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Rhythm Divine

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when the heart talks to you

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Chapter 1

Strange, I didn’t think of you even once in those four days at the hospital. Trust me, I didn’t even think of death. But the night before you were on my mind - the pain in the chest, you know, it started like a heart burn, travelled below the chest to the stomach and then came rising up - you would know it. At some point in the night I peeped out of the bedroom window only to find three huddled pigeons, sleeping on the edge of the lintel.

I thought of you after I got out of the ICU, out of the hospital, in the corridor, in the elevator on level one where the skylight is. I didn’t want to die indoors. I thought of you dad, as I was pushed out on a wheelchair. I thought of the moment when you were discharged from Escorts hospital without any procedure. Here, at Fortis, they have done the angioplasty on me or as people say, “stent laga diya” (a stent has been placed). The passage, apparently has been cleared.

Waiting for the car to take me home, I could see the moonless night through the blue skylight. There was one faint star, that star I presumed, was you. I noticed the cannula in my right hand had not been removed. Though I had changed to a fresh set of clothes, I was carrying with me the smell of ICU. I was carrying the weight of all the investigation reports, the ECGs and USGs, the prescriptions, medicines and an anthology of Dos and Don’ts. I also carried home the fear, the fear which a hospital bundles you in when you are discharged; the fear that you see on the faces of your loved ones; the fear in your own mind that the next time you may not be lucky so as to survive. Luck and prayers are staple ingredients we feed on, isn’t it?

Back home that night I missed those monitors with their green and blue lights making familiar sine waves chasing each other; and, as the wave vanished in the right edge of the monitor a beep buzzed to alert the nurse. In the quiet of the night I noticed these beeps had three distinct sounds that could announce to even a blind nurse the condition of her patient. Back home I also missed the chaos, the busy footsteps, that disinfectant smell, the high-pitched chat of Malayali nurses, the shriek caused by the pulling and opening of curtains; the sudden panic of the second night when a patient on bed number five slipped into comma and a team of ten odd doctors and staff did all they could. The patient didn’t survive.

As I got home I missed the hospital regime. Like it or not, someone will shove medicine down your throat four times a day. The extraordinary forbearance one develops for pain when the nurse changed plugs on the cannula. You swallowed the watery yellow dal that you hated from the core of your heart, all your life. You answered all the questions, rightly or wrongly that the Head Nurse, the Doctor or the Dietician asked you. You only felt for the guy on Bed No. 7, all others could go to hell. You almost prepared a dissertation on medical instruments and devices in less than four days. You were at your best behavior with the most obnoxious nurse. You were more concerned for your clients and the pending jobs than your own health. You didn’t care two hoots for the phone, the FB, Twitter or Instas of the world. You conceived a better version of Iliad in your dream which unfortunately you forgot as you woke up the next morning. (Let Homer rest in peace) You also wrote the last mushy letter of your life to your wife, and, in a drugged state you willed away all that you have, to build a hospital for the Comrades. A day later I changed my mind.

In four days of stay I had memorized the sine wave, and drew it a hundred times on the grey blanket stretched over me. That unending wave reminded me of a river. I kept thinking which river but couldn’t place it. It must be one of those that I have not seen or drank from. Maybe Chambal, Damodar or Kaveri. I think they deliberately keep the ICU temperature below 20 so the patients may not feel the fever or the body heat too much. Strangely, one night I wanted a fireplace inside the ICU. Imagined myself facing the bonfire with friends - having a drink, peanuts by the side - watching the busy road and the HUDA City Metro Station through the large glass window. Come on, who imagines a fireplace inside a hospital. They don’t clean the thick plate glass of the windows regularly. There were circular wiper marks that must have been from months back. The dust has since clung on to the wet glass. You can’t see them the dust marks at night but as soon as the sun moves overhead one can spot the half circles and the dust bands. Part of the greens just below the window are not a great sight either with scores of cars and scooters parked haphazardly.

Every time I went to the washroom I would look at the ever expanding dark patch that was taking over the inner thigh of my right leg. It was extending and expanding - frozen blood vessels under the skin were turning dark and black. It hurt where they had inserted the catheter pushed up by two capillary like tubes. A needle however small and thin hurts for days and its point of entry in the body becomes sensitive. Hidden under the frozen blood somewhere is a small scar, a cut given to save my life. Lately, many scars have started showing up, all of them from the past.

