Wednesday, November 27, 2013

On the Other Side

So Monday morning this week saw me making my way towards  Shankar Netralaya (the best Eye Care Institute this side of the Suez Canal) to consult with the Glaucoma expert  there . My surgeon here in Bombay , looking at my latest follow up reports suggested it might be a good thing do, looking at the pressure and whatever else it is that rings alarm bells if you have Glaucoma. And anyway I was going to Madras this weekend was I not?
Yes and so , after much weekend festivities and celebrations of my sister’s grandson’s first birthday , here I was on this bright morning , a brighter orange tag identifying me as a patient on my wrist. The man at the Enquiry Counter  put away the green “Attendant” tag  looking rather disapprovingly at unaccompanied me. I smiled convincingly; assuring him I would be fine and made my way towards the Registration Desk; my card, papers and paperback in hand. I knew there would be a long, long wait ahead.
Formalities over, the charges paid and examination room identified, I settled myself down amidst the other Orange tagged souls; almost all of them with a Green tagged attendant by their side. I smilingly thought to myself, I should have got a green tag for John Grisham who was going to be my companion for the next few hours. More fool I , for he was of no use at all to me as you can guess , once the drops to dilate the eyes were administered,  But till then anyway I buried myself deep in the machinations of lawyers and jurors and judges and such like in some distant town in Ford County, Mississippi. The Optometrist came out , called me by name , took me in and first checked out my vision and then the intra optic pressure – a young , extremely competent and brisk young lady called Yamuna.  She was in no hurry and I knew this was as thorough a check-up as any. Smiling and increasing my comfort levels, she guided me to go and wait till the dilating bit would happen.
Already the pre pressure checking drops she administered were hurting so I had to abandon the Ford County gossip and generally gaze about with dazed eyes. As I heard and sensed patients being called and heading out one by one for various purposes it dawned on me all of a sudden how I was, so to speak on the other side now. Used as I am all the time to be attending to patients , it felt strange to be on the receiving end and in a way I was glad I no longer needed dear John Grisham by my side for I found myself drawn towards observing the action around me.
Patients from all over the country were there as was obvious from the strains of conversations in so many different languages colliding softly into one another in the waiting area. Aged, white haired women and men- to little children and young adults, some with bandaged eyes others in dark glasses . All of us just a bit wary and exhausted and worried . Maybe a whimper or cry from a young one here , a grunt from a white bearded man next to me , a harassed mother calling her child to come back within a manageable radius ..but above all these sounds what somehow penetrated my consciousness was the constant buzz and hum of names being called out , directions given , rooms being shown and questions being asked as forms were filled . And all of this in a serene and calm manner . No raising of voices, no rushing the patients in any kind of hurry and so much courtesy and compassion as the soft spoken young men and women went about their business of taking care of so many waiting people in need of so much attention.
Once on “the other side”, for a patient in need of that very care, compassion and attention, the key word is courtesy which is sadly lacking in most places. Somehow those providing services seem to be so much more stressed than the patient and it is always a matter of orders barked, their timid requests dismissed summarily and sadly, in harsh voices and snapped instructions . Everyone is in a hurry to get to the next item on the agenda, the next patient or customer waiting and generally get things over and done with in minimum time and in maximum hurry. But not so here and believe me, simply watching the Shankar Netralaya team at work is a lesson in how to provide service.
It is not some kind of a fancy, gleaming chrome and glass set up but a non-intimidating normal building built to cater to large crowds, heat and dust of the subcontinent. The waiting areas are clean , with enough seating space, high ceilings and well lit . Rooms and services they provide are marked clearly with neat signages. All desks at all times are manned. Phones are not left to intrude with their strident tones but attended to immediately. Patients are given seating space promptly. Most importantly, no one shouts and because no one is shouting, you too, keep your voice low. All personnel have a badge displaying his or her name. Everyone is well groomed and looks and sounds pleasant. And each one seems to know the language the patient is most comfortable in. Most importantly, discipline is enforced in a firm, polite manner.  Yes , you receive kindness but not the kind that makes you weak and dependent . You automatically comport yourself the way in which others around you do. Your demeanour reflects that of those around you.
When I entered, the secretary to my consultant took immediate charge and checked to see if  I had my hospital card which in turn ensured my papers were taken out and once the simple payment procedure was over with I was told where to wait and for what procedure and left to my (literally) own devices. Of course I was nervous but the super efficiency and kindness shown did calm my nerves. Here I was, afflicted with a condition which meant I was at risk of losing one of the most important of my five senses and the tests done today would tell me how great the risk was .
Nothing can be more nerve wracking than waiting to see a physician and finding out how your body is going to determine the way you get to lead your life for the years you have remaining to be lived .
What course of treatment will be advised? How much will it cost? How easy will it be to be compliant with? What a lot of stress for your family to handle and so on and so forth. Right? Don’t I know it!! It is people like this and with similar concerns that I meet every day in my line of work. I try my best to be as caring and pleasant as possible. As courteous and understanding as possible.
But honestly, till I myself was diagnosed with my condition, having to take medication regularly and know that being compliant meant everything and that sometimes maybe even being complaint was not going to be enough , I never really appreciated the needs of those I served nor the importance of what it meant to be a service provider , the right kind of service provider .  I have always , since then , been that much more aware and that much more conscious of what is needed to become , if not the perfect care giver , at least one who can help in some small measure .


Unknown said...

Viji, I enjoyed reading your experience and your observations at Shankar Netralaya. It was all the more interesting since you yourself have created one such outstanding and brilliant organization devoted to serving people.


Viji, what a nicely written piece. All admiration for the understated way you have presented your serious condition. Good model role.

No need to tell you how many hours I haven spent there in my avatar as attendant to Maiji. From a single large building they have grown to such dimensions. Founder Dr. Badrinath has indeed created a medical establishment that needs to be emulated. They have an additional centre closer to our place and I go there for my ckeck up annually.

Rajan Mani said...

Crisply written, Viji. You've put your finger on the most important point - somehow, the staff at most hospitals seems to be in a general state of tension and this actually ends hassling the patient and the attendant more. Many institutions have followed Sankara Netralaya's lead e.g. Rajan Eye care at T Nagar, Chennai and LV Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad and my experience with both the green band and the orange band has been quite similar in these.

Jayanth Jayaprakash JJ said...

I will be sharing this both on my wall and my page JJ Influencing to Excel India to Excellence2020 page too,both on FB.