“So what’s the hardest part about being a doctor?” your fingernails rest across the keyboard as the seconds tick away.
“Having to deal with loss. Knowing that there is nothing else you can do for this patient. That feeling is incomparable.” I pocket my freshly stamped passport and smile politely. I concentrate on breathing evenly as I exit the glass doors to the US embassy.
The first forty eight hours after my best friend dies are a blur. They almost always are, I find out from countless recounted stories in perspective. Perspective and reason, all the things that now seem buried along with him.
I call the required people, make the necessary arrangements. “Dengue shock syndrome. Yes, the doctors did everything they could.” I half whisper.
Forty eight hours hold four thousand eight hundred memories in slo-mo. Fourteen pictures strewn across the floor, eight attempts at finding the perfect one for the memorial booklet. Eighteen times my mother offers me food, four times I break down at the kindness of strangers. One hundred and forty eight unread messages, eight times I forget to hold back my snappy replies. Four hundred and eighty times people tell me it gets better, give it time, everything happens for a reason. Four hundred and eighty times people lied. Twenty four times I curse God, offering myself in return. Twenty eight times I realise that survivor’s guilt is a real thing, that guilt overpowers every other emotion. Fourteen (or was it eighteen?) crying sessions later, I retrace forty eight unsure footsteps from the entrance to the chapel.
The chapel: Overfilled with people pouring out from its doors. When the preacher says he’s with God, I try my best to hide my ashen face. I don’t dare look anyone in the eye, opting to instead make friends with my feet. When the bagpipes play the closing hymn and his father carries out his casket, I coax myself to bite the bullet instead of crying. I picture my bones turning to dust. I picture him, a man I saw alive less than seven days prior, turn to dust.
“He was doing so well in design school, he had big plans for the future.”; ” Did you know when he was diagnosed? I had no idea he was even sick.”; ” I thought it was just dengue.” Each one of us deals with the aftermath in our own way. I swallow back bile as I push through the throng of some familiar and some barely recognisable faces to the body. All of us are united by this overwhelming feeling of grief and helplessness. Twenty three tears spill on my lead laden arms, as I pour mud on who was once my favourite twenty three year old human.
“So his NS1 is positive, admit him.” My senior barks orders as I follow her on rounds. I wonder if anyone else has heard the sound my stomach makes when it plummets to the floor, on my first day back to work. The four walls of the ward begin to close in as I calmly try to muster my most professional facade.
“Admit him”, the obviousness in that declaration makes my knees weak. The ‘what-ifs’ after the result are what can drive a sane person crazy. What if he had been admitted since day one ? What if they had monitored his cardiac enzymes sooner ? What if the ICU staff had done better ? What if there was some medical negligence involved?
” Are you alright? You look like you have seen a ghost.” My co-intern nudges me back to reality.
-Professional reality: Admitting another dengue patient for the day, one with a platelet count lower than his.
-Personal reality: On the brink of another anxiety attack every damn time someone mentions the word ‘dengue’.
“So how you holding up?”, they ask as the wrinkles distort their features. All I can offer in response is a frail and weak hearted ” It never gets better, but it can never get worse. It is what it is.”
But what it is, is far more than that. His disease slammed the breaks on secrets he was going to teach me, on vacations we were supposed to take together. It shut the door on the wise words he would dish out to all my troubles. It cut short any future hours spent listening to Snow Patrol, of discussions on the meaning and the outcome of this still verdict- less life. It obliterated the texts and the phone calls but failed to severe the cord.
Our connection is still there. It is in the black of my morning coffee, and in the dragging footsteps on my way to work. It is in the deep understanding that few people can love as selflessly and unconditionally as he did in this lifetime. It is in the restraint and beauty of beginnings. It is in the heartache of a Coldplay song that plays in a slow loop. It is in the melancholy layered in the lyrics to ‘Hear you me’. I started hearing it over the relentless buzz of the city after he died, and it hasn’t stopped playing since.
If I could go back, I would say those three words gentle and loud. I would employ the patience that I sometimes lost when I got older. When I was swamped at work, or just watching a movie and I would roll my eyes every time he would demand attention. That harsh tone would just slip out. The one he never deserved, and hardly ever objected to. That’s what he always did, accepted and loved a person with all their shortcomings. He never overlooked the flaws but embraced them wholly, even when the other person was ungrateful.
People are ungrateful, though. You see, humans forget all the time. Plans, birthdays, names. And I am horrified that him, his whiskey scented laughter, his life could be so easily destroyed. I write to keep him alive.
I want to say rest in peace, but I also want him to rest in kindness, in beauty, in love, in compassion. In knowing that he will be in my thoughts everyday, and in that big void in my heart that can never be filled or replaced.
“I love you and miss you best friend, always and forever.”