Bombay Diaries: One

Feb. 11, Bombay.

9:15-10:130: A cousin, who may or may not have a driver’s license, is driving me and my mother from Thane to the Tata Cancer Hospital in Lower Parel for her post-partial mastectomy check-up, which is four years overdue.

10:30-11:00: While my cousin searches for parking in a neighborhood that is being dug up for new flyovers, I walk mom into the hospital’s OPD. Except it’s not there anymore. I ask around and get directed to a new wing. I walk mom up a flight of stairs and into the new breast cancer OPD area, and hope that my cousin will find us. The reception desk is manned by two women and surrounded by about fifty people who are all there with recovering/post-op relatives. I ask my mother to wait while I make my way through the throng and ask how we can get her checked out.

11:00-1:30: The receptionist has trouble processing what I’m saying. “Five years? You are here for a check-up for the first time after five years?” she asks. “Where is the patient’s file?” I explain that I don’t have the file, they do. Can she tell me how to get it and whether my mom can see the doctor today? She tells me the file will be in medical records and I need an appointment for my mother. I explain that we live in another town and I need to get my mother seen today. She tells me to go five stories up in another building to retrieve the file. I make my way back to my mom and am relieved to see my cousin. I tell them to wait while I find the file. The elevator takes ages and I beat a man in a wheelchair to get into one that arrives. The records office is easy to find but the staff person refuses to hand me the file; he needs a written request. I find a flight of stairs and walk down to the OPD. Then I make my way back to the desk and manage to get a written note from another staffer. I walk it up to the records office, which is now empty of a staffer, and a group of people gathers beside me as I wait. We are finally relieved of our written requests and asked to wait. I get the file in about 10 minutes and walk it down to the OPD and hand it over.

1:30-2:45: I have to pay a fee for the check-up. So I stand in one of two lines to pay. Then I wait with mom while my cousin goes to get us something for lunch. Mom has to eat regularly and take pills for her diabetes and a recent stroke. He brings us food and I eat with her.

2:45-3:00: Mom is called in. I can’t accompany her so I tell her to tell the doctor about the meds she is on right now and why. And to tell the doctor that she quit taking her oncology drugs before the doctor had recommended. My cousin and I wait in the hallway along with the diminishing crowd of patients and relatives.

3:00-3:15: I’m called to talk to the doctor, who scolds me for the late check-up, says that mom seems fine despite our post-op carelessness, and recommends a mammogram for the other breast. We go back to the reception desk, where the staffer suggests I get the mammogram done right away.

3:15: 4:00: My cousin walks mom down to the radiology department while I wait to pay the fee. He comes back up to tell me that they need to see the receipt before they will do the exam. So we both walk down after I’ve paid the money. I stand in another line to get the exam set up, abandon it when it looks like we need to go straight to the exam room with the receipt, then am sent back to the line for mystery reasons. After showing the receipt, I am allowed to go to the exam room and my mother’s file is accepted. We wait in the hallway that is pretty full of patients from all over the country. Mom is called in. We wait. She is sent out in a few minutes after the exam but without her file. So I go in to ask about it and I’m told to wait. We are finally given the file back with no explanation for the wait.

4:00-4:30: Mom is tired but we need to get a doctor to look at the results of the mammogram. So I tell her to wait with my cousin and walk the file up to OPD. I turn in the file and am told in a few minutes that everything is clear. No signs of cancer. The desk staffer recommends that I bring mom back for a check-up in one year. She gives me a card and kindly recommends that I make an appointment in the future rather than just showing up with my aging mother and putting her through this again. I thank her and the other staff for their patience.

4:30-5:00: We get dosas and vadas at a restaurant across the street.

5:00-6:00: My cousin drives us home. I am deeply grateful for family.

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