I work in a rather busy hospital in Mumbai. It is true that OPD figures seem to be only going up and all specialist and super-specialist OPDs seem to be bursting at their seams. Patients seem to be entering in large numbers to avail the facilities of the hospital and most of them do walk out reasonably happy and hopefully rid of their ailments.
I like to walk up to my fifth floor office rather than take the elevator. Apart from providing me some much needed exercise, it also provides me an opportunity to see the hospital in action from different floors. I also get to see patients going about the various OPDs and at times, I am even able to direct some patients to the right department. Earn some Brownie points while you burn off the Brownies, in a manner of speaking!
However, during my forays, through the hospital, I saw some people very frequently day after day. The faces became familiar and we wished each other as we went past. I thought they were far too often in the hospital and did not seem particularly sick. Curiosity got the better of me and I ventured to ask many of my new found friends what was ailing them.
I was more than surprised by their candid admission that nothing at all was wrong with them and they were perfectly healthy and intended remaining so. I was genuinely intrigued. I asked an elderly couple whom I used to invariably cross on the sloping ramp from the ground to the sixth floor at various levels. They pointed to their track -suits and the torrential rains outside and said, ‘No better place in Colaba for a walk during the rains. This ramp is easy on our old knees, you know!” Another young man, who always seemed to be in a tearing hurry- he told me he worked in a school close to the hospital. He would rush in for a mid morning Idli Sambhar in the cafeteria, grab a cup of steaming hot tomato soup from the vending machine in the hospital lobby and charge back to the school , refreshed and fortified to face the rowdy bunch of boys in class eleven!
And then there was this very distinguished looking elderly gentleman who would religiously come every evening; park his car and walk across to the lush lawns behind the hospital overlooking the sea. A widower, he told me, he was staying with his son in an apartment close to the hospital and his best time of the day was the half hour he spent on the hospital lawns. He would watch the patients and their relatives ambling and rambling gaining strength from each other; he would enjoy the bracing winds, he would watch the waves lap the rails, the birds chirping and feel alive and vital. He told me that the half hour in the hospital in close contact with nature and the serene surroundings and in the midst of so many people whom he did not know at all would revitalize him like nothing else could!
Then there was this middle aged lady whom I saw periodically on different floors and in various OPDs , often helping people and directing them to their destinations . At times she would stand in the Dispensary queue for ladies with babes in arm. She looked animated and seemed to enjoy helping out. I asked her what her story was-she confessed to me that she was a case of severe depression for several years and was on long term medication. She said she had gradually recovered with medication and psychotherapy and was off treatment for the past two years. Her visits to the hospital and efforts at helping out people kept her happy and gave her a sense of well being. I thought that was really touching.
I, thus realized during my hospital rounds that the hospital was really more than a hospital. It meant several things to several people and the hospital touched lives in more ways than one could imagine. It was not only about sickness and health and caring and curing; it was and would remain a part of peoples’ lives in a million different ways.