Sunday, May 2, 2010


At Dubai airport, at Gate 209 waiting for the Flight EK 719. I try to think, my mind is clogged with the feeling that I don’t like this airport. Any thought would be better than this. In front of me, a Kenyan man of Somali origin finishes a conversation in Af Soomaali at the public phone and walks away. I try to think of his Kenyan passport which he was holding in the same hand that held the phone and circumstances that may have brought him to Kenya. Suddenly, a man with Bihari accent is screaming … well, almost,‘who leave money and card here?’. I look around but can’t see the Kenyan passport holder. He disappeared fast. I thought of volunteering the information about the direction that the Kenyan passport holder went in but my attention is caught by the Japanese man sitting next to me who is talking rapidly with his spouse sitting next to him. She nods and nudges him. He says something in Japanese but in a low voice, perhaps informing the man with Bihari  accent about the Kenyan passport holder. The man with Bihari accent can’t understand and asks, ‘your card, your card?’. The Japanese man and his spouse shake heads vigorously and gesture towards the direction that the Kenyan passport holder took. The man with Bihari accent tries to follow their gestures but fails, waits for a while looking around and then picks up the money counts it, more than 40 US dollars; lifts and looks closely at the card, it is a debit card. He is holding the money and the card gingerly at the end of a stretched arm as if bringing the money closer to his body will pollute him … may be he is afraid that he would be beaten up. He walks away holding the money and the debit card like that. A whiff of talcum perfume mixed with body odour hits me. My stomach reels back & I feel nauseated. A couple dressed in heavy clothing of all kinds, the carriers of this smell, occupy the seats next to me. I look back and find the man with Bihari accent entering a room with police sign next to the door. He is still walking with stretched arms with the money and the debit card dangling from his fingers. I can’t bear nausea any more, I run to toilet next to the Gate. All sinks are occupied. I look into two empty toilets, both add to nausea. I look desperately at the Philippina cleaner. She smiles, ask, ‘you want …’ she gestures the Indian type toilet seat with both her hands. ‘Uhhh … no’, I say looking at the sinks which are still occupied and then I take a refill pack of toilet sanitizer, a toilet roll and broom from her large trolley of cleaning supplies and enter one of the toilets. She runs after me but I have locked the door from inside. Nausea has filled me, I can’t speak. I tie my sweater around my face and clear up the mess fast. But I am unable to throw up; my mind doesn’t like that my hands are dirty from holding the broom and cleaning the toilet seat with toilet paper wet with sanitizer. I come out to find the Philippina cleaner standing in the way with anger in her face. She looks inside the toilet and the expression changes to confusion. I walk to one of the sinks, which is empty now and throw up. The Philippina cleaner is staring and others are looking at me with not at all pleasant expressions. I clean up and walk out to look for a place far from the perfumed couple. I find none and decide to walk around. The Philippina cleaner is walking next to me, ‘you ok’, she asks first and then adds, ‘baby?’ My mind is now occupied with dread of another kind - what if the perfumed couple sits next to me in the aircraft. I think she is asking if I have a child. I say, ‘one child … big’ and gesture a height taller than me. She looks confused. I say thank you to her for her concern and walk in another direction and realise that she was wondering if I am pregnant! I frown but it fades away fast. I see a vacant seat near the Gate 210. I take it and start thinking about illness and people’s perception, my own perception.

Two and a half weeks back I was hospitalised – my first real stay in a hospital. I had taken myself to the hospital after looking at myself in the mirror several times. I looked fine, no sign of illness. But the sense that ‘I am dipping down’ persisted and convinced me to call the hospital. I asked for an early appointment. The doctor’s assistant gave me an appointment for the next day. I asked to make it earliest possible. She asked me why and if it is so urgent why don’t I go to the emergency. I was in the emergency with a colleague two weeks back to take care of another colleague who was medically evacuated from a neighbouring country. The amount of paper work and the time it took there was scary. So I said I do not wish to go to the emergency. She gave me an appointment four hours later and asked me a few questions about symptoms. I told her. Ten to fifteen minutes later, there was a call from her asking if I can come earlier. I was glad and walked towards the office exit gate. The 5-10 minutes walk which I always enjoyed was painful and the wait for the taxi at the gate frustrating. My body was telling me to let it succumb; somebody will pick it and take it to the hospital. My mind told me not to be a public nuisance and not to trust a crowd to take care of my body. I listened, waited, got a taxi and took myself to the hospital. I was examined and told about a number of tests that need to be done. I was already feeling better. I asked the doctor if all that would be over today. He smiled and said no. ‘I intend to keep you here for a few days’, he said. ‘How many days’, I asked. ‘I can tell you only after I have seen all the test results’, he replied. ‘But I am feeling better’, I protested. ‘When were you admitted last in a hospital’ he asked. ‘When I was born’, I replied and further said, ‘I can come to the hospital on a daily basis’. He told me that my mind is controlling my body so I am feeling better. He asked if I drank water, I didn’t remember but I told him about tea and coffee I had that day. Dehydration is not a good things, I know.

