Talking about Dr Patrick Yesudian’s clinic on Poonamallee High Road, I must mention that it is not easy to get an appointment with the doctor. There is a telephone number but nine out of ten times your call will not be picked up or you will find the number engaged or you will hear the phone ringing endlessly. Even years ago it was difficult seeking an appointment on the phone. Now it’s not just possible. Perhaps if you do not belong to Chennai and manage to get through you may be told to come, and also that you will have to wait a long time to meet him.
The system followed is quite out of sync with today’s world. Appointments for the week are given every Monday morning. If you want an appointment for the week you have to be present in person (you could of course depute someone). For example, I reached the clinic at around 7am. There were a few people standing outside the shut door on the first floor. A crumpled piece of paper was stuck to the door knob. Opening it out, I saw that 37 people had already written their names. I scribbled the name of my mother, No. 38. Nobody knew exactly when the assistant would come to do the honours, some said 8am, others 8.30am and yet others 9.30am. I went outside to take a walk.
Knowing that anything was possible, I returned before 8am. Soon, a two-wheeler arrived and the assistant got off. Even as she climbed up the stairs, those waiting made a dash for the door. She opened it and went inside. Nobody dared go in. Looking at the crumpled bit of paper the assistant began calling out numbers and names. She ordered the people to stand in a line, one behind the other. The line went right into the dark recesses of the long dingy corridor, snaking its way back towards the stairway and then into the other half, into yet another long dingy corridor.
With four flats on either side, all doors locked, there was hardly any ventilation. Only a musty smell and body odour pervaded. The man behind me kept coughing and blowing into my neck and I held my breath for several long seconds before letting go. If your resistance is poor you can easily pick up infection here. I was thinking of swine flu and TB and all the rest and hastily covered my nose with a handkerchief.
There was the unmistakable flavour of some sort of a military regimen. The girl gave orders in a staccato voice, no smile or expression on her face. It was clear she was enjoying the moment, the sheer power she exuded. A differently-abled person came up to her hoping for some relief, but she did not change her stance – he had to go to the end of the queue and try his luck. I got an appointment for Wednesday, wrote the name down, thanked her and smiled. I received a wry smile in return.
By now I was sweating and all I wanted to do was to get home and spend a long time under the shower. All the different odours were making me want to puke. I wished Dr Yesudian would one Monday witness the scene and decide on a more convenient system. The phone can be made better use of; there is the email now. Surely, there must be a better way to book appointments. How difficult it must be for older people to come twice – to get an appointment and then to meet the doctor. With distances to be covered and all the traffic, one can well imagine. But say what you might, it’s force of habit that’s unlikely to change.