ON THAT NOTE

Suresh Menon is a writer based in In­dia. In his youth he set out to change the world but later de­cided to leave it as it is

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An im­por­tant re­la­tion­ship in our colum­nist Suresh Menon’s life, built one virus at a time, has sud­denly col­lapsed.

My doc­tor broke up with me the other day, and I don’t know how to re­act. No, we didn’t have one of those, “It isn’t you, it’s me” type of con­ver­sa­tions over a cup of cof­fee. The set­ting was dif­fer­ent – it was in his of­fice with his diplo­mas hang­ing on the wall (and doubt­less notches on his ta­ble to mark the num­ber of pa­tients he had bro­ken up with). And he didn’t say “We must stop see­ing each other.” In fact I can’t put my fin­ger on pre­cisely what it was he said that sent out the mes­sage. But I re­ceived it loud and clear.

Per­haps it was, “You are free to see other doc­tors” or “go ahead, get a sec­ond opin­ion.” We al­ways had an open re­la­tion­ship. He was free to see other pa­tients, and if he wanted a sec­ond opin­ion he could al­ways talk to him­self. But now it was over.

Thus did a bond built up over the years, virus by virus, bac­terium by bac­terium, col­lapse. We can han­dle our pets dy­ing, our spouses leav­ing us, even our for­mer girl­friends get­ting mar­ried to richer and bet­ter-look­ing men, but a doc­tor quit­ting? That hurts.

For one, it was partly my money that had funded his ed­u­ca­tion through the taxes I paid which helped sub­sidise it. For an­other, once a man has seen your pan­creas close up, you do tend to as­sume a level of in­ti­macy you wouldn’t from, say, a gar­dener (who might have only seen your be­go­nias), or win­dow cleaner. Doc­tors know what make us tick or talk, or when the tic­toc is run­ning down, in­for­ma­tion you might not care to share with your best friend.

Why do I feel as if I had to apol­o­gise to my doc­tor? The first time we met, I no­ticed some­thing in his of­fice and told him about one of my rules (it wasn’t, I was jok­ing): “Never go to a doc­tor whose plants are dy­ing.” It was a line I had read on a poster some­where, but he wasn’t amused. That was my first and last joke in his of­fice, and so much for laugh­ter be­ing the best medicine.

Per­haps I was never the ideal pa­tient he had wished for and tol­er­ated me only for my med­i­cally in­ter­est­ing body parts from the in­grown toe­nail to the bunched up liver. Per­haps once he had fixed my var­i­ous prob­lems, I was no longer in­ter­est­ing. Doc­tors have no in­ter­est in the healthy and well-ad­justed. Give them a col­laps­ing lung or a rare dis­ease, and they will never leave your side.

I have a choice to make now. Do I move on, or con­tract some­thing that will make me in­ter­est­ing again to my doc­tor?

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