Medicine After Meals
pharmacist looked at the prescription once again. He was well
aware that many people could not read the instructions that doctors
wrote, so he gave oral instructions to the patients. There in
his white jacket, sitting behind the glass window, he repeated
the instructions: "This is a very effective drug. Take it
three times a day. After meals."
The instructions were given clearly enough. But for some reason,
the patient did not seem willing to step aside from the window.
Quite a few people were standing in line in the small room. All
of them seemed perturbed. Dissatisfaction was on their pale faces.
The patient in the front was grumbling as if he had not heard
what he wanted to hear. He did not seem to be willing to move
One of the patients who knew the pharmacist lost his patience:
"Sakit, please be quick, We can't stand here forever!"
Another patient expressed his dissatisfaction: "It makes
you think of Sabir Footnote 1
in such situations."
The man at the front of the line stepped aside reluctantly. But
suddenly he stopped and looked back. He looked in the direction
of the pharmacist as if he wanted to say or ask something. But
the instructions were clear and it was difficult for him to ask
any further questions. So the hesitant man gave his place to
the next patient, moved aside and stood alone by himself. He
was a tall thin man. He limped. After thinking about it for awhile,
he got in line again instead of leaving the room.
There is a wonderful saying by Hazrat Ali 2: "A child resembles
his time more than his parents." 3 The people in the room
were not as timid and fearful as they might have been several
years earlier. Wherever they happened to be, they started discussions
and shared their problems. Then they would get angry when they
discovered others had opinions contrary to their own. They were
convinced that no matter what they discussed and who they discussed
their problems with, they would still return safe and sound to
their homes. The KGB and prisons of the Domestic Affairs Office
and investigations seemed remote and distant. The masses were
upset by Perestroika and all kinds of daily problems, but soon
became less critical when they recalled the troubles of the past.
the pharmacist Sakit was heard calmly speaking to himself. "This
is a solution. Take one tablespoon three times a day. Remember,
The people who had gathered here looked old. It seemed that this
pharmacy served mostly pensioners and veterans. The clients were
arguing. They probably did not know each other at all. But you
could understand their willingness to communicate. Either the
pain of their bones or the pain of the world had made them old
First voice: "How cruel Bush turned out to be. He is the
worst enemy of Moslems. See how he devastated Iraq."
1990 (when Soviet tanks killed civilians in Baku) caused people
to rethink their allegiance to the Communist Party. Many threw
down their Party IDs in protest. These events hastened the collapse
of Soviet power in Azerbaijan.
"No wonder the country of the 'stupid Moslem' is devastated.
Why should I poke my nose into the business of someone who is
stronger than me?"
Third voice: "Our own leader turned out to be the best of
all. He used all his best efforts to stop the war."
Fourth voice: "What are you talking about? First Gorbachev
created an obstacle for Saddam Hussein through the United Nations
and then he turned around and offered assistance."
The pharmacist raised his voice. At such times he would "beat
the political wave." 4 "Three times a
day. After food."
The man who had spoken first turned to the tall thin man and
asked nervously: "Why have you taken water in your mouth?
aren't you saying anything about the conflict between Iraq and
The tall thin man looked at him as if he had not understood what
was being said. It seemed that he was pulling himself up to answer
the question. He began murmuring. It was difficult to tell whether
he was serious or somehow wanted to get rid of that person: "Sorry,
I have been thinking of Karabakh 6 Besides, I have never
eaten "haram". 7 When I was working
I lived on my salary, now-on my pension."
The man's answer puzzled the others. What was he talking about?
What did the answer have to do with the question?
People came and went. The pharmacist who was loved for his "sweet
tongue" and caring attitude had never sent anyone away without
hope. If he did not have the prescribed medicine, he would offer
a substitute. It was only the tall thin man who was not satisfied.
His turn had come again. His tongue was not moving. But his eyes
were pleading. Sakit hurried him: "Give me the prescription,
The tall thin man became nervous. He tried to explain himself:
"No, I have the medicine. But I think I have misunderstood
the instructions. You said I need to take medicine 'before' food,
Sakit took the prescription, looked it over again and confirmed
what he had said before: "Three times a day 'after' food."
The patient had to move aside from the glass window. He could
not leave the room quickly not because he was limping, but because
his heart was objecting. His inner weeping contradicted what
Sakit had told him. Again, he asked who was the last person in
line and took his place behind him.
The days were tense. People could not keep from arguing regardless
of where they were.
Tenth voice: "See how great our trouble is. Our poverty
has caught us by the throat so that water can't even pass. 8
who pretend to know everything have made a fool of us. They haven't
been able to increase production, but still the prices continue
Eleventh voice: "It's OK on ordinary days. But what are
we going to do on holidays? Market prices are soaring. Those
who live on "haram" go to the market with empty bags
and come back with their bags full of everything. But what should
a person like me do? It's been so long since we put pots on the
gas stove or even set the table. You can't fool a kid. I tell
him about the difficulties of the transition period or about
the economic reforms. He doesn't understand. He insists on having
a red egg dyed for the holiday 9 because he wants to
crack eggs against each other."
Twelfth voice: "Don't be so pessimistic. It seems to me
that you never read newspapers or watch TV. We should thank the
European humanitarian organizations. They are thinking about
our difficulties more than we do. They are assisting the Soviet
Republics. They want to provide a genuine economic support for
the country. It is "savab" 10 to help beggars. The
lamb's black day ends when its mouth reaches the green grass.
Tenth voice: "Come on. There may be beggars in a country
but the country itself does not have to go begging."
