Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Portrait #35: Doctor A

I'd been told of a medical centre that offered services for refugees/the extremely needy in my neighbourhood, so this morning I trekked down the street to check it out. When I arrived, I passed a young woman talking on a telephone as I stepped into the waiting area. Then I passed the other patients sitting around on plastic chairs and walked up to the reception desk. The man sitting there was quite focused on his game of Spider Solitaire but I was eventually able to distract him long enough to ask for Doctor A, the contact name I'd been given. The receptionist called over the girl on the phone who asked me to have a seat and wait. The good doctor was in the middle of an appointment.

I took my seat on a white plastic chair and set in for a wait. While waiting I read the signs on the wall: price lists for services which were all extremely discounted and some promotional material. Otherwise, the room was mostly white and clean and undecorated. I then watched as the young woman who had now hung up from her phone call handed out free medications to clients and set appointments for others. There was lots of coming and going: doctors, assistants, patients and family members.

After about ten minutes, a burly gray-haired man in a white labcoat came up to me. He gruffly asked me what I was there about. I explained that I'd been sent by the director of the organisation to visit and to ask for Doctor A. He said, "And what's your business here?" I explained that I just wanted to check out the facility, as per the director's recommendation - was he Doctor A, then? He exclaimed, "Doctor A? Doctor A left!" Left? "Yes, he traveled. To New York. He's gone." I stared back at him blankly.

Then he gave offered me his hand and shook mine warmly, introducing himself as "Doctor such-and-such A, at your service." I blinked a couple of times and shook his hand back. He put his hand on my shoulder in a very fatherly way and led me into his office. We sat down, and I asked if he wanted to travel to New York. He said no way. He'll never go to New York. They'd just treat him bad, for being from this country, and a Christian to boot. For some reason they never want to receive Arab Christians. No, he's from here and he'll stay here. He said all this in English, then asked me to explain in Arabic why I was visiting. So I did so and he began to explain some of the services they provide at his medical centre.

As we talked about the centre, I noticed he didn't speak in a typical local accent. Actually, I was having some trouble understanding him. So I asked him where he's from, because his accent was different. He found my question astounding and laughable, and called in one of his assistants to tell her what I'd asked. "So I don't sound like I'm from here, do I? Maybe I'm not. Haha. No, I am. But from a different part of the country where we speak with an accent closer to that of the other country."

Then he took me around to show me the facilities, bragging about the quality of the services they were able to offer. Everything seemed simple but functional and clean. He showed me the dentist office, physiotherapy room and blood lab on the second floor. Then he led me up to the next level. As we started mounting the stairs, he said, "And up here is the roof, where we put the washing and the water tanks and the satellite dish." Then we walked into a large room with chairs, which they use for church meetings, and he laughed and said, "Haha. You have to know the type of person I am! I say these things."

I knew he was busy so it was a brief visit, but I found myself grateful for men like Doctor A, who can see pain and suffering and give of themselves to help people on a daily basis. I don't know if he's paid but I do know he's not paid a doctor's full salary. But life for him is a joke and people are his kids, his to care for. And he gets the job done, spreading his teddy bear joy in the process.

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