The human connection

We cry for lots of reasons: sadness, pain, fear . . . and happiness. When was the last time you shed tears of joy?

It was not long after my father was diagnosed with a malignant growth in his brain and had to go for MRI every couple of weeks. One day, while waiting for him outside the diagnostic room in the designated waiting area for Radiology, my eyes caught sight of an elderly woman, somewhere from rural, central India. She was wearing a cotton sari with her head, half draped and one side of it clutched between her lips. Staring for a few seconds at her made me realize that she was crying. I thought twice before getting up from my seat, dropping my interesting book and walking towards her. But I did. As I acquired the seat next to her, she looked at me with apprehensive, tear-laden eyes and said something like : “Does CT scan hurt?”

“No, it doesn’t.” I kept a reassuring hand on hers which she grabbed instantly.

“Then how can it take images of my insides?” Her crying was now replaced by faint hiccups.

“It is like X-ray.” I tried to explain.

“What is an X-ray?” She looked at me as if I was from outer space speaking Klingon.

“It is a camera – it takes pictures of you – not of the outside but of your inner organs, that doctors use to detect any abnormalities.” I smiled in assurance. “But you’d have to remove all your jewellery, hair pins, any metallic thing that you are wearing.” I added.

“Oh, OK.” she looked at me and asked me why was I there.

“My father is also getting his pictures.” I smiled faintly. She smiled in response.

“Will you hold on to my jewellery while they take my pictures,” her aged face turned inquisitive like an innocent child.

“Well you don’t know me and…” I stopped half away sensing the disappointment in her eyes. “OK, I will. I will keep them safe, here with me.”

The next moment, her name was called as a reminder that she had five minutes to get ready for the scan.

“Will it help if I smile,” she chuckled while removing her ear rings.

“Of course, it will.”Β  I opened a Ziploc bag that I always carried in my purse and asked her to drop everything, carefully in there.

After she walked a few steps in the direction of the lab, she looked back at me and said, “Do you think they will find something in my pictures? Anything bad?” Her eyes nervously stared at me demanding an answer.

“Only your smile. I am waiting for you.” I waved the Ziploc.

While she was gone, I looked at all the jewellery she had trusted me with – heavy 24-karat gold ear rings and a thick neck chain with a large sun pendant, her black hair clips, and my eyes watered with the connection we had established in past ten minutes – sharing our deepest fears and much-needed consolation.

She came back in about seven minutes, beaming. My pearly eyes caught her attention and she hugged me instantly.

“The doctor says that there is nothing to worry; all looks good in my head,” she whispered against my shoulders. “I will offer something to the Goddess and will keep a fast too.” She released the air, relaxing her tense body.

“Great!” I almost shouted and choked while saying that word – the sole confirmation of dissolving the worst imagination and walking back to an invincible area of comfort. Meanwhile, she kept hugging and I realized my tears were dropping non stop on her hair, her clothes and on the ground. While some of them were of my grief; there were others of the joy that she was fine and healthy.

“What about your father? When will he come out?” her voice shook suddenly realizing, soaked with trepidation.

“MRI takes a lot longer and he may not be so lucky…” I looked at her and then lowered my eyes feeling ashamed to have uttered the last words as if I was disturbed by where destiny had chosen me to be.

“In that case, I am going to sit by your side as long as it takes.” She grabbed my hand.

“Thank you.” I said. “Thank you for understanding …” I started sobbing.

To my surprise, she did not say anything to comfort me with false hopes like most people did in those days. Instead she ran her fingers over my hair and sat by me for the whole hour. Later, she left without saying a word but giving me enough support that became my courage for a difficult day to go by.Β I guess, it was the miracle of tears of joy and grief, I spent with her. Even at the brink of my failure to find a cure for my father; I was able to rejoice for a few moments for her good health and she was able to understand my suffering in spite of her good news. She was a complete stranger but I remember her more vividly than a lot of people I know.


17 thoughts on “The human connection

  1. This was great. I’ve been interning as a Dietitian in hospitals for the past 7 months, and I always try to help people who are lost (hospitals are so confusing!) or reassure them. I think a lot of health professionals lose sight of the fact that not everyone knows as much as they do about medical procedures, and we should spend as much time explaining things to people as we do treating them. So many people leave the Dr’s office or hospital not understanding their diagnosis, the treatment or why they need a procedure. I’ll always try to remember this!

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