An account of a visit to India in 2005
that took a highly dramatic twist.
by Paul Mason
© Paul Mason 2006, 2015, 2021
I had already established a deep and abiding interest in Indian culture since hitchhiking to India as a teenager, so when Kathy and I got married in August 1983, it seemed a good idea for us to spend our honeymoon in North India. Actually, we even toyed with the idea of settling there, but it really seemed far too impracticable. Perhaps it was the monsoon weather that really made our minds up; how could we adjust to the unbearable heat and humidity of the summer months? It would be almost twenty years before we would return again together.
In 2001 Kathy and I made a return visit, this time with our son, Ben, and together we enjoyed exploring the jungle and seeing the wildlife around Rishikesh, and at a nature reserve called Jim Corbett National Park some many miles south-west at Ramnagar.
Although we didn’t see any actual tigers there (though we were shown fresh scratchings on a tree, and a sort of ‘pug mark’) we did have a great time, and it was really amazing to go for an elephant ride together through the jungle, very exhilerating. The shock of hearing elephant poop drop like bombshells on the hard ground below was a hoot! We also went for a jeep safari, which was good too.
One morning, quite early, Kathy and I were meditating before breakfast when we heard the most almighty roaring sound, very close and very loud indeed. A little later, when we went to investigate, we learnt that the sound we had heard was not a tiger or a bear, but that of elephants who give rides to visitors! On account of this being a holy day, they were to have the day off and relax in the lush Savannah grasslands where the deer roam. The roaring was clearly the sound of the elephants’ approval at getting a day’s holiday!
Once back in Britain though, the topic of returning to India together just didn’t seem to arise. I’m not sure, but I don’t think we ever talked about the possibility at all.
‘If you both want to go to India, I wouldn’t mind,’ Ben said one day, somewhat seriously, quite out of the blue.
‘Huh? Are you trying to get rid of us or something?’ I asked him directly.
The next time the topic of our going to India arose was during a visit of my brother, Ray, when he mentioned how the price of travel to India was these days very reasonable.
I was curious. Why was he telling me this? But I didn’t have to ask him, he told me point blank:- ‘I haven’t given you a birthday present in years, so why not book yourself a flight and I’ll pay?’
I was aghast, both at his unexpected generosity and at the prospect of actually thinking about returning to India again together with Kathy.
Much later, after my brother had left, I asked Kathy what she thought about his offer. We also remembered Ben’s reassurance, of how he said he wouldn’t mind if we took off to India and left him behind. It seemed so odd that suddenly both Ray and Ben were encouraging us to travel to India.
From time to time I gave the matter further thought. It came to my mind that it would be nice if we could go somewhere of special interest to Kathy, an area where she might see wild flowers – we spoke of going to the Valley of the Flowers, but apparently it was not at its best when we would be likely to travel.
The idea of finding an animal sanctuary also came up, of seeing tigers in a semi-wild habitat. I recalled a tiger reserve that I had passed on the road whilst travelling between Allahabad and the temple complex of Khajuraho, the Panna National Park. But I suspected there was a very real possibility that we might just be joining a throng of tourists. So instead, I explored the possibilities of striking out on our own, and planning a visit to somewhere else entirely, some hidden part of the Himalayas where one might still find wildlife untouched by the modern world. In my search I came up with a possible destination – Munsiyari, a town we might get to by going via Rishikesh, travelling then for several hundred kilometres, first as if one were going on a pilgrimage to Badrinath and Kedarnath, but after going part the way up, taking a westward turn onto a road that eventually leads high into the mountains near to the Nepalese border. From what I could gather, there was a strong likelihood that one might see bears, panthers, and wild yak here and there. Sounded just right!
Another idea came to me, that we might contact a friend I had made on an earlier visit to India, an engaging American guy, full of interest and humour, called Chris Marchan, who is currently living out in North India, looking into the miracle workers written about by Paramahansa Yogananda, in the fascinating ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’.
