It was pre-admission day. As if attesting to the fact, the ward spotted a handful of occupants. Soon done with my night due’s, I informed the Staff nurse and retreated to the doctor’s cabin. I was hoping to rest my legs for the next day’s sake. Finally, a moment of quiet and peace! With day break, it was going to be admission day again. I dreaded admission days!
I sat on the bed and put down the steth dangling around my neck. My neck felt sore. The mattress was clothed in a green bedcover. I wondered the reason for the preponderance of green clothing in the hospital. Even the surgical drapes are all green isn’t it. Is it because the color green has a soothing effect on mood? Nay, maybe just another accident, a chance event frozen in time. I dug into my bag looking for a book to read. There was the evergreen Washington’s Manual for medical therapeutics. And lying in disarray behind was one more, Love in the time of cholera. A novel by the Nobel winning Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I weighed my options, and quite guiltily picked the latter.
With Beethoven’s moonlight sonata playing into my ears, as I was turning the pages in the book of how Florentino Ariza persists, persevering in his profound heartfelt love for Fermina Daza through over five decades, the moment of perfect repose caused the picture of my life flicker, and blink within. I had done well at school, modestly too at college, and now I sit playing the last innings at the medicine ward before I graduate with a license to practice. I was done with my night dues, had no indent to write, my car fuel-tank had diesel to the full and I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I allowed the thought to linger, savoring every iota of gladness it brought upon. Just as if bringing me back to my sense, there was a sharp tap on the door.
I opened and the nurse said the patient at bed-12 was breathless. I picked my coat and steth and followed the nurse. He was an old man, in his eighties. I remembered his diagnosis, left lower lobe consolidation, probably a case of community-acquired pneumonia. He should have been discharged by now, but he wasn’t responding as well to the antibiotics. Probably because of his lean sickly physique adding to his age. I auscultated for breath sounds. There was a wheeze. I injected a deriphylline and advised the nurse to give him a salbutamol neb. His vitals otherwise was fine. Probably the COPD flaring up because of the infection. Walking away from the bed I noticed it was past midnight. And I didn’t feel like sleeping. I wrote down my number in the duty doctor’s register and set for a walk.
The corridors were deserted. While crossing the ICU I noticed the intern, actually an extern, an extern-intern, some girl who had gone to China to do her medicine and was intering at our hospital, call out for the attendant of some patient inside. She needed him to get the ABG of the blood she had drawn. It shone bright right in the corridor light. I heard myself chuckling in good spirit that she finally got a hang of pricking the artery right. I have always marveled at this feeling of pride you get on mutual accomplishment. It feels like one another amongst us got a knack of how to do one another procedure which could help save someone’s life, or relieve someone’s malady. That feeling of camaraderie was a heartening realization. Though I guess, there would be something akin to that in other professions as well.
I crossed her and walked down the sliding ramp to the ground floor. There was a scuffle of steps as another stretcher was pushed to the casualty. Those intern’s at the casualty seemed unusually occupied for the night. I thought of lending a hand and walked in. There were two intern’s, one making an AR entry for the case that was brought in, while another was bent over the patient taking a BP reading. Basics, always! Taking BP was the first thing with that clinical touch I remember learning while in first year. And over the years, time again I have realized how superlative is the amount of information that one can gain from it. With an appreciative nod I made myself useful and wrote down the admission note for the case. As the intern told the BP reading, my heart skipped a beat.
I was so drunk to the feeling of sublime peace and contentment this night that I was living in a passive haze. But as the voice of the intern, and soon her pretty face turned as toward, dissipated the haze, I blinked in recognition. Her lips trembled and she hid her gaze with a down-turn of her eye-lids. Yes, we had a history. A poignant one. A painful one. The air suddenly felt heavy, burdened. While though she still had me thrilled, I knew it wasn’t a good idea. I finished the admission note I was writing, adding a chest x-ray and ecg to it, and got up to leave. It was better not to say goodbye. It was better not to say anything again.
