Sunday, February 20, 2011

The picture in the frame

At four floors up, our hospital ward provides us a bird’s eye view of the surroundings. I use the phrase quite literally: two sets of pigeons are roosting on the AC fans outside the windows. One pair is sitting on eggs while the other is nursing two hatchlings. And, since hubby’s bed is near the window, we share the same lookout.

The view spans the hospital backyard and the by-lanes and buildings beyond. On the nearer horizon, is a wide and heavy gateway. Strong pillars support an ornate horizontal beam – too narrow to be a canopy, too broad to be termed a strip. And as the scenes of life unfold, this gateway provides a temporary surround to an ever shifting tableau.

Caught within the frame, today, were five schoolgirls, laden backpacks in place but uniforms askew, chatting animatedly. They were replaced by a young boy walking an exuberant puppy, the red of the collar and leash a bright contrast to the puppy’s firm cream coat. After a small hiatus, the ‘frame’ was filled by a man trundling a barrel on a handcart. He was succeeded by a gaggle of local matrons, gaudily attired in nylon saris, on their way to the shops in the maze of by-lanes that characterize the locality. A couple of nurses going off duty walk swiftly through. Two little boys persuade their bicycles forward, the training wheels providing unnecessary traction. A young man, eyes fixed on the paper in hand, pauses to get his bearings. He accosts a couple of gents entering ‘stage left’. A short conversation later, they go their divergent ways.

In the afternoon, the ‘frame’ remains empty. It casts a shadow on the road below, lending a watchful tranquility to this somnolent time of day. Even the inanimate deserves a siesta!

Come evening, the light fails gradually into sunset. In slow motion ‘still life’, the vegetable vendor lays out his produce, while sparrows peck at the seeds and leaves – their final scrounge for the day.

Each moment presents new pictures for the viewing, a little bit of detail against the larger canvas in the background and a welcome distraction from the ward within; it provides the opportunity to speculate and daydream and weave a little fiction of my own.

I have no talent with brush and paint, but if ever an artist needed inspiration, he – or she – would find it here; a sketch already composed and framed!

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Hospital Pause

Youth is arrogant about its health, flaunting the body perfect: candles can be burnt at both ends and still not run out. But, as encroaching age gathers momentum, we become more conscious of the candle’s dimming flame and are affronted by our failing bodies. Sometimes, the problem is simple and the cure is effected, but sometimes the problem does not have a solution and one is faced constantly by that unpalatable question, ‘Where do we go from here?” The most common and likely answer is, ‘The Hospital!’

The hospital room that hubby and I inhabited, as patient and caregiver, was shared strangely enough by both youth and age. Youth was impatient, eager to up and go, while age was resigned. After all, this was an expected pause in the journey.

S was 26 and from Bengal. A karigar (artisan), he was employed at Jhaveri Bazaar (the local version of a gold souk), to realise in gold the designs dreamed up and demanded by his boss’ clientele. He kept pacing up and down the ward, untethered by drip or tube, in a convalescent state which was not ‘dischargeable’. He missed his work and his companions. But most of all he missed his native food. And as he regaled us with tales of his village, heavily embellished with comparisons with Mumbai, his homesickness was very apparent. His greatest enemy? The mosquito that was responsible for landing him in this inhospitable place. The day he was discharged, he was incandescent with happiness. I was mightily surprised, therefore, to find him visiting the ward two days later. I teased him about the risk of running into Sister and her ‘bloodsucking syringe’, but he laughed and explained how he had sidled past her and hopped into the ward to visit his ‘new friends’. He spent the better part of the visiting hours with us, chatting about his hopes and plans and the world in general. He was one of the good news stories.

R was 24. He had to spend 12 days confined to his hospital bed because of a blocked nerve in his left leg. It had swollen to elephantine proportions. Daily injections in the stomach brought tears to his eyes, but apart from those twice a day teeth clenching sessions, he was a happy companion. We got to know him and his parents as his story unfolded. A commerce graduate with a penchant for Event Management, he was itching to get back to his social round. A native Maharashtrian, pleasant and articulate, he enjoyed the assurance of a well-loved first born son. Both parents came either together or in turn and fussed over him. The mother was shy and reticent, but the father was jovial and outgoing – genes obviously inherited by his son. R has since been discharged with a clean bill of health, a hefty hospital tab, and a list of precautions. The blood thinners he needs to take will require some circumspection. Still, youth is buoyant and his release was a matter of celebration – he distributed KitKat to his fellow patients! He was the other good news story.

Age was represented by hubby, of course, and a very dignified ex-military gentleman, who came in for an eye operation. He surveyed us out of his one good eye and offered us pertinent advice on how to go about our lives. Solemn and sincere, he delivered his homilies with the aplomb of a bishop. With great concern, he looked me over, enquired after the origin of my grey hair and gently advised me about various treatments. I thought it quite legitimate to be ‘salt and pepper’ at sixty. He thought I was much younger. I do love people who are temporarily afflicted with limited vision!

As for hubby, he was brought in because his condition had taken a turn for the worse and he has kept us engaged from predicament to predicament – a learning curve if ever there was one. At one point, he was so out of it that I panicked and so did the Ward Sister. The RMO visited, hummed and hawed, checked the pulse and promptly suggested an echo-cardiogram. Hubby was heaved off his bed and wheeled to the ‘Echo and Stress Test’ Room, comatose for the most part. When the procedure was over, we rode the elevator back to the ward and, all of a sudden, hubby woke up quite cheerfully to his surroundings.

Apparently, the journey on the gurney had a reviving effect!