I contact Chris and it seems he is totally up for the journey, and provisionally we agree to meet up somewhere near Almora, a busy market town, not close to Munsiyari, but in the right region, the Kumaon Hills.
Kathy and I have quite a journey from our home in Penzance, England, in getting to team up with Chris in Almora, India. First we have to endure the long, long coach trip from Cornwall of about 300 miles to get to Heathrow Airport which can take 8 or 9 hours itself. Then after hanging about the airport for several hours we have an unbelievably long flight, lasting 12 hours and more, first stopping at Shahjah in the United Arab Emirates, on the Persian Gulf, and then the relatively short trip onwards. As we approach Delhi we make a very gradual descent and view the rural outlying districts around Delhi, The cabin window frames the squat buildings and tree lined roads below, the heat is clearly visible, rippling and distorting the view. We soon touch down onto the tarmac, it is a gentle landing.
With only hand luggage, we get through the formalities of the airport with the minimum of fuss, on arriving and getting make travel arrangements to get us to the hills. After a few hours of speeding along the busy road north, via Meerut, it is not long before we pass through the holy town of Hardwar, and are soon in sight of the Himalayan foothills, our destination.
We alight, and with our baggage we walk the high suspension bridge over the rapid waters of the Ganga and search in the local village of Swargashram for suitable lodging. Walking along the busy sidewalk milling with travellers, the air full of the sound of exotic recorded music, we pass the many religious ashrams, the colourful shops selling jewellery, books and provisions and the stalls, some selling music recordings, some selling souvenirs, other stacked high with fruit and vegetables. We find a cluster of modern hotels, and amongst them the newly built Hotel Raj Palace, where we find a comfortable room and agree a good rate.
Time to relax!
For me Swargashram is a very special place, I first visited here in October 1970, after hitchhiking from Britain via North Africa and the Middle East, and in those days there were just a few charitable ashrams, spiritual guesthouses, in which to stay. The village of Swargashram sits beside the holy River Ganges, at the foot of jungle covered foothills abounding in a rich array of flora and fauna. It was to this area that The Beatles travelled in 1968, to stay with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and hear more about transcendental meditation. I have been back and forth to Rishikesh several times since 1970, it is like my home from home, my spiritual home, my real home in fact.
The plan is to hire a car and a driver, which is a surprisingly sensible way of getting about. The key to this way of travelling is finding an understanding agency, and getting a good rate sorted out. The rate is basically about mileage, and at the conclusion of the trip it is just a matter of multiplying the amount of miles by an agreed rupee rate per mile. We are set to travel in an old classic car, an Indian Ambassador, which is to rendezvous with us on the other side of the river, over the Lakshman Jhuula suspension bridge and up towards the main road linking Rishikesh to the mountains. It is but a few miles away from where we are staying.
Bags stowed in the boot of the majestic white saloon car, we slide into the comfy backseat and chat a few moments with the driver, a middle-aged Indian, of few words. I explain to him that we are headed for Karnaprayag and then to Dwarahut (which is where we have arranged to meet with Chris). Although it is a bumpy ride, it is great to be taking the bending hill roads, taking in the views, of people toiling in the fields, discovering unspoilt villages, swinging over bridges, and staring down deep chasms to the watercourses below. The roads are fairly free of traffic, there appears to be few who have a reason to travel here.
We spend the night in Dwarahut, as paying guests in the home of a couple Chris recommended. It is only after we leave that we find the bill has been paid twice, once by ourselves and then by Chris!
We lose no time in getting on with our trip, and eagerly make our way to Kausani, a wonderful village in the hills, with tea plantations, and wonderful, wonderful views of a long chain of distant mountain peaks, brilliantly lit in the daytime and bathed in an orange glow as the sun sets.
Here at the wonderful grand sounding Hotel Blossom Resort we stay in simple log cabins, and are supplied good nutritious vegetarian food by the main kitchen, alongwith hot sweet tea with ginger added. Though the day has been pretty warm, the night is absolutely freezing, so we turn in fairly early, being warmer in our beds.
