He was a heart patient- very thin and emaciated with his bones sticking out and his heart beat visible on his chest. His eyes stared at us- there was no expression. His mouth was open, but he had no desire to talk. He had been in the same bed for the last 11 months and he knows he’s going nowhere for the next 11 either. Every stain on the wall, every rip in the sheet and every chip in the paint of the bedside table were imprinted in his memory.
We were students- eager faces with the new-found self importance of would-be doctors. We knew nothing; but when the patient said breathlessness, we said Dyspnoea and when he said pain in his chest, we called it Angina. We knew more than he did and so, we were fine.
He stared at all our faces for a while and then, turned away. The white coats and cream colored uniforms weren’t new to him. Groups of students had come to him before- nothing new there. Our faces were the only new things and now that he’s stared, that’s old too. When you’re lying in a hospital ward day in and day out, it’s easy to get bored.
We asked him questions; most probably, the same ones that had been asked by different people before us. He gave the same answers- he knew what to say by now. He also knew that an hour later, the professor would come and he would again ask the same questions; and he would give the same answers. It’s been done too many times. He was losing interest in his own family now-a-days; these students certainly couldn’t interest him.
The questioning round ended. Soon, the students would start poking him, tying things to his arm, pressing his wrist, his neck, his feet, and his stomach, everything available. His shirt is taken off and he’s lying at the students’ mercy. His heart beat rose and he was assailed all over again by the feeling that he’s an animal in the zoo. He’s tied to this stinky, white-sheeted bed and he’s poked and prodded daily. He’s tired of it; but he can’t tell them that. He’s too tired- too tired to say anything. He sighed deeply. He tells himself daily to get used to it. However, every next day he’s disgusted again with this whole parade- new faces in the old white coats, new hands with the old instruments, new voices asking the same old questions- he was tired! Tired of all of this!
We watched him roll his eyes and sigh in resignation. One of us wondered if he could file a case of harassment against us. By now, we had taken his pulse 5 times and BP 6 times; all of us had pressed and poked his abdomen at least once. It, for sure, felt like harassment. Then, this other guy pointed out that he wouldn’t know what harassment is. To him, this is a daily occurrence. He wouldn’t label it “Harassment”. Everyone laughed.
He stared at us laughing. He’s been dying slowly of congenital heart disease for 25 years. He’s 25 yrs old. As he stared and we laughed, the hopelessness faded from his eyes- to be replaced by a look of anger, frustration. For that one moment, he despised us with all of his diseased heart. We didn’t notice. We went back to poking him. He went back to his hopeless stare.
Finally, we left. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knows that as long as he’s here, this will happen and he also knows that he’s not going anywhere. With dry, chapped lips that refused to smile, he let out a low, despairing whistle. Then, he turned over and went to sleep.