Saturday, August 28, 2010

Doctor on Wheels-Part One

It was late in the night and I wanted a nice sleep in a 3 tier berth of K K Express Train chugging its way from Bangalore to Delhi. My mind was experiencing a rewind of incidents which was keeping the sleep at bay. My company had selected me for a deputation to Delhi for one month and asked me to be there at the earliest. I was not comfortable about this since it was imposed on me without considering my personal problems. I wanted to be in Bangalore during that period to tackle certain personal issues. My family was also upset about my long absence as our toddler son had just been admitted to the K G Class. As the assignment was very important, there was no alternative but to take up the journey in a hurry. Because of the short notice, I could not even get an a/c ticket which I was entitled to. It was very hot even at midnight and waves of thoughts kept on lashing the shores of my mind. Finally the fatigue had helped me to slip in to a sleep at some point of time ….

The train was whistling through Maharashtra when I got up at day break. It was hot and sunny outside, and most of the passengers had got up much earlier. There was nothing for me to do and I felt totally out of touch with the world. Remember that this incident took place in 1991 when mobile phones were nonexistent. The very thought
of talking to someone from a running train itself was inconceivable. I could manage an English news paper when the train stopped at one station, but soon got bored with that. I spent time in strolling through the coach, visiting the pantry car & watching the landscape.

I saw one passenger reading a Malayalam News Paper some time late in the evening. The man in his mid thirties appeared to be tough & reserved. I could make out that he was traveling with his wife. I was curious to read that paper, but did not venture to ask him as I was not sure whether he would entertain me.

After finishing the snacks around sunset, I got back to my seat. Suddenly there was a hue & cry as I heard some one shouting in Hindi “Is there any one around who can understand Malayalam language?”

In a natural reaction, I lifted my hand and looked at the guy. He was a hefty man speaking in Hindi. He started telling me that one person was unwell, and was not able to speak properly. His wife was speaking something, but that was in Malayalam language, which no body around could understand. He was very happy to meet me and asked me to follow him. I guessed it could be the same person whom I saw earlier reading a Malayalam News paper. I was right.

The man was visibly under great pain. He was stooping with both hands close to his chest and whispering something. His wife was desperately looking around for help. I sat opposite to them & gently enquired what the problem was. She spoke to me a few words amidst sobs. “Can we get a Doctor? Can we get some Medicines at least? He has developed severe chest pain all of a sudden. I don’t know what to do. ”

Doctor on Wheels-Part Two

I was confused and did not know what to say. It appeared that this lady was traveling for the first time outside her state. They got married recently and were on the way to his work place in Delhi. They had a stop over at Bangalore to visit some relatives.
Any way I told her nothing to worry, and promised all the possible help.

I went & talked to the T.T.E [Ticket Examiner], but he appeared not very keen. When I insisted, he said all he could do was to send a message to next major railway station where a doctor’s service could probably be arranged. But that was more than four hours of run. I knew that it was not going to help.

I had asked the TTE whether he could make the train stop in the immediate station so that we could search for help. His body language itself conveyed his outright disapproval.
It was evident that he was not going to do anything out of the way.

By then I could hear hapless lady’s feeble sobs. I went back to her, and consoled her.
“Don’t worry; we are making arrangements for a doctor’s visit. You make him comfortable & relaxed.” She nodded in agreement and smiled through her tears.

I didn’t leave the TTE, and had quizzed him for a possible alternative.
Sensing my determination, he came out with a new idea. “Possibly some doctor will be on board. You can try your luck!”

This made me remember the provision in the Indian Railway’s reservation slip to mention whether you are a Doctor. Thank the vision.

The TTE managed to get the full set of reservation charts. Together we sat and scanned charts after charts and finished all the sleeper coaches. There were no traveling doctors. My eye sight got blurred as hopes to find out one faded.

The only charts left were that of the air conditioned compartments. TTE was making a last minute search. I was also peeping in, but without any use. Suddenly the TTE got up and exclaimed! “Yes, here is a doctor couple. We searched for one, but we got two!”

He suggested me to go personally and request the doctor for a visit. I came to know that the doctor’s coach was quite far. One will have to walk through the moving train and cross nine compartments crossing vestibules to reach there.

I set off my mission but found out soon that task was too tough. Some of coaches were heavily crowded with standing passengers and their luggage. No one was willing to give way. I had to wriggle through the crowd often facing the wrath of those guys. Some one even shouted and abused.