‘The view from our hotel in Kausani was a rather splendid entre to the high Himalayas....’ Chris later declared.
From village to village, town-to-town we make our way slowly through the hills, stopping off from time to time to grab a cup of tea and a snack. Everywhere we go there are shrines and temples to gods and goddesses, most of them ancient, constant reminders to light the flame of divinity in the temple of ourselves.
Chris, the eager photographer, alerts the driver once more that we need to stop. Chris jumps out and focuses on a tree, on a distant peak, a valley, a bird, anything that catches his eye. There are so many rare and wonderful looking birds in this area; my favourite being what Chris calls the “lamba pussee”, a large very longtailed magpie, with glistening blue plumage and white undercarriage and banded stripes underneath the light blue tail feathers. Really, with all the profusion of natural habitats here in the Kumaon Hills - it feels at times that one is being transported into a magical bygone age, somewhere in the Jurassic Period!
There are lots of photo stops, lots of mini-jaunts to temples, teahouses, and rambles up mountain slopes, past waterfalls, enjoying the sunshine, the sound of birdsong, the wonder of nature.
Our routine was to move on during the day and find a place to stay well before nightfall. Finding suitable accommodation was difficult, as it was often over-priced and very basic. We discovered that other travellers, almost all of which were Indian, were actually paying more for their overnight stay than us. Realising this made it difficult for us to haggle the price down to a more realistic rate.
As we journeyed on we reached increasingly higher altitudes.
Chris noted; ‘That chai break at a high elevation was pretty serendipitous.’
It became apparent that our driver was getting worried that the car might break down. The next morning I watched as he opened the bonnet and removed a vital car part, which he then opened and set light to! It became a daily ritual, almost like a religious ceremony. Chris was rather non-plussed about it. He didn’t think that setting fire to the part could do any good at all, rather he thought the opposite, that the burning would itself leave a deposit. We kept our opinions to ourselves.
Each time we stopped in a town we would visit the local temple, often ancient and magical, and almost always with statues of Lord Shiva, the god yogi,
We hoped for a natural paradise at Munsiyari, but the reality was slightly less. Truly, we had a wonderful walk there through unspoilt nature, but we found no wild cats or bears. We soon realised that to see such sights one would need to trek into the mountains, and that is exactly why some came to Munsiyari, that it was a base town, where trekkers could pick up provisions and, if necessary, a local guide. At 7,200 ft (2,200metres) we got a big touch of lazy-itis, we just took it easy, and whiled our time away for a few days!
Chris always seemed to be at home wherever we were, and here was no different. Even when there were problems he tended to roll with them, as this recollection of his attests; ‘I vaguely remember some SNAFU about the rooms at our high destination. And I will never forget that glorious sunset on the mountains once we arrived at Munsiyari.’
Leaving Munsiyari it was then literally all down hill, and at Chris’s suggestion we motored to Pithoragarh, a remote town he had visited on another adventure.
Chris also wanted us to visit the ancient temple complex at Jageshwar, as he was intending to go live near there, later in the year. Set in a wooded valley are many beautiful and interesting temple buildings, which we enjoyed and photographed.
As I see it, neither Kathy nor myself are inclined to rituals, and whilst we were in India on that trip we did nothing to encourage such activities. But, whilst at Jageshwar we enjoyed looking about at the ancient temples and were reasonably easily persuaded into participating in a puja, with our friend Chris.
We had just about been ready to leave for some nice hot tea when Chris called us over and asked us to participate in a puja, a religious ceremony organised by the local Indian pandit. We agreed and played our part as best we could. When the service was over we made a concerted effort to get to the chaay stall, but were waylaid by another smiling Indian chap who invited us to another puja. At this I protested.
‘We have just had puja, thank you, dhanyavad.’
‘But this puja is for long life, you must come!’
