“How long have you been unwell?” Dr. Bhave probed.
“I was never gravely sick, I just lost my exuberance. I started getting these low grade fevers, accompanied with shivers”, Shivani sounded tired.
“Your reports doesn’t say so. Your platelet count is only 18K. You need to get admitted now. You need an urgent platelet transfusion and I am sorry you have no other choice, shall I proceed?” Dr. Bhave retaliated.
Nodding her head in approval, Shivani quizzed, “Is it going to be a long stay?”
Shivani received no answer.
“Wait in the lobby, start filling up the forms. Let me see if I can get you a bed on priority”, Dr. Bhave walked out of his cabin.
Shivani glanced at her watch. It’s a few minutes past twelve in the afternoon. She let out a loose and wet cough. The thick phlegmy mucus slided up and down her throat with each vicious discharge of air.
She reached for her purse. She had carried some cash but she knew if admitted she had to shell out quite a lot of money as an initial deposit. She hadn’t carried her debit card.
Her low grade fever had been on and off past two months. She had consulted the local physician Dr.Sawant, who couldn’t find anything abnormal in her reports. The fever refused to recede with his medicines and it was only then she took the decision to get a second opinion.
It was just this Saturday. Clutching her daughter Reenie’s hands and carrying her latest blood report a frail Shivani had been to Dr. Rao’s chamber.
“What? Platelets only 18k? Madam you need to consult a hematologist. I can’t suggest any other alternative”, Dr. Rao had almost jumped off his chair.
It was Dr. Rao who then referred her to the renowned hematologist Dr. Bhave. Scribbling a letter to Dr. Bhave, he insisted Shivani visits him on Sunday itself. “We don’t work on Sundays, but Dr. Bhave is my classmate. I will request him to see you tomorrow as a special case”, were his words.
Shivani had excused herself as Sunday was the only day she gets to spend time with Reenie. On weekdays Reenie would be at work and would return only late in the evening. Reenie had come for her delivery and Shivani had planned to prepare panneer manchurian, her favorite dish this Sunday.
“Not Sunday but I will surely go on Monday”, her answer had angered Dr. Rao who had replied “As you wish. Just know this; you are standing on very thin ice”.
While Reenie who was in her third trimester of pregnancy panicked, Shivani had laughed off saying “Some infection, may be, who cares”.
“Mummy, why are you leaving so early?” Reenie had queried. It was five in the morning and Shivani had decided to catch an early morning local to avoid the mad rush of the office goers.
“Don’t worry I would be back soon. You travel safely to your work”, assuring Reenie, Shivani had hurried away.
Being the first day of the week, workload was always huge. Shivani knew it and hesitated calling Reenie at work. After a long period of silent contemplation Shivani finally dialed Reenie’s number.
“Mum, is everything normal?” Reenie sounded anxious.
“How is your work load at office, Reenie? Can you come down to the hospital with your debit card?” Shivani insisted though not trying to be forceful.
The heavily pregnant Reenie had reached in an hour post her mothers’ call. The mother daughter duo waited for hours together and finally through his contacts, by five in the evening Dr. Bhave managed a bed for Shivani. And at eleven in the night, Shivani had two bottles of platelet transfusion.
Reenie had left the hospital by then. But in the meantime, she had tried calling Dr. Bhave, but he had disconnected her call with a message “I am busy, please call later”.
Back at home she had latched up all through the night. Her mind had been a vortex of emotions. She had clutched the cell phone the entire night waiting for some news either from Dr. Bhave or the hospital. By morning the bed sheet was in a knot and aside she felt exhausted.
“There’s no point informing Anup now. As it is he is always busy and everything is perfect till I am able to manage things by myself”, she mused.
Fixing a cup of piping hot coffee, she turned on the geyser. She had to get ready for the hospital and then her office. The baby kicked and Reenie’s thoughts meandered from anxiety to a sudden state of euphoria. Another three months and then she will have the baby in her arms.
The moment however didn’t last long. Her mobile rang. It was from the hospital.
“Yes, I will reach by ten and see Dr. Bhave”, she told the junior doctor and hung up the phone.
“Why this urgency now? Dr. Bhave hadn’t bothered to answer my calls yesterday and now he is suddenly having something important to discuss. Swear, these doctors”, Reenie muttered an invective.
