Dr R Neerunjun Gopee
Let’s call him Hitesh. He was in town with his wife and grand-daughter, and had heard that I was no longer at the Jeetoo Hospital but was now working at the ministry. It was lunch-time, so he took a chance and came up to the fifth floor, to my office in the Emmanuel Anquetil building.
There’s someone wanting to meet you, said my secretary, he says he is an old patient of yours, has learnt you were here and is asking if you would receive him. She mentioned his name, but I could not remember who that could be.
As I was a little free, unusually, I thought why not? It’s always a pleasure to meet ex-patients and discover for oneself how they have fared after one’s ministrations. But at times there’s a little trepidation too, just in case…
But this one walked in with a smile, the little tot holding his hands. Hello Doctor, do you still remember me? I hope you have not forgotten, I am Hitesh, you operated on my spine many years ago. Sorry that I have turned up without seeking an appointment first, but I had come to do some work and I told my wife why not try to see Doctor?
Forget? How could I forget this ‘case’! In fact, no one could forget an encounter with this man: he stood at over 6-foot tall, hefty, dark and handsome, a most impressive personality, and comely to boot.
Of course, I haven’t, I replied, as I invited him and his wife to sit down. He formally presented her to me, and – this is my daughter’s child, he said, she’s is in pre-primary, dire Namaste Docteur beti.
He reminded me that it was 20 years ago that he had undergone his surgery for backache and leg pain (sciatica) caused by a disc problem in his spine. He had presented with severe pain, and was almost double-bent as he dragged himself with difficulty. When he was admitted, the bed was too short for him – but unfortunately we did not have any other, so his feet stuck out of the lower end of the bed.
I have never had any other such patient since – it was impossible to forget him, not least because of his outsize that made his feet protrude beyond the bed-end but also, and mainly because of the subsequent turn of events. Three operations, he reminded me, I had to undergo three operations.
The first one was as delicate as all such operations are, and moderately difficult as I recalled. But he did fine and a few days later he went home, walking straight and free of pain, and was given his appointment for review. And in a twist that adds to the memorability, he returned a couple of days later on a stretcher, unable to move his legs.
I happened to have taken leave for a few days, and it was the colleague who took him to the operation theatre as an emergency who narrated to me the unexpected complication that he had developed. He had bled around the spinal cord, and a big blood clot was pressing on the latter, preventing the nerves inside from sending the signals to the legs that tell them, ‘Walk!’ Once the clot was removed, he made a rapid recovery, and when I saw him a few weeks later he was in fine shape, except of course that he needed some more time to recuperate before he went back to work as a security guard. I had thought that he was too gentle to be a security guard! As I said, everything about him was different from the norm.
My mind blurred, but I think that he developed another disc lesion a couple of years later (this happens in less than 10% of cases), and so had to undergo surgery afresh, and again made a good recovery. We did not labour over these details further; suffice it that he was well, and had pursued his career and raised his family.
I have retired Doctor, he said, I am 57 and thought that I should give some more time to my family. Everyone is doing fine.
After we had chatted for a few more minutes, he asked me if I ate baton mouroume? Which genuine Mauritian doesn’t! Of course, I replied hastily, of course I do, why?
Oh, I have it in my yard, I’d like to bring some for you if you don’t mind. And, Doctor, my son is getting married soon, if I invite you, will you come?
About a month ago, he came and left an invitation card for the marriage, mangoes, and a bunch of garden-fresh baton mouroume stems.
* * *
Last Friday, I went for the haldi that was held at his house, situated in a street off Nicolay Road, not too far from Abercrombie. As I walked in, guests were already being served the traditional puris and several dishes, and I was received by someone who greeted me warmly, Hitesh’s younger brother whom I had never met but who knew me ‘well’ he said. In fact, he worked in the radiology department at Jeetoo Hospital, had been there for almost 30 years, and had attended management meetings both at hospital and at the ministry where I had been present.
He led me inside his house, and as we sat down he sent for his brother who lived in the adjoining house in the same yard. In the meantime, he told me about himself a bit, and how he had never contacted me when Hitesh had been admitted because it was not his nature to interfere or to ask for any favour; he had simply trusted, from firsthand knowledge, that his brother would receive the care and treatment that he deserved. I had been right, he added, to do so, but was put fully into the picture by my brother when I visited and by my sister-in-law: in fact she had met you once, and you had explained everything to her. I took this in, but frankly my mind was in a blank about these details.
We are a very modest family, he continued, you can see for yourself the vicinity in which we live, considered to be in a deprived area. But let me tell you Doctor, if we have not been able to physically move out, we have lifted ourselves out of this environment. We have brought up our children in strictly and brought them up on our values. In fact my daughter is specializing in Chest Medicine in China. His son was also well placed.
By then Hitesh had come, and he was as solicitous as his younger brother. I never thought you would really come, Doctor, he remarked in a voice full of emotion, we are so honoured and touched, and he was joined by his brother in this. They invited me to have dinner, but Hitesh for obvious reasons excused himself.
His brother and I continued our exchanges as we ate, rounding up with yummy takkar (a sweet, lightly spiced tamarind preparation). Afterwards, I sat for a while and was presented other members of the family by turns. The brother’s mother-in-law came from Belle-Vue Maurel, a region I am fairly familiar with, and we had a little conversation in Bhojpuri. Hitesh came in again, this time with the son who was getting married, as tall as him. His second son walked in too: this fellow was even taller than his father! I learnt, without surprise, that he was in the national baseball team, and was in the Police force. Then came his eldest child, a bejewelled, tall daughter elegantly dressed in a brown saree, who told me that she had done a degree in physical education at Gwalior in India – a very well-known training institution where a friend of mine had studied many years before – and was currently teaching in an SSS situated in the north. The last child was also a daughter, and had just completed her HSC exams, taking French, maths and geography at principal level. She had not decided what she would do next. I could not help notice that she will take some getting used to carrying herself in a saree, but otherwise radiated the same sweet charm and confidence of her elder sister.
Hitesh handed me some sweets as I bid goodbye, and I was accompanied to my car by his nephew who had come from Grand Baie. I found out that he is an accountant working in the offshore sector. Told me he had just been back from Paris, and after the marriage was due to be off to Casablanca for a meeting.
I was happy to have met such a cultured, well-behaved and welcoming family who had taken the education of their children seriously, and had made sure to raise them up on traditional values which came through so clearly in the short time that I met them.
* Published in print edition on 30 November 2012