We wanted to leave and get some chaay, but we were really beseeched by the Indian guy to go to another shrine and partake in another puja. It was beautiful shrine to Lord Shiva, with a huge ornate yoni with lingam, really quite wonderous, and as I recall we had to name our mothers etc. and partake in a pleasant ritual. It felt like it was an important puja, I hadn't experienced anything like it. And it was so odd that it happened, since neither of us were looking for the experience or showed any interest in it.
Is it normal to have 'long life' pujas? I don't think so, never heard of another one.
From Jageshwar we then moved on to Almora, it was the night of Diwali, ‘the festival of lights’, and it seemed rather pointless trying to go to bed what with the incredible din and flash of exploding fireworks – but eventually we slept.
Today we will be travelling on, and this will be the last day of travelling with Chris. He has been a great companion, but the day has finally dawned for us to break company. Perhaps that is why Chris is sounding uncharacteristically negative? He tells us a few travellers tales.
‘When they found him he was stripped down to his underwear – couldn’t make himself understood, and could hardly utter a sound, so they put him away in a mental hospital.
‘Well… really, how was anyone to know he had been poisoned? The thing is that one must never, ever accept any food or drink on a train ride in India!’
Chris, our American friend, tells us another story, again concerning the
dangers of travelling on Indian trains, and as he holds forth from the front
passenger seat our driver focuses all his attention on steering the
1950's-style old-fashioned white taxi around another hairpin bend, on another
rough road threading through the Himalayan foothills.
(photo by Chris Marchan)
We listen to Chris's alarmist talk with mounting impatience.
‘But I feel very safe here in India, more so than in England,’ Kathy states quite clearly.
Chris does not respond to her directly but instead embarks on a series of bloodcurdling tales of theft, attack and murder with Westerners as the victims. He is usually of such a cheerful optimistic disposition; I wonder what has provoked him to share with us these exceedingly unpleasant tales.
When first I hired the white vintage Ambassador Classic cab, and the vintage driver, some ten days or so ago, it was in order to take Kathy and myself around a relatively unknown area of the Kumaon hills. We invited Chris along asI felt sure he would make a good travelling companion, which so far he has. Energetic and confident, he has proven himself a mine of information and is always up for adventure.
Our trip has taken us to places of outstanding natural beauty where rare birds and butterflies abound. The breathtaking views of snow-capped mountain ranges from Kausani and Munsiyari alone have been worth all the effort of the trip so far. Moreover, we have also discovered many interesting old temples and shrines. But perhaps it will be good to have some time on our own now.
Chris & Paul
All good things must eventually come to an end, and it is now time to draw the incessant travelling to a close. After a couple of hours driving, we drop Chris back near his guesthouse in Dwarahut and resume our journey; travelling along in silence for quite a while.
‘How do you feel about what Chris was saying?’ I ask.
‘Oh, I’m still really looking forward to relaxing in Rishikesh, what he said doesn’t worry me at all. Really it doesn’t.’
'When will we get to Rishikesh?' Kathy asks.
'Oh, we probably won’t get any further than Rudraprayag today, but most likely we will get to Rishikesh tomorrow, I reckon.’
‘It's been really good to have been on this trip, and meeting up with Chris was a great idea. He’s been a lot of fun. But I just want to rest now – and maybe do some paintings too.’
‘Yes, it’s worked out well; we’ve been to almost everywhere we had thought to visit. You know, it’s funny to be just the two of us again after so long.’
As we were barely able to sleep due to the noisy Divali celebrations – the fireworks seemed to go on and on all night, but I don't seem to feel any the worse for the lack of sleep. As we pass through a village I notice that most of the shopfront shutters are drawn closed and the local inhabitants are dressed up for the occasion of Divali and seem to be enjoying a mood of festivity. This is repeated at each village we pass through. Yet, out in the terraced fields adjacent to the road, many more folks are out there toiling, ploughing with ox and simple wooden plough.
