The stretcher is being pushed in a brisk manner. The corridor through which I am being rolled through seems unusually long. I can hear a few familiar voices around me. They are close yet they seem to be coming from a distance. There is a hollow effect about them.
Though the anaesthesia effects linger, I seem to be regaining some of my lost sensations. I am aware that I am being wheeled away from the I.C.U. to the Oncology Post Surgery Ward. 4 pairs of hands lift the sheet I am lying in on the stretcher and place me gently on the bed.
The operation for which I had been admitted is finally over.
“Welcome to the world of needles and pain,
Of white coats and red stain.
Where the air perennially reeks of an antiseptic smell,
Where not just the body but even the mind feels un-well”
02nd Dec 2017
The white lights on the overhead ceiling are a silent witness to the dark sufferings in the bodies of the people lying below.
A portable sphygmomanometer on the wall acts like an active twitter handle. It tweets out my b.p. readings every second. I drift in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of its intermittent beeps as it adds to the un-natural discomfort around me.
I have been lying on my back in the same position for hours now and it seems to me that my back hurts more than my abdomen where the actual action has taken place. Just so that I don’t forget this fact, a burning sensation clutches the lowest part of my gut making me wince. It is stifled by an unknown force and it is then that I realise there is an abdominal belt wrapped tightly around my waist.
It seems to me I can feel pipes everywhere in my body. One has been inserted through my nostrils, down my throat and I am not sure how far inside they extend to. One set originates just above my right shoulder and I know they have been injected into my spine piercing through at some point on my back.
The doctor calls it epidural analgesic and it is just another way how modern medicine has added so many gadgets to its weaponry. And all of them are aimed at fastening you down to life at a time when you feel you are floating away in despair.
A valve has been fixed on my right hand. They have pipes inserted into them and are simultaneously supplying me with saline and a pain killing fluid. As the bottles hang upside down, I think my life too has gone into a similar position in these past few days.
2 more pipes which I cannot see but only feel hang loosely from my left side and end below the bed. Later I come to know they are carrying out wastes directly from my body.
So yes, I now look like a contraption of plastic tubes lying on an iron bed trying to breathe, trying to stay as calm as possible. To complete the look there is a bandage wrapped around my head. I am not sure why. I know I haven’t come to AIIMS to have my head examined!
I am here because the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ has decided to run through my lower abdomen. A tumour had developed with suspected malignant cells in my colon. The cancer has passed through 5 other patients in this ward too. As it continues to run ahead, I know millions of other lives globally have also been affected by it.
In the past 12 hours I have moved from my bed in the private ward to the O.T. then to I.C.U & now I am here. At different points during the night I have seen vague glimpses of my father, my mamu Hanif, my brother-in-law Safar and my family’s Man Friday Aftab.
The saline drips ever so slowly. Though it seems an hour has passed, but in reality, only 10-15 minutes have elapsed. The thought that I would be in the same position for at least 48 hours more makes my mind go numb.
I need to deal with this! I split the clock into blocks of 8 hours each and tell myself I must survive through each block before proceeding to the next.
In my mind I immediately start reciting a short prayer as suggested by my favourite Shamima aunt. Soon enough I visualise myself lying slumped on the ground. A pair of hands appear behind me, grabbing my shoulders under each armpit and dragging me outside a door.
As the door opens there is dazzling light outside.
01st Dec 2017, Friday
“Hey Wasim, are you ready?” asks Shahed Uncle (papa’s elder brother) with a smile as he enters the room. It is 9.30 am. I am relieved to see him as only 10 minutes ago the nurse has informed; I need to proceed to the O.T. asap. The time has been preponed by 2 hours & everything now is set for surgery.
When I was to be admitted on 27th Nov 2017, a full 4 days prior to surgery Hanif Mamu had turned around and asked me,” Hey why is the Dr. asking for admission so many days in advance?” I had jokingly replied,” perhaps he wants to marinate me properly before cooking!” Little did I know then how close my marinate joke came to reality.
The prior evening a hospital staff had come with 2 razors in hand and shaved off all the hair from my torso and upper legs. He then proceeded to apply Bitadene on these parts. For the uninitiated this is an antiseptic applied to prevent any bacterial infection. It made my skin turn yellow and I now perfectly resembled tender dressed meat all set to be put in the tandoor!
