She looked at me in what seemed to have been the longest lingering stare. Those eyes, gentle and sad. I watched as the color of life insidiously left her skin. Lying down on the hospital bed looking very frail. She muttered something softly.
"Is my son here yet", and as though she was struggling to muster the energy to finish her sentence, resumed,"doctor?"
A question I dreaded answering. I pretended to be very busy checking her vitals and avoided eye contact for a moment. "It's a peak traffic hour auntie. I'm sure he'll be here as soon as he can. You just sit back and relax. Don't worry. I'm here. How's the pain? It should be better. I've just upped you morphine. You should feel better soon".
Eye lids half shut, she muttered,"You are so kind doctor. Thank you".
I had a lot of work to do that day, but I had decided to just spend some extra time with Mrs Lim. She was such a polite and sweet soul. Most of the time, when faced with such circumstances, I find myself unable to decide what mode of sentiments should I be in. Should I be angry? With who? God? Destiny? Why do good people die? Why can't cancer hit all those dreadful souls, there are many of them out there, those corrupted people. Why don't give them cancer? Why these good souls? More often, I was just angry with cancer for being blind.
She moved as I adjusted her pillows, for she looked uncomfortable with her head tilted to one side for a long time. Eyes suddenly rolled about their sockets, as though she resented the fact that she had wasted a few minutes dozing off, she asked me again,"Is my son here yet?". She must have thought she had fallen into slumber for quite some time now.
"You just get that rest Auntie Lim. I promise to wake you up the moment your son comes. I won't go anywhere, I'm just going to sit here" and continued in my mind screaming,"where the fuck are your useless sons anyway?!!"
I've made a couple of calls only to have the voice machine spoke to me. I left a message, "Mr Lim, please come to the hospital as soon as possible. Your mother is dying." . Mrs Lim was more than just a patient to me. She was Mrs Lim, a person I had come to know fairly well in the course of the treatment of her cancer. I know that she was a former teacher turned home maker after she got married to a wealthy man. They were blessed with two sons. I know that she embraced Buddhism yet kept her mind open about other religions.
We used to chat about how simple religion is and that humans make them complicated with their own agenda, or came up with the theory that Sidharta Ghautama Buddha may have been one of the Muslim's many prophets, whilst examining her, whilst I secured her intravenous branula, or check her for bed sores. She was skin and bones and the last thing I want is to have whatever little flesh she had, be eaten by bed sores.
The little time that I was permitted to spend on one patient, I made full use of it on Mrs Lim. Her wisdom attracted me like a magnet. I would wake up early every morning to get to work so that I would create some extra time to sit and chat with her. She used to tell me, in that aristocratic way of speaking, "No matter how successful you are in your career, make a point to spend quality time with your children. I use to be very busy attending functions with my husband when I was young. I regret having missed the time when my boys grew up. Their nanny is their mother. "
Diagnosed with final stage lung cancer, there was nothing much we can do except take one symptom at a time and try to make her as comfortable as possible. I noticed sometimes that her sons would come at odd hours to visit, hardly at the same time. He would sit by her, politely nodding at whatever it is that she muttered under her breath. She was weak and was getting weaker by the day. Watching her die a slow death, I felt helpless, not being able to reverse that. There were times when I dreaded attending to cancer patients. Not because I don't care, it was just that it could become emotionally taxing for me. The part where I know after all the bondings, my cancer patient will inevitably die, and I will live to pick up the pieces. The only way I could help was to ensure they die as gracefully as possible. The only way I could secure my sanity, was to learn how to not get affected, which was one of the toughest thing to do.
"Doctor,", Mrs Lim's voice sounded distance,yet strong enough to jerk me back to the present moment. She was now struggling to finish her sentence. "my son".
"He just called me 5minutes ago. He's on his way. There's a massive traffic jam in Jalan Ipoh. Some lorry overturned. He'll get here as soon as he can." I had to lie and I hate lying. At that moment, I had brilliant and creative ideas on how to strangle her sons.
Then I knew. I just knew. That it was time. I felt no drift of air caressing my skin or making the hair at the back of my neck stand. Nor were there any white light embracing the woman lying down in the bed, looking extremely jaded. All I could see was life leaving Mrs Lim. She had signed the document rejecting any active intervention to be performed on her. It was her wish, and we had to honor it. So I sat there, beside her, holding her right hand that was slowly becoming less warmer. I felt totally helpless and at the mercy of destiny. I had to say something to make her feel good. "Jimmy told me to tell you, that he loves you very much. And Eric said that you're the best mom anyone could have. I spoke to them earlier"
I was not sure whether she had heard what I was babbling, but I saw a little smile that crept up the corner of her mouth as she surrendered herself to death.
"Doctor, ......you're so kind......thank you......" and with that last words, she exhaled her last breath, leaving me staring ahead into an abyss of frustrations. I felt touched but no tears came by me. I did not feel sad that she had gone, for I have a good hunch that she had gone to a better place. Somewhere she will never feel the pain again.
And just like that, Mrs Lim was gone, leaving me with words that would haunt me for the rest of my life. That is why I have to return to the hospital in the future. I will have to settle my daughter now, so I will resume working in the private sector for a while. When she's settled, I will go back. There are many more Mrs Lims who needs me.
For just that simple word, "Thank you"......
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