It was only after I got home that I went over the entire episode. Before the cardiologist / surgeon came, a few juniors had surrounded me while I lay on the cold metallic surface. They removed all that I had over my body. I was stripped naked. It was dark and cold there. I thought they would start performing a voodoo ritual with drum beats and blowing of horns. I had started imagining parakeet feathered colourful headdresses, strings of pearl-white cowries on dark hairy skins, purple tattoos on the neck, long blood soaked tongues hanging out, knotted hair and large bulbous eyes ready to transport me to the jungles of Amazon. Soon I realized something was amiss. This was not going to be a real voodoo ritual as there were no women. Women are integral to sacrificial rituals, that I had read of, the tall dark ones with large hips, a deer skin wrapped around their fronts, their ash-smeared breasts lolling sideways bouncing with the drum beats. The realization was a disappointment. From my right, someone was looking at me through a glass chamber connected to this hall. I thought the musical would start there. There were shadows of large drums with fair skin covers which I later realised was my bare tummy.

There were three large screens / monitors peering down on me. Nothing was moving on those screens. A static slide of a human heart did little to comfort me. An attendant applied a liquid around my groin, an anesthetic I was told later. Another one shaved the hair down there. Yet another criss-crossed a cloth belt around my feet securing my legs. Someone pulled up my arms and folded them under my head and gave me an injection on my inner thigh without me even noticing it.

A minute or so later someone pulled a white sheet over me. That’s it I thought, the rites have begun. Everyone left the room. I was alone but I could watch the masked guy behind the glass panel. Will the music come from there, I wondered, and started looking for speakers on the ceiling. I was waiting for Kenny Loggins’ ‘Heart to Heart’ to start blaring from some corner. In anticipation of that number I felt calm and at peace. But there was no music. The chest pain had not receded despite the pill I was given. I was clenching my fists now. Good that they secured my legs, else I would have been hitting them.

The doctor barged in pushing the door so hard that it scared me. He better be an angel, I murmured. With him, walked in half a dozen assistants. White coats, some with steths, the others without. Nearly all spectacled. The senior doctor kept shouting instructions and nodding to the replies he was getting. He felt my inner thigh and pinched it... it hurt. I swore. Another injection was given. The monitors came alive. An assistant pulled forward a few tube-like contraptions and secured them around my thigh. A yellow light beam descended from the ceiling. I have no idea who swallowed it .

I looked at the doctor on my right. An attendant behind me turned my head straight forcing me to look at the monitors. I wished they would run Devanand’s Guide or Robert De Niro’s Taxi Driver. I remember seeing the sharp and shining scalpel in the fingers of the doctor. His large golden watch shone better than the silvery scalpel. He was wearing blue rubber gloves, the tip of a ring in his finger bulged out of the right hand. He made a cut which didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel it but I did feel a tickle as the blood trickled down my thigh.

An attendant shoved a big wad of cotton and gauze between my legs. As he pulled it out I could see the wad soaked red. Something was crawling up my vein, the monitor confirmed it. This is so silly and doesn’t make any sense I thought. To reach my heart on the left side of my chest, next to my left arm they have inserted a catheter in my right thigh mid way to the body. What the heck! Why couldn’t they find a shorter passage?

I could see the contraption moving in me enlarged on the monitors in two different angles. Interesting, I thought. One was like a camera head, the other like a forked cleaner and grabber. The doctor was constantly shouting some numbers, percentiles, some details which I wondered were meant to be written or remembered. I was too busy to notice if others were doing their job properly or not. The doctor was not even looking at me, he too was glued to the monitor. His left hand pressing down my thigh muscle and the right fooling with the shutter-release like cable used by photographers. He would press a button-head and then release it.