I walked out the hospital and set to a stroll in the alley that runs behind the tower blocks. This alley curiously was always windy. The reason as for beats me. The night, the breeze, the quiet lull, and the memory of her in the casualty set something stir within. I walked over to the tan tea kiosk and ordered their name sake. I unwound one of their archaic glass canisters to pick a biscuit while the fellow was simmering the milk. She had left me. Yes, in what seemed like a different life, she had broken up with me and we had parted ways. It wasn’t a particularly amicable end though.
The fellow got me my tea. I have never liked it. Frankly, I hated it. This tan tea. I wondered why I ordered it as that confused bitter-sweet aroma of tea effused form the cup and assaulted my olfactory senses, and soon my gustatory ones too with the first sip. Just then a voice spoke from behind, ‘Why are you drinking that? You never quite liked it.’ I knew the voice, just as I knew the face, and the person better than most. I turned towards her, full aware that her disarming smile is going to bring back old wounds. She smiled. And somewhere within, it started to sear.
‘I don’t know’, is what I said in response to her question. She smiled a knowing smile. I knew, and I knew that she knew. She used to love it, this tan tea. And over the months that followed, I used to come here to relive figments of those moments from that past while together. The happy moments. I looked into my cup and didn’t reply. ‘I thought the casualty was quite busy’, I heard myself say. She came close by and the smell of her opened flood-gates within. True indeed that smell is the most emotionally potent of all the five senses. Memories with an olfactory tag are the most resilient, as are the most detailed. ‘It was, till a moment ago. Now cases have cleared up’ she said. Of course, I thought.
There was an uninterrupted quite but for the rustling of wind against the leaves in the tree that stood imposingly opposite the Neuro block. Neither spoke nothing. Just stood together, along, in presence of the other. It felt terribly long since. It felt good. I felt vestiges of that happiness brim within which we shared once before. As if mirroring my emotions, she said ‘It didn’t have to end the way it did, you know.’ She was looking ahead, into empty space as if those scenes were playing before her eyes. ‘But it was you who ended it’ I retorted. She grimaced, ‘I know. But still, it didn’t have to end like that.’ As inexplicable as ever I thought. She had a way of stringing words and putting things that just didn’t seem to make sense. And quite often as it happened, left me without a reply.
I turned towards her. Her eyes still had that pearly whiteness to them. Gorgeous she indeed is as she was. ‘You lied to me. About too many things. How am I to entrust me to someone such?’. Her voice quivered as she let it out. It felt like déjà vu. I remember this conversation from over a year before. And I remember me wording the very same reply, ‘it wasn’t a lie. Just not the entire truth. I was afraid of losing you.’ ‘That you did, didn’t you’. Her barbs were still as apropos. ‘Touché’, I wanted to say, but thought better against. I knew she could trust me. I knew I loved her. But I didn’t know how to have her know that. X-rays don’t show what’s inside one’s heart, do they. Much less into the head since Galen set that mistake by Aristotle right.
I wasn’t prepared for what she would say next, not by a long chance. ‘I have missed you. Miss you still. Your foolish visage walking alone through the corridors of the hospital is a painful sight. Let’s give it a shot again shall we?’ My first thought on hearing these words was, is this for real. But then the bitter after-taste of the tan tea that I had just finished sipping removed that doubt and I blinked baffled. As inexplicable as ever, women! And as if the entire extant universe conspired against the moment, my phone rang. The nurse was calling. The old man with pneumonia was not doing well. I got up to leave. I probably should call up the attending. His frail fragile body was giving me a reason to fear.
I realized that I hadn’t responded to her, she by side, with her words still hanging in the air around. Of course I would want to give it another shot. And importantly, not mess it up this time. Before I could put it into words, she quipped, ‘Sick patient in ward right. I could hear. Better get going. Let’s meet up say day after tomorrow? I will come pick you. It will be your post admission day. You will be too tired. I will drive you home. We can stop for coffee en route.’
I blinked, beamed and bounced up all at the same time. She was keeping tab on my whereabouts all this while after all. I gave her a quick embrace as she broke into a broad smile. I can swear there were tears welling up in her eyes. I whispered, ‘I love you’. It all felt a dream I was too afraid to disturb. As I doubled towards my ward, I could hear from behind the fellow at the kiosk call her out for her order. ‘Madam, your coffee.’ And I knew. And I knew that she knew that I knew. She never liked coffee. While I did.