I loathed even the thought of going to the hospital. The air always rife with the stench of antiseptics, people with grim and sombre faces moving around in a state of being stretched tight mentally. It gave me the perpetual creeps. But the top contender of hereditary ailments passed down generations in ‘S’s family had struck one fine evening. I had witnessed many of his relatives go down battling their way against this faceless monster. It felt as though an ominous bank of dark clouds had suddenly gripped my unsuspecting mind when ‘S’ complained of a pain on the left side of his chest. The feeling was quite stifling and I didn’t want to take any chances. So the next day we booked an appointment with the GP and headed straight to meet our health commitments.
We had barely made it into the reception area when a beaming young nurse in her spotless light blue hospital uniform barged in and called out ‘S’s’ name. As ‘S’ foundered clumsily to raise his hand up in the air in acknowledgement, I threw him a weary look and let out a sigh of disappointment cursing him silently under the breath. He is always late for appointments especially the ones that are medical in nature. The nurse immediately gestured him to follow suit, and ushered him into the ‘Doctor’s Room’.
As I watched ‘S’ wading through the jam packed reception area and disappear behind the doors of the ‘Doctor’s Room’, I digged into my bag; pulled out the earphones and the e-reader, slid a bit forward on the chair, made a comfortable trajectory with the back rest and started reading.
Half way into my book, I looked up to scan through the ever increasing crowd around me. Howsoever I detested a visit to the hospital, a congregation of people always fascinated me. These are excellent places to pick characters and dialogues for your stories especially if you are an aspiring writer. So I closed my e-reader and started looking at the people around me; observing them; eavesdropping on their conversations and trying to spot characters for the story that I intended to finish for quite some time now.
There is something about a wait, it seems endless. People try all sorts of positions, shift places, check their watches every minute, in an attempt to shorten it, yet the wait goes on, unperturbed and seamless. It’s amusing to see how in our oh-so-ever busy lives, just stopping for a while makes us so restless; even if that stopping means gallons for our own health.
I watched her as she slowly tried to make her way through the sea of impatient people. Her hands were shaking, legs trembling and there was an unfading forlorn look on her face. She meandered slowly through the crowd to the reception bay which read ‘Hjerte Patient Afdeling’ in bright red. Her walking aid would occasionally clamber up on someone’s ankle or bump into someone’s posterior. She would apologise immediately for her mistake, flashing a warm sunny smile.
She finally made it to the desk, where a lady with blonde hair and wheatish skin, flaunting a sparkling silver ‘Christiain Dior’ sports watch sat, busy talking to someone on the phone. Must be an angry enquirer on the other side for her face was all flushed up!
As the ‘lady behind the desk’ finally placed the receiver back, ‘my old lady’ murmured her query; her frail voice lost amidst the swelling voices of the crowd. I watched her as she repeated her question. The ‘lady behind the desk’ heard her this time, answered it and gestured her to take a seat handing over the token.
She turned around to find herself a place to sit. My eyes scanned in toto. Unfortunately the place was teeming with so many people that you should consider yourself lucky to find a place to stand, leave alone a place to sit. I watched her as she looked around once more in desperation and suddenly the waves of guilt drowned me. Although I was reluctant to let go of my chair because the sole electricity points that matched the pins on my charger were right behind it; but somewhere my conscience beckoned me and I obliged.
She saw me get up, smiled in gratification and budged towards me. With my place taken and ‘S’ nowhere to be seen, I assumed that it will be a long wait. So I sat down beside the old lady, re-plugged my earphones and resumed my read.
Through the corner of my eye I could see two hands frantically criss-crossing. As I followed the hands I saw that it was the old lady who was making futile attempts in catching my attention. So I quickly removed my ear-phones.
“I am sorry I took your place,” she said in her frail voice.
Her apology drowned me in shame, once more.
“Never mind,” I said. “I am sorry; I shouldn’t have taken the seat in the first place. But my mobile phone had conked off and I wanted to charge it a bit.”
We chatted for some-time. She was particularly curious of my presence in the ‘Cardiology Department’ since I was young. I told her that I had accompanied my husband for a cardio check-up because he had a family history of heart diseases and he was complaining of a chest pain last evening.
“Even I have a daughter,” her voice pepping up as I told her about mine.
She told me that her daughter works in the Danish Labour Market; and her office was in Copenhagen where she lived with her husband and a 5 year old daughter. The old lady had lost her husband 2 years ago following which she had shifted to a senior citizen home, about 3 hours from Copenhagen.
“Why don’t you live with your daughter and her family?” I enquired curiously.
“Oh no-no,” she said her face flushed in exasperation on my proposal. “She has her own life and her own family. They come to visit me every month though. Moreover I can very much live on my own and fend for my living. I have worked for most of my life and the pension money sustains my daily needs,” she said proudly.
Realising that my honest concern might have offended her amour propre, I immediately swung to the damage control mode.
“I am sorry if I have offended you which definitely wasn’t my intention at all,” I said. “I come from a country where taking care of your aging parents comes naturally,” I continued. “We don’t wait for our parents to ring us and tell us to come over; we do it anyway. Most of our parents are financially independent; they can take care of themselves and might not be dependent on their children. However, the presence of the children when they are in the hospital is a moral reinforcement for them if not anything else. It doesn’t matter who pays the bills finally, the presence is what matters.”
She seemed to comprehend the point I was trying to make here. “Copenhagen is too far dear and I have to visit the hospital atleast twice a week for a check-up,” she said.
“But isn’t it her duty to take the day off and accompany you to the GP?” I retorted.
“I like it this way dear,” she said. “I like doing my own chores, doing my doctor’s visits, carrying my own groceries, sending my mails and helping myself to a glass of red-wine once in 3 days. It gives me the feeling of empowerment as well as spares me the guilt of becoming a burden on someone. My husband was bedridden for 7 years before he passed away and there wasn’t a day when he didn’t regret it and felt sorry for me. He was an athlete all his life, a national level triathlons champion, never skipped a day of run in the hope of remaining fit throughout his life. Yet he became paralysed waist down following a lethal stroke and was completely dependent on me. I know I won’t be able to continue for long on my own this way but I want to carry on, and enjoy my independence for as long as I can because ‘A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss’”, she finally said and got up.
Her token number was still flashing on the overhead display as I caught ‘S’ finally emerging out from behind the ‘Doctor’s Room’ doors as ‘my old lady’ dissapeared behind the same, with the beaming nurse in tow and her final words still ringing in my ears.