Cancer Tales: Chapter 1: Are you committed

© Dr Sujeet Kumar

Ankit, the resident Dr with his tired legs goes past the HDU cubicle to his right with a grazing look on vital monitor screen of 4 sick patients and a faded view of general ward cubicle to his left and reaches the nursing counter and speaks up:

Dinesh brother, i am leaving now and Dr Ramesh is on call today, he must be roaming around in this building with multiple cross consults in his hands and smile on his face. Do call him up when required.

I am here … appears Dr Ramesh. He reached to nursing counter moving past the HDU (High Dependency Unit) cubicle to his right and speaks up.

Any significant over for me for the “dark duty night”…..Ankit bhai

Ankit with his thick husky voice : Not much today…..probably the “death god” is posted in ward other than hematoncology today…..anyways I am leaving, it’s already 15 past 7 and I need to get some vegetables from market today..

Ankit was about to get past the last cubicle of general ward and exit to lift area but suddenly his husky tired voice gets a boost and he yells at top of his voice pointing to Bed no 18…

“Why you people get your child here and leave your brain at home…Is this the way you have been told to feed your child on a dirty piece of paper… when he catches infection you won’t be able to cope up with cost of treatment and you will be the murderer of your own child…where is his father ?”

As he finishes “all in one breath” yell…Dinesh brother and Dr Ramesh hurriedly reach the cubicle.

Dr Ramesh: What happened ?

Dr Ankit: It is very difficult to deal with irresponsible and non motivated parents of these cancer kids.

Ankit again turns to the lady..the mother with her downgazing eyes taking turns to see each and every person present around her.

Didn’t you hear what I asked ? Where is his father ?

Mother clad in a semi dirty saree readjusts her saree over head, ups her gaze and with teary eyes gathers courage and speaks up: Sir, he has just gone outside for rest and I will be here with my son throughout the night.

Ankit turns back to his colleague, closes his eyes in disbelief and says “this is what we don’t need in cancer kids… non motivated parents”

Anyways I should leave now…no point explaining her!

Ankit rushes his legs out of ward into lift area and while he waits for lifts to come up to 9th floor, he takes out his mobile phone and scrolls through Facebook.

Within 30 seconds he looks up to lift indicator screen which read “4th Floor” and his mind wonders “Why are these large capacity hospital lifts so slow ?” and it is immediately followed by rebuttal by same mind “ You can’t help but wait for it to come so keep scrolling your Facebook, till it comes”

He sits in car and texts his wife “send me the list of vegetables that we need for the week” and starts his car…drives past the exit road lined on the sides by lush green trees and reaches the nearby vegetable market.

A packed market with hundreds of vendor some sitting with vegetables on floor and some on wheeled carts with a background score in pressurised nasal tone reading “ potatoes 20, onions 40, best of green leaves, free chillies here, free coriander leaves” and what not.

Ankit locates a floor shop where most of his list items would be available, squats pulling up his jeans and asks : What price for potatoes?

Sir 15/kg only

Ankit had registered the “vegetable market background score” and he remembers “potatoes 20” part of it.

Ankit looks up to face of vendor for the first time and asks “is it rotten or what ? Why your price is so low? While he waits for the answer something strikes to his mind.

Have I seen you somewhere ? Asks Ankit to vendor.

Sir, yes sir My child is admitted on 9th floor on bed 18.

But are you a local here and when did you start selling vegetables here ?

Sir, not a local here and my village is almost 400 kms from here. Unable to bear expenses I and my wife decided to divide our responsibilities, she remains there with child and I have taken up this work for some sort of financial support. We are ….

Gets interrupted by Ankit’s Question: But haven’t you got govt aid of 3 lakh rupees?

Sir u have to have money to get money out of govt. You know how files move from one table to other in such offices.

After a pause he starts again: I have already sold my only remaining land in village and the govt aid is only for hospital expenses. The cost of living in a city is much higher than my village.. the lodging, the food etc. We are on our own and it’s our only child and as you had told the other day that hard Chemo phase will go on for next 6 months and so I decided to take this up.

Sir we are poor, we live in sweat and die in sweat, that’s only thing god has given us.  I am a labourer in my village, will remain a labourer in any place I go so place doesn’t matter for us.

We may be poor but absolutely committed to our child treatment. Will do whatever it takes to get my child back from jaws of cancer. Cancer doesn’t eats up individual, it probably feasts on family..it happens to family.

Sir how was my child doing this evening ?

While Ankit was still processing his answer the father continues…

And sir not only I, father of the girl on bed 16….you might find him plying electrical rickshaws in hospital campus in daytime some day.

Ankit was now in different space “recalling all that he spoke half and hour back”.

More of guilt and less of realisation swept across his heavy heart telling his mind “every parent you see in cancer ward are probably the most motivated of human beings you would ever see”. Probably we cancer docs need to be more patient in dealing with these parents as they need to arrange for lot more things than “motivation”.  The off hospital logistics of long term cancer treatment is probably the underwater portion of iceberg. We don’t tend to see it….

A loud query from someone standing in Ankit’s back asking “What price for potatoes? brings him back to real world.

20/ kg only comes the reply.

Now it was Ankit’s turn to gather courage and somehow he does it, and replies to vendor, your son is doing fine and probably we would be discharging him in a week for OPD basis chemotherapy.

He hurriedly takes few vegetables without seeing the list sent by his wife and leaves the market with heavy heart, numb mind, eyes wide open and ears still ringing to“ potatoes 20, onions 40, best of green leaves, free chillies here, free coriander leaves, cancer feasts on family, we die in sweat, 15/kg you have to have money” and what not.

Ankit is now a changed person, he never questions commitment of parents coming to hospital with their cancer kids. He continues to yell on top of his voice but infrequently for reasons other than commitment.