-Dr Anindita Das
Radiation Oncology
CMC-Vellore

 

“I’m going to die today.”
Stuck on that hospital bed, pallor slowly claiming her face, livid bruises crawling across her arms, fluid seeping into her legs as if weighing them down with the weight of the impending loss – she repeated the exact same statement today. He stood by the wash basin, focusing on and inspecting the remnant shaving foam on his face, her form in the mirror distant and out of focus in his peripheral vision…
The first day she told him that, he had turned around trying to hide it from her, to suppress the sob that shook his whole frame.
“I’m going to die today.”
The second day when she told him that, he held her as if he could squeeze the invading death out of her lungs. She gasped, she needed air and his weight crushing her was not letting her breathe– her lungs, drowning in the fluid that the tireless factory of few cells with an alien mutated genome were producing inside, were sending out their cry for air. Panicking, he left her, turned the oxygen higher. Slowly, she calmed down.
“I’m going to die today.”
The third day she told him that, she was half bent on a hard, unforgiving hospital cardiac table. A gloved, aproned figure with heavy glasses was continuing her brutal attempts at sticking a few needles in here and there, and trying to convince her to stay still, that it will be over in a few minutes, and that she will feel better after that. He was almost embarrassed at the way she wouldn’t listen and kept flailing around, he was mumbling trying to placate her, almost apologetic to the stranger struggling to keep the needle in place.
“I’m going to die today.”
The fourth day she told him that, he was reciting in his mind the jargons he had heard a few minutes ago, for the umpteenth time. Pleurocentesis – intercostal drainage- transudative – exudative – malignant – lymphangitis – carcinomatosis – pleurocentesis – transudative – exudative – lymphangitis – corticosteroids – on and on and on in an endless spiral, till the meaningless words heard on Day 1 had now become dreaded familiar sounds that kept on playing inside his head, over and over and over like a record stuck in a loop till it doused out her declaration of death.
He lost count of days. She lost track of time. She lost track of time, but not of the fact that what was merely an evening stubble on his cheek the day he had literally carried her in among bleeping monitors, was now barely letting his face be seen. He lost count of days- but not of the changing numbers on the monitor. Or the spreading bruises. Or the pacing breaths. Or the new raspy rattling sounds that had slowly taken over the place of the slow ghazals she used to be humming all the time.
“I’m going to die today.”
He kept shaving, she had finally gotten him to do it after hours of pestering. He was almost done, when even to his ears accustomed to the false alarms crying wolf by now, the beep suddenly seemed more frantic, more fanatic. Or perhaps it was the agonised cry of his senses. Unfinished, he rushed to her side. Eyes wide open, as if in a final surprise at the alacrity with which she could feel the drift into somewhere else, she tried her last attempts. And then suddenly, she just didn’t. Wide pupils, as if trying to hold on to the last bit of light from any corner possible, till suddenly, there was only darkness. Or perhaps, only Light.
That day’s gloved; aproned figure has come and checked her heart, her breaths, and her eyes. And repeated a few words which even after saying a hundred times to a hundred different people, never seem to get any more articulate. Life was never bound in words; one would assume at least death would be!
Outside, her father is wailing, beating his chest in agony, perhaps heartbreak over the death of a child hurts worse than when his heart had threatened to stop beating a few years ago when she had nursed him back to health. Her mother, is slipping away into unconsciousness, waking up only to realise that this was not all a bad dream, and slipping away again, over and over and over. Her three-year-old daughter, for now, is playing with some neighbours. Soon, she will ask, where is mommy? And in between all of this- he, how is he?
He is inside the room, with her. Holding her hand, nothing has changed, except- why is it not warm anymore? Why is she not clutching it back? Is she angry, because he didn’t pay heed to her today when she said she is going to die? His torment shines through his eyes, his grip which would have hurt her even a few minutes ago, but not now, not anymore. He is telling the gloved, aproned figure from the earlier day – how he does not understand what her not being anymore means. How they were classmates. And best friends. How he had prayed so hard. How he never hurt anybody. How she was so caring. How when today she told him that she is going to die, he didn’t even pay attention to her. How no one will disturb him any more when he wants to study at night. How she found the gloved, aproned figure too arrogant at the start, but really liked her later.
I am the gloved, aproned figure.
Today, I do not have the gloves, the apron.
But I am bound to keep this invisible mask.
I am the Doctor. And the Doctor cannot cry.

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