The second wave in India devastated big cities to small towns. Funerals were being held in parking lots due to lack of space in hospitals or crematoriums. Several phone calls and written questions to the city’s chief physician about the lack of beds could not be answered. Social media is flooded with posts from people in countries claiming medicines, bed, and oxygen. Have we realized this yet, this is right here to stay!
“Okay! The power is back on. Can you hold the patients arms straight without shaking it please?” Right at that moment, his arm fell out of the spick white sheets – blood begins to pour out of one of his cuts. Panic ensues inside the ambulance. I think to myself, only if the roads in India were smoother with less potholes, I could maybe hold his arm straight. I can’t do it. I’m not strong enough!
*3 hours earlier*
I was so excited today. I volunteered to be a part of a community that helped to sanitize buildings inflicted with Covid. My diminished thoughts of self-actualization were finally fading. We were split into 20 groups of 4 each and assigned one chief surgeon in an ambulance. I geared up to the tee. Some did not wear their face shields along with their PPE kits. I did not want to take a chance.
We reached one of the oldest townships situated in the heart of the city. Province of the elderly, house owners themselves, not much had changed since the last time I was there at a relative’s home. On the contrary, the structure seemed to be archaic but, freshly painted and it even had a cute front gate. As we completed the outer space, we entered the front door and heard struggling noises from the kitchen. We rushed inside to find a man in his late 80’s reaching out for his inhaler on the table high above. His arm was bleeding profusely. I could imagine him scraping his arm against the cupboard next to him trying to reach out as he was on the floor catching his breath almost faintly. He was anorexic wearing a white dhoti and a shirt, his eyes were pale wanting to say something pointing out to the directory kept on the table. I assumed he wanted us to reach out to his family and inform them. But there was no time for all this now. I alerted the chief surgeon; he rushed inside and got the man his inhaler. Pumped in once-twice-thrice, till he took one long breath. We all gasped thinking he was dead. The doctor leaned in closer with his stethoscopes. He put his thumbs up and we picked the man up and rushed inside the ambulance to go to the nearest hospital. His eyes were fixated on me with a questionable gaze. I really wanted him to say something.
The nearest hospital was almost 45 minutes away from us. A police constable also tagged along incase this would turn out to be a robbery or a criminal offense. We learnt from him this man’s wife had passed away a few years back and his daughter was living in the United States post marriage. The last visit she made was for her mothers ceremony. The neighbors were the ones who took care of him. He had house help and a caretaker for the whole day. Surprisingly they both were missing when we found him.
I was never so close with my grandparents. Growing up, I only visited them during my summer breaks each year. The time between both families would split, so I hardly got 15 days each to enjoy and take in as much as I could. A gush of emotion ran inside me and I held his hand all throughout. I kept on focusing harder on his breath. His eyes looked so puffy, tired, and worn out of less sleep. Probably he worried too much about his daughter being so far away from him, or maybe she never took good care of him, or he had other troubles that made him look older than what men of his age should look like. His fingers were ice cold by now. We were informed that we are close to our destination. The entire staff felt tense and uneasy.
The back door of the ambulance swung open, and the sliding doors separated. Two doctors came in waving their hands in a sign of the cross. No beds were available, and neither any oxygen cylinders to let this man borrow. His health was getting critical. We were re-routed to a parking spot, with many other vehicles spaced apart. Since I was wearing the PPE kit, I was asked to assist in taking the patient outside and hydrate him. All this time felt like a trance, I immediately snapped out of it, still holding his arms firmly. Even trying to insert a straw in his mouth was difficult. He was hardly breathing, his head on my shoulder, his hand locked around his waist, and his legs shaking rapidly.
At that moment, what should have been my priority was not. I looked around to see everyone in their highest mode of anxiety, fear, and helplessness. The world turned into a mess in minutes. Life is so unfair. I thought how a middle-class citizen wouldafford such high prices of medication, treatment, and oxygen. It has come to this point, where once this commodity was enjoyed by mankind for free – now; we need to pay for. I looked back at the old man, trying to make sure the straw is placed correctly. I caught him gazing up in the sky, his lips pursed into a smile, his pupils dry and shiny. Everything was stoic, and this moment froze. I shook him lightly, the straw falling off his mouth and his hands, free fall beside his waist.
He took his last breath on my arms while we both gazed at the stars.
He probably thought about his beautiful afterlife, and me? I thought about the hell this life is.”
This entire incident left me to ponder on millions of minuscule pieces of our lives. The timeline of it; how fair is it for a person to live their whole life conditioned to society’s norms, living like the dead, and in his last breath, looking for peace, salvation, and life?
Nothing has been the same for me since. Life waits for no one. Immediately after the body was taken to the morgue, it was sanitized, tested for any conflicts of reason of death or illness, and we rushed to the burning ghat (Hindu burial ground). Since his family could not come down on immediate notice, we and the police were involved till the end. His ashes were burnt in a holy riverbank. The ride home felt never ending and filled with despair. Since then, our species has moved on so quick – without a choice. For every ending has a new beginning.