I was at the hospital last week. I didn’t schedule it well ahead on my calendar and keep looking at the date with gnawing hunger. I just picked up my bag at lunchtime and walked out after a brief word with my manager. I took a cab there, walked in, waiting for the appointment and took a cab back when I was done. When my colleagues asked me where I was, I uncharacteristically didn’t say a word, just a “Some stuff to get done.”
I stopped to have a dosa in the hospital canteen before the appointment, which is when I actually thought about it. When did I get so numb over the experience?
My earliest memory of a hospital visit was for my grandfather’s cataract operation during the school summer holidays. We were told to keep as quiet as possible and ‘see’ thatha but not disturb him. I was on my best behaviour and since my cousin-nemesis-fellow mischief maker was too, things went off smoothly. We came back with thatha who had to wear an eye shield for awhile after that. I was glad that experience was over.
The next time was a few months later for the other grandfather. And this time round, I came back to school to an essay about a visit to the hospital. My descriptive 7-pager got the proverbial star as well as a discreet comment from the teacher on how to spell opthalmology.
There was the time mum was in the hospital for a fortnight, when I was in college. I froze into an ice-block, carrying out all the required tasks, robotically moving between home, college, hospital and the empty darkness inside my mind. It never occurred to me till much later when I was reading a book about body language that for six months following that period, I slept curled up foetus-like.
I do remember sitting outside the gates in the rain, alone, waiting for it to be visiting hour. And I remember walking down to the paediatrics department to listen to the breathing of newborns. And a baby in the incubator there. Her mother would cry every evening watching the 6-month-preemie gasp for breath and I remember telling her that the baby had finished all its suffering before she was fully born so she was going to have a good life from there on. She died 2 days before we left the hospital.
There were the months in and out of hospitals and clinics and labs in Delhi and Mumbai. There was blood transfusions, a rainfall of test reports, chemotherapy, consultation fees, second opinions, third opinions, so very many opinions. There was cancer. Twice over. And above all the overriding antiseptic smell.
And then there were none.