Wretched agony – Stopping for death

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!

Mass cremation – Sourced from Reuters website
*Light flickers*

“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.

“In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

21 thoughts on “Wretched agony – Stopping for death

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  1. What a sad and dispairing situation to witness and how difficult it must have been to be there and to put it later into words. So many people suffering and in most cases, pain could be avoided if there were more kindness in the world. You are brave girl, thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dearest Blanca, I only have an ocean of love for you and your capacity to be so self aware and love yourself and others with all your might. Your kinds words touched me. With all the strength in us, I’m sure we shall stand out for all our good deeds. Take care and keep connected 💜🌸

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    1. Thank you Goff. I wish love could magically heal the whole world. People suffering in different parts of the world, wars, social strata,everything diminished just by giving and receiving love. 🌸

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  2. In old age, if you don’t have anyone to take care of you is painful. This pandemic has taught that health care must be free for all especially for those who can’t afford it. It’s shameful if someone dies just because he has no money for the treatment. Death is the most brutal reality.

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    1. Manoj, you struck the right chord by talking about the healthcare system in our country being an absolute swindle in the system. Being extremely poor or middle class could probably be the worst strata to find yourselves in fighting for the rights of a person to live. Be it signing a form, signing off formalities, presenting documents, all this before saving a humans life. All our life we are earning just to be able to get that decent mediclaim package so we don’t have to face death in the eye.

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  3. Death can be so haunting for the ones who stayed back but had to observe it from so close that it’s as if they faced it themselves … I can imagine how difficult it is to pen down such an experience but you did it so well my friend …❤️ But as you said, it’s ironical that watching someone die teaches us so much about life … What a sad and traumatic experience it must have been for you but I treasure the undefined yet precious bond formed between you two, and the love and care that you were able to offer him during his last few breaths, when even his loved ones could not be there for him … I am sure he is blessing you for that from his save haven now, from his “beautiful afterlife” ✨❤️

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    1. I love how you aptly put in a quote at the end. Indeed I have too imagined the afterlife to be a beautiful place for the good souls that depart us. That moment, the things that could have been done differently, situations that could have been perceived by another is a completely opposite scenario; makes us think twice about our purpose, being there at that space and time to witness such a thing. Thank you for feeling with me and being a constant support. Expressing this has helped me accept it with my whole heart 🌸

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  4. It’s so painful to imagine what you must have felt at that moment! Life seriously is a sad affair and hopefully humanity is destined to find their paradoxical peace only in death! God bless his soul and god bless you! For every act of kindness is what makes living this kind of a life a little better! ❤️

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    1. You are so right Manali. Finding and accepting peace with one self is what brings us closer to spirituality or god. Thank you for believing in me. To each his own, our one act of kindness at any given moment can be an altercating moment for another. I hope and pray he is in a good place too. 🌸

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  5. I adore the kindness you’ve exhibited, Oishwaria! 💛
    I wish he had attained some peace in those last moments. It’s truly pathetic to find many elderly spending their last days alone.

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    1. Thank you so very much Anisha. Your empathy glows amongst all stars too. 💜

      This has been tough to write for me. Took me days to articulate so much I thought. I seldom believe in the afterlife. But maybe it does exist. What do you have to say?

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    2. Though not completely, I can understand the pain you must’ve gone through. It still isn’t easy for me to imagine and settle with the rush of mixed feelings your words have evoked. I have always believed only in living this life to the fullest, and not about afterlife even after the death of a few closed ones. Maybe it exists, or maybe not!

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    3. Thank you for your lovely comment and for opening up another spectrum of parallel thought about the afterlife. Sometimes this one lifetime doesn’t feel like it’s enough to achieve all we aspire. When that happens, we start to ponder what really awaits for us after the soul leaves the body.

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