“Hello? Ankit beta?”
Manipulating his way through a sea of people, in an air laced with the odour of sweat and grease mixed in an unceremonious matrimony, Ankit was desperately holding on to his phone. Excited by the fact that his mid year exams of second year MBBS had just ended, he wanted to inform his mother how the last viva went as had been the ritual ever since he came back home from a test clad in the browns of the school uniform and a bottle around his neck.
He could not contact his mother so he waited till he reached his flat where he stayed as a paying guest. “Hello mumma, viva was good, I’ll pass for sure.”
“Very good beta. Listen when you get down from the train tomorrow come directly to Krishna nursing home.”
“Why mom? What happened?”
“It’s your dad.”
Ankit was flushed. Colour rinsing from his face, faster than the sudden change in the gravity of events. He got into the train in the evening and went to sleep almost immediately, waiting painfully for his eyes to open the next day.
*1,500 kms away from him, in Mumbai*
Sabarmati stepped into the buzzing OPD of a nearby government hospital. She had her child tucked onto the side of her waist with a slight bend towards his side and her husband leaning over her other shoulder. Her second child came scrambling behind, holding on to her sarree and trying to keep up with the pace.
She rested her husband on a wooden bench and headed towards the OPD line to get a slip in return of Rs 10. Holding her child to the side, she removed a small red pouch from her blouse and struggling, took out the dilapidated note and handed it over. She was informed to head towards the surgery OPD to which she duly nodded.
On arriving in the OPD she finally kept her child down on the bench and picked up her second child so he could sit too, with the husband slouching next to them. Dabbing the sweat off her forehead she awaited her turn.
Ankit was woken up by the nasal effeminate cries of a “CHAI” vendor. He washed his face in the common wash basin situated where two bogeys of the train meet. He stood there for a moment, rocking side to side with the train, thinking what was waiting ahead. As the station approached, he got down while the train was still coming to a halt and took a cab straight to the hospital.
“Rajesh Singh please” he asked the receptionist.
“ICU bed no.5” came the response.
The lift opened its doors on the 5th floor. As soon as he came out he saw his mother and uncle sitting in the waiting room. On sensing his presence, his mother looked up and gathered him into her arms as if she was gathering her own pieces which left her incomplete.
“What happened Ma?”
“5 days back your dad coughed blood and became unconscious. We immediately rushed him over here and he has been in the ICU ever since. The doctor says that 40% of his left lung is collapsed and his right lung has a mass. They suspect it’s cancer. We did not tell you because your exams were going on.” Saying so, she burst into tears she had since held onto, rather inevitably.
As advised by the doctor in the OPD, Sabarmati got her husband admitted into ward no.12. She then headed out to get the remaining formalities completed. She returned an hour later looking harrowed and tired when she was informed by the nurse that her husband was scheduled for a CT scan in a couple of hours.
The doctors had taken their post OPD rounds and had suspected liver cirrhosis. However, to be on the safer side, they wanted to rule out other possible morbidities hence had ordered for a CT scan. She unfurled her ragged blanket on the floor and sat down, putting her kids to sleep in the process. After getting the CT done, she dropped her kids back to her house with her mother and returned to the hospital for the night.
The resident doctor informed her that her husband was in a very grave condition and wanted her to sign the high risk consent. On asking about his habits she told, “Mein kya bolu doctor sahiba, mera mard hafte mein kam se kam 3 baar apne dosto ke saath jaake daaru peeta hai pichle 25 saal se. Jabse uska bijness chhabbis july ki baarish mein doob gaya, mera rozgaar daaru mein dhutt kar deta hai. Mein chhupa chhupa ke bacchon ke liye paise jama karti hun. “
(What can I say? My husband has been drinking alcohol minimum 3 times a week for the past 25 years. Since his business was shattered in the floods of 26th july he has been spending my salary on alcohol. I somehow saved money for my kids.)
“Kal raat use khoon ki ulti hui to mein subah aapke paas le aayi.” (Yesterday night he vomited blood so I brought him to you this morning)
“Dekho kaki unka liver bohot kharab ho chuka hai. Replacement ke liye donor milne mein bhi bohot time lagega jo mujhe afsos ke saath kehna pad raha hai ki unke paas nahi hai. Hum jitna ho sakega karne ki poori koshish karenge par hum daawa nahi kar sakte. Maaf kijiyega.”
(His liver is in a very bad state and he doesn’t have enough time left to wait for a replacement. We will try our best but can’t guarantee anything. Sorry.)
Sabarmati folded her hands and headed back to her husband’s bedside lying down on the stone cold blanket, numbing the senses that had not been numbed already.
Ankit went inside the ICU and rummaged through his father’s reports. He knew he himself understood very less as of now but somehow his mother got relieved when she saw him do this. Every night he would first shoulder his crying mother to sleep then go to the empty room above and cry himself to sleep.
Every morning he would open his 5 pounds worth of book to understand whatever little clues he got from the reports. He prayed more than he had ever prayed before, knowing he was being selfish by shunning the almighty all these years and remembering him in the time of need.
