My Weak-Hearted Doctor

The rhythmic sound of my heeled shoes echoed through the lobby of ‘Framenca’, a 14-storied building that housed ‘Writrails’, a multifaceted publishing house, where I worked as a special reporter and had brought in more ‘Page 3’ articles than anybody else with my experience. And not everyone there had got ‘The Best Reporter of the Year Award’ twice. Was I proud of this achievement? Of course, before this, I felt I had never known the true meaning of the idiom ‘to be on your toes’. Moreover, handling a boss like Nina itself was worthy of an award. My thoughts were broken as I entered my office on the eighth floor.  “Martha, darling, here you are!”  I turned to face the owner of this ‘sugar-coated’ entreaty. “Oh! Hello, Nina. How are you?” I was surprised that my false smile could light up my eyes. “I hope your interview today makes it to the front pages of our Pride Month issue,” she sneered.  The pungent odour of jealousy repulsed me. I quietly walked to my cabin and started making notes for the interview. One hour later…. I walked into the dimly lit conference room a little earlier than the scheduled time for the interview. I had been eagerly looking forward to this moment. An interview with ‘THE’ Dr. Maharaj, one of the most famous cardiologists in India.  I wish I am tactful and do my best! “Welcome to Writrails Sir. I think it is a pleasure and honour for our readers to know more about you through our publishing house. Your words will add superlative value to our Pride Month issue.” “Yes, I am indeed honoured to be here today, Martha. I have read most of your issues. They are exclusive and insightful. Please accept my best wishes.” “Sir, we are aware of your professional achievements and I have heard you speak about your journey to becoming a renowned doctor. But I want to hear that ‘little something’ that makes you feel proud of yourself. Is it purely professional? Or is anything more memorable? I am all ears.” “Well, Martha, there are quite a few things. But as we are now celebrating the Pride Month, I wanted to share something with you,” he paused and looked out.  A smile crossed his face as he saw a hospital building on the other side. I was ready to record every bit of this. A small thrill flowed through my veins.  This would better be good! *** “In the year 1960, I joined St. Michael’s Hospital in Goa. I used to work almost 12-14 hours a day as there were hardly any good private hospitals in and around there. I hardly knew anyone there and I had very little time to socialize. I heard all the staff there speak commendably of Dr. Ravi, a neurologist, who had joined the institution a year ago. But I left it at that, an urge which died a natural death as it had never been watered.” Six months later, I heard a soft voice in the hospital canteen as I was having my lunch. “Shall I get you some pudding?” I turned around to stare at the fair young man near me, holding a plate of food in one hand, obviously to give me company.  “You are…” My words hung in the air as he had already seated himself next to me and started chatting as if we had known each other for years.  I did not mind as I was finally introduced to Dr. Ravi and found myself pleasantly distracted by his non-stop chatter. We rarely met but that didn’t stop me from thinking about him, yearning to be close… During the times we met, some indescribable emotions seemed to rise and ebb within us. We held hands and let these emotions flow through. Obtrusive words or actions had no place in sublime situations; hence they were not spoken at all. Two years later… It had been two months since I last saw him. He gave me a tight embrace when I met him at Little Forest, a secluded nature spot overlooking the beach which was our usual hideout.  I asked the usual question, “Ravi, did you talk to your parents about us?” He kept staring at the crimson sun hovering above the rippling waters, the seagull skimming the waves expertly and a few couples struggling to walk across the sandy expanse as a strong breeze curtailed their movements.  “Govind, I am leaving for Shimla tomorrow.”  Surely these words were not spoken by him. I looked around as if to search for the person who had uttered them. “They will never agree, Govind. You know that, don’t you?” His eyes feverishly tried to see the spark of agreement in mine. But much as I wanted to, I could not agree with him. “My father has got a job in the Army hospital, Shimla. He feels that I can have a rewarding career there.” “But Ravi, what about us? Are you ready to call it quits?”  His tears stopped me from saying more. As he left, the sun dipped into the water taking my dreams down with it. Darkness moved in surreptitiously but confidently, heralding the close of a chapter in my life or should I say, my life itself.  Oh! My weak-hearted doctor. Ten years later…. I entered the emergency block to check on a 70-year-old patient admitted with sudden seizures that day. Sherin Gonsalves was a well-known writer and respected member of St. Luke’s Church in Kolumbh, North Goa. She was one of the founding members of the church and ran an orphanage that housed hundred-odd children and a school for them in the vicinity.  Hence, the demand for immediate attention to her condition was obvious. I checked her parameters and ran a few tests. Ultimately, her condition was diagnosed as stenosis (narrowing of blood vessels) which caused irregularities in the blood supply to the brain that in turn led to seizures or stroke. Ms Sherin might have been affected by a stroke too, which was yet to be determined. “Please give her Aspirin and these anti-epileptic drugs. Put up the doses in a chart and monitor her diet. If she can eat, give her mashed lentils in soup and pudding.” I advised my assistants and left for the day. The next day, as I walked into the emergency block, I heard a familiar voice different from anyone on my team giving directions to the staff. “You need to start Ms. Sherin on physio as soon as possible. Her right side is fine, but her left side needs attention. We also need to run a few more tests to check if there are any clots in her brain. If only she had been admitted sooner, we could have saved the stroke.” Everyone swung into action while I took baby steps in the direction of the voice.  Whether I wanted it or not, the moment did not escape me and I stood rooted, sweaty and inconclusive about what I should do next as I faced my dear Ravi! “Ravi… you… here…” I whispered incoherently.  “Sorry, I don’t get you. Have we met before?” My world came crashing down and fell in a heap between us.  I had handled the shock of his refusal quite well, thinking that things might change and time might force us to accept what is best. But denial... he has forgotten me…. how? why?  