Doctor on Wheels-Part Three

I continued my movement balancing the wild swings of the speeding train. I was already tired and exhausted with the journey of past 24 hours. No one appeared sympathetic in the crowded coaches. My passage became increasingly difficult and I started thinking of giving up. I was so much lost in the midst of the running train that I was not even confident of getting back. Suddenly my legs became heavy and refused move further.

My mind acted in sync. It started asking me - Why should you suffer so much? After all, they were not your relatives. They are not even known to you till yesterday. Your job is to reach Delhi and finish the assignments. Why should you get entangled in this mess? There were so many passengers around, but no one was bothered. So give up & get back.

I had decided to walk back. I can comfortably lie down on my berth. I can read the books of my choice. I can listen to the music of my like. I can get lost deep in my thoughts.

But someone deep inside my soul did not agree. It started arguing “What will happen to your commitments? How will you face the man who is stooping under pain? What will happen to your assurances given to the hapless lady?”

I stood breathless with my thought process under siege. There was a duel happening in my mind. The fight was intense.

I decided to have a glass of water. Even that was difficult!

I had slowly moved to the wash basin. Come what may, I stood in front of it and gulped enough water from the tap. I washed my face and hair & splashed water to the eyes.

That was quite refreshing. I felt much better. The power of water appeared tremendous! Some positive thoughts started trickling in. If I don’t help them now, who else will? All this trouble is for a noble cause. I should not leave them high and dry.
Life is not only for money and comforts. It has got a much deeper meaning.

My inner sense started whispering that doctor’s coach must be nearby. I started to move again with a gradual pick up in my strides. One more vestibule was crossed and I could see to my delight that I was in the threshold of victory! I was right in the entrance of the a/c coach!

A police guard posted there stopped me. He said that one is not supposed to enter the coach without a valid ticket. I had explained the situation and tried to convince him. He went inside and came back with the TTE.

He was a nice man and understood the problem. “Let me talk to Doctor Sahib, and find out whether he is willing”.

He went inside confidently, but came back in a few minutes with a sad face. “Sahib is feeling too much tired and don’t want to come”.
I felt quite miserable. I had all the reasons for giving up. No one can blame me. Things were just not happening in spite of my best efforts.

However, my inner voice had a different logic. “The darkest hour of the night happens just before the day break. Do you want to waste all your efforts till now? Don’t you want to see the streaks of day break?”

Doctor on Wheels- Part Four

I had insisted that I should meet the doctor. The TTE had finally agreed and allowed me. I went and sat near the old couple. The doctor was in a loose night dress, ready to retire for the day and visibly tired.

As expected it was a cold reception. He was not ready to talk. He had his own reasons. “How can I come to a coach which is so much away? Do you expect me to go with a stranger in the night to an unknown spot? Will you do all these if you are in my place?”

I didn’t have any answers, but I only knew that his visit was needed. I tried to convince him by showing my identity card and promised him that I will take care of him like my father. I also told him that he would be treated like a God by all of us.

It was thick silence for a while. I had eagerly waited for the slightest of a positive gesture. It did happen, but from an unexpected source. To my delight, I could see a twinkle in lady’s eyes. She moved closer to her husband, gently took his hand on hers, and tossed up a light suggestion. “If this young man is so much involved, and assures to take care of you, then how can you disappoint him?”

The Doctor seemed to be making up his mind, but with a rider. “Please go and find out whether two policemen can escort us?”

This was as good as saying no. Where will I go and get the escort policemen in a moving train?

The matter was discussed with the guard posted there. He did not want to leave the a/c coach where he is posted during his duty time.

That was the moment when I got convinced that life is not a bed of roses. It is rather a carpet of thorns & stones.

However, the guard came up with a sensible solution. “Sir, a few of my colleagues are traveling in the unreserved coach. They are not on duty. If you can meet & convince them, probably they will agree.”

Doctor on Wheels-Part Five

I found out the location of unreserved compartment and memorized their names. The passage was arduous, but there was no easier option. I maneuvered through the crowd & reached the guys in unreserved compartment. They stared at me and did not listen in the beginning. I took the reference of their colleague and explained the readiness of the doctor. I exhorted them to take up a noble cause and highlighted the value of their services. I had conveyed that they will be like angels with this act.

They started listening patiently, and agreed finally. The tough looking policemen became lovely doves and started obeying whatever I said. They developed a liking for my broken Hindi and started addressing me Madrasi Babu.

