She knew she was fading away. She knew it since last two months!
All her life Kusum had hated hospitals; that pungent smell and those anxious little faces, so afraid of their fate or for their loved ones. She did go to small local clinics a couple of times, but the big, huge, multi storey hospitals with a lot of beds and nurses and ambulances made her blood run cold! For her it meant ‘the end of the life’, the place did look like hell when she had to go there to visit ailing relatives and friends, which she and her husband had many! She could see the glimmer of hope in their eyes in spite their bodies were suffering from so much pain, the pain that she could feel in her heart. There were a few who came back with a new lease on life, but the numbers were meager for her and their happiness could never erase her experience of pain attached to those kind of places. Her fears were deep as if they were residing in her soul!
‘I was so correct about this place and how they would have felt here!’, she was thinking laying on a soft bed with a clean white sheet, looking at the ceiling with wide open eyes. Fate had brought her to the very situation which she had dreaded of for so many decades. She wished for a quick, silent death, but with a lawyer son and a doctor daughter, that was not an easy thing she could ask for! They wanted her alive, they wanted her back! They were trying their best to get her proper treatment, medicines and time to time opinions from the specialist doctors. She was the apple of their eyes, and she knew the treatment she was getting was the second to none!
She was so proud of her children and what they were trying to do for her, but at the same time her heart would sink as no one could understand that she was ready to go, she had already made up her mind to leave for the next journey to the place beyond the veil, beautiful and serene! Always happy about whatever life presented her with, now she only wanted a peaceful, unfeeling escape, just like if she slept the night before in this world and got up in another world, as smooth as that!
To her pity, she was not going to get that! Her dear children would never let that happen. She now could understand the fallback of formal education and information systems making today’s world so demanding and trying to control everything. She could see her children engulfed in these false promises who were refusing the rhythm of her heart, prompting them to let her go. Kusum was not able to help them free themselves from this strongest attachment. She was scared that if the moment she was waiting for comes, though other doctors might accept that she was done, but her daughter, Preeti, will push herself in an ocean of guilt. The guilt of a Doctor daughter! To get rid of this worry, about her daughter’s probable guilt, was the only one thing left on Kusum’s list of todos in this world.
For more than a week, she wanted to go home, feel the warmth there and let the nature bring the decision to her! It was her twelfth day on that comfortable warm, well cushioned, perfectly equipped hospital bed. The room and the ambiance was better than many hotels she stayed in when her family would go on vacations. What destroyed the beauty were the machines showing so many graphs, the needles monitoring each and every movement of her heart and so many needles injected in her cranky, old body; some taking out something and remaining putting in something, making her feel so artificial! It was half past five in the morning and her daughter-in-law, Shreya, was sleeping on a couch beside her.
“What a lovely morning, the one exactly similar to those when I used to roll out of the bed and quickly get ready to go to our farm with my baba!” The air was cold and must be fresh. “If it was not this stupid bed and this stupid hospital, I could have been wandering in that beautiful farm again”, she thought! She was losing her calms, she wanted to feel the heavenly breeze, the woods and the earth again. She wanted them at that very moment.
“Shreya!”, her voice was meager but her need to connect was strong. She did call her sleeping daughter in law. Kusum knew it was like midnight for her children, but she could not resist the urge to talk. To her utter surprise, Shreya was wide awake in a moment and was next to her bed in no time. She was a good girl, Kusum knew. Her son, Akhil, was so lucky to have her for his life.
“Beta, please call Akhil and Preeti and ask them to come here.”
“Now?”, Shreya was worried! There was a silence for a complete breath and Shreya dialed Akhil’s number. She understood the need of the situation and silenced her natural urge to ask the reason. She whispered a sentence or two on the phone to her husband and then called his sister. Both were in the ICU room, beside her within 20 minutes, petrified!
“What is it mommy?”, Preeti was trembling with anxiety and distress. Kusum tried to look calm, as if there was nothing to worry about. She slowly turned towards her son. “Akhil, beta, please call Vinod. I would like to talk to him.”