Someone came and pulled a saline stand close to my head on the left hand side. A drip was attached and some liquid started flowing in my body. Someone announced the brand of a stent, the size 18mm or whatever. A tiny cylindrical contraption was inserted in me and left in V3 after the cleaning job had been done. It was calcification that was blocking an artery. Everything went with clockwork precision. The pain and blood was only for me. The others were waiting for either the next patient or the next shift guy to come and relieve him/her. Having finished his job, the doctor looked at me. Taking off his gloves, I thought I heard him clap, the juniors also joined him. I am certain they clapped. Like the passengers in an aircraft clap when the pilots achieve a soft landing. What do they do when the landing is bad or when the plane shreds to pieces?

The procedure went on for about 10 or 15 minutes. I have never worn a watch so I wont know about it. Wifey tells me I was inside the theatre for 45 minutes, Poor thing, she had to wait out in an empty corridor first thing on a cold morning all alone. Surprisingly, she was not worried. Not a shikan on her face. The pressure on my chest eased. The attendants had an expression which went, ‘you have been saved, now treat us to a beer.’ Truth be said, even I wanted one.

My eyes were heavy and drooping. I wanted to sleep but it was too cold. I was lying naked on that hard surface. I hadn’t slept the night before. Not a wink. With that unbearable pain I could not even sit or lie down through the night. I kept pacing up and down my bedroom and looking out of the window at the houses across the road. I noticed that night that the streetlight bulb is very feeble. To release the pain I tried a lot of things that night. From ajwain (carom seed) to sorbitrate, all. Not for once it occurred to me that it may be an Angina, that I could be having a heart attack. Someone came and wrapped me in a blue gown breaking my chain of thoughts. The gown strings hung loose.

Even before they wheeled out the stretcher from the operation theatre, my leg was hurting. The effect of localized anesthesia was waning. That portion close to the groin still hurts even after many months. They wheeled me a couple of floors above, to post-operative, an ICU as these are called. A drip stand was running with me like an extra batsman during a cricket match when the playing batsman gets hurt. It was a busy morning outside the ICU. Three patients were lined up, just like me, on stretchers. Recall the runway of a busy airport with crafts lined up to take off one behind the other. I was made to wait outside the ICU for a good thirty minutes before a bed was allocated. It didn’t matter to me as someone gave me half a dozen pills and capsules to swallow. A nurse came and tied my long hair and tucked them under my head with a shower cap. Another one pulled the sheet to my right, possibly covering my nakedness. I wasn’t bothered, they couldn’t care less. I passed out watching the drama around me.

There are many reasons that an ICU is not conducive to good sleep. In fact, if in regular course you are a light sleeper you will not be able to sleep in an ICU. Anyone in that place, as it is, is going through some awful time, physically or mentally, yet, instead of offering rest, the overall environment does not let you take deep or sound sleep. The first culprit is light - at no point of time an ICU gets dark, making it difficult to fall asleep. There are incessant sighs and cries of pain which scare. Doctors and nurses are constantly attending to critical patients or those needing attention thus making noise in a small hall. Added to that is the sound of observation machines that beep or make sounds that don’t let you catch sleep. Then there are many other factors - a critical patient may need extra attention; movement of new incoming patients, movement of house-keeping staff, ringing phone, etc. etc.

Other than the pain in my leg I felt much better from the second night onward. I wanted to walk around, sit, and speak to the other patients, especially the young and handsome Afghani who had been operated on for a serious liver issue. I wanted to read, which they didn’t allow. These days doctors are quite a bore, especially the young ones, they don’t spend time with the patients chatting up or generally making patients feel light. With their bent necks and crouching shoulders all are busy on phones doing what all of us do. The Head of Cardiology, a senior doctor, was a jovial guy and a fun chap. Walking around and shaking hands with his patients he cracked a joke or generally made peppy remarks. During his round on the fourth day of my captivity he told the younger lot and the interns trailing him, ‘release him, why are you holding him here?’ I laughed and started preparing for imminent freedom that evening. Aazadi (freedom).

Handing over a bulging file of reports, x-rays, other scans and a bag of leftover medicines they weighed me before I was let off. I had lost seven kilos and the bulge around my waist. It was not just flat but a depression like the Dead Sea. Back home, in three weeks all the loss was recovered with interest. The heart continues to beat.

Bury me in a field of peanuts
a day before I die.

-R, December

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