Dr. Ramanujam's article on ‘Phonetics and Phone tricks' (The Hindu, Open Page, March 27) made interesting reading. As a psychiatrist practising in Kerala for more than 25 years, I can fully understand the doctor's travails.
Costly phones as toys
In north Kerala where I work, phones are ubiquitous and at the same time least respected, thanks mainly to Gulf money and a casual attitude towards anything in life. Even expensive Qwerty cellphones are thrown about like toys by three-year-olds. In my consulting room, Gulf employees on leave land up with their neurotic wives and naughty brats. When I see a toddler pull out his dad's phone from his pocket and spin it like a top on my table, my heart skips a beat.
“Why don't you give him a toy phone?” I ask the Gulf man. He looks at me strangely as if I were the latest hick in town.
“You don't know, doc. This kid cannot be fooled. He'll make a call and speak. If it's not real, he will fling it in my face. Now, anyway he is happy and contented. I come home only once in three years. This phone costs ‘only' Rs. 5,000. Let him play.”
Generally, psychiatrists are wary of giving patients their home numbers, let alone their mobile numbers. You might get calls from tipsy drug addicts from nowhere or paranoid patients suspiciously clarifying the prescription details or even perverts trying out telephone obscenity. Shrinks are sitting ducks, you see. Once I was rudely awakened by a call at 2 a.m. At first, I panicked, thinking it was a disaster call from some ailing relatives. Then, I heard the cool and sarcastic voice of one of my manic patients who had been in a sleepless and highly excited state some days ago.
“I am your patient, doctor,” he began. “Have you woken up from your nice sleep just now? OK, listen, how is it? Aren't you irritated? Now you know exactly how sleepless patients like me feel. Fine, goodnight.” And he hung up.
At times, uneducated rural women dial my number and ask, “Doctor, is the red tablet to be taken twice daily or the yellow tablet thrice a day? I took it the other way round. What to do?”
Utterly confused myself, I ask them to stop all the medicines and come to me the next day with the prescription.
And I get ISD calls from Saudi Arabia from patients who are indefinitely continuing my medicines: “Saar, I have this heaviness in the abdomen and a funny spinning sensation in the head. What changes should I make in your drugs?”
“My friend, what can I do for you from across the seas? Please consult a doctor nearby,” I plead.
Another role of the phone in psychiatric practice is as a drama prop. Sometimes, before a patient comes to my office, the phone rings and the worried voice of a woman tells me, “Doctor, I am at my wits' end. My husband Suku, your patient, is creating hell here. But, he behaves extra decently in the public. He takes his medicines but doesn't sleep a wink and explodes with rage. When he meets you he'll smile and say everything is fine. I think you must at least double the dosage. And mind you, don't tell him I called you to report on him!”
At other times, it is the patient himself who calls me up :”Doc, this is me, Thomas. I am perfectly all right with your treatment. My appointment with you is due next week. But today my wife and brother-in-law are coming to see you without my consent. They have a lot of grudges against me. Just because I don't give in to their wishes they think I am off my head. The real issue is my spoilt son who tries to manipulate me. Let them see you and go. Don't add any drugs to my prescription. And, mind you, don't tell them I called you over the phone.”
By now, my head reels. I don't know whom to believe. I am on the verge of explosion. The ringing of the phone sends shivers down my spine. Physician, heal thyself, said the Bible. I would add, psychiatric physician, save thyself from phone calls too!
(The writer is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, M.E.S. Medical College, Perintalmanna, Kerala. His email is: tmraghuram@ gmail.com)