As I entered the room, I saw a frail old man on the bed with unshaven stubble of a week, hollow cheeks and sunken eyes. The bed seemed very large for his tiny frame. He was looking vacantly at the ceiling. I had walked in softly, and yet to my surprise he turned his eyes towards me indicating his alertness. He peered at me through his glassy eyes as if questing at my intrusion in his private space
The nurse had warned me that his left side was paralyzed and that` his speech was badly affected. As if these were not sufficient, he had a very weak heart and impaired kidneys. He was brought from a senior home when he developed difficulty to breathe. Several tubes were protruding from his body and he was on oxygen. I could gather from the nurse that his condition was very critical and that doctors were just making him comfortable with no scope for treatment
“I feel sorry for him as he has no relatives or friends to visit him except occasionally the staff of the home. I think he is a rich man and can afford the best treatment if only his condition permitted. Sadly it is not so and I cannot say when the end will come, may be, in a day or a week or a month,” the nurse said.
“I am very sorry to hear about his condition. He looks almost like my grandpa in his last days,” I replied
“I am happy you will be coming to the hospital as part of your extracurricular programme.While you may be going to many wards, please do make an effort to spend a few minutes with this patient. It pains me to see him lonely in what seems his last days,” she suggested.
To be frank, I do not like visiting hospitals. It is not that I am afraid of catching infections that is spread all over there. But what repels me is the smell of chloroform mixed with pungent phenyl, the gloomy ambiance with death stalking every ward, the sad and concerned faces and the groans of patients in pain. I could not refuse when my principal suggested that I do some social work in a hospital to add credit to my CV.
I made it a point to spend about ten minutes with him three or four days a week. After a couple of days there was a sign of recognition with his eyes widening and a pucker breaking on his crooked lips. I always draw the chair by his side, hold his right hand that he could move or caress his arm or adjust the bedsheet.He would be just looking at me through his distant eyes or press my hand to express his warmth.
I didn’t know what to talk to him or what interested him. On the second day I told him about me.”I am Sweta in class 12, thatha (grandpa).I visit the hospital as part of my curriculum. As you look very much like my thatha, I wish to spend a few minutes every time, I come here. Every morning when I pray, I pray for you too.”
He tightened his grip on my hand and I saw tears trickling from his eyes. I rushed to wipe them telling him “Do not cry, thatha.I like you and would be with you often”
He signaled with his right hand that he wanted water. As I was filling the cup, the nurse entered and took away the cup from my hand.”He cannot take fluids more than half a litre daily. Do not give without checking with me,” she admonished. I felt she was harsh unaware that she is professional in her duty. When he saw my sad face, he pressed my hand as if to say it is okay.
These days I went almost daily only to meet him. His head would be turned towards the door from 4pm when I usually visited him. I would talk to him about my friends, teachers, parents, my interest in studies and good rank.
One day when I spoke about my desire to do engineering and the bleak chances, he raised his eye brows to ask why.
”My dad cannot afford the fees. I must be content to do simple graduation. It is fine with me,” I said with a smile.
He became silent thereafter and closed his eyes. I felt I had made a mistake in mentioning about my problem to a sick man. I lingered for a few minutes and seeing his eyes closed, I left silently.
Three days later, I brought a bunch of flowers. As I entered his room I greeted “Thatha, look at these beautiful flowers. I am keeping it on the table for you to see. It is my birthday today”. I saw a flicker of happiness in his eyes before they became expressionless.
Just then, the nurse entered his room and said in whisper “Shhhhh, he is not well. Please wait outside,” even as she was administering some injection and increasing the speed of oxygen.
I felt like crying when she came after a few minutes and put her hands on me. “Do not feel bad. His condition has deteriorated and we would be shifting him to ICU presently and put him on life support. From what I learn, his end is very near,” she said.
When I could not control sobbing loudly, she said “You have been sunshine at the end of his life. I could see a change in him after you started visiting him. If only he could speak, he would have told you what difference you made to him. Incidentally he asked about you and your details about a week back. I wrote the details from our records and gave it to him”
“Can I go inside and sit with him without talking for two minutes,” I asked
His eyes were closed and he was breathing heavily. The legs were swollen. He looked very sick. I left immediately as nurses and a stretcher on wheels came in.
Next day when I entered the ward with all sorts of fears, the nurse stopped me and said “Your thatha, Rangaswamy, is no more. He breathed his last at midnight.”As I stifled the cry breaking out, she said “I am equally sad.”
I stopped visiting the hospital and tried to get over the grief
A fortnight later I overheard my dad talking to someone on phone, “Yes, Sweta is my daughter and a student of ARM school. Did you say you are lawyers of one Rangaswamy? Yes Sir. We both will come this evening as desired.”
Tears inexplicably swelled in my eyes.