It was later than my usual closing time that evening. There were no patients waiting and I was thinking of closing up when I heard a commotion and sounds of chairs overturning in the waiting room. I went out to investigate and saw this twosome, one supporting the other, obviously drunk, vainly trying to set the chairs upright. I asked the lesser of the two drunks, ‘What is the matter?’ ‘John Anthony Gonsalves,’ he replied.
I said I wanted to know what the problem was and not his name. He now pointed to his friend and said, ‘this is my friend, he in trouble, he want help.’
I asked him, ‘What kind of help?’ With a drunk you never know. He said, ‘Saar, he drink too much, vomit, vomit, vomit, and I tell him, don’t worry, I know good doctor and I bring him here.’ When dealing with drunks, the best policy is to talk as less as possible. I told him to put his friend on my examination table. With my assistance, he managed to half-lift and half-push him on to the table. No sooner was he on the table; the friend curled up and tried to sleep. I tried shaking him awake and as an opening gambit, asked, ‘What is your name?’ Not getting an answer, I asked Gonsalves, ‘What’s your friend’s name?’ At this, Gonsalves went to his friend, shook him rather rudely and shouted into his ear, ‘tell doctor your name’. There was some mumbled reply. Gonsalves turned to me and said with a grin, ‘saar, he says his name Palaniswamy.’
I wondered what kind of friendship this is when one did not know the other’s name. Or is Gonsalves so drunk that he does not remember? I was now in a hurry to get rid of this drunken duo. I went and asked the sleeping form of Palaniswamy, simultaneously shaking him to get his attention. ‘Where is it hurting?’ At this, Palaniswamy’s left hand slowly moved down and rested on his upper abdomen. I pressed hard several times in that area but got no response from the drunken patient. I surmised that this must be alcohol-induced gastritis, which would settle with a few antacid tablets and a few days of laying off alcohol. I wrote out a prescription, gave it to Gonsalves and told him that his friend must not drink. He said, ‘Yes saar, drinking is bad, he drink too much, he must stop this bad habit.’
‘What about you?’ I could not help asking. ‘I saar, drink full bottle, nothing happen. I no chicken like this man here,’ he said, pointing to the supine and snoring form of Palaniswamy.
I was not interested in Gonsalves’ capacity to imbibe alcohol but only in getting rid of them. I told him to take his friend home. Gonsalves took the prescription, thrust a few notes into my hand and saying, ‘saar, I bring auto’. By now it was past 10 pm and I had this additional worry of keeping guard over this unknown drunk till his friend and transportation arrived.. What if this Gonsalves chap did not turn up? I decided to wait for 15 minutes and then drag the drunk out of my rooms and prop him up against the wall outside. As and when he woke up, he would be able to find his way home. To my relief, I heard an auto rickshaw stop outside and J.A. Gonsalves come tottering in. Both of us carried the inert form of Palaniswamy to the vehicle. I heard Gonsalves saying, ‘thank you saar, you are a good man, Saar’. Gonsalves had paid me three times my normal fee and I thought the hour spent with these two drunks was after all worth it.
I closed up and went home.
Two days later, a new patient came in to consult me. I felt I had seen him before but could not place him. I asked him. He said, ‘saar my name Palaniswamy. Doctor so soon forget. I came other night, doctor give me medicine, I now alright’. My friend was now cold sober but how did find me? I asked him. He said, ‘saar, your address on the medicine chit [prescription].’
I asked him, ‘Why have you come? Are you still unwell?’ ‘No saar, I very well but want to know name, address of man who bring me here that night.’ Surprise again. He does not know his good friend’s name and address. I said so. ‘saar,’ he said, ‘he no friend, he meet me at the arrack shop, we drink too much, I vomit, he helps me yes, but saar, he pay for drink my money, pay you my money, pay auto my money and he go away with all my money.’
Now I knew his purpose of asking me. It was to trace his ‘friend’ through me and if possible recover some of his money. I told him that Gonsalves was a stranger to me too. His face fell. Looking at him, I felt really sorry for him and gave him the excess money his friend had given me. He brightened up a bit, and saying ‘thank you’ over and over again, went on his way.
This incident occurred 30 years ago. Those days I had another office some 6 kms away from my present premises and worked long hours. There I used to see these types.