor old mother. He considers ejecting someone forcibly, but then his mum isn’t as old or as poor as some of the others.
In the corridor there are two wheelchairs blocking doorways. In one, a woman with one leg. In the other, a man (or possibly a woman). This person has two legs, but Sanjay is not sure about the face because it’s covered with a blanket.
There’s also an old man pushing out some zeds and a younger man who reeks of alcohol. It is 10.45am.
Sanjay notices a woman with a pinched face and a jute bag bearing the name of a firm of solicitors. The doctors will love that, thinks Sanjay.
One of the doctors appears now to find out what’s wrong with the man with the blanket on his head. He insists there’s nothing wrong, but the light hurts his eyes.
Lesson Five, thinks Sanjay: bring dark glasses to the eye clinic because the lights can become unbearable once you’ve got dilating drops in your eyes. Now the man in the wheelchair is mighty pissed off because the doctor has asked him not to cover his head with the blanket. “It scares us, you see. We think something‘s wrong.”
Sanjay’s not so sure. He reckons you could die in the clinic and not be noticed.
The crowd eventually thins out and they get somewhere to sit. Sanjay’s stomach is rumbling, and so is his mum’s. Lesson Six: bring something to eat.
By the time they’ve been there three and three-quarter hours, Sanjay’s mother has had her visual fields tested and her corneal thickness measured, and her pupils look as wide as a dead cat’s. She’s also gone into the inner sanctum, where the consultant sits at a desk in front of a large cutaway diagram of an eye. This is worrying. Shouldn’t the doctor know what eyes looks like by now?
The medical verdict is not too bad. Mrs Shah’s eye pressure is fine today, and her cataracts don’t need doing yet.
Unlike a patient leaning on the front desk. There’s only one receptionist left, and this patient is pleading with her to expedite his cataract surgery because it’s very urgent. Unfortunately, the receptionist tells him he’s only on the routine waiting list.
By the time Sanjay and his mother leave, there’s just one man left in the waiting-room. Maybe it’s Philip Nutmeg.