As we pass through the rural communities enroute I study the faces of the local people, as I am curious as to know whether I can see any likeness in any of them to a photograph I have of my paternal grandmother. Her family name was Rattee, a name which is not uncommon in India, and I have a strong suspicion that maybe, many generations ago, a branch of my family came from India, and perhaps from this very region.
At about two o/clock we approach yet another village, this one is called Adi Badri, and here I sense the car slowing and see our driver looking about. At once I realise it has been many hours we have been travelling, and though we have been sipping fruit juice and crunching the occasional biscuit we really should try to get some proper food now.
‘Chaay?’ I suggest.
The driver, Kathy and myself all agree to pull up here for a pitstop, and Kathy and I clamber out of the car and go in search of somewhere suitable to eat.
We walk back into the little town of Adi Badri and find there a large cluster of old temples - the village must be an important pilgrim centre even if right now there are very few visitors here.
‘Look at these temples, they're amazing,’ exclaims Kathy excitedly.
‘You want to look around them?’
‘Oh, let’s get something to eat first, shall we?’
So we saunter past the temples and along the main street but only to find that most of the shops are closed. It looks increasingly as if we will be unable to get a meal, but we stop at a chaay house anyway. I notice the manager here is distractedly tapping an unlit cigarette on the counter, that is, until he notices our arrival.
‘Hari Om,’ he greets us with a toothy grin.
‘Chaay?’ Kathy suggests.
‘Do chaay dijiye,’ I say in Hindi, ordering two teas. ‘Dhal? Sabji?’ I ask hopefully, wondering if perhaps he might be able to provide us with some dhal and vegetables too. He smiles again, his eyes are exceptionally wide open and glazed.
Kathy sits down, rolls herself a cigarette and whilst she is doing so, two cups of tea arrive. She is soon taking deep inhalations of smoke between sips of boiling hot spicy tea. Having given up smoking myself, I make an effort to avoid breathing in her smoke, as I no longer feel like partaking.
A jug of water is placed on the table, and from this I gather that they intend to bring us some food. But when it arrives I am really, really disappointed for it appears to be reheated leftovers; the rice looks particularly suspect (looking less like white more a lighter shade of grey!) so I ask for some chapati instead. ‘Dahi?’ I ask the waiter, hoping also to get some yoghurt with the meal.
They bring me a chapati but it too is cold, and it even feels damp... then they bring some yoghurt, but it tastes 'off', in fact I wonder if it doesn't look slightly green! I grimace and dart a look at Kathy in desperation, but to my surprise I see she is downing her food with some gusto.
So, encouraged by her example, I try to eat some more of the food, though precious little of it passes my lips before the manager drifts by our table and stands against the wall opposite, fumbling with a cigarette lighter.
‘Look at that!’ I exclaim, drawing Kathy's attention to the manager who is now holding his cigarette to the lips of a face on the image printed on a large calendar, the blue faced Lord Shiva, the god of the yogis.
‘Bom Shankar, Bom Shankar,’ he chants, as he holds the flaming lighter to the cigarette. Soon the sweet aroma of cannabis smoke wafts over to where we sit.
I notice Kathy appears slightly unsettled by the manager's behaviour, but she continues to eat. I still find the food unappetising though I force myself to eat just a little more.
‘Oh, I’ve got a headache!’ Kathy announces suddenly.
I give her a sympathetic look as I see her clutching her head, her face is all crumpled in pain. The joint-puffing manager also sees her dilemma and moves over to our table where he attempts to massage her head, rather vigorously. When his grips tightens she lets out a cry, but he persists and makes repeated clamping motions. Finally Kathy pushes away his help.
‘Oh, I feel so weak,' she moans, 'I don’t think I can walk back to the car.’
The headache and the weakness have come on so quickly so I immediately suspect the meal. I guess she has a case of food poisoning.
Leaving our food for the most part untouched, I assist Kathy to walk out to the road where I signal to our driver, who I can see standing further down the road. He soon brings the car for us to get into, whereupon Kathy sits her bottom on the back seat, leans out of the car and is violently sick. Rice and vegetables splash onto the dusty road as again and again she sicks out her lunch. And then she is still. She appears to be readying herself for another bout of vomiting but to my surprise nothing further happens, no more movement at all. About us a crowd has assembled, they watch her in silence.
