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Friday, March 30, 2012

Tata Cancer

The local taxi drivers know Tata Medical Centre as Tata Cancer. I had to explain to the drivers why they should call it Tata Medical Centre and not Tata Cancer. It is sad why patients should not be made aware or reminded of what is making them sick.
The Bollywood movies have exhibited how the word cancer hits a person who is sick with it. The word cancer echoes and the viewers spin with the camera as it focuses on the character that receives the news from the doctor.  I felt moviemakers portrayed an exaggerated affect in a dramatic scene but now I think that is the closest anyone can get to if one is to show how one is affected when discovering they have cancer.

New places bring new acquaintances and I have made few. Most patients are not well off  they are commoners. Tata Medical Centre was established for the lower classes and though the treatment is given at a subsidized rate, it still hits most of the patients hard. I met a schoolteacher from Jharkhand whose ten year old son is sick with bone cancer. His name is Hari and talking with him I can see he is in more pain than his son. His face expresses suppressed emotions of anxiety and agony; his tone is tired and wavers like the fragile flower hanging onto its twig in the monsoon gale. He has been in the hospital for the past eight months and I can see it is draining his life. He admits he is disturbed and with his palms stretched, looks up to say, ‘God will do the rest’ I bring up the topic of teaching hoping it will divert his thoughts, about the possibilities of teaching in Bhutan. When I leave him he thanks me for talking with him, I am humbled and tell him it was a pleasure.

In the same ward a women is nursing her dying mother, the mother has lost her speech and cannot sallow food. The nourishment is pumped down a feeding pipe. She breathes through a pipe stuck on her neck and in the late hours of the night I can hear her breathing like a large snake hissing, and I can hardly see her complaining. They are from Mongar and it has been almost a month since their arrival. But they will have to go back because it is late says the doctors. The old woman is eighty-three years old and too weak for chemotherapy or radiation.   

Opposite to my grandfather’s bed is an old Bengali man who lies sobbing. He is alone most of the time, sometime in the afternoons a man comes to sit beside him for few minutes, he doesn’t cry when the man is by his side. But when the man leaves, tears leave his weak eyes like morning dews straining down the wide window glass frames of the ward in the morning. I gain knowledge that the old man has four younger brothers and when the father died he took responsibility of raising and educating all of his siblings. He did not marry he says because he didn’t come across the right girl but I think he never looked onto his own future being too busy making theirs’.  

In the corner bed a thirty-three years old man is undergoing chemotherapy for his stomach cancer. He is not able to eat, every morsel lands painfully in his stomach. His wife is pregnant and the due date is close, he fears he will die before he can lay his eyes on his child.
A man from Paro has been in the hospital for one month having been referred here from Chennai. His cancer is inoperable and he has to undergo chemotherapy. Till now his daughter had managed to keep him ignorant of his cancer but he was always in doubt. Now that he knows he doesn’t want to remain in the hospital any more. He says he will die at home in his country. 

The next ward is the children’s ward. I see tiny bald patients. Lives begun but faltering with pain. The innocent faces dumb founded and vivacity miss in their eyes. Like freshly planted seedlings in the punishing Calcutta sun their limbs are synonymous to wilting leaves. I say a silent prayer looking at them as my eyes strain to repress the tears, which are fighting to break free.       

Sympathy and agony sits heavy on my chest. Of course the hospital is very advanced and there is hope for the patients but cure doesn’t come easy. Painful moans are a regular part of the sound in the hospital. Troubled relatives linger in the waiting rooms calculating the medical bills. My friend, the teacher’s son will receive six injections and each injection will cost him two lakhs. And then I think about ourselves, the Bhutanese, we don’t pay a penny for the treatment we receive. Our government further gives us a daily allowance of hundred fifty per person to support us for other expenses. When an Indian patient is consulted, they are shown the treatment and the rate, the rate is higher with the better medicines and the treatments, but with the Bhutanese patients, no questions asked we receive the best medicine, the best operation, the best cure.
I look around and think, who must have got a loan to treat his father, or sold the family land to add few more days or months to their mother, or which mother must have sold her wedding ornaments to save her child.

Never before did I feel so much gratitude for our King and Government.


  1. People say, if you are unhappy with your life spend a day in a hospital, how true. These are the experiences that shape your life and attitude to life. These are the drama that awakens the soul in us.
    Many people go through this process and selfishly (though unintentional) keep the wisdom to themselves but you shared it and that's how we multiply the joy. Your narratives took me deep into your experience and I felt the pain.
    I have heard from so many people, upon their returning from treatments abroad, about how being Bhutanese means the luckiest thing in the world.
    My prayers and wishes for your ailing grandparent. May he gets well soon.

  2. Thank you Passu, your words are valued.