In the middle of all the disingenuous administration of the country like the blight that it is, my faith in all things was boosted by this one clinic with friendly, helpful people who went home happy each night, that they had helped so many more people have a shot at beating the pandemic.Apr 28, 2021, 01 58 | Updated: Mar 07, 2022, 15 45
I got fully vaxxed yesterday.
I got my second vaccine at a local clinic of the BBMP (the city corporation). I had never thought of BBMP clinics, as they fall outside my ambient thoughts. Hell, I didn't even know where they were.
They are clinics for the less privileged.
And — by any measure of wealth that is short of the value of Narendra Modi’s fountain pen collection — I am a truly privileged person.
Some weeks ago, they said I was eligible to get a vaccine shot. I waited to be told officially. I had dismissed several well meaning offers to help me jump the queue and get jabbed.
So when it was time and I found that my favourite haunt, Vikram Hospital, was doing vax, I was delighted. I feel comfortable going to a hospital, like Vikram, that is process-driven and pays due diligence to customer relations and has polite receptionists.
Process and method rocks competence at Vikram Hospital.
I could not have been more comfortable about this and so my SO and I rolled up our sleeves and went to get our first shot of vaccine.
There was a traffic jam outside Vikram. I peered into all the other cars and it became clear that I was headed into a geriatric jamboree.
Everyone over 60 was out to get vaccinated.
Never before have I had the opportunity to say that I could tell 60somethings apart from older folk because they looked so much younger and lithe of limb. Well, “lither” of limb at least — which is not saying much for all the laboured standing up and sitting in the waiting hall and, of course, the orthopaedia-inspired groaning.
The hallways in Vikram had signs guiding us to the Covid vaccination areas. Also obsequious ushers doing the same thing.
One of them waved us over, grabbed our Aadhar cards and scrawled indecipherably in a large ledger. The lady, who clearly is the official scrawler, grabbed the pen from him and admonished him for scrawling in her domain. She then proceeded to strike out whatever he wrote. Then she took down our details in Clinical Hieroglyphics and handed us a number.
Within minutes they called our token. There were two nurses in the room. The job of the senior one was to say distracting things to us while her understudy plunged Covishield into our arm.
In 10 minutes we were done and dusted.
We asked where we could pay for the vaccinations.
A bustling official carrying a clipboard asked us how we could have got vaccinated without paying first.
We said someone had waved us over and had us jabbed.
She turned to the dude who had been following dutifully, seven steps behind her.
She asked him to take our money and go pay our bill. She ordered us to sit back down and wait for 30 minutes to see if we would suffer terrible reactions to the vaccine.
We left soon because the only reaction we had was boredom; sitting in the Great Hall of Golden Years.
All in all, it was a pleasant and painless experience; and all because Vikram Hospital is clean and upscale and has procedures and people to carry out those processes.
We decided, per the new findings of the WHO (right, Roger Daltrey’s TikTok account) and the CDC, that we would take the second shot after 10 weeks instead of the prescribed 22 days and we went about our business blithely.
Speaking of blithe, everyone and his government has been a little too blithe it seems given what is happening recently. Even discounting the disdainful “if it bleeds, it leads” ethic of the popular media, the news has been terrible.
When something becomes compelling, such as a life and death matter, we first sit up and pay attention. We wear masks and blame those who don’t.
And then we carry on like nothing happened.
When the coronavirus pandemic get worse — like what happens with the deadly second wave of any tsunami — we are headless chickens.
The scenes of wailing people are as spooky as tweets from leading hospitals such as the old and reputable Moolchand Hospital in Delhi begging for oxygen.
“We are desperate. Have tried all nodal officers!” their message read.
On Twitter. Who were they trying to reach on Twitter?
Were they trying to shame the government into finding oxygen for them from wherever?
Or were they simply screaming into a black void?
And then in the midst of all the shortage of oxygen and vaccines and hospital beds, they announced that vaccinations would be open to everyone over 18.
We felt pretty sure that if we waited for 10 weeks, there would be no vaccines when we needed them. We do not trust the politician-run snake pits they call the popular government to have planned anything, much less making second shots of the vaccine available on schedule.
So we decided to get the second shot in eight weeks. We talked to some friends and panic set in. They all said it was a nightmare to find the vaccine anywhere. They told tales of how they went from place to place trying to get a second shot.
We were now headless chickens.
We called Vikram Hospital. Of course.
They told us that they were administering the vaccines. We tried to book an appointment. They told us they could not do that.
We had to call the hospital every morning, find out which vaccine they had in stock, then go to the basement car park of a nearby building where they were shooting up people.
We called everyday for two days and one morning a lady who answered the phone at Vikram told us they were administering Covishield that day.
But then she said it was all on a “first come first served” basis.
She ought to have said, “Each man to himself. Good luck”, because although she was polite, she was dismissive and short.
