by Dr. Pranav Kodial, Dahanu

“Looteras! That’s what these doctors are, I tell you. Thieves, in white coats.”

The big-moustached gentleman in his early-sixties concluded his outburst with a loud snort.

His friend sitting opposite him agreed wholeheartedly.

I was in the train, en route to my hospital. These two gentlemen were my only co-passengers in the compartment.

My eyes were focused out of the window and my ears, on their conversation. Big Moustache was doing all the talking, and his friend, all the agreeing.

Big Moustache had already completed a detailed speech on his illustrious past as a senior government officer, and then on his family life. Now, he was narrating a recent incident.

His grandchildren were visiting him in Mumbai for their summer vacation. A fun outing at a shopping mall followed by a movie and dinner had turned into a small tragedy.

While returning home, his ten-year-old grandson slipped and fell down a staircase. He sat up screaming in pain, clutching his limp, left arm.

Big Moustache rushed him to an orthopaedic surgeon. The doctor examined him, confirmed that the boy’s arm was not fractured and advised him treatment. The boy would be back to normal in a few days.

The doctor’s charges were ₹700 for consultation and ₹1800 for the digital X-ray. Total ₹2500.

“I counted at least twenty patients in the waiting room,” Big Moustache continued, “so just see how much Dr. XYZ must have earned in that ONE evening!” Another loud snort.

As usual, his friend agreed with him.

Big Moustache was not done venting his angst. He shook his head in frustration. “Worst thing was, the lootera looted me of two thousand five hundred bucks, when there was NOTHING wrong with the child…”

“True,” I said, turning to him, “True, Uncleji. I agree with you. A total waste of money.”

Big Moustache smiled gratefully. Sympathy from unknown people is always welcome.

“It would have been so much more worth it if your grandson had actually broken his arm in two-three places, no?” I asked.

Confusion, then outrage filled his face. “What?” he sputtered, “what are you saying?”

I shrugged. “Well, in your situation, I would have felt relieved and grateful to the doctor for ensuring my grandson’s arm was alright. And for his treatment that would get him back to normal.

“With a fall like that, the arm could have been badly injured, with the boy never being able to use it again.”

With a smile, I continued, “But evidently, you seem more disturbed by the unnecessary loss of money. The non-paisa-vasoolness of that expense.”

Big Moustache went red in the face. “No, no, what nonsense,” he said, “actually, I was shocked that if a poor, common man was in my place, HOW would he afford such sky-high fees? A country like ours needs affordable healthcare.”

He puffed up his chest in self-righteousness. “After all, Medicine is a noble profession. Patients go to doctors because they are suffering. Doctors MUST consider this when earning from them.”

“You are absolutely right,” I said, “So let me allay your concerns with some information.

“Dr. XYZ is my classmate from medical school. One of the most ethical, compassionate doctors I know. He charges poor patients one-third to one-fourth of what he charged you. Sometimes, even lesser.”

Big Moustache sat up straight. “One-fourth?” he whispered. The horror was evident in his eyes.

I noted it and continued, “This is the excellent way Dr. XYZ provides quality ‘affordable healthcare’ to all. Our country’s need of the hour, as you pointed out.

“Doctors like Dr. XYZ provide it exactly as per its definition. AFFORDABLE, that is, according to the patient’s financial status—what that patient can afford.

“These doctors treat the poor for less fees, that they can bear. From the better-off, they take their stated, appropriate fees, that does justice to their skill, knowledge and investment-outgoing costs.

“I follow the same model in my own ophthalmology practice. It works beautifully.”

Big Moustache grimaced and did his self-righteous-puffing-up-the-chest act again. “Then Dr. XYZ has cheated me. I am a retired person. He should have charged me one-fourth fees. At the most, one-third.”

I laughed for a good two minutes. Such statements deserved that.

“What are you laughing about,” asked Big Moustache, flustered.

I leaned forward and asked, “Uncleji, how much did you spend on your outing that evening? Just before your grandson fell down? The outing you so proudly described a few minutes ago, saying that money was no concern when entertaining your grandkids?”

