Friday, January 20, 2006
To forget and then, to remember
It is ironical that one goes to a hospital to restore health. Health seems to be one of those elements that hospitals usually don’t allow, or allow very sparingly; like say, between 8 to 10. Since the last week or so, I have visited several hospitals and no matter how swanky the place, a hospital is the last throne of gloom.
Interestingly, they all smell the same – of pus, wounds, antiseptic, and hesitant healing. I’m pretty sure that if I’m blindfolded and taken to any hospital (as improbable as that is), I wouldn’t be able to identify it with my olefactory senses alone. Now, I could do that with the Shopper’s Stop around Mumbai or the Fame Adlabs or Crossword. Each place, I think, has certain notes in their introductory smells – like Crossword, Powai is more tomato while Crossword, Turner Road, leans towards melted butter and leather. All hospitals, on the other hand, smell alike irrespective of whether they are public or private or government-aided or politician-sponsored.
Interestingly, this nasal homogenous quotient has a peculiar effect on the stomach too. The viscerals start churning slowly like a carousal in a run-down airport. Food starts rounding up in a burp that gets lodged smack in the middle of the throat. This explains the pinched expressions of the many people milling around sanitized corridors – they’re all trying to stop gagging.
The first hospital we took my father to was very, very queer. It was too crowded – people jostled while they walked and tripped over carelessly abandoned mops. The ward-boys walked around with ‘I-know-it-all’ expressions that was rather misplaced. Two of them wrongly directed me to the loo.
Anyway, my dad was admitted in the ICCU and then came the question of blood. As always, I was short of money, so I rushed to the nearest ATM to withdraw some. Once there, I stupidly stared at the screen trying to remember what my pin number was. Some tense five minutes were spent there before I got to the blood bank – which was closed for lunch and crowded like a youth festival. The last time I’d seen so many people wait for liquid in plastic bags was at the Amul outlet outside BCL. Slowly, it dawned on me that this was ‘blood’…’BLOOD’... ‘human BLUDDD’. But then, it’s best not to dwell on these things too much – just makes you squeamish.
I managed to get the blood with medical sang-froid and give it to the nurse.
Much later in the evening, I was allowed to see my father. Somehow, I didn’t really want to.
A couple of nights earlier, I had reached the bus depot around midnight. Since my home is only a couple of minutes from there, reaching there was never a problem. However, Dad was waiting in the car to take me home – despite me telling him that I could easily rick it back; despite him not knowing when I’d reach. He just waited.
In the hospital it struck me that he’d waited while he was bleeding internally all the while. That night, he seemed like my strong father – the father I’d grown up to know. My dad never got tired. Not when he’d take my brother and me swimming after attending to three ships all day or take us out for a midnight drive even if he had an early morning flight to catch. Not when my dad was 35 and not when he was 60. That was the dad who came to pick me up. Two days later, I saw him being taken away in a wheelchair. I didn’t think I could stomach seeing him unconscious with drips.
Ma, on the other hand, had gone in and assessed the situation. It didn’t need cowards and if I had to be such a sentimental wuss about it all, I could go home and watch ‘Seinfeld.’
So, I went in and looked at my dad. His face was white and he was sound asleep. Slowly the conceit that I stupidly harbored – that sickness, hospitals, death happened to other people – melted away. It was happening to my family. My parents were mortal too.
I just couldn’t remember that while I was growing up.