You cannot plan your week, like you plan a holiday. You cannot plan hunger, like you plan a meal. You cannot plan when to fall in love, like you foolhardily plan how to fall out of it. You cannot plan health, like you meticulously plan wealth.
These thoughts, as random as they are, have been eating into me since the last few days, especially after I was thrown into a situation that though humbling, momentarily shook the ground beneath me. Last week, a close family member unexpectedly fell ill. For sometime we had all misjudged it to be a regular bout of fever, until the doctor at the clinic said that the issue was grave, and required the patient to be immediately admitted to the hospital. The very thought made me go numb.
I recall running back home from the clinic, my legs trembling after I broke into a nervous fit, because I wasn’t sure what this meant to me and my folks. The person concerned was just as important to us as breathing would be to any living object. The immediate concern, however, was to make the patient feel that all was okay, and that this sudden hospitalisation was just a cautionary move. Fortunately, it all panned out fine. After an edgy 24 hours, we were told that the patient was recovering positively. Three days on, she was back at home, recuperating well, and I can’t thank God and our well-wishers enough.
Those three days, however, put so much perspective to this life and the people, we take for granted. I am not a fan of hospitals. In fact, it scares me to the core – right from the bed to the doctors and nurses, because no matter how beautifully they smile back at you, there is always something unsettling and mechanical about their approach, and how they deal with their patients. Occupational hazard…I guess. But this time, I could not avoid the hospital. And having refused to move an ant for a better part of the 72-plus hours that my family member was here, I learnt a lesson that will always remind me of the vulnerable nature of our existence.
Here I was in the General Ward with people from different walks of life, all there, in the hope of surviving this ordeal and trauma that the sudden alarm of poor health had brought upon them.
There was this woman named Shruti, besides my own relative, who had been in the hospital for over a week. She appeared to be in the pink of health, but we soon learnt that this sprightliness had come after four days in the ICU, where she had been battling for life after her body was unable to cope with a severe form of pneumonia. She has a 15 year old son, and her husband works as a bus conductor in the state-run bus service. Shruti had travelled over two hours from a place in the back of beyond to get herself treated. Having defied her illness, she kept motivating our patient and the rest, to stay strong. “If I survived this, you will too,” she said in fluent Marathi.
Then a day later, the nurses injected her in order to remove the extra water in her body. And the woman, now in great pain because of the injections, suddenly began to falter and lose hope. She spent the whole day crying, remembering her son, whom she hadn’t seen for over a week. “I don’t know if he will ever be able to see me,” she said. I smattered in half-broken Marathi, trying to reassure her that it would be fine, but there was no telling how much pain she was going through. My own family member had been witness to Shruti’s slowly breaking and diminishing confidence, and was sincerely hoping that her troubles would end soon.
Two beds away from us was an 80-year-old widow, who had been rotting in the hospital for two weeks, and much against her doctor’s wishes. Her two sons are based in the US, and her daughter lives in another city. Though swell, she refused to leave the hospital only because she has nobody to look after her. That she had become a pain in the neck for the nurses, whom she would irritate every five minutes for medicines and the patients with whom she would break into a conversation at a whim, wasn’t helping. She was lonely and scared for her life, and though she had become quite annoying to deal with, I could empathise with her. Her isolation had caused her to slowly come undone.
Exactly opposite our bed was a young mother of two, who had been waiting for a surgery since a week. She was on a strict a liquid diet as her stomach had developed knots that needed immediate attention. The wait had been getting too long for her because a slew of public holidays had come in between, and the doctor wasn’t available for surgery. When her children visited her on Sunday, they stood put in front of her bed. They had only one question, “When are you coming home?”
On the day, we were leaving, I knew I had seen more than my share of a life, held by a thread. Shruti’s bed was empty. No, nothing terrible happened to her. She had been discharged, and the day she left, she had been as sprightly as she was, when we had first come to the hospital. She promised us some mouth-watering Malwani pomfret curry and sol kadhi (kokum curry), if and when we dropped by to her village.
The 80-year-old woman too had some good news to share. “My daughter is finally taking me home, with her,” she said, adding, “I am going tomorrow.”
Later, as we were heading towards the lift, we chanced upon the two children, whose mother was in our ward. They were waiting patiently in the foyer with their father – refusing to leave the hospital, somehow, hoping against hope that their mother would miraculously appear with her bags all packed, to go home with them.
Our case was a silver lining. The children smiled at us and then went back to speaking to their father. “When is mummy coming home?” I could hear them say, from within the muffled conversations, even as their eyes trailed towards the door of the general ward.
“Soon, very soon” their father assured, and instantly hugged them.