At the outset, apologies to all doctors named “Michael Pinto”.
I am not sure how embellished this story is, but I did hear it from the horse’s mouth. A doctor friend of mine told me about an 82-years old patient of his, who had suddenly become drowsy and had to be admitted to a local nursing home. He needed to be investigated and shifted to a larger hospital under a senior consultant. The patient was being looked after by some relatives, who themselves were old. They were unwilling to do much for him, given that it looked as if he wasn’t going to survive much longer…my doctor friend was a little upset, because there are many transient (temporary) causes of drowsiness that can be cured…the relatives were just not keen on doing anything.
My friend gave them the names of a few senior physicians to choose from and then asked them to call him back. A few hours later, he got a call from one of the relatives, who told him that they had spoken to Dr. Michael Pinto. My friend doesn’t know any Dr. Michael Pinto and thought the relative was mistaken and tried to correct him. The relative continued to talk of Michael Pinto and it was only a little later that my friend finally figured out that they had called Michael Pinto, the undertaker firm, to arrange to have the patient transported to his native place so that he could die there in peace. Obviously, the person at Michael Pinto refused…they only transport bodies, not live, living people!
What a tragedy! Imagine if you are old and alone and sick and the only person your relatives can think of calling…is the undertaker.
And this is not an uncommon problem!
There are many who are old and living alone. Some are lucky to have support systems…friends, cousins, neighbors or children who are able to drop everything and come to their help at short notice. Many though are not that lucky…and are totally dependent on help and other relatives…relatives who themselves may not be in a condition to help or even if they are, may not want to. And since our entire healthcare system sucks and is built upon the hope that there is always some relative or friend around to do things for the patient…when those relatives or friends or attendants are not around, things go for a big toss!
With due respect to the Coen brothers, ours too is not a country for old men (and women). Despite all the paeans we sing to “bhartiya sanskriti”, which in reality is just limited to folding hands and touching feet, our entire social system is structured to not care for our elderly and infirm. Our local transport system, our pavements and roads, our trains and even for that matter our airlines…it is not a good thing to be old and infirm and on your own in this country, especially in a city like Mumbai.
I wonder how many old people we lose, simply because there is no one to take the trouble to investigate minor ailments and nip them in the bud before they escalate. And the stupid pride that so many of the elderly have, also prevents them from reaching out in time to those who can help, when the problem could be solved in an easier manner than when the issue has become more serious.
Clearly, if it is only Michael Pinto that people can think of calling when you are sick…you might as well start saying your good-byes!