and In Health
most people in their mid twenties, I hardly pondered too
deeply about my health. It seemed to me, most of the time,
an abstract word used by our parents and elders. Too often
the conversations around us comprise of people saying things
like 'My health has not been too well because of XY and
Z----.' Or things like 'Old age has deteriorated my health
and so forth. These conversations would often follow with
advise on diet and medicine and complaints about the lack
of facilities in Dhaka.
suppose nature has a strange way of introducing us to the
harsher realities of life. In our youthful arrogance and
pomp and glory of our energy, we cease to take a minute
to appreciate this amazing vessel we find ourselves locked
reality of illness became more pronounced to me a year or
so ago, in September when my husband came down with dengue
and typhoid. At the beginning I kept thinking that it was
just the flu, just a silly foreign bug that my husband had
acquired in his system for being away from Bangladesh for
so long. At the same time I felt a heaviness within myself.
Perhaps it was because I had never seen him looking so ill.
The temperature sending him in a delirium, the vomiting,
the restlessness drawing dark circles under his eyes. The
cheerful smile being replaced by dry white patches around
his mouth; remnants of the high fever. Still, I was hopeful
it was not Dengue. I think it was a word that, as one day
became three days, I was beginning to dread more and more.
the third night when my husband had been tossing and turning
for hours and I found no peace in the darkness, I found
myself waking up. I sat up and turned on the lamp next to
our bed and watched with despair at his pale face. I ran
a hand through his hair and prayed fervently to Allah that
all would be well. In the soft light of the lamp I could
see the reflection of a picture, which we always keep by
our bedside. The two of us on our akht, looking at each
other and smiling. Not hugging or posing for the camera,
just looking at each other. We both love that picture, I
don't know why; perhaps its because the picture captures
the true essence of our relationship. Looking at it objectively
all one sees is a young woman in a green sari and red lipstick
looking at the young man sitting next to her. The young
man in all white pyjama and panjabi looking back at her.
The bending of the two faces is what, I realised, I loved
best about the picture. In the darkness with the trick of
the light, I realised that the bending of the two heads
seemed to form a heart. I smiled at the illusion that we
form in our heads. That night I went to sleep with a heavy
heart. The next morning the doctor informed me that that
my husband had dengue.
next few days in the hospital were unlike any I had ever
experienced. The constant anxiety, the restlessness, the
stillness only to be broken by visitors or doctors or the
cries of the poor souls who had lost their loved ones. My
husband got transformed in just a few days into a pale and
thinner version of who he was. Gone was the happy-go lucky
smile or the brightness that I could always see in his eyes.
His eyes hardly registered anything. The medication, the
high temperature, most of all the loss of fluid, everything
added up in his system and converted him from a healthy
young man to a patient. I don't know who it was harder,
for me because I was always in a conscious state watching
like a hawk at everything that the doctors and nurses did,
or my husband who suffered through the medication, the ivy,
and the constant poking for the blood tests.
saddest time for us was when I would take him to the bathroom
he would say, 'Liya I feel embarrassed to do my toilet in
front of you.' My heart would break at that and I would
say, 'Husbands and wives are supposed to help each other
out in their times of need.' It sounded so lame even to
myself. I would want to scream and say that it was for all
the times we had shared together, for all the times he had
rubbed my feet after a long day, for all the times he had
made life bearable with a small joke, for the times he had
hidden a candy underneath my pillow just to surprise me.
I said none of these things, I would just hold his hands.
prayed day and night, striking all kinds of deal with Allah.
Begging, crying, pleading. At times I blamed myself for
his illness, perhaps it was because I was not appreciative
of him, perhaps it was because I had done something wrong.
