Few things terrify me or make me as self-conscious as walking into my doctor’s waiting room.
No, no, it’s not because of my doctor. Dr. V, who is my GP is an absolute darling and I am half in love with him. He’s punctual. He’s thorough. He listens to what I have to say, does not medicate unless absolutely essential. And whenever I’m not well, he calls me up to check on how I’m doing. And never once, in the 15 years that I have known him, has he given me an injection :-) So if my doctor is such a nice guy, why am I so scared of walking into his waiting room? Read on…
One of the places that Dr. V consults from is a clinic near my house. It is not a particularly well-managed clinic, but since the timings and location are convenient for me this is where I go. Dr. V’s consulting hours at this clinic overlaps with that of Dr. K, a hugely popular consulting gynaecologist and a fertility expert. To give you an estimate of her popularity, let us assume that for every patient of Dr. V, there are 30 for Dr. K ! While the former’s patients are mostly elderly men and women, the latter’s patients are women in various stages of pregnancy.
Now imagine walking into a room full of pregnant women and their accompanying family member/friend and feeling every eye on you. I don’t know about you, but I feel very self-conscious. I didn’t always feel like this, but my visits to the clinic and interactions I’ve had at the waiting room over the years, has made me so.
These have been interactions based on certain assumptions on the other person’s part. Assumptions made automatically, and perhaps even unconsciously, because I am a woman in the reproductive age range, and who is visiting a clinic where a gynaecologist is consulting. Assumptions played out at the clinic in a tragi-comic way, and navigating which has been quite a task as I have found out, starting with the reception desk.
This is the “conversation” I have at the reception desk with the receptionist-cum-telephone operator-cum-nurse. It begins with a standard automatic statement.
“You are patient number __. Please take a seat. Dr. K. is seeing patient number __ and you have to wait for about __ minutes. What is your name?”
“I am not here to see Dr. K; I’m here to see Dr. V.”
“Oh ! Then why didn’t you say so before? What is your name? You are the first patient for him and you are early. Please take a seat.”
The interesting thing to note here is the receptionist-cum-telephone operator-cum-nurse at the clinic has not changed in the last 15 years. And even though she probably recognises me from previous visits to the clinic, just because I am a woman, she automatically assumes that I am there to consult Dr. K and not Dr. V !
Once this “formality” is over, I usually take a deep breath and surreptitiously look for a place to sit. Years of experience and caution at the clinic have taught me that a seat next to the husband of a patient is the safest because there is no danger of any conversation happening.
Now, conversations at the clinic are rarely just conversations, but are part interrogation, part morality lecture and advice with lots of assumptions thrown in. The conversation I’m about to share happened during my second or third visit to the clinic about 15 years back. An Auntyji, who was accompanying her daughter to consult Dr. K, was seated next to me in the waiting room. After exchanging smiles, Auntyji started off:
“Why have you come alone, beta? There should be someone with you.”
“Er… I don’t need anyone with me, Aunty. I’m fine.. I’ve just come for a check-up.”
“I know, I know. But it’s always nice to come with someone here.”
I just shrugged as there was really nothing that I could say to this. Meanwhile, Auntyji was giving me a once over with increasing disapproval.
“I don’t know what it is with girls of your generation. You look like a Hindu. There is no mangalsutra, no toe ring, no sindoor, no bangles, no gold even… Doesn’t your husband say anything? Don’t you care about him?”
“Husband? What husband? I’m not married, Aunty.”
At this Auntyji swelled up with righteous indignation and boomed loudly enough for the entire waiting room to hear, “Not married ! Then what are you doing in a gynaecologist’s clinic if you’re not married?”
Every eye in the room swung to look at me. Just then, Dr. V’s arrival was announced and my name called out. And I just walked out of the waiting room without looking back.
I must admit that I was thoroughly mortified at that time and over the years have thought about various responses I could have made — some scathing, some sarcastic, some angry — to that Auntyji’s statement.
Then there was this conversation with a kindly and well-meaning woman of my age about 3-4 years back, and again with loads of assumptions. I was, however, by now wiser in giving my answers and had almost perfected the art of just responding to the question.
“Your husband isn’t here?”
“So, you have come to meet the doctor alone this time?”
“Do you have children?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Don’t worry, you have come to the right place. Dr. K is a great doctor and her fertility treatment is very good and successful. You are in safe hands and you’ll soon be blessed with a child. I have a daughter now and am beginning treatment for a second child.”
And with this she launched into describing the whole process of fertility treatment, supposedly for educating me and preparing me for what lay ahead. I was feeling quite sick and green with all the detailed graphic description, but she never noticed and stopped only when her name was called out for Dr. K. And the last thing she said to me before going into the doctor’s room?
“Next time, come with your husband. Okay? You’re not looking too good.”
Then there was the time when an elderly woman and her daughter narrated the latter’s experience of surgery to remove a 2 kg fibroid from her uterus, before she could conceive and have a child. They actually passed around photographs of the fibroid to the people in the waiting room. The husbands in the room could not run out of the room fast enough, while the women in the room just oohed and aahed in morbid fascination !
I have rarely come away from a visit to the waiting room at the clinic (at least that’s what it always feels like rather than a visit to the doctor) without an interaction or a conversation or even advice involving “my” non-existent husband, child(ren) or lack thereof, advice and encouragement to go for fertility treatment, etc. And I have often wondered why? I mean I have been in waiting rooms of my dentist, my orthopaedist or my ophthalmologist and have never had any conversations with other patients other than a, “Who goes in next?” Is it because of the number of patients in the waiting room, or the size of the waiting room, the seating arrangement… or is it because a gynaecologist is doctor for women only? Or is it because, I am the only one unaccompanied by someone else in the waiting room?
Whatever the reason, it kind of reinforces certain beliefs that even in an urban and a modern place like Mumbai, a woman of a certain age is assumed to be married and have children or is at least trying for one. I mean, even when I give my name at the reception counter of the clinic, it is always prefixed with a Mrs. This used to irritate me before and I would try to correct it, but now I just accept it and play along as there is really nothing I can do against such entrenched and preconceived notions.
These days I go armed with a book, earphones, newspaper… the works. Not that it deters some from asking, “But where is your husband?” I have also reached a stage where I can look at the comical side of the whole thing and laugh about it, and even share it here. I can laugh at the fact that none of Dr. K’s patients realise that there is another doctor in the clinic at the same time. I can laugh at the automatic assumptions made and play guessing games as to the type of questions likely to be asked. I can even laugh at my fear at entering the clinic’s waiting room.
But wait ! I have a visit to the clinic’s waiting room to prepare for tomorrow as I go to meet Dr. V fro a check-up. Gulp ! I’ll laugh after the visit is over ;-)