A Visit to the Doctor
By Meera Nair
The doctor sighed as he passed the nurse his prescription through a little window that was built for that purpose. It was five in the evening. He had lost count of the number of patients he had seen that day – it was the flu season and he had spent the day copying out the same prescription over and over again.
It was very cold in that room. The thermostat was always set at an incredibly low temperature, but its effect was compounded that day by the rain that had fallen without stopping since the morning. He felt his senses dulled by the cold and he was very tired. The lighting in his office did not help in the least. It was a bright white fluorescent light. It intimidated him as much as it did some of his patients, the latter who, in their sickened state, were convinced that they had seen the afterlife in his room.
The lights harshly lit up the posters and diagrams and pictures on his walls, most of which depicted cross-sections of various organs in the human body. They were not at all to his taste – he would much rather have Van Gogh's paintings than a blackened, tar-filled lung on his wall. And the poster reminding patients of the constant need for exercise, pasted so carefully on his door by his nurse, struck him as being particularly unfair. He never got any time to exercise.
As his eyes fell upon the picture of the smoker's lung for the umpteenth time, the doctor wondered if he could redecorate his office. One of those certificates of his that his nurse had insisted on hanging at the entrance to the clinic would look much better in his office. The lung could go outside. And that poster there, the one showing the cross-section of a –
"Ready for the next patient?" the nurse's voice broke through his thoughts. The doctor sighed again and rubbed his eyes.
"How many more, Marianne?" he asked.
"This is the last," she said, smiling encouragingly at him. He gave a small grunt that she took to be assent to her first question and he heard her call the next patient in. He sat straighter and assumed a professional air.
Outside, a flu-ridden Sandra dragged herself to the doctor's office. She had not intended to visit the doctor at all, believing that the flu would cure itself with a lot of rest and water. But the arrival of her mother on a week-long visit from her home town in Malaysia had left her with no choice but to seek professional help. It was that, or a week of constant nagging.
There really is no need for this, she thought as approached the doctor's office. Except for a runny-nose, a sore throat and a slight headache, I really am fine! Ma is such a nag.
She raised her fist and knocked on the lacquered wooden door that led to the doctor's office. A name was embossed on it, but she did not read it.
"Come in," a male voice said from within. Sandra pushed open the door and strode in, determined to get this over and done with. In and out, she thought, hardly glancing at the doctor as she shut the door behind her. Then she turned.
"Sandra?" the doctor said, the same time she said, "Andrew?"
She stood there for a moment, stunned, and then glanced down at her attire. Yellow flip-flops, an ugly pink flowered pair of shorts, and a faded green T-shirt on which the words "Bugger off" were still faintly visible.
"You're a doctor?" she asked the man in the immaculate shirt and trousers, sitting ramrod straight like a businessman out to conduct the deal of a lifetime.
"Obviously," he said, smiling. "Why don't you sit down?" He gestured at the chair next to his desk, both of which were leaning against a wall. It was a very odd set-up. She looked dubiously at the chair and then at him. Then she moved towards the chair and sat down.
"I can't believe you're a doctor!" she said as he opened his mouth to speak. He grinned.
"How have you been?" he asked. She shrugged, still in disbelief.
"You?" she asked.
"Good, good," he replied.
He looks the same, she thought. Just a little more...mature, I guess. There's a kind of seriousness in him that I've never seen before. This is really strange.
Aloud, she said, "You look exactly as you did before!" He laughed.
"It's been like, what? Ten years? Give or take?" he asked. She nodded.
"I can imagine your surprise," he continued. "The last time we met, I was probably getting yelled at by some teacher!"
"If I recall correctly, you spent more time outside the classroom than you did inside!" she said. He laughed again.
"True. I still remember Mrs Chan telling me that I came to school only to disrupt as many lessons as I could!"
"And Mr Lee said you should get into the Guinness Book of World Records for your talent!"
They laughed and Sandra tried to suppress a cough.
"So are you a dancer now? I remember you declaring in – Primary Six, was it? – that you wanted to be a dancer," he said.
"No," she said ruefully. "I grew out of it. I work in Public Relations now."
"Enjoy your work?"
"I guess. It still doesn't have the kick dancing gives," she said. "How about you? Medicine really your calling then?"
"It is, actually. I could never have foreseen that I would ever have an interest in this, but it's been stimulating."
"Ah, stimulating," Sandra said. "When did you start using such words?"