The way she handled the call was most un-Vikram like. She sounded uninterested and weary of handling these “Oh can I get my vaccine please?” calls.
She sounded like this whole conversation was off-script and tiresome. And that this was not part of her job, which was to work for the hospital and contribute profitably. For her, clearly, we callers were a pain in the ass.
The basement car park was a mess.
And when we elbowed our way to the registration desk, located deep inside the room, we were told in half a sentence that there was no vaccine left. They had run out. When we tried to ask when we could come back, the woman had already stopped listening.
There was a huge crowd of people most looked like they were in their late 60s and they were standing uncomfortably because there was no sitting room.
We left a tad miffed at the mess we were forced to encounter and also because we left empty handed with no information on what to do next.
Then we decided to find out what the BBMP was doing.
We called the corporator of our area — the hard-working and empathetic Hanna Bhuvaneshwari — and asked her. She immediately told us where to go. She gave us the number of Mr Thippeswamy of the BBMP clinic. (Even though Ms Bhvaneshwari has not been the corporator, new elections still pending, she works, every day, doing the job she isn't being paid to do.)
I called Thippeswamy and asked him if I could get the vaccine.
He apologised and said they had run out. (Of course.)
But then he continued and told me that they had sent out a team to get more vaccines and to allow an hour before I got there.
Two hours later, we were fully vaccinated.
I looked around me.
The facilities at the BBMP clinic were modest.
There was a rain puddle in the queue area and long and reasonably uncomfortable wooden benches to sit on. There was no fancy lighting nor fancy flooring nor fancy faux-wood panelling on the walls.
But the area was clean and sanitary. The “reception” comprised Mr Thippeswamy and a couple of other gentlemen who had to make no great effort to sound like they cared.
They joked with each other. One young man proudly called Thippeswamy the “pillar of the BBMP clinic”. Thippeswamy snorted modestly but I could see the young man was being truthful.
They also made notes in a ledger and handed us a token and we queued up. Presently, we got our vaccine from an efficient young lady, who I am sure was also very pretty under her mask. She explained to each one vaccinated what they should and should not do. When we left, she gave each of us two paracetamol tablets.
And then once again, we realised that we had not paid anything yet. And then we were told there was nothing to pay. It was free — the vaccines, the paracetamol, the services of the nurse and the whole ball of wax.
There was something different about the BBMP clinic. And I realised what it was.
Everyone was happy.
People were comfortable and chatty. The staff were not fake-obsequious and they were genuine, polite and caring.
The BBMP clinic is not focused on profit. They have a mandate to work for the people and really, there is nothing else for them to do that could distract them from this purpose.
There are no quarterly earnings reports, no PR agenda, no training sessions where they are taught to parrot lines brightly like, “Welcome to the BBMP Jeevanahalli Clinic. How may I help you today?”
When someone infirm shows up, they jump to help and find a place for them to sit and feel comfortable.
Not all the plushness of a well-funded, private hospital — and I am the veteran of many such places — could equal the warmth and comfort of people who have a job to do, the modest means to do it and the pride that they were there to help the public.
In contrast, Vikram's shoddily put together vaccine camp.
It is my opinion that Vikram Hospital believes that they are doing the public a favour by even agreeing to administer vaccines at the modest price of Rs 250 or whatever it is today.
If they wanted the vaccine camps to be as efficient as their hospital is, they would improve waiting areas for seniors, take appointments (maybe hand out tokens on WhatsApp and email) with a time band to get vaccinated and not the least, improve communications with the hospital, so that when someone calls asking about the vaccine, they know to tell callers that they have run out.
I guess those things don’t go to process and therefore, to profit. And why should they care? They are a profit making business and if something is not profitable, they should not be forced to bust out the red carpet.
Yet, even though what we have spent at Vikram Hospital to date — I admit a little shamefacedly — is a large number followed by more than five zeros, when it came to getting my vaccine, I was told to go jostle for my place in an overcrowded underground parking lot. They did not even ask who was calling. So much for customer loyalty management.
Vikram Hospital has customers.
The BBMP Clinic helps people.
It is said that medical facilities in India got a boost from the huge investment in private hospitals and private enterprise works better than socialised medicine.
Maybe it does. I am happy not to have to go to a government hospital for treatment. I like Vikram’s plushness. Even if I am a profit-contributing customer, like at a fancy beauty salon.
But this has little to do with the role of government and bringing medicine to reach the not-so-privileged. What happened with the vaccines was a lesson in how the government could work for the people.
In the middle of all the disingenuous administration of the country like the blight that it is, my faith in all things was boosted by this one clinic with friendly, helpful people who went home happy each night, that they had helped so many more people have a shot at beating the pandemic.
This is what they have been trained to feel.
At the BBMP, their only agenda is you.
When I discovered I did not have to pay for the vaccine, my first reaction was to see if I could pay my government back in some way.
Barring finding a tax to pay, I still don’t know how.