In retrospective the incident is hilarious but in that moment I wished I was anywhere on earth but there. To my dismay and the pharmacist’s delight, the word spread among the circle of old men in the village and Dr.X’s sales sky-rocketed.
I read a hilarious blog post on my college senior’s blog, about a rickshaw puller’s unwanted fatherhood looming large in his near future and his hopes of being the local do-gooder by donating sperms to his childless sister-in-law! As bizarre as his family dynamics sound, such preposterous encounters are more common than you think. The post reminded me of a similar incident in March when I was posted in a God-forsaken remote village in Kamrup under the NRHM scheme.
The Setting: Last autumn I found myself standing precariously on a boat of questionable strength and crossing a river to get to my work place. The official quarters I was allotted had a rickety roof populated by giant owls that did a midnight jig right over my bed, and doors that refused to be bound down by locks. Add to that electricity with a mind of its own and patients that seemed (to me, at least) to leap out of bushes at 1am to shout out loud about babies about to pop out (which is a valid emergency) or a back itch/wrist pain that is suddenly unbearable (seriously?WTF!)!
There were good moments, in the calm and undisturbed country side where people still danced to 90s film music, and newspapers were shared among ten households. Cars were a rare sight, so was Maggi noodles. Strangers stopped you midway and ask where you were going and where you were coming from, that’s the sole conversation-starter. It felt refreshing to be cut off from all the noise and the polluted air and the need to stay connected; but the sameness got on my nerves after a while.
There are only so many beautiful sunrises you can marvel at after umpteen sleepless nights of delivering 4kg babies of petite seventeen year old mothers, who on repeated questioning admits to being a recent teenager! My mind went reeling at such shocking disclosures and my attempts to educate them on the proper age for childbearing or use of contraception only turned them hostile. They fretted over girls who remain unmarried at the ripe old age of fifteen; ‘such burdens’, they lament. The unfortunate girls who failed to strike a matrimonial alliance by the time they had turned seventeen were married off to old widowers or became the second/third wife of pot-bellied men older than their fathers. The women look old; they look fifty when they are twenty. They asked me if my kids were in school, considering these women turn grandmothers before hitting thirty! I didn’t want to shock them out of a decade’s growth that I’m 26 year old and unmarried, so I tell them that my kids are studying in the sixth standard and they feel satisfied at the familial progress of my life. They breed like rabbits. Half of their lives are spent with a pregnant belly. Contraception is a dirty word; and as one husband, who had brought his wife for a third abortion, sagely put it, “We can’t deny what God gives us“. But they don’t hesitate to kill it when it had just started to sprout limbs! The women with bulging bellies stand at the threshold coyly, a baby at their breast and a trail of toddlers chewing peanuts and rubbing noses on their mothers’ sari. It’s surreal; these people, these lives, this place.
The INCIDENT: A blind man of eighty came to the health center towards the end of OPD hours. He was escorted by his wife who looked haggard. The man had a luxurious and flowing white beard and reminded me of Father Christmas, and in this case he happened to wear a blue checkered ‘lungi‘ (as absurd as it sounds!). He was reluctant to state his complaint and instead smiled creepily, almost lecherously. It disturbed me and I turned to his wife, but she looked too defeated to answer. It was two in the afternoon and a sumptuous lunch awaited me, so I conveyed my urgency to go home. The nurse who had come to close the windows in my room scolded the old man for his reluctance.
After much dawdling, the man said “Baideu, mur ‘sexy’ eke bare nai.” (Translation: Sister, my ‘sexy’ isn’t there at all)!!! What on earth was that? I went through stages of disbelief, facepalm, more disbelief, trying to maintain a straight face, furtive looks exchanged with the nurse who was equally dumbfounded; all in that single second when time stood still. Suddenly I could no longer face the man even though he couldn’t see me; because it was difficult to fathom why this eighty-year old Father Christmas look-alike had walked five miles to this remote hospital to complain about a dwindling sex life! To my utter embarrassment, his wife’s indifference and the nurse’s delight, he began to boast of the sexual prowess of his heydays and how he had managed to impregnate his wife ten times and even the first time they did it! I wished I had left for home earlier. I stopped his monologue and asked him his medical history. He didn’t have any major problems, and reports of a routine health check-up done at his grandson’s (!!!) insistence a few months ago were within normal limits.
The dilemma that I faced now was what medicine to prescribe; I was at sea when it came to such ailments. The only topics taught by the visibly embarrassed professor during my undergrad days were the causes and diagnosis of erectile dysfunction and the side-effects of sildenafil. That’s it! I didn’t even know of the availability of any medicine apart from Viagra. So, I jotted down sildenafil (quite certain that it won’t be available in this remote corner and he had to source it from Guwahati) and the lowest possible starting dose (25mg) and when to take it, which posed another problem because I just couldn’t bring myself to say out aloud the sentence ‘Take it an hour before you have sex’ to a man older than my grandfather. The nurse helped in conveying the directions. Thank God for that.
I went back to my official quarters which was just a stone’s throw away, glad that the ordeal was over. I had just sat down to lunch when there was a knock on my door; it was the boy who ran the local pharmacy and the Father Christmaslurking behind him! He had come to inform that they had the tablets “Dr.X”(What a name! What a name!) in stock and was it okay if he gave them to the old man. I turned crimson, looked at the composition (sildenafil) and mumbled yes. The old man looked ecstatic. His wife cowered in fear about what awaited her at home!
I am still recovering from the shock of such incidents.