The last two weeks have been rather...trying, for lack of a better word. First someone pulled the carpet out from under me and my bike, causing various injuries to man and machine, and then I landed up with some sort of "bronchal infection". I use this term because people freak out when I tell them, "I have a lung infection." The power of language.
The infection, though, put me in one particular spot where I became acutely aware of how confused people really are, and how often they say stuff they haven't a clue about, or are unable to express themselves when a lucid thought forms inside their crania.
Last Saturday, I had gone to work, believing that my troubles were over now that the doc had diagnosed what was wrong with me, and that I only had to follow the prescription and take regular meals and medicine to get better. Unfortunately, the human body turned out to be rather unpredictable.
Feeling feverish all of a sudden, I decided to call it a day. Now, have you ever had a fever where you could actually feel the temperature rising? Rather scary. This was what was happening while I was riding my bike home, so I decided to stop at the local chemist's and pick up a thermometer. One of those digital ones. I'm always a little apprehensive about the analog ones, since I've had nightmares about biting down hard and swallowing mercury and shards of glass. I also am a little impatient when a thermometer is stuck in my mouth, and tend to pull out the thing before the temperature stabilizes. I believe this is also related to the thermometer-biting fear, though it could be just discomfort. Especially when those nurses jab the instrument deep and hard under the tongue, and prevent you from dislodging it into a more comfortable position, and make you sit there till your eyes start to tear.
So, it was a digital thermometer for me. The ones that go "beep-beep" when the reading stabilizes. Thus I walked into this chemist's shop and asked the lady, "Do you have a digital thermometer?"
This threw me for a second. I wasn't aware that they were selling various types of digital thermometers. But I guess if they could have watches telling you your blood pressure, pulse rate, blood sugar, leucocyte count, melanin distribution of the skin directly under the dial and what not, then it would hardly be surprising that there are several types of digital thermometers. Preserving an air of sang-froid, I inquired, "How many types do you have?"
"There is the type with mercury in it, and there is a digital one."
Realizing that any display of annoyance would be lost on the silly, inattentive lady, who was probably the wife of the chemist, the latter having perhaps taken off to attend to more important matters, I merely gritted my teeth and asked for the digital one.
With the grace and speed of a ballet dancer, the lady reached under the counter and picked out the instrument. After futile attempts to pull it out of the packaging, she gave up the task to me and my fevered, trembling hands as she attended to a couple who had just walked in.
"We need three of this and two of that", the male half of the couple said, indicating the prescription he handed over to Mrs.Chemist.
"These are antibiotics. I can only give you the exact prescribed number. Did the doctor ask you to get these?"
"No, that was the old doctor, but tomorrow we will take him to a new doctor, but now we need these. Three of this and two of that."
It was probably my fever, but I thought something was missing in the reasoning supplied. Ours is not to question why, I muttered under my breath and tapped on the counter to indicate that I was indeed ready to make my purchase. The lady ambled over.
"Oh, yes." Pause. "Hmmm... I don't know the price of this model... I'll just call and find out."
By this time, my fever seemed to be in the red zone, and I was, understandably, at the end of my tether. "Can you please hurry?" I hissed, clutching the counter for support.
"DO YOU HAVE KEROSENE?" a voice roared from a point above and behind me. All eyes in the shop turned to the owner of the roar - a huge, middle-aged chap who looked like he had walked into medical stores and walked out with kerosene all the time.
"....kerosene?" Mrs.Chemist repeated in a small voice.
"NO, NO, Ka-ROSIN!"
"YES, YES. SYRUP. FAAR MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD SON!"
I was by now rather far gone. I mumbled a protest to the lady, an act I would have considered suicidal under normal circumstances. Decapitation would be an easier death as compared to cooking at the counter.
"Er....the price?" I mumbled.
Eventually, handing the chap the bottle, the lady turned to the phone. After exchanging pleasantries, she got to the meat of the matter.
"So what is the price of this digital thermometer?" Pause. "The company is...." she flipped over the package, "...digital...thermometer."
"THIS IS FOR CHILDRAAN FRAAM ONE TO FOUR YEARS! MY BOY IS FAAIVE YEARS OLD!"
I winced. Amazing, the way nature allows such creatures to reproduce. The lady, however, was more tolerant.
"See, this is generally meant for children. It would be a mild dose for your child."
She got back to the phone while the huge guy pondered this, staring at the bottle.
"No, that is the company. Digital thermometer. There is nothing else on the cover."
"IT DOES NAAT HAVE PARACETAMOL!"
I had a feeling that she was beginning to lose it, too, with this guy. But she preserved an outward calm. Probably one of the things that are taught in the phamracy courses. "No, see? There you are. Under 'contents'. Paracetamol, see?"
My knees had started to buckle. What a way to die, I thought. Survive a crash on the bike at 80 kmph, and then die at the counter of a chemist, delayed by inane conversation. Not unlike that chap Humayun who fought endless battles and then broke his neck when he slipped on his library steps. I remembered reading about it at school and the first thought that occurred was that it was an awful way to be remembered.
"....and sixty rupees."
The mist cleared. I found the lady was trying to tell me something.
"Two hundred and sixty rupees."
Highway robbery, but I hardly had a choice. Paid up the amount, staggered out.
The next thing I remember was reading a hundred and three on my thermometer. Survived to tell the tale, though. Evidently.