Both ideas were similar but different. Whatever they were talking
about, whatever they were driving at, they found themselves face
to face with poverty and hunger. Sakit's voice was heard in the
midst of these intense discussions: "Three times after food."
The tall thin man's silence drew attention during this intense
discussion. The tenth voice, which seemed the angriest, turned
to him: "Why don't you say anything? How you can be so calm?
Don't you see the world is burning?"
"I have never tasted 'haram'. When I worked, I lived on
my salary. Now I live on my pension."
He thought the people in front of his eyes were shadows. The
tall thin man could not get out of his own world, which was squeezing
him in its paws. Maybe he was exhausted? Perhaps, he could not
see or hear very well?
His turn was coming again. Again he would be face-to-face, eye-to-eye
with Sakit. He had never been in such a perplexing situation.
Why didn't Sakit understand him?
The pictures of famous people in medicine stared down at him
from the walls, offering momentary assistance. He was shocked
at the appropriateness of a quote by Avicenna 13
"First the word, then the medicine and then injection."
He was thinking to himself: "Sakit, don't you see what Avicenna
recommends? First the word. I'm begging you, give me 'a word'.
Why don't you understand me?"
The tall thin man also liked Bekhterev's saying: "If the
patient does not feel better after his conversation with the
doctor, then that one is not a doctor."
"Sakit," he thought again, "why do you ignore
the advice that is right above your head? After I talk with you,
I feel worse than before. You are sensitive. Why don't you see
that what I want to tell you is like a thorn in my heart and
that I want to get rid of that thorn. I can neither live with
this thorn, nor can I take it out."
His turn finally came. Again they were face-to-face.
The man: "I wanted to clarify your advice again. Do I take
the medicine before food?"
Sakit remembered the man's face. Nor had he forgotten what he
had told him before. Nevertheless, he still looked at the prescription
again and returned it to the patient. Contrary to his usual composure,
this time he raised his voice: "Three times a day. After
food. I am speaking to you in sweet Azerbaijani. If something
is not clear again, please ask me now. I don't want to waste
my time with another encounter."
The expression on the face of the tall thin man did not change.
Maybe he did not have the right to get angry. The problem was
that he did not want to give in to the doctor, he wanted to make
the doctor submit to him. There was both kindness and pity in
his voice: "I know you very well. You are capable of finding
substitutes for drugs. Can you substitute the drug with another
one so that I take it 'before' food?"
Sakit raised his voice. It was curt: "Impossible. You must
take it 'after' food."
There was irony on the pale face of the patient. His anger was
eating him up inside. Who should he blame? Who should he call
"stupid?" Doctors should be more sensitive than their
patients. No, you couldn't blame them for their lack of sensitivity.
If they had not been sensitive, they would not have gotten rid
of those two signs that had been hanging on the walls until recently.
One, a saying by Marx, explained: "In Communism, food will
flow like a flood." The second sign provided medical advice.
It was a daily food regime showing how much meat, butter, milk
and fruit should be eaten each day in order to stay healthy.
And all this was described in measures and weights. No one had
thought of taking these signs off the walls until recently. How
was it that these mouth-watering, appetite-raising pieces of
advice had disappeared? The answer was simple: "It's not
the fault of the slogans. Simply, it's the patients who have
weak nervous systems."
The tall thin man did not answer Sakit but merely stepped aside
from the window. He did not have the energy to argue. He preferred
to mutter to himself: "Why don't you understand me, Sakit?
My tongue has not touched a hot meal for a week. Also you should
know that I have never eaten any 'haram'. That I have always
lived on what I earned honestly. Before, on my salary; now, on
my pension. How long should those like me wait to take this medicine
The man shuffled out of the pharmacy. He heard the pharmacist's
voice trailing behind him: "Three times a day, after food..."
(1862-1911), a satirist who wrote in the early 1900s. Up
- the 4th Caliph, founder of Shiism in Islam. Up
"A child resembles his time more than his parents"
meaning a child's character has more to do with his era than
it has to do with his parents. Up
"Beat the political wave" - During the Soviet period,
when the BBC or Voice of America broadcast something that was
politically sensitive, the government would disrupt the sound
waves to make it difficult to hear the broadcast. This was called
"beating the wave." Up
in your mouth" - a saying that refers to keeping silent.
the region in western Azerbaijan where Armenians have been fighting
with Azerbaijan since 1988. All Azerbaijanis have had to flee
the region. Currently in 1999, Karabakh along with 6 other regions
inside Azerbaijan, are occupied by Armenian military forces.
In Islam, food that is forbidden such as fish without scales,
pork and alcohol. Up
"Our poverty has caught us by the throat so that water can't
even pass" - meaning that someone is being "strangled"
by hunger. Up
Red egg for Noruz - A custom in the region to tap your hard-boiled
egg against some else's egg and see whose will crack first. Up
Savab - according to the Koran, a good deed, the opposite of
"The lamb's black day ends when its mouth reaches the green
grass" - The "lamb" refers to the Soviet Union.
The "black day" describes the difficult situation of
the people. The expression means that when the Soviet Union receives
some help, the country will go on. Up
"Inshallah," an Arabic word meaning "If God wills."
Frequently used to preface remarks related to making future plans.
Avicenna - In Azerbaijan, Avicenna is known as Ibn Sina. Born
in Bukhara in the late 10th century, he later traveled to Hamadan,
Persia, and wrote the most famous books in the history of medicine.
by Jala Garibova
(7.1) Spring 1999.
© Azerbaijan International 1999. All rights reserved.
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