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.
* * *