Day One of my Paediatrics posting. The lady sits beside me in a share-rickshaw. Her son sits in her lap. She looks fiftyish. He isn’t more than five.
His eyes are strange. His head sways with every bump. His arms flail. His legs are limp.
His mother hugs him closer. When his tiny fist accidentally punches me, she smiles in apology.
Is it Down’s? Delayed development? Polio? Or is the child just sleepy?
Should I meet them in a clinic instead of a rickshaw, will I have an answer?
The Gynaecology OPD is packed. A Psychiatry resident brings a young girl to be examined by my Head of Unit.
She was married off as a child. Her husband is an alcoholic. Her mother-in-law forced her into prostitution. She conceived once – and delivered. She is pregnant again, and wants to abort.
My unit doesn’t perform abortions.
She is nineteen. Her furtive eyes settle on my textbook, which she examines with interest.
‘Aap yahaan seekhte ho kya?’
She looks at me eagerly. I don’t know where to look.
It started with leukaemia. When bladder cancer followed, he went to Urology. But Anaesthesia pronounced him unfit for surgery. And Medicine diagnosed tuberculosis. Then he fractured his leg.
He aged twenty years in two. Whenever we met, he’d complain about how doctors make him run around without explaining what is wrong with him. I never knew what to say.
Recently, I spot him again in the corridors. I duck into the nearest doorway and hope he hasn’t seen me.
The houseman scrubs her back with antiseptic. A ward-boy holds her still. When the lumbar puncture needle pierces her spine, she begins to scream.
She is one-and-a-half years old.
The first attempt draws blood. So does the second. And third. With the fourth, fluid emerges. The houseman sighs with relief.
Why couldn’t he get it right the first time? Why didn’t a registrar perform the procedure?
How could he avoid it if the baby wriggled? How will he learn?
A train arrives at and departs from the opposite platform. Five minutes later, I notice them.
A little old man and a little old woman have alighted. She totters ahead with a cane. He follows, with his hand on her shoulder. Neither of them can see.
Where from? Where to? At their age, why commute? At that hour, how will they get home?
By the time they cover the length of the platform, the next train arrives.
The conductor starts issuing tickets on my last bus home.
At the first stop, a youth gets in. The conductor rushes down the aisle and sits next to him. He puts his arm around him and speaks affectionately, and loudly. The boy squirms, but smiles shyly and nods from time to time.
The conductor wears a hearing aid. The boy never utters a word.
I haven’t gotten my ticket. But at my stop, I rise and silently slip off the bus.
No one notices. The conversation goes on.
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