I kept on remembering all the times we had shared together,
all the grand plans we had made together. I laughed thinking
of all the long nights we had passed just talking and laughing
about all our far-fetched dreams. My husband's illness made
me realise I was weak, I was only made of clay, at the whims
of my Maker, who had the power to decide whether my husband's
condition would get critical or better. I was NO ONE.
the nights and days that passed, Abul who was in our house
since I was a baby would stand at guard. Watching me, watching
my husband. Making sure we were both doing alright. After
the family members and the nurses would leave and I would
have the whole night ahead of me Abul would stay awake,
making sure the ivy had not come to an end, urging my husband
to take a few sips of daber pani. I would joke with him
and say that when he watches my husband I can take some
had been with us for twenty-two years. He came as a little
boy to my Nanu and looked after him till the day Nanu died.
We would laugh that Nanu would first serve food for Abul
and then sit down for his meal. Such was the bond between
Nanu and Abul. After Nanu's death Abul came to live with
us. Not that he had to, he had a nine to five job. But after
five he would come over and run all our errands, look after
us, listen to our endless complaints. I always laughed at
the fact that he called me 'babu.' I once told him to make
sure that he didn't call me babu in front of my friends.
husband, thanks to the blessings of Allah got well and we
went home. He would tell me that he understood why we were
so fond of Abul. A small framed young man with a dark moustache,
who would always smile.
never stays constant; I think I hate that fact the most.
My husband's illness had left a bitter taste in my mouth
for illnesses. It had opened my mind to fear and doubts
and questions and the horrible reality that we were only
on earth for a short while. At our age we hardly like to
dwell on things like that. I wondered if people my age would
think I had some how acquired a gothic taste for worrying
so much about the issues of life, death and illness. The
roof nearly caved in on us when we found out that Abul had
dengue and jaundice.
hated the idea of having to visit Abul in the hospital.
The visit to the hospital reminded me of the long nights,
with the darkness outside turning to a pale pink color and
realising that I could not give into my body's cry for sleep.
I shivered thinking that I would have to step back into
another hospital and have to watch a healthy person suffer.
walked with my husband and my mother to the ward with a
sense of trepidation, yet at the same time hopefulness that
all would be well. In my lack of understanding the ways
of Bangladeshi hospitals, I was horrified at the behavior
of the doctors. They seemed almost accusing that we cared
so much for someone who only worked for us. How does one
explain the bonds that people develop? I yelled at the doctor
to make her understand that she had no right to shout at
her patient or to walk away without talking to us or throwing
the file on the table because I wanted to know what medication
Abul was taking.
realised with horror yet again how living abroad had spoiled
my husband and me. It had made us expect politeness and
proper procedures and behaviours. Such things do not exist
in all places in Bangladesh. As days went by, Abul only
got worse until he went into a hepatic coma. I remembered
just a day before he went into his coma he said to Ammu,
'I will never be able to repay this debt.” Ammu's eyes had
filled with tears and she had shrugged it aside saying that,
'You will be fine, don't say things like this.' In our next
visit we found Abul in a coma. The once smiling face was
now covered with tubes, the ICU with its medical stench
and seriousness were all too much to bear.
all hoped he would get better, but as days went by, he did
not recover from his coma and finally he passed away. I
can't get the images out of my head. Of his smiling face,
his complete loyalty towards my family, the way he had smiled
and rubbed my husband's head when he was in the hospital.
How could the one person who had nursed everyone back to
health decide to leave us?
don't know who it's harder for, the people who die or the
unfortunate people who are left behind. Abul's death made
me realise how fragile our lives are, how short and how
precious each and every moment is. I can't comprehend his
death. He was a link to my Nanu, and the old ways of life
when tradition, loyalty and goodness were the heights that
everyone tried to reach. Memories are strange things, they
appear in our mind like snapshots and we feel the pain of
those who leave us during the mundane chores of everyday
husband's illness and Abul's death has made me feel so insignificant.
It has reminded me about the core of all religion, that
no matter who we are or what we do, we must all return to
our Maker. It makes me scared to think about death, yet
at the same time I think that perhaps it will make me a
better person, perhaps less selfish, less materialistic,
perhaps more sensitive to those around me and more compassionate
to the unfortunate. I think about Emily Dickinson's poem
where she eloquently says that God has created so much beauty
around us, yet we never wonder whether we will be able to
present a beautiful face to God. The message there is so
profound and yet so simple. I hope I can live up to it.