(Inspired by actual events that took place in the year 1999. Names of persons and places have been changed to maintain anonymity)
The call came through on the cell phone that Raj was holding. It was from his old friend, Sargu.
“What’s up?” I heard him asking. Then there was a hushed silence as he listened intently to what the other party was saying. I couldn’t figure out what the conversation was about, so I went about with my task at the government office where I was trying to get some land titles stamped.
I had recently lost my job with a reputable firm where I worked as a HR Practitioner. Being without a job for about 2 months now, it provided me with a lot of time to reflect on the events that had culminated in my loss of job. While waiting to land another one soon, at least it has given me an opportunity to spend more time with my family, I consoled myself. To sustain during this interim period however, I did light errands for a couple of legal practitioners, which was what had brought me to this government office.
“Ravi, we must go now! Something terrible has happened!” Raj said to me.
What could be so important that it has to cut short my assignment here, I thought.
“You remember Subash, the guy who works in Sargu’s office?……. who recently met with an accident?,” he asked me. “Well Sargu just called to say that the hospital where he had been admitted had given up any hope for a recovery and have in fact recommended that he be removed from life support!”
“Oh! My God!” I exclaimed!
I have only seen Subash once. That too after he had met with the accident. He had already gone into a coma when brought into the hospital after a lorry had ploughed through the motorbike that he was riding one morning about 4 weeks ago. I can still remember his wife and only daughter crying uncontrollably when they entered the ward. I had consoled myself that this comatose situation after an accident was usually only temporary and that after a few days he would recover and all would be well again. After all, accidents do happen.
But never in my wildest dreams had it occurred to me that he had been in a life- threatening situation all along. My suspicious mind began probing within me………. Had his condition indeed been so critical? Or is the private hospital trying to end his trauma due to the hefty bill that he has already chalked up? Or could it be a case of incompetence on the part of the attending medical practitioners?…….. There were no immediate answers to these questions. But deep within me, something told me that he must live. “32 is definitely too young an age to die!” I thought.
With that in mind, we quickly called Sargu on his mobile number, telling him to do
everything possible to stop the doctors from disconnecting Subash from the life support system and to retract the consent letter that his wife had already signed, that had given the hospital the liberty to remove him from the system. We told him that we were on the way!
Our immediate concern was to find a way to keep him alive………... while we think of what to do next. We knew that the treatment cost at the specialist center was extremely high, so the next best thing to do would be to transfer him to a government hospital. At least there, the bills would be manageable. But there was another problem. We knew that government hospitals don’t accept cases such as this where one party has given up hope, as they don’t want the statistics to fall under them.
“Ravi, why don’t we speak to the Director at the General Hospital and see if they can accept this case. I have met the Deputy Director once before at a Lions Club Dinner and I think he is approachable” said Raj.
Our drive to the GH was a mad rush. Within half an hour, we were already at the GH compound, asking for directions to the Director’s office.
“Yes Gentleman” came a voice as we were ushered into the waiting area by the Secretary. We turned around and saw an affable middle-aged man greeting us. After exchanging the usual formalities, we went straight to the point. His answer initially was expectedly in the negative, stressing that if they were to accept a no-hope case such as this, and if anything were to happen after the patient had been transferred and put under their care, the statistics will appear as another black mark in their record. After a much heart wrenching persuasion session, he agreed, albeit reluctantly.
The trip to the hospital where Subash was warded took us more than an hour. The first to greet us were a host of relatives at the car-park who, after being told that Subash was to be removed from the life-support system, had come prepared to actually carry out the final rites before taking the body back for burial. Meanwhile, Sargu had already retracted the consent form and informed the hospital authorities not to do anything until we arrived. So when we reached there, the atmosphere was of high expectation and anticipation. Without saying a word to anyone, we proceeded straight to the ward.
“Hello Uncle” said a young voice as we entered. I was later to know that this was Ahsha, the cute and only daughter of Subash, who was playing around at the corridor, without the slightest knowledge that her father was in such a critical state and that probably, she was going to lose him forever. I carried her in my arms and as I did so, my eyes welled to its brim, without me realizing it. I too have a daughter who was about her age and it saddened me to realize that this young girl was going to have to part with her father.
