THE PATIENT’S WIFE

My husband is ill. I take him to hospital. The day is spent waiting. A day’s wages are lost. The medicines are expensive. How can I buy them all? But if I don’t, how will he recover? If he doesn’t, who will earn? If no-one does, how will I feed the children? And if they aren’t fed, won’t they fall ill?

Yes, I have backaches, joint pains and painful periods. So what? When did I become the problem?

She queues up for an OPD paper with a baby on her hip (and another on the way). A diminutive thing, she staggers under her husband’s weight as they trudge up the stairs to bees number. Whilst waiting for their two minutes with the doctor, she adjusts her pallu, as if she were in her marital home, not a hospital. When it’s their turn, she shuffles the incomprehensible case papers in her hands, and gives the doctor an ingratiating smile. Then elaborates on her husband’s symptoms and answers the doctor’s cursory questions, much better than her husband ever could. She is anxious as hell, but does not show it.

Spends an hour finding the Ophthal OPD to follow up on an ENT reference. Takes her husband to Nair for a hearing test that isn’t conducted in Sion. Until recently, also to KEM, because they were the only ones with an MRI machine.

A week later, she’s back. Before prescribing medicines, doctors ask her husband if he drinks. When he replies that he’s stopped (since this morning), she supports him with a good-humoured smile. Even if he beat her up last night.

She isn’t vengeful. Instead, she stifles her husband’s moans. Donates blood. Or a kidney.

She’s illiterate, but doctors ignore her husband, and explain his treatment regimen to her, like they do to the parents of a sick child. She becomes an expert on which medicines are available for free in the hospital pharmacy, and which she must scrounge to buy from outside. And she stares blankly as docs try to explain that the OTs are being renovated, and her husband cannot be operated upon until two months later. All right, she says, we’ll wait. Like there’s a choice.

When he’s admitted to the ward, she struggles to keep her family together. She fights a daily battle with (non-existent) security to meet her husband after (non-existent) visiting hours. She brings him home-cooked food. And begs the overworked resident to please take another look.

Ignored by residents as an ignoramus. Yelled at by nurses for getting in the way. Reduced to a fly on the wall as enthusiastic medical students poke and prod her husband’s stuporous form during a clinic.

When he dies, she collapses. Or wails along with the other women. Then pulls herself together. Neither fainting nor crying will provide tomorrow’s meal.

If fate is kind, she will watch over her husband patiently as he recovers. By the time he’s fit, she may just be a patient herself.

Think about her sometimes.

* * *

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15 thoughts on “THE PATIENT’S WIFE

      • Its not just about giving credit.

        You need to take permission from the photographer before using it. The photographer may charge you to use his work or may not let you use it at all. Once you have the required permission, you can leave a small text below the picture or at the end of your blogpost giving credits to the photographer and preferably a link to his website/blog.

        The above picture has a clear copyright symbol above the woman’s head(left) which you have cropped off.

        Stealing images and altering them without permission is a crime. We photographers earn our living out of our pictures. Please do not indulge in such acts of piracy.

        I urge you to remove the said photograph.

      • There! Took it off. Thanks for the feedback. I can’t imagine what it feels like to have someone else profit from your efforts. Will try to work out a way to get great pictures, without any litigation involved 😀 Cheers!

  1. Mrigank, I must say you write very beautifully yourself. This post particularly was rather lovely. 🙂 It’s very important to never let go of the idea of how difficult it really is to be a caregiver especially when faced with the kind of conditions our public healthcare system functions under. I am often overwhelmed when I attempt to think about each individual family a patient comes from and the kind of resourcefulness is required from them every time someone falls seriously ill.

    But mostly they are so stoic, and dare I say it, strong. I’d sound unnecessarily earnest if I said I admire them. They just do what needs to be done.

    I must say, the Indian wife deserves better accolades than those paid to her by day time television.

    Very well done, Mrigank. What we need to preserve as doctors is empathy, so we never forget it’s real human beings we deal with, and not just with patients, too.

  2. very nice…
    it is very refreshing to know that there are still medical students who still actually care about the rigors the patient’s relatives go through, instead of just complaining about the meager, broken history given by them during the case-taking.

  3. As someone who has been taught medicine and now teaches it, I wish all my students and residents read and reread this post. Also your posts remind me of why I left death and disease and settled into Reproductive Medicine…

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