Why I miss the good old GP who kept it simple

Guest article by Ruskin Bond

Customs change with the changing times, but not always for the better.

I do miss the old GP, the family doctor, who would turn up at your house at short notice. You had only to give him a ring or send him a message saying you or one of your loved ones was down with the flu or mumps or some mysterious fever, and he’d be around in a jiffy. Years of experience enabled him to make a quick and usually accurate diagnosis and he’d write out a prescription on the spot. If he thought it was something very serious he’d direct you to the nearest hospital. If he was a good doctor, his very presence would make you feel better. He’d put his stethoscope to your chest, feel your pulse, look at your tongue, prod your tummy, and make you breathe deeply and say ‘Aaah!’ You took his pills religiously, and sooner or later you felt better.

Such doctors are a dying breed. Today, young doctors open smart clinics or join city hospitals, and if you want to see them you must stand in line with dozens of other patients. In spite of all the advances of medical science, sick people multiply by the day and our cities are flooded with nursing homes and diagnostic centres. Strange that in this age of scientific and medical wonders, the world should be sicker than ever.

Diabetes, impotency, heart disease, cancer and various viral infections ensure that our medical services are overstretched. Gone are the days when a worried parent would say ‘Send for the doctor’. Now it’s ‘Go to the doctor’ or ‘Send for an ambulance’. No one is likely to come and sit by your bedside.

So I miss those doctors, now retired or long gone, who would do just that. There was Dr Jwala Prasad, for instance, a dear man who smoked quite heavily, and who owned one of the three or four cars that plied on the Mussoorie roads back in the 1960s and ‘70s. He was famous for his phrase “Nothing to worry about.” No matter how ill you were, in pain or racked with a fever, he’d pat you on the shoulder and say, “Nothing to worry about. You’re going to be fine!”

And it actually helped! Such is the psychology of illness or wellness.

Another friendly neighbourhood doctor who I miss is Dr Bisht. I had only to ring him up, to tell him I was in dire straits, and ten minutes later I would hear the splutter of his old scooter as it drew up below my steps. “Pulse is a bit fast today,” he’d say, after a brief examination. “It’s the blood pressure again. Don’t tell me you have fallen in love again?”

“What’s that got to do with it, doctor?”

“Falling in love always raises the blood pressure.”

In his infinite wisdom he’d hit the nail on the head — or the lover on his aching heart. The remedy? A long walk in the woods. “Keep walking. That will do the trick.” His theory was that a little exercise was the best remedy for most ailments.

Well, the good doctor has long since retired, but the other day I met him when he was enjoying an outing with his grandchildren, and I could see that he was most anxious to do something for my well-being. At eighty, I do still occasionally fall in love, but on this occasion I had nothing to complain of — no dizziness, no irregular heartbeat, no melancholia or other symptoms of the love-sick — just a seasonal cold. So I told him I had a cold.”

“Take plenty of vitamin C,” he advised. “And drink lots of water.” Well, I have been taking Vitamin C for a week, and I am looking like a lemon, and passed a lot of water, but a cold is a cold and it will go in its own good time.

I haven’t been so lucky with dentists. As a small boy I had protruding teeth, so my mother took me to Dr Kapadia in Dehradun, a famous dentist in his time. But a painful prod from one of his instruments resulted in my screaming and kicking him on the shin.
“Take this boy away,” he told my mother. “Don’t bring him here again.” With the result that I still have protruding front teeth.

But it’s better than having dentures. I have an elderly actor friend who was given the role of Count Dracula in one of those vampire films which are all the fashion these days. The trouble is, he wears dentures, false teeth, and when he grins or grimaces he doesn’t look at all like a vampire.

“You’ll never get those teeth into a beautiful neck,” I told him. “We’ll have to do something about them.”

So I took him to one of those street dentists who ply their trade on the outskirts of our pilgrim towns. He took out his file and sharpened my friend’s false incisors until they glittered. Our hero looked like a real vampire with the sharpened incisors. But he didn’t get the part. On taking the heroine into his arms and attempting to plunge his teeth into her beautiful neck, his dentures shot out and he was left toothless.

As Donald Trump would say: Sad.