Anyway, Reenie was used to the ways of these doctors. She recalled the days how her mother had faced the same during her fathers’ hospitalization. Those days the doctors had made Shivani run from pillar to post. His fever won’t recede and he was made a guinea pig for all types of tests and trials. The treatment had cost a lakh to Shivani. Still he couldn’t be saved. They lost him within a span of ten days.
But Reenie wasn’t pregnant then. And her mother had taken the entire charge of taking care of her father. She had even dissuaded Reenie to come down to the hospital. Reenie had carried on with her work and had witnessed how bravely her mother had dealt with her fathers’ affliction. “Severe pulmonary infection”, her mother would reply when anyone would enquire about her father including her.
Reenie hired an Uber. It was impossible to commute in the locals during the rush hours. By nine she was at the hospital.
She found her mother sleeping. The sister in charge, Meena informed that her mother hadn’t slept a wink at night and they had given her sedatives only at wee hours in the morning.
“Don’t wake her up, you may sit at the waiting room. We will call you once the doctors come for their rounds”, sister Meena suggested.
Meantime Reenie met the junior doctor who informed her that Shivani’s platelet count had risen to 90k which was good. We expect it to increase further tonight. But wait, don’t go without meeting Dr. Bhave”, he spoke as he continued writing down his observations in the log book.
“Hello madam”, the deep voice jolted Reenie from her sleep. It was Dr. Bhave. She had been dozing at the waiting room when he had come for his rounds.
Ushering her out of the crowded waiting room Dr. Bhave lowered his voice and almost in a whispering tone he muttered “She is seropositive and I am not a specialist on the same. However we will still conduct the Western Blot Test and also check her viral load to identify the gravity of the situation. By the way when are you due?”
Reenie mumbled “December”.
“It is October, we still have time. Go see your mother and then come to my chamber and I will give you the contact details of my colleague dealing with infectious diseases. You will need to contact him immediately after I discharge your mother”, Dr. Bhave left for his rounds.
Reenie’s brain paused for a moment. She recalled her childhood. She was hiding on a tree, playing hide and seek with her friends. She was waiting motionless for game to wonder by and had dozed off and had fallen ten feet to the ground, with a loud thud on her back. The impact had knocked every snippet of air from her lungs, and she had laid there grappling to inhale, to exhale, and to do anything. And that’s what she felt now, trying to remember how to breathe, unable to speak and stunned as Dr. Bhave’s words reverberated in her ears.
She entered the ward. It was a triple sharing room. The other two patients already had their attendants by their side.
Shivani gave her an imperturbable look. Reenie settled on the chair next to her. Holding her daughter’s hand Shivani muttered, “Tell everyone severe pulmonary infection accompanied by fever”. Reenie didn’t reply. The mother and daughter spent the next thirty minutes in silence. That was the only language left to speak.
“I need to see the doctor, will come later”, finally Reenie broke the silence. “And your office?” Shivani sounded concerned.
By that time Reenie had already taken the lift to second floor for the doctors’ cabin.
“Does my mum have only ten days to survive?” she asked Dr. Bhave.
“No, why say so? The malady has no cure but it can be controlled. It’s like blood pressure. She will need to take the medicine throughout her life. But yes, the treatment is expensive. Perk up lady, don’t panic. We will do our best”, Dr. Bhave handed over his colleague’s number to her.
“Why did you hide his illness from me?” Reenie tried to keep calm though she could feel her temper taking an upper hand.
“He was in his last days and there was not much the doctors could do. What do you think I have killed him?”, Shivani’s voice chocked as she replied.
“Fine, I trust you. But now that you are not in your last days I am going to fight it out”, Reenie sounded stern.
“What will you tell Anup?” asked Shivani. “The truth”, Reenie replied.
The pathologist came to collect the blood for culture.
Reenie walked out from the hospital.
She dialed the number which Dr. Bhave had provided. It was answered by a soothing “Hello.”
About the Author
Rimli Bhattacharya is a gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from National Institute of Technology, and also holds an MBA in supply chain management. Her essay on mental illness in the anthology “Book of Light” published by Speaking Tiger Publications caught much attention in literary circles. Her writings have appeared in several magazines. She is also a trained classical dancer (Kathak & Odisi forms).