I was admitted and another doctor, a nurse and an attendant tried hard to prick my veins to administer some intravenous fluid and injection. ‘You have thin veins, very difficult to prick’, said the doctor. She was cheerful and kept asking questions. My mind said that she is just trying to keep me talking to distract me as she pricks my veins. I looked carefully at my veins; they collapsed each time one was pricked. A few attempts and they finally manage to get one syringe needle inside my vein. They looked jubilant and the nurse told me that they are going to water me well so the veins can be regenerated. The attendant asked if I didn’t feel the pain. ‘I did but I want to be out of this place fast so I better let you do what you have to do’, I replied. They all laughed. ‘Good attitude, you will get well fast’, the nurse said. They hung three different size bottles to a stand and explained something about IV fluid, the flow regulator extension set and how it regulate the flow of IV fluid from IV infusion set into the IV catheter and what they are going to do next. Nothing registered in my brain and I told myself to calm down and let them do their work unhindered. For a while that was okay but suddenly I found them examining me further and my body cringed. I told myself to relax and I did ease a bit but the male attendant had noticed my unease and moved a little backwards. My body screamed at him, ‘you can’t become invisible just by moving a bit backwards’. I didn’t realise that I have actually said it aloud but to my own relief I said it smilingly and gently. They all laughed again. I was comfortable by then and watched impassively as they attached a few more things to my body. The doctor who examined me first walked in and after greeting me talked to the doctor who was doing things on my body and then to me. It was casual conversation about family and work. But I was not distracted because I found him looking at my body carefully. I didn’t like it at all and I was about to say that I don’t want a male doctor groping me either with his eyes or hands when the mind interjected and quietened me. He checked every insert and attachment and told me that he is going to fix me and asked me to be enduring. He told me about my body’s ailment and that I must have ignored the symptoms for a long time. I protested saying that I never felt any symptom before. He didn’t quiet believe me. He asked if I would prefer a drug to help me sleep. I said no and he said that is all right. He continued his chatter for some more time and then left. The nurse stayed on to hear me muttering, ‘I shall endure, holy man’. She asked if I believe in the God. I asked her what she thinks to which she replied that I look like someone who doesn’t. We laughed and she said that she will pray for me tonight and hopes that I wouldn’t mind. I told her to be a bit more charitable and pray for the God to prevail on the doctor to let me out of this place fast. She winked and said that she will.

By now, it was already late in the evening and my food arrived. I was hungry, very hungry. The food looked good. But I could feel the coolness of fluid in my veins better than the taste of the food. My mind kept going back to poking and peering into my body. I tried not to think about it but the aftertaste of poking and peering was worse than the time I was being poked and peered at. I felt resentment about being alone, angry with my body for not giving me any symptoms that would have saved me from poking, peering and inserts. ‘I do not like to be examined by a man’, my body kept shouting. It’s my body’s view which is not just hidden-from-public-knowledge but also rejected by my mind, ‘what difference does it make who examines the body, it’s just a piece of meat and bones for the doctor’, it retorted. An intimate exchange between the body’s account of bad feeling about being touched by a strange man and the mind’s rationale about the idiocy of such thinking went on. In between, a colleague had visited, the hospital pantry staff had removed the food tray and a nurse changed the fluid connections. All this while, the exchange between the body and the mind continued uninterrupted. Except for a short while, in between, when I remembered that my younger brother told me that some of his wedding rituals would begin today. I called up my would-be sister-in-law and spoke with her. My would-be sister-in-law was getting ready to receive the baaraat when I called her so when my brother didn’t pick up his phone I thought he must be in the middle of baaraati band-baazaa so he can’t hear me. For a while my thoughts lingered on our growing up years till the body and the mind exchange took over again. Around the middle of the night, a nurse came and asked if I would like to have a sleeping pill. She informed that the doctor has prescribed it but asked her to give it to me only if I want it. She informed me apologetically that she would have to come in several times in the nights to change fluids and so on and it would be good if I take the pill and allow my body to rest. I told her that I am fine and feel rested. I was really not feeling tired.

Towards the morning, the exchange between the body and mind had taken an interesting new direction. My mind had convinced the body that I must have resisted and ignored symptoms and allowed the illness to build the blocks to take over the body so in a way my body has not fallen ill but is actually a creator of the illness. My mind screamed at the body, ‘you are responsible for being volatile and have put yourself in this unpredictable condition’. My body was not happy so it digressed and moved away from the mind. It was still resentful but it could not annoy the mind. After all, the mind is needed to watch over the body. Now both the body and the mind were weaving together incidents and events of the last few years in my life, examining them critically, raw analysis and depiction of life from a perspective that told me how I have wasted myself – how I have allowed the material matters to take over ideal spaces in life; how I chose to feel content when I haven’t been content and how the denial of discontent has constrained the space in which I configure my life and my ideals.