Wiping my eyes, I met Nirmala, Subash’s wife who had been standing next to his bed. After enquiring about his condition, I explained what we had decided to do and asked to see the eldest relative of Subash to explain the situation. An elderly lady was ushered in….. Subash’s mother, who was weeping uncontrollably as she came, and without warning, fell on Raj’s feet, pleading that we do something to save her son. We consoled her by saying that we should all have faith on the Almighty for it is He who ultimately decides who should stay and who should go. With that, we impatiently looked around for the doctors who had arbitrarily decided that this man could not be treated.
“What gives you the right to decide to end this man’s life?” I retorted when I met the first doctor who entered the ward.
“May I know what your relationship is with the patient”, snapped the Doctor, visibly annoyed but pretending to answer rather calmly.
“Well, I am his cousin” I lied, “and I want to know under what circumstances you have recommended that he be removed from the life support system?”
He explained that it has already been about a month since the accident and there has been no improvement and that in spite of doing everything that they possibly could, he is still in a coma with no signs of recovery. The costs have risen to an exorbitant level and keeping him under treatment would be purely academic as his vital organs have started to fail one after the other “There has not been a single case in the country that survived under such circumstances” he concluded.
“Maybe your hospital lacks experience to treat complicated cases such as this! Or maybe the expertise is not available here. Then probably we should refer him to another place where it is available,” I said sarcastically, all worked up.
After much heated arguments, he finally relented, especially when we pointed out that it was our prerogative to seek second opinion from whoever we wanted. The Doctor opined however, that the decision to transfer a patient under such critical conditions would be highly risky and life threatening and advised that we should exercise extreme caution.
“The worst that could happen is what you had ironically, already recommended. So, we prefer to take our chances with him,” I said as we walked away to break the news to the wife and the host of relatives eagerly waiting outside the corridor.
We explained that the worst thing that could happen when we move him to another hospital was that we might lose him! But that is going to happen anyway even if we don’t move him. They readily agreed that under the circumstances, there is really no harm in taking our chances.
We called the receiving hospital to make arrangements and spoke to the ambulance driver to drive slowly and carefully, as any unnecessary rough movement could be fatal to the patient.
By about 3.00pm that day, the comatose Subash was on his way to the new hospital, but not before we got one of his relatives to accompany him in the ambulance itself, just in case ‘something untoward’ was to happen during the journey. Once again my suspicious mind wouldn’t allow him to be transported unaccompanied.
“Raj, we must talk to the wife. I think she is really broken down,” I said.
During moments such as this, I can understand how tough it will be on the loved ones who often keep vigil all day and night, hoping against all hope for nothing else but the safe return of the person whom they love. I had myself lost my brother during my younger days under similar circumstances and I can empathize with these people because I know the kind of pain that one has to go through.
“Nirmala,” I began. “I know how tough it is on you during moments such as this. But you must not give up hope under any circumstances. Pray to God that all will be well and he will answer your prayers…..pray hard. Be brave and strong. If not for anything, Ahsha needs you and the support that you can give.” It was the best advice that I had given to anyone in years.
“Everyday, when you are with him, talk to him”, I continued. “Whisper to him words of encouragement. Tell him that he must fight this battle from within and not to give up the fight. He may be in a coma but I am sure he can still hear you, though he may not be able to respond”, I said relying on my knowledge obtained years ago that the last sense to fail in a dying person is his sense of hearing. Whether it was true or not, I had no way of verifying. A video that I had watched during a motivational seminar that I had attended some time back also came in handy. It was the story of a man who survived a plane crash even though all the odds were stacked heavily against him. I told her the story of the “Miracle Man!” That evening as I turned to say goodbye, Nirmala cried openly, hugging her daughter, as she did.
Having made all the arrangements thus far, we decided to call it a day after each of us made a commitment that we will help in our own way everyday until he recovers. Sargu was to talk to his Management to persuade them as the employer to absorb the bill at the specialist center, Raj was to approach the Press the next day to see if they can help raise any form of donations and I was entrusted with the task of surfing the Net to see if similar predicaments had occurred elsewhere in the world and how they had overcome it. As we stayed quite far from the hospital, we decided that we should visit according to our convenience.
“I will try to visit every day,” promised Raj who was staying about 5 km away from the hospital.
At that point in time, we were not sure if we had made the right decision. We wondered if we had in fact prolonged his suffering, in which case, the whole family would have to suffer the long agony together. It was a noble effort on our part to do some good, no doubt, and wished that something would happen to save Subash’s life. He was far too young to die. But for a person whose vital organs were failing one after the other, the chances to pull through, we knew, were extremely slim. “It will have to take a miracle,” we thought.