He went crimson and started to sputter like a boiling teapot.

“Let us see,” I continued, “by my calculations, the electronic goods and designer clothes shopping at the mall, the movie at IMACKS 3D and the exclusive five-star restaurant dinner must have dented your wallet by about fifteen thousand rupees. Minimum.”

I did not mention my other calculations derived from his conversation with his friend. Big Moustache had bragged about his several properties, foreign trips and the grandeur of his daughter’s wedding that must have cost him at least a crore. All that, admirably, on his modest government salary.

Or maybe he had another source of wealth. Whatever.

Meanwhile, Big Moustache looked one step away from pulling his hair (and moustache) in frustration. Frustration at being cornered, with nothing to defend himself.

“By the way, Uncleji,” I continued ruthlessly, “coming back to charity and the common man, Dr. XYZ does it every day. During your ENTIRE stint as a government officer, did you do any charity?”

“Of course,” he blustered, “I have donated—”

“Don’t talk about donations, Uncleji,” I said, “donations are done by people AFTER they have earned their millions and billions. And often so that they can see their name on a plaque somewhere. Or receive a bouquet or a shawl-coconut on stage amidst an applause.

“Like Dr. XYZ, did you do silent, un-acknowledged charity from Day One of your career? Say, by offering to accept only one-third to one-fourth of that month’s salary for the common man’s projects? Or working for free on such projects, on holidays as well?”

Did you complete even one common man’s project without a bribe, I did not add.

He kept silent and glared at me. The champion of the common man had lost his voice.

I paused for a long, heavy moment. What I would tell him next demanded it.

Then I began, in a quiet voice, “The fact of the matter is, Uncleji, you care a fig whether the common man gets affordable healthcare. The horror in your eyes said it all—on hearing Dr. XYZ’s concessional charges for the poor, and not you.

“And you don’t want affordable healthcare for our country either. Affordable Healthcare, in its truest sense of the word, as practiced by Dr. XYZ.

“You want a high-quality, but free or cheapened healthcare system, for YOURSELF.

“You want an unfair healthcare system that devalues, exploits and humiliates the mind-boggling study, sacrifice, struggle, knowledge and skill a doctor has to achieve in order to become what he is. You have no clue about these virtues, nor do you want to understand and appreciate them.

“You want this system because people like you consider materialistic activities and an extravagant lifestyle as ‘paisa-vasool’, entirely worthy of your money. But not healthcare. It is a torture for you to pay a doctor his fees, however legitimate.

“And you want this system because for some unknown reason, seeing a doctor become wealthy causes you immense pain.

“Your comments to your friend exposed your attitude. You never counted the number of shoppers in the mall, nor the people in the movie theatre and the five-star restaurant. You never calculated how much money their owners must make.

“But you did that in Dr. XYZ’s waiting room. And that calculated figure made you burn with envy.”

I stared at him with pity and condescension. “What a sad, sad paradox, Uncleji. You grudge, dislike and envy the person who healed your grandson’s arm, for taking his well-deserved fees.

“But you happily dished out bundles of money—over six times those fees—to people who gave you a few moments of pleasure.”

The train began to slow and I stood up. My station had arrived. Also, I had completed what I wanted to say.

Just before I got off, I shot a glance at Big Moustache and his friend. They sat like statues, staring at me. Their expressions were intense, but unreadable.

As I entered my hospital, I wondered what my co-passengers did after my exit from the train.

Maybe they thought over what I had said and adopted something good and positive from it.

Or maybe they telepathically sent me some abuses and went back to criticizing Dr. XYZ. And me, as a bonus topic.

Either way, I didn’t care.

Big Moustache and his ilk would always exist in Society.

They probably existed in the ancient times as well. People who splurged lavishly on non-essentials, but went around snorting and making passionate speeches on how Dr. Hippocrates was a ‘lootera’ (or the Greek equivalent of the term).

But I also knew there always existed a section of Society who respected and acknowledged our efforts, and our fees for the same.

LA request. Please share this article unedited. Thanks.

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