The long goodbye
- He had heard people whisper their dying words. Thousands of them. But never before had he thought about it the way Noor did
Apr 23, 2017-Goodbye, Dipen. Your wife and your family love you. You fought bravely. Sleep tight.”
The monitor beeps in monotone. Aakash pretends to concentrate writing a note in the file he holds in his hand. Sister Kusum steals a quick look at the bed from the corner of her eyes. The interns stare at him, puzzled.
“Sister Kusum, please take his ECG and call in the patient party for discussion.”
He goes to the washroom, splashes water over his face. He feels his cheeks burning hot and red.
‘I did this for you, Noor’, he finds himself whispering.
It’s been two years.
In the mirror, he sees a pair of dampened eyes. He stares back absentmindedly.
Seconds later, he is stirred by the graphed paper being printed by the ECG machine. He splashes water over his face again and goes towards the Nursing station, where Sister Kusum is ready with the files.
Amit comes up to him and says, “You alright?”
“Yeah, absolutely. Why?”
“I can talk to the patient party, you know…”
“No, it’s okay. I will do it.”
Aakash hates this. The looks, the silent apologies, the uneasy air between him and the other ICU staff.
She must have hated it too.
A lady in her early 30s enters the room. It is Asnaa, Dipen’s wife; her brother and father-in-law file into the room silently as well. Aakash sees the terror on Asnaa’s face. She must have known why she is being asked to come in for a ‘discussion’ with the doctor. She looks tired. Her face is etched with wrinkles. Her eyes have dark circles.
Her wrinkles and dark circles make Aakash sad. Not that they make her look bad but while Aakash gazes at the lines, he sees all the effort she has put in during each of her husband’s radiotherapy cycles, all the pressure of meeting the expenses and of bringing up her six-year-old son alone, of caring for her bed-ridden husband relentlessly and answering the endless queries of her relatives. He could see the vulnerability in her eyes; an awareness that this ‘discussion’ would one day eventually come up.
Aakash gestures them to sit.
“Asnaa, I’m sorry to say, but your husband, Dipen, is no more. You know how his condition has been deteriorating for a month and more so since yesterday…We tried our best...We left no efforts undone.…”
Asnaa chokes between wails.
“We have to face the truth...He’ll be in peace now…You have to be strong…..”
Strong. Aakash wanders off into his thoughts once more.
Denial. Acceptance. Strength. That’s what people will expect of her.
She’ll be stronger. But scars will remain. And they will ooze of vulnerability. And at the most unwelcomed of moments.
Aakash then begins telling the patient party about how to go
about retrieving Dipen’s body for the funeral.
‘The body’ is under the rubble. It might take two-three days….
It’s been two years.
Aakash wonders if he should tell Asnaa that he whispered last words to her husband about how much she and his family loved him. He decides not to.
He handovers the patient’s file to Amit, then after changing out of his scrub, walks out of the ICU. He passes through the ICU’s waiting room where people are watching the news on TV.
It’s been two years.
On reaching the parking lot, he starts his bike and heads home with cool breeze against his windcheater. He feels her hands on his chest and her hair blowing in the wind. She had long hair, a short nose and wide, restless eyes. Brown and beautiful. And bright. Noor.
Three years ago, when Noor had just joined ICU department of the hospital, she had surprised everyone with her vibrant energy. Whether it was dressing wounds or feeding patients or writing daily progress reports, she displayed equal enthusiasm in everything she did. Her colleagues often found her overzealous, maybe they envied her for her love for what she did, her dedication to her craft.
“Fresh doctor, fresh energy,” Amit used to snap. Aakash too was at times irritated by her eye for detail; she always wanted to know the reasons behind everything done within the hospital’s ICU department.
Two weeks after she joined the team, Aakash found Noor bending over a patient who had just been declared dead from a cardiac arrest.
“What are you up to, Doctor Noor?”
“Umm...nothing.” She went to the washroom to avoid answering further queries.
Another week, Aakash again found her talking into a deceased patient’s ears. Then soon, it became a ritual in the ICU. Whenever a patient died, while the other team members wrote notes, replaced equipment, called up the patient’s party, Noor would go near the patient’s ear and whisper something. It left Aakash terribly puzzled.
He saw how differently Noor dealt with patient and the patient party. While the other doctors were focused on managing the disease, preferring to hear the patient’s medical history that would lead to a diagnosis and treatment, Noor cared enough to listen to all their stories, even those that were not related or helpful. She was interested and made time to explore every bit and piece of their personal stories; stories of their past, jobs, children and family. Some of her colleagues scoffed at how futile the exercise was. However, Noor’s style always amused Aakash. Perhaps, he was falling for her.
He had tried several times to inquire about why she whispered to patients after they had died. Initially she refused, but then one day she finally relented.
“I believe people can hear even after their death…at least for few minutes”. She explained to Aakash how hearing was the last sense to go. “And within those last few minutes, I’m trying to whisper last words of love to them….”
Just the thought of it had given Aakash the goose bumps. He was taken away by how much Noor cared. Aakash had worked with the dying patients in the hospice for two years and he had seen dozens of deaths in the ICU thereafter, but he had never cared much. He had seen patients complain, feel frustrated and sometimes express gratitude and love to their loved ones in their last days. But it never affected him. He had heard people whisper their dying words. Thousands of them. But never before, had he thought about it the way Noor did.
“It wouldn’t matter if one hears these last words, words of love one last time if they have been hearing it all their life,” he still protested.
“If you were going aboard and even if your family knew that particular day you were leaving but you left home without saying goodbye or your family didn’t say a thing before you left, how would you feel? Would you be okay?”
Aakash fell silent.
She continued, “Wouldn’t you always be haunted by the things left unsaid, as if all were incomplete?”
When the earthquake hit Nepal on Baishak 12, the hospitals in the Capital were overflowing with patients with fractured limbs and wounded bodies. And the medical fraternity, Aakash and Noor, were busy like never before. They were working extra shifts. Noor, being an active member of the Red Cross and the Leo club, was busy collecting funds and relief materials for victims and visiting affected districts whenever her hospital duty schedule permitted. Aakash wondered how Noor was taking the surge of deaths all around her.
Thousands of deaths and thousands of last words, most of them unsaid.
He was relieved; she was busy enough not to be engorged in the sadness.
Aakash had just finished his morning shift. He hurriedly changed out of his scrubs. His phone continued to repeat for the umpteenth time, “Sorry, the subscriber you are trying to reach is unavailable at the moment. Please try again later…”
Yet he dialed again and again with his hands shaking. He passed through ICU waiting room, where a bunch of middle-aged men were huddled around TV. His heart was racing.
News flashed on screen, “Two weeks after the big earthquake, another major earthquake hits Nepal again…..magnitude 7.3…hundreds missing…five volunteers from a relief team trapped under rubble in Sindhupalchwok”
It’s been two years now.
He had known thousands of last words, but he’ll never know hers.
She had conveyed thousands of last words, but she wasn’t conveyed hers.
Goodbye, Noor. I have always and will always love you. Sleep tight.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: 23-04-2017 08:07
- The long goodbye