Life after that incident went on as normal for me and I was back in my hunt for a job. Searching far and wide, I finally landed a job in Kuala Lumpur. As the position needed to be filled quite urgently, I had to leave town at short notice, leaving me little time to say good-bye to friends, especially to Raj with whom I had spend a whole childhood together. Our chemistry matched in many ways, so we had become quite attached to each other. Separation as usual, was always a difficult pill to swallow. The last I spoke to him was when I phoned him at his house to enquire of Subash. But the reply had become predictable by then…”no improvement” was the standard reply that I got. But he assured me that Nirmala had not given up hope or neglected on her promise to reassure her husband every day without fail.
And so with that, I left for Kuala Lumpur. It took me some time to settle in at my new job, not so much because of the demands of the job itself but more so due to the totally different culture that I had to adopt myself to. Life in KL was so fast moving and everyone whom I met was in a rush. I somehow felt that people in smaller towns were warmer and much more personal and made you feel welcome. Here in KL, people didn’t have time to get to know you. Either that or it was not a priority to them. I was left to spend more time with my family and slowly cut down on my social life, something that I held quite passionately in my life before.
From my phone conversations with Raj, I learnt that the vernacular newspapers did indeed highlight the plight of Subash, appealing for donations but somehow the response had not been very encouraging. Meanwhile, Sargu had succeeded in getting his management to foot the bill at the specialist center that had by then come up to over 40K. My attempts at surfing the net to yield any form of help proved futile, probably because I was then not really adept in the field of surfing.
Then one day about 2 months later, when I returned from a Management meeting, there was a message on my voicemail. It was from Raj. On listening to it, it sent a chill down my spine. “ Ravi, this is Raj,” he said, in his usual husky voice. “This may come as a surprise to you but our Subash......, he has come out of his coma. Call me back!”
The term ‘shocking’ does not quite describe the immense adrenalin rush that I felt upon hearing the words. It was much more than that. Feeling extremely elated, I immediately returned his call.
He told me how the doctors at the government hospital had steadfastly carried out tests after tests and a few operations on Subash and how when all hope was fading, out of the blues, he had just woken up one day. The doctors too had been completely perplexed! But after carrying out further tests, they were convinced that Subash had passed the worst stage and was now indeed on the road to recovery!
To me it was the greatest news that one can get. All the trouble that had been taken for him by all concerned parties had been worth the effort. I started to think that if not for our timely intervention on that fateful day, today he would have been long dead and gone…..Ahsha would have been without a father. And Nirmala…..a young widow! It is then that you realize that nothing is in your hands…not even your own life! It is all predestined. “God works in mysterious ways,” I thought. How true!
Two weekends later, I learnt that Subash had already been transferred to the normal ward from intensive care. I decided to take a slow drive back to the hospital to pay him and his family a visit. The journey took me about 5 hours as it was a Saturday and traffic was heavy. Once I reached the hospital, I parked under a shady tree and had a cigarette, reflecting back at the events. A feeling of satisfaction and pride overwhelmed me as I walked up to the general ward after enquiring at the front desk.
I took the lift to the 3rd floor and slowly made my way towards his bed. I could see a frail figure sitting up on his bed. This time, there was no crowd around him except, from a distance, what appeared to be someone feeding him since there was still a network of tubes criss-crossing his person.
His eyes locked with mine as I neared him but as I smiled, he did not reciprocate. He kept staring at me without a blink……just a blank look. I noticed that he was being fed by his wife but she couldn’t see me as she was facing the opposite direction. After a few anxious moments of quietness, it was the daughter who ran in from outside the verandah, to break the endured silence. “Hello Uncle…” she virtually screamed in the excitement of seeing me. “Amma, Uncle Ravi is here!” she announced to her mother.
It was then that Nirmala turned around and upon seeing me, she couldn’t conceal her excitement either. She got up immediately still holding the meal tray and gave me a warm smile as if to express her appreciation and gratitude. She then introduced me to Subash. “Darling, this is Mr. Ravi I was telling you about????…….your colleague Mr. Sargu’s friend???? ……….who helped us at the hospital………????!
You see…Subash had been in comatose when I saw him ….he had never met me before!