I call Kathy by her name, but she doesn’t respond. I say her name again, I am very concerned as she is not responding to me. Then I sweep back her long brown hair, which covers her face. Her head is leaning forward, motionless. I lift up her chin but her head just lolls back.
‘Kathy, Kathy speak to me. Can you hear me?’ I call, my voice beginning to sound somewhat hysterical. But Kathy makes no reaction at all, even when I try to move her, in order to seat her properly in the back of the taxi.
‘Dactar. Dactar chelo,’ a bystander urges we find the local doctor.
Our driver moves the car some yards further up the road whereupon someone calls out to the doctor. A man soon emerges from the building and looks at Kathy carefully, thoughtfully.
‘Paani, Paani, water, water,’ he orders me.
The doctor and myself now struggle to get Kathy to swallow down some bottled mineral water… but she doesn’t react, then I notice that to one side of Kathy's mouth a bubble of saliva grows. I sigh with momentary relief; figuring that this might be a sign that she is actually breathing. But her teeth are tightly clenched shut, so much so that most of the water spills onto her blue cotton top. But she appears to swallow some water; it looks like she swallows several times.
The doctor now passes me some ointment to smear on her. I start by smearing it on her lips before realising that he has given me Vicks Vapour rub! I look at him worriedly, but, unpeturbed; he just redirects me to smooth it on her forehead and just below her neck.
‘Dehydration,’ he announces dryly.
I want to get him to understand her symptoms better.
‘Since eating she has headache, she is vomiting,’ I tell him, ‘Maybe it is poisoning?’
‘What she take food?’ the doctor asks.
‘Dhal, rice, sabji and some dahi.’
‘Where she is eating?’
‘Here! In Adi Badri, at bhojanalay. Is it poisoning?’
The doctor looks worried.
‘Manager of bhojanalay is smoking charas!’ I tell him.
‘You must go,’ the doctor tells me, ‘Quickly you must leave here!’
I sense the doctor’s anxiety strongly, and conclude he believes we have been poisoned. Perhaps the poison was in the rice, which I ate only a mouthful of but which Kathy ate quite a lot?
I sit beside her in the taxi and without explanation the doctor leaves us. Now the spectators start to drift off too. I lean over and try to feel for Kathy’s heartbeat but cannot detect any sign of life at all. With Kathy slumped inanimate beside me I have no other option than to wait for our driver. I try to make sense of what has happened to us, but am distracted by the sound of sharp tapping at the window; it is the manager of the bhojanalay. I stare at him wondering if his is the face of a criminal?
Perhaps he is confused as to why only Kathy is unconscious, for I suspect he tried to poison us both, and that is that he intends to rob us of our money and valuables? I turn away quickly, intent on ignoring him but again he taps sharply at the window so I wind it down a little.
‘Kyaa?’ I ask him what he wants.
‘Fifty rupee,’ he demands.
What a nerve he has! How little concern he is showing for our welfare. First he serves us the barely edible food and then Kathy becomes sick and unconscious. Now he wants me to pay him for the poisonous preparation. I stare at him coldly but pass him a fifty-rupee note anyway. The man drifts off without a word.
Eventually our driver returns and looks at me quizzically.
‘We go Karnaprayag, chelo!’ I tell him - 'chelo' roughly means 'let's go'.
‘Karnaprayag?’ he asks.
‘Han ji, Karnaprayag, tab Rudraprayag,’ I tell him, indicating whereabouts he should drive us.
‘Front? You front?’ he asks and then suggests that we should lay Kathy’s body out across the back seat.