He had told his father uncountable times to quit smoking but he never listened. He tried everything possible but the excuse of work stress always drowned his voice. His worst fear had come true today. He just hoped it didn’t become a nightmare.
A week later the doctor informed that they would be resecting the mass from the lungs. By God’s grace it hadn’t spread yet hence he would survive, albeit with a half collapsed and partly fibrosed lung for which he would have to be on oxygen all his life.
As Sabarmati went out the next day to get her kids and the prescribed medicines from the pharmacy her husband started having severe pain in abdomen. The resident rushed to his bed. On realizing that his blood pressure was plummeting she called for a crash cart. He probably had internal hemorrhage and was losing blood quickly. He caught the forearm of the resident tightly and asked for his wife.
On being informed she was out to take medicines, he said “Bulao use, mujhe usse maafi mangni hai.” (Call her, I want to apologize.) Call it fate or misfortune, the only time in the last 25 years when he had realized his mistake and wanted to apologize to his all sacrificing wife, he breathed his last surrounded by strangers and miles away from the only woman who had ever cared about him.
When she returned, she was given the news and she sank to the ground reclining untidily against the wall. She cried for a couple of minutes but instead of wallowing around in self pity, she wiped her tears with the dupatta, picked up one child on to her waist and caught the hand of the other. Slowly, she trudged out of the ward.
For time was not going to stop for her, and every day bought with itself an opportunity to feed her kids, now without a father.
His father was wheeled into the ward after a successful operation and Ankit diligently followed all instructions for post anesthetic care. He overheard his mother talking to his uncle as to how they had to sell two of their three properties to fund the hospital stay and now had no asset left for his future. He didn’t really care, because his father was alive. Even then he wished, just once, had his father listened to him, they would’ve instead been relaxing in a resort in the Himalayas right now.
With the vitals’ monitor beeping in the background his father gained consciousness. On seeing his son he immediately folded his hands and through the oxygen mask, could only manage a muffled sorry before the mask got covered in the mist of his exhaled air.
Ankit ran outside, to hide the tears that were welling up in his eyes, while his father kept crying alone in the room, with the realization that he had failed his son and his family. With only the periodic beeping to accompany him in that moment of time. The only thing he kept thinking was, if only…….
If only we did not give into the pressure of our peers.
If only we didn’t use the lit butt and alcohol as an outlet for stress.
If only we cared more about our future.
If only we cared about escaping the present less.
I’m not here to preach about giving up alcohol, smoking or any addiction for that matter. I’m here just to tell you that they don’t see religion, city, village or money to take away what you have worked/will work hard for all your life. There is a common misconception or a misinformed trend on microblogging platforms saying how drinking alcohol is better than not drinking it at all backed up with the stonewall sentence “according to research”. Another often made excuse is, “ But I only drink once a week and that much is fine, don’t make a big deal out of it.”
It is the quantity and type of alcohol you drink that determines whether it’s ok or not. Not the frequency, not you, not random researches you read scrolling through the internet, not me. According to the Department of health, the safety limit is NOT MORE THAN 140ml spread uniformly over a week with two to three drinking free days.
This too is the upper limit for safety, NOT for benefits. Binge drinking 500ml once every 2 weeks is NOT safe. It overloads your liver and causes irreversible damage. Similarly how you can not consume 50,000 calories worth of food a day and then not have anything for a fortnight.
Coming to smoking, I’m sorry but every breath taken with the stick lit at the other end causes damage to the lungs. Your body cells can do only so much to palliate the effect. Eventually they will give up too. It’s not about living in the present and who wants to live long anyway. It’s about living healthy for whatever time you are alive.
It’s about not coughing up blood at the dinner table in front of your 10 year old child. It’s about not having to sacrifice your child and your wife/husband’s future so they can keep you alive. For trust me, a time such as this will come. The world would be a happier place with less Ankit and Sabarmati like situations. The world would be a happier place, with less victims of these two poisons in the hospitals.
Yes you may get all those morbidities even if you don’t drink or smoke, but why do you want to give them a chance from your side either? You might be thinking who am I to tell you all this? You might be thinking, he’s not my son or my brother or my spouse. Hell he’s not even my doctor to be lecturing me thus.
I’m not here as any of those, I’m here just as a friend, narrating a couple of incidents, trying to deliver the same message that probably your wife or your husband or your son or your daughter or your mother or your father might have tried to get through to you n number of times.
I’m here just to ask you to listen to them once. It’s never too late to stop, and it’s never shameful to ask for help because we all know it is difficult.
I’m here to ask you to just take that 1 step towards us, and we’ll take the other 99 towards you. 🙂
Alcohol content of various beverages:
Safety limits of alcohol consumption:
Talk it out with Alcoholics anonymous
National Tobacco Cessation Quit Helpline (multilingual): 1800-22-7787
Tollfree Tobacco QuitLine (English and Hindi): 1800-11-2356
Together, we will.
Or you can walk into the Psychiatry OPD of your nearest hospital any day of the week. We will always be there to help. 🙂