The bright colors on the walls of the building or the well ventilated rooms did little to lift the gloom that had enveloped the space inside the hospice run by an NGO on a no profit no loss basis. The building was built out of the donations from philanthropic souls and many who worked there, except for the nurses and other maintenance staff, took no remuneration.
Priya, looking at her watch, hurried the pace as she neared the building. A young woman in her early twenties, she is a voluntary day time worker doing the duty of a nurse, administrative staff and overseeing the kitchen depending on the needs. She was accustomed to the groans, the grunts and the cries from the inmates that filled the air. There was an unmistakable stench despite the good ventilation and the liberal usage of floor deodorants.
Most of the patients are in their final stages of lives afflicted by cancer, Alzheimer’s and other acute ailments that are terminal in nature. Some of them are paid in-patients, some of them abandoned by children and admitted by friends or relatives and a few from poor families. Such of those who are well off contributed liberally for their upkeep and even donated for the corpus. Those who paid for their maintenance were housed in rooms that had very few beds and had attached bath rooms. The others were in spacious halls with many beds. There was however no discrimination shown in food and medical attention.
As was her habit Priya entered first the room where 89-year-old Kumuda was staying.” Patti, how are you keeping today? You look slightly better. Could you sleep well without much pain?” she asked with warmth in her tone even as she was caressing her back. Kumuda was in the final stages of cancer of liver and her end was expected any time. She lay in the bed folded like a small bundle, emaciated and skinny.
Kumuda turned her head slowly with some effort and one could see a flicker of brightness in her doleful eyes.” Is it Priya? Bring your face closer to me. You know well, my good girl, each day is no different from the other and I am just biding my time for the bhagwan to take me in his fold and relieve me from this pain and suffering. I wish He opens His eyes quickly to answer my prayer,” she said with much difficulty.
Priya took her hand in hers and said softly, “Pray do not talk on these lines. If the pain is too much, I can arrange a pain killer. I am here by your side till evening. Have no worry. I went to Ganesa temple and prayed for you to keep you free from pain. Let me apply the ash on your forehead. It will surely help. I will make a quick round of the other rooms and return soon to sit by your side,” As she got up from the stool, she saw a trickle of tears in Kumuda’s eyes and said as she wiped it,” Do not cry. I know how painful it is, Patti”
“No, it is not pain. I am overwhelmed by your affection and deep concern for me, when my own children hardly make it here,” she spoke almost inaudibly.
Kumuda patti had three sons and a daughter, with two sons living in faraway cities. The local son visited her once a fortnight but ensured financially that the hospice kept her in great comfort. His wife rarely came. The daughter came once a week but spent time with her mom mostly griping about her problems. Priya even remembered patti tell her as to why her daughter was coming here only to grumble and complain. Priya had not seen patti’s grandchildren visit her though she knew they were living in the city.
Priya knew that terminal patients can only be kept comfortable and pain free to the extent possible but hospices cannot cater to their emotional and psychological needs. Patti, though she never spoke much, had in an unguarded moment once expressed her deep disappointment about the lack of demonstrated warmth and affection from her children. Priya only tried to fill that want by spending extra time with her, talking to her in comforting ways and confiding to her personal dreams and goals. Such interactions always lifted the old lady’s spirit.
A week later Kumuda’s condition grew worse and attending doctors felt her end was very near. Priya lingered with her for as long as possible. Patti was mostly drowsy with occasional consciousness. Sad as she was, Priya could not wrench herself away from her and was seen whispering into her ears whenever patti’s eyes opened, “Patti, Priya here. I will be by your side. Do not worry and sleep calmly.” Patti’s lips would quiver as if she wanted to say something but soon would sink into drowsiness.
That evening as Priya was standing near the reception, she saw Patti’s son entering. He smiled at her and came near her and said “Can I talk to you for a few minutes? We can go to that corner.”
“Priya, amma has told me about you and how much your presence in the hospital means to her. She even said that her stay here was made bearable thanks to you. I put her here because she would get greater care and comfort than in my house. You may think I am a heartless son but I am not. I have not told my mom but would confide in you now. My wife, after an accident is paralyzed below waist and remains bound to bed and wheel chair. My children and I take turn to look after her. I have the greatest affection for my mother but cannot bear to see her suffering. Every time I come here to see her I go back with lot of heartache and anxiety. My mom is suffering from pain and I know I am unable to be by her side and give comfort to her. I am grateful to you for bringing some sunshine in her final years with your attention and affection which even my children did not do,” he said.
“It is my duty, Sir. I have also developed a fondness for patti as if she was my own. I am very sad when I think of her ebbing life. I am very sorry to hear about your wife and realize now how hard it must be for you to manage two sick people," Priya said as he hurried towards her room.
As Priya entered the hospice the next day morning, she could surmise the worst had happened from the faces of the receptionist and other nurses. One of them said” Priya, it happened at 10 pm last night even as her son was by her bedside. I heard from him that though she was not conscious, she was muttering your name many times. He wanted you to get in touch with him after a fortnight without fail and here is the number and address he gave.”Priya sobbed inconsolably as she stared at the vacant bed.