Vinod Poddar was their family lawyer since Kusum’s father-in-law bought a land near the town, which turned out to be a land in conflict. Vinod handled the case so prudently that Akhil’s grandpa was indebted to Vinod for all his life. Kusum’s husband, Sharad and Vinod, who were nearly of same age, became good friends and Vinod did inspire Akhil to be a good and successful lawyer.
“Tell him to bring the FD papers while he visits.”
“Why now, mom?”, Akhil was hesitant.
“Why do you worry so much Akhil? I just want to make sure everything is in place. Please do it now. Vinod will understand.”
Akhil agreed and walked out of the room hastily, concerned.
Preeti and Shreya stood expressionless. Kusum glanced towards them and thought how strong her girls were. She did remember how women used to weep and cry like monsoon rains when someone from the neighbourhood or from the family seemed to be terminally sick. These girls did exhibit the transformation of a modern woman due to education and professional responsibilities. She had a thought of her deceased husband. ‘See how beautiful our daughters look’, she mumbled and apparently fell asleep. She was waiting for an angel, who probably would come in a black coat.
“He was supposed to come at 9:30”, Akhil looked at the watch. It was half past 11 and there was no news from Vinod. Akhil was not willing to call him on mobile as Akhil knew the impact of his call given his lawyer uncle was stuck in some important case, which for sure, he knew, he was!
Vinod arrived exactly at 12:30 PM with a file of papers. He was a determined man with a sweet voice and relatively short stature, somewhere in his late seventies. He went near Kusum with a cheerless semblance and kept the flower bouquet on the table beside her.
“Here are the papers that you asked for Kusum”. He slowly turned back and handed the file to Akhil.
“My deep condolences are with you. Boy, I will sit in that corner. You can ask me if you don’t understand any of the legalities!” His eyes seemed wet and he quickly moved towards the corner chair. He knew there was nothing he could make the boy understand as being a lawyer himself, Akhil was aware of all the legal terms. But Vinod had to say those words as he was the keeper of all the secrets of this family till date.
Akhil opened the file. There were some estate papers, his father’s will, his mother’s will and some certificates. He crawled over each of the papers until he reached one strange document. It looked like a court order. ‘What is this’, he wondered. As he read the paper word by word, slowly his eyes started broadening. In between he looked at his mother briefly and then continued reading.
“Bullshit”, he was full of disagreement. His hands were trembling and his feet felt frozen. It looked like he will collapse, just when Mr. Vinod stood up to give some support to him.
Shreya and Preeti could get no hold of the situation and stood with a blank face. Akhil did finish reading the document till the end, till its last word. Without uttering a single word, he kept the file aside and sat on a nearby chair with both of his hands engulfing his face.
“D’oh!” He was trying to get hold of his emotions, his anger, his disapproval, his dismay, his helplessness, his frustration and his pain. A drop of tear rolled down his strong, well matured cheek.
“What’s it bhaiya, what does it say?”, Preeti seemed losing her patience.
“Our mother is a devil Preeti. Such a harsh woman! How can you do this to us mom?”, he was so angry and was trying to hide his tears. His voice was high and it seemed he already had lost the sense of being in an ICU room. A couple of nurses gathered quickly, but once they caught a glimpse of Dr. Preeti, they decided to keep the incidence off the records. It was awkward! It was unexpected!
“Why do you say so Bhaiya?”, Preeti went near Akhil and pushed him slightly to bring back him to the reality. Shreya helplessly started reading the file that was kept aside.
“What is it mommy?”, her voice was demanding. She could see her brother going to pieces!
“Mom is going to die!”, he bursted out. “She has decided to kill herself!”, he continued in rage as all the hell broke loose.
“Shut up! You shut up! What are you blabbering? This has no meaning!”
“It has!”, Mr. Vinod had to intervene. It was his duty to make it happen.
“Dear Children, after the death of your father, your mother came to me and asked me something very special. She asked my help to get her a legal document in a case like this.”
