Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Heart-rending

I was in the hospital last week - taking turns with three others in my family here in Bangalore - to take care of a relative. One morning, as I was walking into the hospital to relieve one of them, a woman I recongnized from the ICU stopped me. She was there with her husband - alone.

Two nights earlier, they'd been to a wedding when her husband suddenly complained of intense discomfort and a burning sensation in his chest. They live in Devanahalli (about 75 miles from Bangalore) and there are no hospitals there that are capable of treating her husband. So at 11 in the night they managed to arrange for a taxi and arrived in Bangalore past midnight.

The doctors in Bangalore prescribed a procedure for her husband that would cost Rs. 2,000, an amount she was struggling to come up with. She talked non-stop for 10 minutes and the things that were bothering her were so breathtaking in their simplicity. At that moment, in the throes of crisis, all she wanted was her husband to be safe. She wanted a husband, she wanted her children to have a father, and she did not care if he could not work for the rest of his living days as long as he was around the house. He is 38 years old.

She has spent the night alone in the hospital with her husband, and as the sole attendant had to do all the running around (for things like xeroxing documents, filling out applications, making payments, getting registered). She envied my family, she said. "There are so many of you and you support each other." I told her to come and get me if she needed anything. Her eyes filled with tears.

The next day, I went into the ICU to see her again to find out how she was holding up. I wanted to give her some money, at least enough to help her get the procedure for her husband. Thankfully, the doctors had decided he could be helped with medication, he did not need the procedure.

Earlier in the morning, the thought of offering money had bothered me. Would she find it insulting that some city slicker had the temerity to think she needed charity? Would she be grateful or ashamed? After some deliberation, I had decided that I would offer the money for the procedure specifically. I am not really sure of the logic behind it, but it made me feel better.

When she said her husband did not need the procedure, I felt relieved. Now the money issue need not come up. I just told her to be brave and that everything would work out, and I walked out of the ICU.

This encounter is still bothering me for various reasons:

  • Devanahalli did not have a hospital and the couple had to drive to Bangalore for emergency care;
  • they were alone in a big city trying to come to grips with a personal crisis in an unknown place;
  • they were struggling to come up with the funds to get medical care;
  • where and how would her husband get follow-up care?

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