I’m not a doctor. I’m not a patient. I’m not a nurse, even. I’m one of those numerous people who flock hospitals alongside the sick one, playing the role of all three simultaneously to the patient as and when he demands and requires. I am the attendant and the family of the patient.
Back in 2006, it was at a dinner with some family friends, when my father suddenly didn’t feel right and wouldn’t even touch his favourite dishes. He went to lie down on the bed and a call went to our family doctor. Some tests were scheduled for the next morning. Tests, that revealed he had chronic renal failure with 95% of both kidneys failing to function. I was there in the room with my parents when I sensed the change in the doctor’s expression, the moment he took the reports from my mother. With all that followed, the treatment is just one mechanical part of it. There is a protocol to it. But there is no manual for the collateral damage. We were a young family then, my sister starting her first job and me, still in middle school. The way lives transform when something like this happens, is a sudden and a slow process at the same time. Because all at once, you have so much on your plate that require immediate attention and without realizing you start prioritizing everything in your life keeping this one event in consideration. All other issues seem very trivial. It’s very hard growing up trying to maintain your age and at the same time, trying to think and act with maturity in all situations.
When you enter the hospital building, under those yellow lights, everyone seems to be part of one big family. There is a rich lady, a poor father, a distraught son, a happy mother. There is no discrimination on any basis. You are as sad about a fellow patient whom you’ve seen alongside your bed having his dialysis scheduled at the same time for the past 3 years, as are you happy about the new mother whom you saw getting wheeled in a few hours before into the operating unit.
When my father was again admitted to the ICU after a couple of years, I had my university exams. And my only job was to sit and study outside the unit, on a couch while my mother handled everything else. The doctor used to sneak me in outside of visiting hours so that I could get a glimpse of my father among the tubes and machines before I went to take my exam. When I came back, she was the person who would rush me in just as the doctor would come so that I could talk to him and feel like I was also taking care of my father in some way.
We have had such a long association with our nurses and doctors, and other patients and their families, that we have celebrated festivals together, someone’s marriage anniversary, we have helped decorate the dialysis unit with Christmas bulbs and Diwali candles.
All of it? The good, the bad? The acceptance comes after a long, long struggle with the questions ‘Why us?’ I wish I could have met all these people under better circumstances, but it is what it is, my second family.
Vatsalya Gunjan is a 24-year-old young woman trying to find her footing both professionally and personally. She lives in New Delhi trying to find new book haunts while listening to everything from Pink Floyd to new Bollywood. Her part time profession is being a claims adjuster for a govt organization and full-time profession is being a dutiful daughter. Better at one of the two.