The trolley clattered on the shiny tiled floor, its back left wheel swinging dangerously on its axis. But I see that now; in retrospect, at the time I only saw my mother, her groaning, incoherent lopsided form.
“What happened??”, his stethoscope dangling on his left shoulder, a doctor spoke.
“Hmmm, what happened, come, come, come here…” he prodded me away as three nurses heaved my mother onto the larger bed, the left wheel of the trolley screeching in protest.
“Nothing sir, she was sleeping, then she got up to go to the bathroom and… and fell.”
“Ok, what time…? today??”
“Just now, half an hour back.”
“Vomiting, any fits, bleeding from the nose or ears??”, he paused as I took stock of his questions.
“No sir, no, once she vomited in the car”
“BP, sugar, any other problem, heart problem??”, he rattled off, mentally checking boxes in his head. I now remember his tired eyes.
“No sir, only BP, doctor, is she alright??”
“We’ll see, we’ll see, what is her name, sir?”
“Debjani, doctor, Debjani Chakravarthy”
“Sister, vitals?” he turned towards the nurse busily scurrying around my mother.
“BP 180/100, sugar 128, doctor”
“10 doctor, I think, please confirm…”
“Doctor, doctor, is she alright, what happened to her?” I followed him to my mother’s side who was now clad in a blue gown, her brown sari, bundled into a ball at the foot of the bed. The next few minutes were a blur.
“Sir, go complete the registration and get the hospital number… counter 14”
“Sir, pay for this scan and these tests and come back with the bills, counter 12”
“Sir, come, take off her bangles, here take her earrings.”
Under the mist of the oxygen mask, my mother breathed softly, the monitor beeping in the background, as I slid the bangles of her forearm. Glass ones snapped as we forced them against her wrist making her moan. Her shakha pola** though, those red-white encircling bands clung tightly to her forearm, reminders of my father, refusing to slide off and we struggled against them in vain.
“Sir, come here…”, the doctor ushered me back to the corridor. “Sir, I think she may have a bleed in her brain. We’ll do the scan and confirm it. She will require ICU admission and may need ventilation.”
“Huh..”, my head spun, actually no, it didn’t spin, it buzzed, it jumped, leapt insane, from thought to thought – bleed, I’ve to call Baba, why, why, why, how much will the ICU cost, why didn’t we take that insurance, what will Baba say…it danced a dervish within me.
“Sir, do you understand?”, he gently spoke again, “She is breathing now, but if it worsens she will need a ventilator, a machine, to breathe, for her…” he stressed each syllable speaking slowly, the words ballooning from his mouth. I nodded wordless.
Back, they heaved her onto the trolley, pushing her through the door , the wheel still clattering, into the Radiology block. And suddenly I was cold, my heart racing, I turned to her in a panic but she was still breathing softly, fogging the mask; it was only the air conditioning. Another heave into the doughnut shaped machine, she already felt lifeless.
“Sir, stay here, wear this…” and before I knew, I was wrapped in a lead apron alone in the cold with my mother. The machine hummed to life, rumbling round, faster and faster around my mother, peering into her head.
“Sir, see, see, here”, the doctor held up the scan to me, “Here is the blood, as you can see it has almost filled a quarter of the brain on the left side, increasing the pressure inside the head.”
“So… she needs Surgery??”
“No, sir, no…”, his soft voice was back, his eyes averting their gaze, he continued “this is not something we can solve by surgery, we have to admit her and see; wait for it to get absorbed”
“But will she be alright??”, I remember my voice quaking.
“Sir”, he hesitated with a breath and spoke “At this age with so much bleeding, it is difficult, it is very serious, already she is losing consciousness, we will need to intubate her and see. We can only hope for the best”
“But she will be alright, right??”
“Sir, if I connect her to the machine, it will breathe for her. I cannot say if and when she will come out, if she will talk, walk or understand you. I’m sorry.”
“Then, what is the treatment?”
“There isn’t any sir, we can only wait for the blood to be absorbed but the chance is small. the risk high. Now you have to decide sir, if you want to connect her to the machine or not. Either way, there is no guarantee, we can only hope” he was looking straight at me now. “The ICU admission will cost around 15000 per day and even after that…” he put up his hand to pause my optimism, my queries, “She may not make it out of this.”
Now my head spun, it swam and whizzed searching for footholds, adrift.
“Please, think about it, talk to your family and let me know. Please let me know in the next ten minutes or so…” he finished with a sip of water from a pink water bottle calming his parched throat. I nodded wordless.
“Sir, here take her bangles, we managed to remove them with soap.” the nurse spoke handing me a pair of soapy red and white bangles. “Sorry, one of them broke”
I nodded again, alone, my mother’s red and white bangles hanging on my fingers, clinking softly in the cold, cold wind.
**Shakha pola – Red White bangles worn by Bengali women