‘No. Yah thik hai,‘ I answer, indicating that I wish to continue to sit in the back with Kathy’s body. I then place my right arm around Kathy’s shoulder and with both hands I hold her head steady. Right now, in spite of the fact that she presents no signs of life, I cannot afford to believe that she has breathed her last. Although I am unsure whether or not she is alive, I believe this is the best way for her to travel. She could be dead, but for the moment I will keep on thinking otherwise.
As I sit holding her head I am minded of the teaching that suggests that:- 'Every day be ready, bedding packed. Nobody knows what time the "warrant" comes. Death "warrant" is the arrest "warrant" - for you there is no scope for "appeal", all at once it occurs you are to leave. Wherever one is, at that very place you will be falling down.' This is one of the teachings of Swami Brahmanand Saraswati, a famous guru of long ago. - Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati 1871-1953
I start to wonder that if Kathy is really dead, what am I to do with her body? How am I to ship it back to England, for I cannot very well leave her on the roadside? Our air tickets are for about ten day's time, how can I possibly arrange to get her body back?
A whitewashed concrete road marker indicates that it is 19 kilometres to the next town. I gaze out at the sunlit hills, at the terraced fields, at the birds flying this way and that and ask myself that if Kathy has died, how will I possibly explain to anyone how it happened? I feel a pressing guilt for having let Kathy eat the suspect food, I should not have let her risk food poisoning. I should have known better than to eat re-heated food - especially rice - at a restaurant where no one else was eating. It is a common rule-of-thumb in India only to eat at well-frequented establishments where food is freshly cooked. Hunger had overcome my idea of good practice and I am staring at the awful toll of our folly – at one who so recently appeared to be in the best of health, one who is definitely far too young to die.
I am perplexed; how it is that I have survived, for if we have both been poisoned how come I am still alive? I notice the driver checking his rear view mirror, checking to see if Kathy is showing any signs of life.
Again I find myself puzzling about how I will deal with the situation if I have really lost her. How will I break it to our children? How will it be for them only to have a father, no more mothers' touch? And how will Kathy’s own family take it? I strongly suspect that I will be blamed.
‘Rukhiye, rukhiye,’ I suddenly call to the driver asking him to stop.
He turns to me for confirmation.
‘Idhar rukhiye! Idhar! Idhar!’ I plead, asking him to stop right away, pointing out that there is a space just ahead where he can park by the side of the road. So he promptly brings the car to a halt, and he gets out and walks away, no doubt wishing to relieve himself. He probably supposes I intend to do likewise. But this is not why I have asked him to stop.
I am quietly beside myself with joy as Kathy is showing the first signs of life since drinking the water back outside the doctor’s place in Adi Badri!
Slowly she licks her lips, and I detect a slight flicker of movement around her eyes. I whisper reassuringly but she does not respond to me. Instead she makes a kind of grimace and darts her stiffened tongue to the corners of her eyes whilst rolling her eyes upwards and downwards. She repeats these movements several times. She turns her head and faces me, opening just one eye and winking!! Still with closed mouth she starts making clicking noises, so I call her name, but she doesn’t appear to hear me.
‘O-o-o-o-woow,’ she breathes, ‘O-o-o-owoow,’ forming her mouth into an ‘O’. She closes one eye and again makes the clicking sound with her tongue touching her teeth. It is as if she were impersonating funnyman British actor Leslie Philips, star of so many hilarious comedies. But she is not making me laugh at all, as she rotates her tongue again about her open mouth; her eyes darting upwards and downwards. I have seen such an expression only once before, on the face of a stranger here in India many years ago, and I suspected the woman was not of sound mind.
Just now the driver returns and stares uncomprehendingly at her grimaces. He seems very shaken by what he sees and immediately begins to make the sign of the cross upon his neck. I have come to know he is a practicing Hindu, since whenever we have passed a temple he has slowed, released his grip on the steering wheel and placed his hands together in worship, bowing his head. So right now, it says something of his great concern that he now performs a Christain ritual! He now climbs into his seat and turns to me with an imploring expression.
‘Chelo,’ I assure him, indicating it is okay to continue driving onwards.