“Like what…what case?”, Preeti was terrified.
“In a case where she is indefinitely hospitalized… in a case when the doctors and especially you, Preeti, are almost sure that you cannot do anything to make her situation better… in a case where she has to go through all this pain and medicines and torture in the hospital..in case she doesn’t want and cannot bear this pain…in case she wants to be free again…as per her free will! In this case, she had asked me if she could get freedom to get out of the hospital, deny all the medicines and the treatments and let the nature take its course. I was hesitant in the beginning. But after hearing her thoughts, I had to agree. We finally got it legalized. And now according to this document, you cannot keep her in the hospital from today, nor can you administer her any medicines or injections.”
“That’s dumb! Is this even real? Or have you lost your sane? They cannot legalize this. Akhil? Can they?”, Preeti was wondering in distraught.
“Yes it is legal, in our constitution, it is stated that there is a right to deny the medical treatment if the condition is terminal and is not getting any better. It comes under the right to live and die with dignity!” Akhil said poker faced.
“Okay. I see, what you are trying to do here mom.” Preeti gave a fierce look to her mother and turned her back towards her.
“But what if, Vinod uncle, we all doctors state she will get perfectly okay in a couple of days? Let me talk to the doctors and I will make sure they say so. Mom, I am not going to lose you in any case! I am sure you are going to be exactly as you were before, perfectly healthy! What is the use of my knowledge and experience if I cannot help you, if I cannot save you!”, Preeti was desperate.
“I know dear, you indeed are putting your best! I understand, it is so difficult for you to accept the truth. You don’t want to see it!”, Kusum’s voice was getting feeble. “I am and I will be with you forever. I love you and I know, you too love me, so will you let me suffer like this till the end?”, she stopped.
“I have already discussed with the other doctors and taken their opinion in written. They are not sure if she can make out of it sooner or later. They are not giving up, but they have collectively given a statement that her condition is not improving either and it can be termed as terminal”, Vinod said.
Akhil was sure everything was already done and was legally taken care of. There was nothing they could do now. They were bound to follow the legal order. Shreya too was speechless, but she was more worried for her husband and Preeti. She could exactly relate to her mother-in-law’s condition because she had gone through the same set of sequences when her mausi, her dear aunt, died on a hospital bed, after three month’s prolonged treatment which was physical and mental harassment for her aunt as well as for the entire family. She was the witness of the pain and the misery which the whole family went through, and she did remember how sorry she felt for her aunt who was traumatized by the treatment, sessions, injections and medicines administered to her. The memories of those tragic times made her understand Kusum’s decision. But still she was frightened that if it was the right thing to do and if her husband could handle the decision and the after effects.
“Mom, how can your children abandon you this way? If they do so, how will they look in the mirror and answer themselves in the coming days? Please don’t do this to them”, Shreya said. Vinod understood the request as Kusum looked towards him for assistance.
“Shreya, I am a well-wisher and a very old friend to this family of yours. I have seen these children grow. I have been with this family in happy times and hard times. I have seen their love and their strong bonding. So I can say this today, that the mother of these children have taken this decision for their good only. She knows her time has come. Everybody has to leave this world one day and she is well prepared for that! But when that happens, she does not want Preeti to take all the blame for not trying the hardest or Akhil to wonder if he could have tried other options. Her decision is for everybody’s good. It will save this family from a lot of pain, sufferings and guilt. I too was worried for her when she asked for this, but when she asked me if she has done such a big sin that her own family would sentence her to such a huge suffering in her last days. Not at all! I did understand that she deserves her freedom to die peacefully and with full dignity.”
“By the way, this is her final decision. Dear children, please love and respect that!”
The room was silent. The nurse who was in the room, invisible for the whole time, started collecting Kusum’s clothes and belongings.
“When are we removing all these needles Doctor?”, she asked to Dr. Preeti.
“Right now!” Preeti said while she exhaled her longest breath.
“Let’s go home mommy!” Tears rolled her eyes and she hugged her mother tightly.