Speedy scans

Speedy scans

A dark, visibly pregnant form was still rising slowly from the bed.

I approached the counter of the private diagnostics centre with my physician’s requisition slip for a whole-abdomen ultrasound scan.

There were about 50 people already in the packed lobby. Next to me, an elderly gentleman shivered inside his blanket, showed me his papers and said his stomach hurt badly. The snooty receptionist called out, ‘Dhanna Singh.’ My neighbour got up with difficulty. I handed him his plastic bag containing grimy, dog-eared case papers. Dhanna Singh seemed so distressed that he could manage either his blanket or his bag but not both. I walked with him a few steps before the receptionist called out to me, ‘Sit down, it is not your turn yet.’

Seventy five minutes later, a young woman marched me to an inner chamber and held open a door marked ‘Ultrasound Room - No Entry.’ A voice snapped from near the machine, ‘Lie down.’ But a dark, visibly pregnant form was still rising slowly from the bed so I held out a hand. The usher pushed my hand away, gave the patient an indelicate yank and got the bed vacated for me. I felt terrible because my predecessor was still adjusting her sari when the usher pushed her out through the door.

I greeted the radiologist but she responded with ‘Turn to your left, take a deep breath.’ Some breathing in and breathing out later, she began intoning into the distance a few clipped words, ‘Liver - mildly enlarged, diffuse increase in echotexture…both kidneys … pancreas … spleen normal.’ I offered feebly, ‘Ma’am, I have gallstones….’ She retorted glacially, ‘We can see everything here.’  I wanted to ask her whether the gallstones required immediate surgery, but she was dictating more jargon to an invisible assistant.

‘Ask your surgeon that,’ she shot back. The super-efficient usher was pulling me off the bed and the radiologist had snapped, ‘Next’ thrice already. The next patient, a middle-aged woman, was being coaxed onto the bed before my feet had hit the floor.

I retrieved my slippers and checked my watch. The whole process had taken seven and a half minutes. My questions about the fatty changes in my liver and about my gallstones died on my lips in the face of such forbidding hostility. When I thanked the radiologist, she said peremptorily for the fourth time, ‘Next!’

I paid the receptionist four hundred rupees and was told to pick up the report at 7 pm sharp. The numbers in the waiting area had swelled as I walked to the parking lot. I wondered if Dhanna Singh’s surgeon would be able to advise him any better than mine could, given the radiologist’s record-breaking scanning technique and her total refusal to communicate.

Would my surgeon get all the information he needed from those grainy pictures? The machine had miraculous vision but didn’t the radiologist have a responsibility to the patient too? The huge sign-board at the exit boasted, ‘Two decades of leadership in diagnostics.’