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Sometimes, what you want is not within reach. This is a story of tough choices, of overcoming the weakness of wants to make the right decision.
One of the top 5 entries for March’s muse of the month writing cue, “To want is to have a weakness.” (from The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood)
The monitors are beeping insistently, signalling a failing body, as I step into the cubicle of the intensive care unit. These beeps, and the breathing tube that pump in air through the respirator as well as the stomach tube and intravenous lines that have fed her; the only evidence that she is not dead.
Her eyes are closed. She looks very much as she has, sleeping next to me every night, for the past fifty eight years. Fifty eight years minus the three months that she has spent in a coma in this intensive care unit.
There is a trickle of saliva from the corner of her mouth. It needs to be wiped. I always carry a handkerchief in my pocket, an old habit ingrained from my boarding school days.
A sudden memory. “Mmm….Hand me your handkerchief, Neel.”
“No. Carry your own, why don’t you? You know I don’t share!”
“Neel…You are supposed to share everything with your wife.” A pout and mock anger.
Ahh.. the quarrels and arguments. I would have given a king’s ransom for one just now…
I gently wipe the corner of her mouth, and smile to myself, thinking, “Succeeded in sharing my kerchief, did you not?”
I can sense the concern of the doctors waiting outside the cubicle, reined in only by the fact that I am a senior doctor in this hospital. I ignore them.
I hold her left hand in both of mine. Her hands are icy; but not as cold as the feeling within me. Her nails cut short by the nurses; unmanicured nails as they have never been in all these years. Her palms are soft, however, as they have always been.
If I could have sneaked in her beautician to colour her hair and give her a manicure and pedicure, I guess I would have. For years, twice a month, my Jaan would have the beautician girl over , like clockwork. I remember teasing her about it.
“Jaan, you really want to do this, er…beautification? I mean what difference does it make?”
A fierce look, then a flare of irritation. “Hubby dearest, I am doing this because I need to.”She had said with emphasis. “As long as I can, I will try to look good.”
She was very sure about her needs and wants, drawing a line between the two.
She needed to meet her invalid sister, but her social circle was a want; so she could miss the latter. She needed to send Diwali goodies to our grandchildren overseas. But our own Diwali sweets were a want and had to be Spartan, dictated by our health. Coaching our maidservant’s daughter in English was a need, but long chats with our acquaintances looking to pass the time were unnecessary. A servant for the heavy work was a need (we are not getting any younger!), but she would do the cooking herself ( I need to keep active, Neel!). Constantly giving away things which we did not use. The thick blankets and jackets (‘no winters here’), the crockery (don’t need so many plates), furniture (just enough for our visitors) all given away.
Whatever one could do without, is superfluous and thus a want.
Mere wanting is a weakness. Oh, she is so strong, my little love is. Unlike me, clinging to her even now.
I smile to myself now. So many memories, most of them good, some bad.
Especially, that one when I heard a thump and her falling to the kitchen floor, halfway through my morning cup of tea. Thumping her chest, trying to revive her, shouting for the maid to call the ambulance; but still too late. Too late to preserve anything of my love, but her heartbeat. Technically alive, but dead in very other way, I know.
And so here I am, at a crossroads as I had known I would be, every day, for the past three months that I have spent outside this ICU.
The doctors have explained to me that they need my consent to not revive her, should she have a ‘cardiac arrest’, as the final event was called. ‘Do not resuscitate’, it is called. She could be revived, if I refused permission. So, finally, it is my call.
A soft voice in my head, “Neel, this intensive care bed could be used for some other patient, who needs it. No use to me now.”
Her own wishes have always been clear, but I have been delaying this moment.
I looked down once more, the tears blurring my vision making my love look youthful once more.
I close my eyes, saying goodbye to my love for the last time and gathering my strength.
“I will sign the forms now.” I hear myself say.
Pic credit: Jeff Smallwood (Used under a Creative Commons license)
Hi. I am an anaesthetist by profession living and working in Mumbai.
I truly love
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