They say that death and near death experiences put things into perspective. It’s one of those things which shakes up and changes the way you see things. Problems which seemed elephantine before suddenly aren’t as dramatic as we previously thought.
On Saturday, something happened which has been unable to leave my mind. My great-uncle was admitted to hospital. Sure it doesn’t sound very dramatic, after all, it happens to a lot of people so it shouldn’t really be a shock or a big deal. But the truth is that it was and is a shock. Especially when I saw him. I don’t like seeing others in pain – be it mental, emotional, spiritual or physical pain. If I see or hear a child cry, it cuts me and I just want the child to be comforted. In addition to this, I find that being in places where people are in pain, also unsettles me.
I hate hospitals – as cliché as that sounds – but I truly do. I can’t pinpoint a specific thing, or two, about why…I think that the whole place does. When I was a kid, I thought that only two types of people went to hospital: (1) if you were seriously injured (2) if you were dying. Subconsciously I’ve always associated it with pain, death, sadness and discomfort. Hospitals. They each have this labyrinth of dull, gloomy corridors, clinical shiny equipment which glints in their polished trays. Then there’s that overbearing stench of disinfectant which makes your eyes water and your nostrils burn. Above this hangs a heavy atmosphere of illness and then the silence. I think it’s the silence that gets to me. It’s thickly spread out all over the place and is occasionally punctuated by the beeping of life support machines, the shrill trill of the ward telephone and murmured conversations between doctors, nurses and the families of the patients. While some regard hospitals as a positive place where life begins (new born babies) for me it’s always been a place which sends a shiver down my spine.
My great uncle is on dialysis every day. He’s hooked up to a machine that pumps blood for him because, after suffering a stroke, only 40% of his heart is in working condition. When I looked at him, his eyes were starting to cloud over – like a milky mist covering his pupils – he had shrunk and was in a lot of discomfort. He’s now partially blind, bed-ridden, and very weak. He goes in and out of consciousness and can’t hear properly. When I stood in front of him, he couldn’t see or recognise me. It wasn’t until my aunt told him I was there, that he immediately held his hand out to try and feel where I was. Even though he was so weak, he managed to gently squeeze my hand and nod when I held his hand back.
He briefly spoke to my grandma and said: “Bhenji, I want to go but they won’t let me. Give me a tablet so that I can just go.”
What really got to me was the vast transformation from what used to look like before to what I saw on the weekend. My great-uncle has been around since I came into the world; he’s seen me grow from an uncouth brown child to…well, a less uncouth young brown adult. He was that generation of Indians who dress old school; like the Old English Gent. Everywhere he went, he had his tie on, a suit, shiny shoes and a fedora hat. And he’d finish the look off by draping a scarf around his neck, glasses in hand, manbag in the other and a big smile on his face.
Even now he still looks like a gentleman. He’s grown a beard and I said to my aunt: “He looks like a King.” She turned to him and told him what I’d said. He then smiled, laughed and said: “Of course. I am a Singh and Singh is King.”
And that is what he will always look like, sound like and be like to me. An old school gentleman who laughed and joked even on the cusp of life.