- Encounters of a Different Kind
It has been a little over three months since I returned. My day begins with an altercation with a new security guard who stops me as I drive up to the gate of the brand-new university hospital. He tells me that I am to use the other entrance, as only the chairman’s car is allowed through this gate. I inform him that I am the chairman (the politically correct word chairperson has not crossed the Atlantic yet). He peers at me suspiciously. The chairman sahib is a man not a woman, he says. I put on a stern face and tell him that I am the chairman and he will get into trouble for not letting me through. He looks uncertain but eventually lets me drive in through the gate. I pick up my white coat and stethoscope from my office to head to the clinic. The morning sun is blazing across my desk through expansive, floor to ceiling glass windows. I will return from the clinic to my familiar routine of inching my chair across the office, trying to stay ahead of the sun which will pursue me across the room during the day. My repeated requests for window blinds have been turned down, as these would destroy, I am told, the ambience of the building’s magnificent façade. I was informed about three saplings that have been strategically planted outside my window and that these will grow into towering trees to provide me shade. Soon, inshallah (God [End Page 337] willing), said the architect. I have also been advised that teak wood trash bins designed to match the decor of faculty offices will be delivered soon, inshallah.
By the time I walk into the spacious clinic, it is noisily awash with children of all ages accompanied by harried parents and assorted family members. A couple of nurses struggle to restore a semblance of order, herding families towards the registration desk and asking them to queue. The four-year-old boy I had seen last week is back, this time accompanied by an elderly man in addition to his mother and aunt. My examination had revealed that the child’s right testicle had failed to descend into the scrotum, and that surgery would be required to coax the wayward organ down to where it is meant to reside. My rusty Urdu is rapidly on the road to recovery, but I had struggled to find the right word for testicle. My surgical resident had come to my rescue in the symbiotic relationship that develops between consultants and residents. (It is called a goli, he whispered to me. But that’s the word for a marble or a bullet, I had objected. Yes, yes Madam, but the testicle is also a goli, he assured me.) Upon being informed that her son required surgery, a routine operation, to fix the errant organ, the mother had blanched. A surgeon’s “routine” is anything but that to patients. She said that surgery is a big decision, and she would have to discuss this with the men in the family first.
The gentleman who accompanies her today is the child’s Nana (maternal grandfather). He is a distinguished looking man in his late 60s with a trimmed grizzled beard. Clad in crisp white shalwar qameez, he speaks in flawless, cultured Urdu and, I soon realize, favors leisurely conversations. The mother and aunt stand by quietly as he and I discuss his grandson’s problem. I explain that such surgery should ideally be undertaken within the first year of life, and so they should not delay it any longer. If the testicle is normal we will lengthen its cord and fix it in the normal position, but if it is atrophied we may have to remove it. I reassure Nana that even if we have to do the latter his grandson will have no problems in the future because his left testicle appears normal. Nana looks at me sceptically and tells me of his vast library, which includes scholarly, historical manuscripts in Urdu and Arabic. I inherited many books from my grandfather who collected these...