India Diaries : The Bystander (Fact, Fiction, Life)
“The hospital needs a bystander if he has to be admitted.” The nurse attending to dad was saying. It was a close-ended statement with no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. “Arrange one quickly.” Again a statement; non-negotiable, non-debatable.
“Who are you?”
“I’m his daughter.”
“So you will be staying here with your father.” Again, it was simply expected and not unnatural.
I knew the effect my next statement would have on them and yet I said it, “No, I will not. We will arrange for a bystander.”
They looked at each other with a disbelieving look that agreed without doubt on the sad plight of old parents whose children have absolutely no time for them. I was the cynosure of all eyes in the ICU room; the nurses administering medicines to bed-ridden patients had also turned to look.
“Where does one wait if one must here?” I asked, ignoring the looks they were giving me.
“Outside in the corridor with all the others who are waiting.”
People were all around the narrow corridor, few sitting on the rickety metal chairs, others standing and still others sprawled on the floor. It wasn’t a public hospital and yet the waiting area outside the ICU had all the makings of one. One lady in a maroon coat sat outside, registering the visitors. Only 1 visitor was allowed in. The visiting hours were strictly from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and even during this time, you couldn’t just enter. The lady in maroon would call out the names from the registered list, ten at a time. You had to take off your shoes (fortunately I had worn socks which did not have to be removed), don the blue coat and wear the hospital slippers before entering the ICU. There was no point in thinking when that blue coat had been last washed or how many and who had worn it prior to you. I had taken the blue coat and worn it like one wears a coat usually only to be told that I had to put my arms through the sleeves in the front so that the back of the coat becomes the front leaving the back uncovered, when worn. I had entered the ICU at around 3.00 p.m., again at 4.00 p.m. and then at 5.15 p.m. (after which everybody forgot I was even there thanks to a nurse who was a cousin of someone who worked at the Retirement home in which dad had been living in, for the last 1 month. This place, was a far cry from where he had been staying but when someone feels they are between life and death, the place hardly matters.
With tubes connected to dad to monitor his heart beat, blood supply to the brain etc. we couldn’t take the risk of unplugging him and moving to another hospital.
There was no point in explaining it to the medical staff that he had been well taken care of and it wasn’t as it appeared to be. I would have probably have formed a similar opinion myself, had I not been in the position I currently was in. Isn’t that what humans with a compelling sense of righteousness, do anyway- form opinions? With the miracle called a brain and the ability to analyze, they pass judgements of known people and unknown people all the time, every-time!
“Can you’ll please arrange one?” I requested the Chief Nurse; I had reached an age where I no longer cared for the opinion of others. I was in desperate need of rest myself. I hadn’t been physically or mentally prepared for this turn of events. But are you ever prepared enough for misfortune or fortune or simply for the future?
“No, we do not have such a policy. You have to arrange for one. Only then can he be here. Maybe you can check with the place where he was staying. They can arrange one for you.”
Relieved for the suggestion provided, I called Babu the Supervisor of the Retirement Home.
“Your father was only a guest here. We can arrange someone only for residents,” Babu didn’t believe in mincing words.
“Well, I understand. But he pays a much higher rate than the residents because he is a guest, so…anyways I need your help. Please help me. Let me know how best you can.”
“Are you ready to pay Rs.1000 per day, an additional Rs.250.00 for the food and pay the rent of the room?”
“Yes…yes. Please arrange one immediately.”
Half-an-hour later Babu calls to say the bystander has been arranged; a neighbour’s son.
A boy of 18 or 19, a few years older than my own daughter, arrived with a bag-pack on his shoulders and a mobile in his hand, ear-phones plugged in his ears. He had 1 week of holiday and was willing to fill the position, until college reopened. His father was a mason and his mother did not work. He obviously needed the cash and we needed him. It suited us perfectly- we just needed the name of the bystander to be filled in the hospital registers. It wouldn’t really affect dad as his needs would be taken care of by the hospital. The main purpose was to bring the prescribed medicines from the hospital pharmacy to the nurse so that it could be administered on dad. Promising to return the next day and immensely grateful for the find, we left the bystander at the hospital, in a room that costed around Rs.1800 per night (which is high by Indian standards in a not-so-posh hospital).
Dad was moved from the ICU to a private room the next day. The bystander was provided a bed in the same room as dad. There was a television in the room but as dad did not like any noise, the bystander asked if he could spend time in the common room of the hospital, watching T.V. He wasn’t required to entertain dad anyways. With a nagging pain in his hip, dad was not in his best humor, so it was best the bystander kept his distance and limited his interaction to the extent necessary. I had cautioned dad to ‘behave’ with ‘the kid’ as he would with his own grand-children since he was around the same age. With progressing age, dad was prone to being irritable and repelling people around him. And I could not afford losing the bystander. As young and ‘in-need’ he seemed to be, he was our, actually my ‘necessity’.
Just as I crossed my fingers and hoped for dad to get well before the bystander had to leave, the bystander said he had to return to college; throwing us in a frenzy. It was perfectly understandable that he had to go. But what next? Not wanting to bother dad about such trivialities, we began a frantic search for a replacement. After several calls to agencies (which charged Rs. 30,000 for the month, irrespective of whether the person would stay for a week or a day) and the Retirement Home, I called dad to apprise him of the current situation : how it was becoming difficult finding another bystander, that we were trying and then finally to tell him that we were trying and there was nothing to worry.
Dad’s voice on the other end was calm, “Why should I worry? He left at 2 p.m. today and said he could be back by 6.00 a.m. the next day if I paid him Rs. 4000.00 per night from Rs. 1000.00 because that’s what his friend who is doing the same job is being paid.”
“4000! Did you agree?”
“No. Of-course not. I bargained and got it reduced to Rs1500, and you said he is like my grand-children.”
“So did he agree?” I asked ignoring the cynicism. Dad loved being right.
“What do you think? Of-course he did. He’s called me three times since he left, asking me if he should return.”
“Good then. So we don’t have to worry anymore. What time is he coming?”
“I have not called him. The hospital will think he is watching TV in the common room. He used to be doing that anyway most of the time. I will call him when they ask and he will come. He will come. He wants to buy the latest Apple iPhone,” dad said, sounding victorious, like someone who had foiled a master-plan of a con-man. “Thieves I tell you. All of them. The whole day he did nothing and sat around and wanted money for it.”
There was no point in explaining to dad that the bystander was my need. Dad’s response indicated he was back in good health and the blood was flowing perfectly well to his brain (thank the Lord for that), which was the reason why he had got himself admitted in the first place. A slight twitching sensation in the tongue, unable to move his thumb, he had created a ruckus at the retirement home, not paying heed to everybody else’s advice to ignore the ‘signs’ which as per them, are all part of growing old. He had obviously been right (again thank God) though he had got himself labeled as a ‘difficult guest’ at the Retirement home :). As per the doctors, he had arrived at the right time, if not he would have had a stroke…
The primary purpose of sharing this post is a reminder not to ignore the early warning signs that your body exhibits in case of any illness.
The second reason is I wish there was a non-profit organization for booking ‘Bystanders’. With more and more nuclear families and kids living away from their parents, its not about sensitivities and emotions but a urgent need that this service is provided at a reasonable cost. Its not about loving your parent lesser or more. Its about reducing the stress that exists with having a loved one at the hospital for the family. So anyone looking for a venture to start off, here’s one :).
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