With the body and mind now acting as one, I condemned myself for choosing to lead an ambiguous life where I have learnt to ignore things that bother me. Their thinking disrupted the sense of stability that I thought I had. I was now looking at the onset of factors that may have been stronger than the symptoms of illness and so blocking them out. I was into a diagnosis and discursive exploration of my recent life and I was naming and taking-on responsibility for many things that I chose to ignore or tried to live with. ‘What a hypocrite, accepting things you wouldn’t accept earlier, living with things you wouldn’t tolerate in the past or in the public’, I yelled at myself. Thankfully, my youngest sister or the elder sister-in-law called up to give me an update of the wedding. It was a much needed break from the involuntary mental work. But not for long. I would have liked some more distraction.

I preferred the exchange between the body and the mind than this leapfrogging forwards and backwards in my life. At least, it kept the attention away from myself, albeit, in a strange way. The body and the mind are part of my self but when they were exchanging arguments, I could hear them detached, as if I were another being hearing conversation between two other people. This pact between the body and the mind continued to corner me as I went through various examinations and talking to the colleagues who visited me the following day. May be it showed on my face because when the nurse came in to change the fluid connections, the previous day’s insert came off and I started bleeding but I didn’t notice anything. The nurse nudged and asked me to give my thoughts a little break and keep the vein pressed while she fetches a new syringe to prick me. I put my finger on the vein and continued with my thoughts. Pricking was not working and the nurse remarked that even my veins have a mind of their own. She called a doctor who finally managed to get one right prick and I was back on the drip of one or another kind. The IV insert kept coming off each day and each day I would be pricked a few times with some remarks, all interesting. Each time, a vein was pricked I could see it receding. May be the nurse was right that the veins have a mind of their own. The pricking process became an amusing interruption to my self-engrossed thinking process.

On the second evening, the doctor decided that I must have the sleeping pill after asking me for some information about the allergies. I took the pill and felt terrible pain in my chest and upper back and had difficulty gulping down water. Half an hour later the pain was gone but I was wide awake. The nurse was not happy that I didn’t call her when I felt the pain saying the pain must be a reaction to the drug and remarked that I have willed myself out of sleep. I informed her that I had taken sleeping pills in the past and it never worked on me but when she persisted to find out which drug which I didn’t remember but she wouldn’t believe I asked her if patients think of death when they are hospitalised. She told me that most do even when they are admitted for small little things. She assured me that I am fine and I told her that I must make a will to ensure my daughter is taken care if I am gone and to ensure that whatever I have goes towards things I would like to contribute to. The illness was redefining and reshaping my thinking about my recent life materially and discursively.

The body and the mind’s joint analysis continued the following day and the days after. I thought of my life and creation of my identity as a one-word-name-woman and laughed at the bewilderment that I come across whenever somebody of an urban background hears that I have one word name. I thought of the tiny frame that makes my body and tried to trace factors that have made this frame jump with joy or wince with repulsion and revolt. On the third evening the doctor prescribed an injection to help me go to sleep. I refused when the nurse came with the injection. I told her that I do not wish to be injected and said it so forcefully that she agreed immediately that it is not a good idea to have the injection. We agreed that I would tell the doctor the next morning that he must stop this business of trying to ‘put me to sleep’ and then we laughed about the term ‘put to sleep’. But I noticed that she took extra care to draw the curtains neatly, switched of all the lights, put a cover on the glass in the door from where the light from the passage filtered inside and tip-toed more deliberately each time she walked in and out of the room. I wasn’t feeling tired even now.

By now results of various tests were out and the medical actions based on the results were being taken. By now I was also comfortable with my self-dialogue about how I have engaged and negotiated my emotional, physical and social environment and its boundaries. Finally, on the fourth evening, I informed my youngest sister that I am hospitalised and when she and others called up late in the night, I told them to relax and let me go to sleep. I slept as soundly as I could with a nurse walking in and out. The nurse was pleased and the doctor visibly relieved. The body and the mind offensive about the need to rethink my well-being and remake my life didn’t feel as harsh anymore and was gradually beginning to follow the day and night cycle.

It is rather strange that it took a hospital to instigate the process of naming, redefining, and reconfiguring and bring out the need of reconnecting and remaking my social relations. The ambiguities, the losses, frustrations and resistance stand better understood and attempts at sense-making more real even though I fail to understand how the body and the mind felt so separate from my self.

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