Whats in a Word?

Finally accepting the inevitable, I visited the doctor for the mandatory post 40 check ups. Despite being ‘only screening’ I had to visit the radiologist, pathologist, gynaecologist… Years of exercising and healthy eating paid off in the green chit I received from all these learned people.

At every halt in my doctor round, I was referred to as ‘patient’. My objections to the receptionists fell on deaf ears. I was awaiting an audience with the doctor to pronounce a verdict on the state of my bones, blood, heart, nerves etc so did not argue too much at this stage.

Having been cleared by the medicos, I have been ruminating on this peculiar term. The word conjures agony both physical and mental due to embarrassing strip downs and white rooms smelling of antiseptics with green curtains.

Does ‘patient’ refer to the sick waiting uncomplainingly at the waiting rooms before they are examined? Most doctors I have visited or heard of inflict this wait on those they have to examine, appointments not withstanding. Peculiarly, the sick too grade the doc higher, the more time they have to spend on the hard lumpy sofas with outdated magazines for entertainment. So could having to wait patiently at the consulting room have given rise to word ‘patient’?

Any one who has spent time in a pediatrician’s waiting room will agree whole heartedly with me that the word patient must have its origins related to the harassed parents therein. Every kid is accompanied by a minimum of one person and miscellaneous belongings containing clothes, disposal bags, toys, food and water sufficient to cater to any unforeseen situation. Mom and dad, a doting grandma and ayah accompany some of the lucky children. Sound levels remain constantly high as every person coming out from the sanctum sanctorum tests his vocal cords in case the doc forgot to! Patience is just what the doctor ordered for the parents here, awaiting the magical potions to end the child’s and their trauma!

A person is permanently branded ‘patient’ after a visit to doctor’s clinic long after his illness is cured. This is really difficult to understand. If a person is healthy then how is he still a patient, is a question for which I have not yet got a satisfactory answer. Even years after the encounter, the doctor and his staff always refer to you ‘patient’.

Why blame the docs, people too proudly claim to be patients of a particular specialist long after his need is over. Inexplicable, really, considering one is impatient to get well and forget ones ill health as soon as possible. Neither are we going to be patient about any delays by the insurance company settling our claims. NoSir!

There is an increasing trend for doctors’ waiting rooms in India to be flooded with overseas visitors who are here to make the most of our medical expertise, which is much cheaper than in western countries. The official term is ‘medical tourism’ and some establishments offer luxury tourist packages for the visitors to enjoy– after the healing touch is administered of course!

I did some searching and found that the noun ‘patient’ means person under medical treatment. The adjective ‘patient’ means calmly enduring or awaiting. Both go back to the Latin word meaning ‘pati’ or ‘to suffer’. Some sources say the word ‘patient’ first came to be used in English in the 14th century.

We are members of a gym, buyers at retail stores, clients at the beauty parlor, users of mobile phones, HNI for the financial advisor and so on at every establishment where there is a cost incurred for services rendered. Medical advice except in government institutions comes at a price Will it be unethical to be called health consumers instead?
Can we be addressed by our names instead? Mr/ Ms/ Miss/ Mrs/ Dr- the choice is wide and in no way detracts from the prowess of the doctor or the illness. This becomes especially relevant considering doctors themselves advocate preventive screening in healthy individuals.

Lets pause for a minute and think of all the taxes we pay knowingly and unknowingly for goods and services we use – excise, sales tax, state tax, octroi etc. Being branded a ‘patient’ can be considered a small due in return of getting back our health. It’s just a word after all.

Yet I would prefer to be addressed by my name…

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