Sepia: Part V
Hospital corridors have their own smell. Their sounds, their colours and the oppressive stale air that circulates within all reverberate and recycle like an endless loop of energy. Spending a few days walking down them is an experience. Working in one and spending everyday is a strange eternity.
I looked at the long walkway towards the Radiology department. The fluorescent ceiling lights cast no firm shadows but just a pale imitation of one, almost like a ghost of a shadow.
I wondered how many stories of hope and loss, birth and death, disease and healing these walls would speak. Sometimes I feel that the collective memory of thousands of such events soak into the walls every day and reach a critical point when they start to exude them back out.
David says it is the writer's prerogative to delay and defer the inevitable. He says I'm growing confident in my voice enough to invoke a scene with descriptions rather than rush right into the middle of the drama. 'Would they rather not know what happened? why would they be interested in the smell of the hospital corridor?' I message him back.
'That, dear Susan' he pinged back, rather loftily, 'Is the difference between an anecdote teller and a story teller'
On that day he was seeing Robert Miller in his clinic, David had arranged for me to meet them at his office. I clutched my phone in my hand and David’s message was still on the screen. ‘Come to the MRI office’. He had seen the man who could be my father that morning. Something must have made him change his plans.
I walked down the corridor towards the scanner department, nodding briefly to a harried porter who was rushing in the opposite direction. My shoes click clacked on the floor and the sound echoed back to me much like my memories.
I wondered what my Father would look like now. My own memory has faded like that sepia photograph of him from when I was little. Grainy, ill defined features populated my mind as my brain cells clawed at some tangible detail. I thought I knew him. His deep voice, the musky smell of him often tanged with some chemical that he used to develop his negatives, his large spatulate fingers that could be reassuring and threatening at the same time all came back in bits of memory. It was as if I was piecing together my own personal Frankenstein.
I never remember him raise his voice, even when my mother used to shout at him for some vague misdemeanour like forgetting to pick up milk from the grocers. He was always gently spoken.
I remember him being a tad absent minded, smoking a pipe and staring at a magazine or a newspaper nodding vaguely, his mind elsewhere. He was always kind to me, bringing me some little nic nac from his trips, brushing my hair absently as he sat smoking, letting me sit on his thigh and look at pictures in a National Geographic magazine that he was so fond of.
When he didn’t come back after that final trip, I felt a mighty hole somewhere in the region of my diaphragm that never filled up. I banked on the hope of his return. It faded day by day, oozing out of me like life itself.
The cruelty of this coincidence hit me hard. Why now? Why this rekindling of hope? What does this serve?
But then, I knew part of my pain was the not knowing. Where did he go? Why did he go? Why didn't he come back?
I reached the frosted glass of the MRI offices and walked past a few empty chairs in the waiting area into the room. I smelt David before I saw him. He left a trail of that Hermes aftershave wherever he went. Not strong or cloying, but just enough to give a reassuring signal that he is around. I know I shouldn’t let this habit develop further. I shouldn’t feel reassured by his presence and ache in his absence. He is someone else’s now. I shouldn’t dare let him infliltrate my defences.
But here I am, letting him into the most intimate of my past, and letting him play a part in this absurd drama that sounds like a badly written screenplay for a Saturday TV show. A father who disappeared turns up to the same hospital where his grown up daughter works. Yeah, right!
The room was dark. I saw David sitting in front a twin flat screen monitors with images flickering through one after another. The bluish white light of the scanned images lit his face in ominous shades.
“Susan” he said without turning his head, staring at the screen. “ He came with .. “ he cleared his throat tentatively “daughter Julie. She was a bit upset they weren’t seeing you but I gave them some explanation that you will be involved but had to be pulled away for an emergency.”
I pulled a chair and sat close to him. “And?”
He half turned his head, still staring at the screen. “ Charming man. A bit on the quiet side. Has been having these headaches and getting forgetful lately. Julie says his behaviour has changed a bit. Cannot give me much of a medical history but the GP letter was quiet detailed. I quizzed Julie on the past history but she was a bit vague. Said there were no other siblings and that she was the only … “ he cleared his throat again, “daughter. Julie’s mum, his wife, died 3 years ago and he has been living on his own ever since.”
I leaned back on the chair and pinched the bridge of my nose with my thumb and index finger, my eyes closed. David says I do that when I am annoyed but am trying to stay calm. He says it is my 'counting to ten'. What he was telling me wasn’t what I expected, I wanted a linear, chronological tale. I wanted answers.
David picked up a bottle of water and drank deep. “Listen Susan, I know you are looking for some revelatory message here. I’m sure you’ll know one way or other when you meet him. When I took the history, I knew my priority here was to get a medical history and do the duty of a Doctor. Do what they are asking us to do first. I did some blood panels, a neuro exam and got an MRI done urgently. I am sure you agree on my plan.”
I nodded. He was right. Among all my curiosity and personal storyline, I shouldn't forget what they were here for. Maybe it was right that David was seeing them. He can keep the objectivity.
I felt his shoulder brush against mine as he leaned and replaced the bottle. He tapped on the keypad and the image on the screen changed again.
“Susan, Meet Mr Miller's brain.” He said.
I rubbed my eyes and stared at the screen. I couldn’t focus.
Headaches. Dizzy spells, forgetfulness. Now he is showing me an MRI. I reached into my handbag and brought my glasses out. I put them on and moved closer to the screen.
“ Look at this corner of the fronto-temporal area. What do you see?” David gestured.
“ Scarring? There is some calcification”
“Yes. … let me refresh the screen, it does get more clear in the next view.”
I watched as he rapidly moved from one to another as an image of a small area grew darker, like a coalescing cloud. There was an edge, an area of pressure where the sulci and gyri appeared pushed. An old contusion that has started to become something else.
“I am sorry to do this to you. But I think it is better you saw this and then made a decision about how you want to proceed.” He touched my elbow.
The final image left no room for doubt. Sitting there like some malicious imp, the space occupying lesion, the tumour, stared back at me. The awful emptiness in my diaphragm returned viciously. My brain, however, was making a million computations about the medical history, the scan and the plans for what comes next.
“Where is the patient and his daughter?” It felt odd to call him the patient. Robert Miller, the man who could be my long lost Dad.
David stood up, leaned over and rested his forearms on my chair. His hands looked like they were about to cup my face. I tilted my chin up in an unconscious movement and felt a blush creep up my neck. Idiot. He is not going to kiss you.
“They are in my office. I said you were coming in and they are waiting to see you. I said I will discuss all the results with your first. We need to make a decision about his prognosis. We need an MDT meeting.”
I looked at the screen and the dark coalescing shadow that would kill the man who could be my father. It looked back at me defiantly.
I stood up and smoothed a lock of hair that had drifted into my field of view.
"David, I agree we need a Multi Disciplinary Team meeting to dot the i's. Between you and me, we know what the MRI means."
David's eyes were fixed on my face as he cleared his throat again.
"That we do. I'm sorry."
Killing Me Softly
© 2012 Mohan Kumar