I held on to a nearby chair as Ravi walked away slowly. Why was he walking like this? He, who sprinted through the entire block in no time…. I cancelled my OPD appointments and went to my quarters. I was unable to eat anything. I just sat in my rocking chair staring out at the well-manicured lawn brimming with jasmine, roses and marigolds that I had carefully planted. I was reminded of our love when they touched each other in the naughty breeze. Today, the colourful proliferation did little to please me. My unrest made me close the window in annoyance. I lay on the bed, listening to the sounds of my growling stomach and my heart banging against my chest. The next morning, I got up groggily, trying to decipher where the sound of banging came from. Was it my head? Or maybe someone at the door! I opened the door hastily to find a couple, possibly in their late seventies, at my door. “You may not know me, Dr. Maharaj,” the man chipped in hastily before I could react. “May we come in?” spoke the lady, more calmly than the gentleman, possibly her husband. “Wait.. wait…,” I said, “this is too fast. May I know who you are, Sir?” “We are Dr. Ravi’s parents. I am Dr Prateek and she is Seema Prateek.” I wondered why God was doing this to me. Till yesterday, I claimed to have forgotten everything and was living a pleasant life, immersed in my career and simple living. But now, I was thrown into turbulent seas for no fault of mine. I motioned them to come in and be seated, hardly a welcome for the respected parents of my lover! “I will get you some coffee,” I said before they could speak and rushed to the kitchen. The strong brew cleared my muddled head a bit. My breathing returned to normal. Shame on you, Dr. Maharaj! Behave like a senior doctor! We sipped coffee in silence. “I don’t know what Ravi has told you but we were just good friends,” I said hastily. Again, I had spilt the beans, perhaps too soon! Did I bother to hear what they knew of our relationship? “Beta, we know. Ravi told us a few years back,” said his mother. “Of course, we were distraught. We wondered how our son could do this to us. Our relationship was strained to the point of breaking. Ravi lived away from us till it happened…” “What?” I whispered. “Ravi suffered an accident. He was hit by a speeding car on the Mall Road. He had to undergo surgery on his left leg and left arm. He was in hospital for a month. His recovery was slow as if he never wanted to recover at all. He hardly went for his duty and even when he did, it was purely a mechanical exercise. We kept coaxing him to attend to the innumerable patients who vied for his attention and cure, but it turned against us and those who had encouraged him to set up a practice. He began forgetting things, his personal effects, his patient’s incapacities, and even the recent medicines he had suggested to them. His practice dwindled and was respectfully sent away from his job. We could not live in the small town there as tongues wagged and people’s looks tore us apart.” My hand touched the mug. The coffee had turned cold. “But I saw him treating Sherin today,” I spoke cautiously. “He was great.” “Yes, that is because it runs in his blood,” spoke Seema, “but he may not remember Sherin tomorrow.” I again ran to the kitchen to wash my face off the tears that threatened to drench me. The famous neurologist Dr. Ravi… dementia… unbelievable. “He sometimes remembers people by their touch,” she continued, “I am sure he would not have forgotten that.” But that was unbearable. I would just watch him from afar till he was here. My plans suffered another shock. “Now, Govind, we are planning to leave him in your care. Please forgive us. We have suffered equally. It had never been an easy ride for us. And to watch a son, an eminent neurologist himself suffer …..” Dr. Prateek sobbed. I took his hands in my trembling, wet palms. Only my phone buzzed now and then to break the silence in the house. “We are leaving today,” Ravi’s mother said after what seemed like ages, “if you permit, Ravi can stay here from tonight. I will come back in the evening and brief you on his needs, medicines, etc.” I was at a total loss of words. I nodded something between a ‘no’ and a ‘yes.’ They left me to be alone with new thoughts, dilemmas and of course, a joy that had crept in like a thief into my heart. In the coming months, Ravi’s eyes sometimes sparkled in recognition as I regaled him with our old beach and hospital stories and the moments we spent together. He laughed and held my hand, hugged me at times, and snuggled to me as we slept. He cut veggies, and I cooked and fed him. I recorded these moments for what I knew would come. But, he never once called out to me. I didn’t mind that. I never told him about the time we parted as he had never been away from me. I was glad that he didn’t remember the best or worst times of his life, because that wouldn’t have given me this opportunity. I regretted his condition but not this situation.  I continued to take him to the hospital and encouraged him to find causes and cures in some cases, till it lasted.  I kept saying, “Just a little more, my dear.” My love rose to a higher level and rested at God’s feet when five years later, I lighted a candle in front of Ravi on Christmas and sang his favourite carols. I am in eternal peace, Ravi, like you. Death never took us apart. *** I switched off the recorder and looked at Dr Maharaj. The emotions he portrayed were quite different from what I had thought.  I took advantage of the silence between us to absorb what I had just heard.  This was something unexpected! I had no words… This was the first time that I thought about my interviewee more than my Page 3 news stories. Is this really love? “Sir, just one question. I am surprised and taken aback by your words. Have you shared this with someone else, I mean friends or colleagues? I am sure many at St. Michael’s could have helped you, having known you and Dr. Ravi for such a long time now.” “Martha, tell me, at present, how many will listen to this and understand what we shared. Will it not hurt the image of Dr. Maharaj and Dr. Ravi they have formed in their minds? Rules and laws are fine, yet people are not ready to appreciate us as humans with similar feelings as shared by a boy and girl.” “Let your Page 3 do its bit on creating awareness. Maybe you’ll get a better and more inspiring story than mine next.” I watched him go; his head held high. I went into my cabin and started typing. #Pride Month…. For the first time in several months, I could connect to what I posted.   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!