Back to present day. Soon enough Shahed Uncle and I are walking to the O.T. We are accompanied by an acquaintance who has been kind enough to volunteer to donate blood. His will be in lieu of 1 bottle which we have taken from the AIIMS blood bank, Bhubaneswar. He also carries a big box of pharmaceutical items which contains everything related to the operation and anaesthesia.
Papa had worked tirelessly the previous day to purchase all of them from 3 different shops. The list is long, and he has crossed checked it multiple times to ensure none is missing.
I park my slippers outside the annexe room and say “Bismillah” and enter. From here on a ward boy escorts me in a wheelchair. I am made to sign a register and curiously enough the time is the iconic and symmetrical 10.10 am.
When I enter the O.T. I am greeted by a team of almost 8-10 doctors and nurses. I am made to take off my shirt and sit on the operating table. They ask my name and few other pleasantries are exchanged.
3 strong needles are injected into my back in quick succession in what is a very painful 5 minutes. I am then asked to lie down. I am somehow relieved the process has finally started. Somewhere outside the door I imagine in true Bollywood style, a red light would have flashed on!
Then everything inside the O.T. went black.
03rd Dec 2017 Sun
I get to hear 2 bits of good news today. One – the urine catheter attached to my body will be removed. I am now allowed to walk to the toilet. Second – Tomorrow I will move back to my bed in the private ward. Both these pieces of good news are delivered in person by Prof. Madhab Nanda Kar himself who has come on his morning round.
I notice that a few minutes before his arrival the staff get into a flurry of activity; as if an invisible whip has been cracked. Patient records are being updated, junior doctors and the nurses huddle around taking notes to prepare for any question that the professor may ask.
Such is the aura of the man; he is after all the H.O.D., Oncology at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar. Even as a patient I somehow feel indebted to him; for the surgery he has done so cleanly, so effectively.
If I had not been tied down to my bed I would have sprung up and given him a salute!
I silently thank Hanif Mamu who has been pivotal in meeting the renowned Professor and taking multiple initiatives and follow ups to bring him to my operating table.
4th Dec 2017 Mon
I am back in my room in the private ward. Somehow, I have made through the most difficult part. Here after begins the recovery phase.
At this moment I want to pause and thank the 4 pillars of support which propped up the non-stop efforts of my parents. They are – Hanif Mamu, Shahed Uncle, Aftab’s family (they gave hospital duty on all 10 nights+ closed their shop for 4days) and of course all the people in my family including my sister Hena.
Amongst friends I would like to thank Dipta, Vicky, Sattar, Smriti and Dilip Bhai for their unstinting support.
There have been many others whose un-ending prayers and continuous supply of good wishes for me has helped me through this very difficult phase in life, health wise.
During my stay in the hospital I saw people in a far more vulnerable state than mine. Most of them came from the lower strata of society. I enjoy more privileges than them and I still have age on my side. Most of them were senior citizens and at that age handling the vagaries of an operation was far more difficult and hence even more commendable.
My situation made me realize is how we take for granted the simple things in life. When I was in the general ward and unable to use my bandaged hands, I saw an attendant (accompanying a patient) eat rice and dal with his own hands. I thought to myself,” seriously he can do that?!”
Back in my room I missed the informal bonding that develops amongst the patients and their accompanying family members in the general ward. They would ask about each other’s wellbeing and share details of their sickness.
A few times they helped me get up from my bed and one night a couple of boys even held my arms and took me for a short walking exercise. When I was leaving the ward, an extremely old man clutching his urine bag in his hand even had the courtesy to walk ahead of us and open the doors so that my wheelchair could easily pass through. Unbelievable.
The other thing that struck me was the number of needles they inject in you during a major surgery as this. Though you know each time there will be some pain yet every time you see the nurse walk in you feel apprehensive. There came a time when both my hands were so swollen that they actually found out a vein below my right knee to inject into. Now that was a 1st time for me!
The tumour which was sent for biopsy tested positive for malignancy. We did have a suspicion of presence of colon cancer and hence we had gone for an Oncology specialist surgeon and not a general one.
I underwent 6 months of chemotherapy (Jan -Jun 2018) successfully at a local hospital in Bhubaneswar and by God’s grace I am doing fine now.
During this entire ordeal of 6-8 months I thought it was pointless to turn to God and ask, “why me?” What is destined to happen will happen. It is better to take the knock in your stride and continue moving ahead.
I still go for regular check ups and maintain diet and lifestyle controls so that a relapse does not occur. As my Dr. famously quipped, “Cancer is like an untrustworthy friend. Just when you think it won’t let you down it will. By re-appearing again”.