I still remember the animated discussion Atul and I had had on our way home from Sion one evening, in late 1983. I had just entered II/I and seen my first death during my first emergency the previous night – a patient with Guillain-Barre syndrome had died in the wards simply because a ventilator was not free that night and the patient couldn’t afford to go to a private hospital. My registrar and lecturer had shrugged it away as one more uncontrollable incident and I was angry and upset at their “callous” attitude. Atul, a year senior, explained why a certain amount of detachment, which is often confused with callousness, was necessary in such situations.
Since then, like others around me, I have seen people die and realized that a certain amount of detachment, without a reduction in empathy, is required to prevent us from going mad each time a patient passes away.
And so, you could be forgiven for thinking that we have all become really, really good at handling death, even when it involves our near and dear ones. Yeah right! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. None of this detachment, none of the tens of people we may have seen pass away from terminal illnesses and trauma prepares us for situations when a friend or close relative dies. It’s as if we are schizoid…detached when it comes to those we don’t know personally and as emotional as lay people, when it comes to those we know.
I first met Mandakini (Mandy to us then), in 1982. Along with Deb and Pargat, she protected me from her other batchmates, two years our senior, who were trying to rag us…as she also did my wife two years later…from me. I got to know her a bit over the years and a little more in my post-graduate days, when Anand was my registrar. I have known Anand more closely than Mandy, but as happens with Sionites, despite the passage of the years, there is always a certain connect that continues over the decades. It’s not fair for such a nice, warm and lovely person to have left this world so young…she still had so much to give and receive.
I am glad I couldn’t make it to her home last Tuesday. I want to picture her in my mind as the lively, sparkling individual she was, not as one laying still forever. The picture that Meenal put up on Facebook is just right, as is the one on the Alumni of Sionites page…dancing away spiritedly without a care in the world…and that is how I would like to remember her.
One-third of us in the coming years will have some cancer or the other…many of us will die. Coronary artery disease and sudden accidents will also strike some of us. All of these deaths will keep chipping away at the boundaries of our lives, slowly telling us how unsure everything is and that sooner or later, our time will come as well.
And while walking for 30 minutes and exercising will statistically help us lead healthier lives, I sometimes wonder whether it’s worth the effort at all or should we just be like the reader who emailed last week, “that’s why I smoke and drink. I get the same feeling (a runner’s high), from a flight of stairs”. This week frankly, I don’t really know!
In the end I guess, the best we can do is to lead good lives like Mandakini, so that when we are gone, we are remembered well and missed like hell.