A doctor attends to an elderly patient. Image Credit: Supplied

A recent experimental study showed that friendly assurance by doctors helped to relieve the symptoms of patients. While, no doubt, a lot of different parameters will be employed to conduct further tests before a definitive publication is available, the experiment itself brings to mind the friendly doctors we were taken to when we were young.

While we did have some impersonal encounters in the intimidating maze of hospital corridors for childhood accidents and emergencies that involved broken or displaced bones and wounds that required sutures to get the gaping edges back together, most of the other minor ailments and occasional injections were handled by two of our uncles and a couple of our parents’ friends who were doctors.

We had great affection for these “family” doctors. They made us feel at ease whenever they were around and so, when we were ill, we did not dread being examined by them. We relaxed and let them take the readings required, we opened our mouths wide, we took those deep breaths obediently, we answered their questions truthfully, and while no illness, however mild, can be called a pleasurable experience, ours were not deeply unpleasant or terrifying or psychologically scarring — and we always felt better after they had patted us on our backs and said a few reassuring words.

Our doctors never prescribed anything particularly disagreeable for our young palates without balancing it with something they knew we liked. They knew us well enough to understand what each of us needed to keep us cooperative and ease the burden on our caregivers. Thus, in the prelude to a tonsillectomy that we two sisters were scheduled to undergo, we focused not on any discomfort or pain we may suffer, but on the delightful prospect of endless amounts of ice cream.

And as long as that ice cream kept coming, we did not complain. By the time it stopped (possibly because the hospital kitchen ran out of it), we were well enough to be running around and we got back to our routine without any hiccups. In later years, that single operation on our medical charts was always looked back upon with a laugh and a load of wisecracks from the third sibling who had not shared in the experience or in the aftermath of unlimited ice cream. Perhaps he was resentful of retaining his tonsils and missing out on all the fun!

House calls

In later years, when those family doctors had retired, we still managed to consult with someone who was as positive and as patient as they had been. He was just around the corner from us and he also made house calls, depending on the situation.

His visit was not a hurried affair. He did not make it obvious that he was sought after for his skills and did not have extra time to spend listening to the often irrelevant details we thrust at him. He conducted all the necessary examinations, listened to what we had to say, observed what we may have glossed over or neglected to say, was spot on in his diagnosis and prognosis, and we always felt comforted and a lot better by the time he left.

In the city today, it is often difficult to find doctors who are prepared to make a house call. This makes it especially difficult when the one who is sick is too weak or too old to make the trip to their clinics. And in the crowded clinics or hospitals, we marvel when a doctor has an unhurried and caring bedside manner.

For many of us on the receiving end, that is what makes the difference, isn’t it?

Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.