We knew that we were slowly gaining ground. We reached the a/c coach again, & waited for doctor. The lady doctor smiled & handed over the medical kit to me and once again insisted reminded me to take care of the old man.

The doctor was, however not impressed with the guys. “Who are these people? I wanted some one from the police? How can I take chances in a late night train? Sorry, I never expected this from you.”

We were at pains to explain. The men modestly took out their ID Cards. “Then why are you not in uniform?” It was a big task to convince him, but eventually he had agreed to come.

We walked in a convoy. One of the escorts was leading the way, followed by the Doctor. I walked behind the doctor carrying his kit, and the other guard followed me. We had traversed coaches after coaches through the crowd balancing the sideways swings of the moving train; it was much easier this time with the help of the policemen.

It was great to be back in my own compartment. We moved towards the patient, who appeared uncomfortable and in pain. The TTE was waiting along with a number of people. Their eyes lit up by seeing our convoy.

The lady looked at me in disbelief. The man looked at me in gratitude. Silence prevailed for a moment, but it had conveyed a lot. Thank you God for the strength you gave. This was a great moment.

Doctor had examined the patient for a while & talked to him gently. He made him comfortable patted on his back. He told him that he would be alright soon and there was no reason to worry. He gave him an injection while I was assisting him by holding the medical kit under his instructions. He gave some tablets with instructions to the lady.

Every one heaved a sigh of relief, and a relieved ambience prevailed. We took leave.

Doctor on Wheels- Part Six

We walked back in the same pattern. But there was no sense of urgency and seriousness this time. The doctor told me to keep a watch on the patient for the next 2 hours. He would have to be admitted in a nursing home in case his condition did not improve.
The escorting friends were silent as we reached the a/c coach. They bid good bye & left for their coach.

I had accompanied the doctor inside the a/c coach where the lady doctor & TTE were eagerly waiting. We had a relaxed sitting and the doctor couple was eager to know about my family. They developed a fondness to my son when I described about him. The lady doctor also appeared to be very happy and remarked- “Our grandson must be of his age”.

Finally I got up to bid good bye, but the doctor asked me to sit back. “Young man, how can you go back without paying my fees?

It was a shock, but I knew that the mistake was from my side. I should have offered to pay his fees without waiting for him to ask.

I took out my wallet and told apologetically. “I am sorry Doctor, I had just forgotten that. Please tell me how much is your fees, I know that any amount will not match your service”. He had a winked at his wife and smiled at me. “Money is too small a fees from a person like you, dear. Your friendship is what we cherish. Give me your address and we want to send a gift to your little one.” I was feeling elated and contended. For a moment all the physical strain had vanished, and my mind was elevated to a different strata. He shook both his hands on mine and wished me the very best things in life.

Yeah, these were the real moments of life. These were the moments you can’t buy with money. These were the most cherished ones. These would have lost had I ever given up!

I had quietly strolled back to my coach. I was tired and just wanted to sleep, but the doctor’s words made me alert.

“You have to watch the patient for another couple of hours.” I went near their seat. Things were normal as both of them were half asleep.

As time passed, the train approached a major station and I looked at the watch. It was more than two hours. I went and enquired his condition & lady told me that he seemed to be alright.

Doctor on Wheels Final

The train had come to a screeching halt, and I jumped into the platform. It was a late night stop, and platform was not crowded. I could find a vendor selling some food packets, and grabbed one.

The food tasted excellent. I slipped into a deep sleep almost instantly. I got up late in the morning and walked towards the wash basin. I saw the couple sitting together and having breakfast. I smiled at them.

The man curiously asked me “Can you get me a Malayalam News Paper? I had been trying right from 5 ‘O Clock onwards”
I assured him to try in the next station. I was happy that he did not develop any complications. He appeared to have forgotten all the pain of the day before!

Time had elapsed and we were nearing the destination. Every one was busy in readying their luggage & disembarking. I was expecting them to come and say good bye.

But no such thing happened. They got out of the train in a hurry and vanished into the crowd. I felt a bit dejected.

Soon, I was on my own looking for the driver who was supposed to meet me in station.
Meanwhile I saw the Doctor couple waving at me from the platform. I went near them and reported that the patient was all right. I thanked them once again.

I could recollect this incident when I saw the last year’s rail budget speech. The railway minister’s proposal to have “a Doctor on Train” is definitely great initiative. I wonder why no one else had ever thought of such a nice idea till now.