"No wait. Let me rephrase. When did you become so serious?" Sandra asked, half in jest. He shrugged thoughtfully.
"I grew out of it. In Secondary Three," he said.
"Huh. Sad that I couldn't see the transformation. From Primary One to Secondary Two, you were always the class clown," Sandra said lightly. He grinned mischievously.
"Well, my early interest in biology was always evident. I used to keep cockroaches as pets," he said. Sandra pulled a face and quickly stopped. The stretching sensation was making her head pound.
"I only remember you frying tadpoles you caught on the OHP," she said.
"Don't remind me. I can't believe I did that. I've repented," he said. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "I'm a vegetarian now."
"Oh?" Sandra asked. She could not reconcile the idea of the meat-loving boy she used to know now being a vegetarian doctor. She laughed suddenly as a memory intruded.
"Remember you rallied the class into singing for every teacher who taught us that day? In Secondary Two, I believe," she said.
"Oh yes! Probably one of my proudest accomplishments to date," he said, looking quite animated. Like the boy I used to know, Sandra thought.
"And when the class ended up in detention because of that, you got us to start an impromptu band then and there," she said, tapping her fingers against his desk as she recalled the tune they had played.
"I did?" he asked, his surprise evident.
"You did!" she said. "How could you forget? You made a drum set out of teacher's table when she left the room."
"I don't remember that!" he said.
"Well, you did!" Sandra insisted. "I remember you shoving an ordinary mineral water bottle into my hand and asking me to scrape a pencil along its sides like a guiro!"
He laughed a little wistfully. "I wish I could remember that. It sounds really fun!"
"It was," Sandra said.
"If only we could go back to those days," he sighed. "Good old Mrs Lim, Mr Pereira, Mrs Lee, Ms Simon –"
"Ms Yan," Sandra interjected and they both burst out laughing at the memory of the elderly woman from their primary school days who had been convinced the only way to rehabilitate people like Andrew was to chase them with a wooden cane.
"She chased me onto the field one day, did you know? I ran down the stairs from our second-floor classroom, to the canteen and then to the field. And she followed me all the way, rotan in hand!" he said.
Sandra felt herself getting short of breath from all the laughing and started coughing.
"Ah, don't laugh now," he said suddenly. Sandra nodded, an act that proved difficult as she was also clutching her side and coughing. She tried to draw a deep breath and ended up coughing more. Gradually, though, she got her coughing fit under control.
"Better?" he asked. She nodded.
"Sorry, I should have asked you what was wrong earlier," he said contritely. She shook her head, still trying to breathe evenly.
"So, how can I help?" he asked.
"Well, it's nothing much. Just the flu," she said, still gasping for breath in between words.
"Okay. What are your symptoms?" he asked, quite professionally, she thought.
"Just a headache, a runny nose and a sore throat," she mumbled. She found it a tad awkward to have him as her doctor.
"And a cough," he said.
"Only when I laugh," she said immediately. She did not like the taste of cough syrup.
"I'll still give you the medication, just in case," he said. She groaned slightly.
"I'll need you to open your mouth. The sore throat," he said, pointing at his throat.
"I know what a throat is," she muttered and did as he said, wishing she were anywhere but there.
"Yes, it's inflamed," he said and she heaved a sigh of relief at the fact that he did not stick an ice-cream stick down her throat.
"Well, anything else?" he asked.
She shook her head. What should she do now? Say bye? Walk off?
"Um," she started.
"Want to meet up some time? After you recover?" he asked. She nodded in relief. It had been fun reminiscing over the past with him.
"Cool. Facebook," he said with a grin. She smiled and waved goodbye.
Outside, the nurse called her almost immediately to the counter to get her medication. As she labelled the packets of pills and that one bottle of syrup with the prescription, she asked, "So you're a friend of the doctor's?"
"We were classmates before," Sandra said. The nurse laughed.
"I never knew he was that entertaining in his school days." She lowered her voice so that he could not hear through the little window in the wall. "He seems so quiet and overworked here. It's nice that he finally found a way to unwind."
Sandra nodded. It was interesting how people could change so drastically over the years. Yet he was not all that different. Hadn't their conversation proved that? She paid for her medication and left.
The doctor left soon after the last patient left. As he waved goodbye to her, the nurse thought that she had never seen him look so cheerful before.QLRS Vol. 10 No. 3 Jul 2011