As we travel on, from time to time Kathy repeats the facial displays; with her stiffened tongue sweeping from side to side of her mouth, and her eyes darting wildly about. Memories of images of the goddess Kali surface in my mind, I recall that sometimes the goddess is displayed with wild eyes and tongue stiff. Is it possible that I am witnessing in Kathy a shift to some a more primaeval state of consciousness? Again she makes the clicking sounds, repeatedly winks at me and lets out a series of ‘oo-o-o-o-ow’ sounds, but I wonder whether she is really communicating with me? I doubt it, for her thoughts appear to exist elsewhere, quite possibly she is drugged out of reality. Yes, I am tempted to think she is enjoying herself but perhaps this just wishful thinking on my part?
From time to time my attention shifts to take in the passing scenery, I look to the hills, up at the bright sky and out along the looping twisting road that lies ahead. But try as I might, I cannot rid myself of the effects of extreme shock brought on when it looked as though Kathy might be dead. Actually, her present condition also unnerves me.
Why does she appear so ‘out of it’? Why is it that she appears drugged when clearly I am well and functioning normally? Again and again I try to make myself understood, and sometimes it appears that Kathy seems to respond to the sound of her name, just a little, just a flicker.
The car is moving fairly swiftly. For the most part we are going downhill and as it is by now mid-afternoon I wonder where we will get to before the light fades. I worry that we will have to find a hotel for the night - good hotels are hard to find in the hills. I think to myself that it would be better not to have to stay at Karnaprayag, for I remember the town from when I stayed there many years ago, in 1976; and I remember it without affection.
Before this incident with Kathy occurred, it was my intention for us to go further, on to Rudraprayag, where we could again stay at Hotel Suri, as we had done on our way up into the hills, before we met with Chris. Perhaps we might still be able to get there? Perhaps by then Kathy will have emerged from her comatose state?
‘Kathy? Kathy? Can you hear me?’
I imagine that she focuses her eyes on me but she says nothing, so I repeat myself, again and again.
Gradually, gradually, Kathy gives the occasional signal, which shows awareness - a glance - a frown – a nod – and even the occasional word.
Seeing her coming back to life I am moved to tears. Convinced she can hear me I start telling her what has been happening to her. I sound extremely emotional as I try to explain to her what has happened, how she had a headache, how she was sick and how she lost consciousness.
‘I think you were drugged,’ I tell her.
‘Yes, at the cafe.’
By the time we draw into the town of Karnaprayag, Kathy has sufficiently regained consciousness to tell me that she remembers having been in Adi Badri, which in itself is quite reassuring.
The car slows since to avoid colliding with the many people milling about in the street, I remember in a flash that today is the festival of Divali. The driver appears to be having great difficulty getting us through the crowds, and the car horn does little to disperse the throng, but somehow he keeps the car moving ever forward.
‘Aspital?’ he asks the local people.
Curious faces peer through the dusty windows of the Ambassador. I hear the sound of raised voices.
As we make our way through the town we find all the roads are similarly filled with crowds, so we make slow progress negotiating the narrow back streets of the bazaar but eventually we locate the hospital.
Since Kathy is in no condition to stand or walk, a stretcher is sent for, and it turns out to be so very crude, just a length of sheet metal with handles. Access to the hospital is really difficult; as from the roadway we must climb two flights of steep stone steps before arriving at the entrance. It’s a wonder that Kathy does not slip off the stretcher.
Once inside the hospital we are directed to a small room on the ground floor where Kathy is transferred from the stretcher to a simple bed. The duty doctor listens as I outline the circumstances of her becoming ill and I am relieved to find he speaks reasonably good English.
‘What she is eaten?’
‘Oh, dhal, vegetables, rice, and a some dahi….’
‘Something else she is eaten?’
‘No, no nothing.’
He takes Kathy’s blood pressure and confides to me that the results are high. Again we go over an account of Kathy’s attack, the headache, the nausea, the unconsciousness, and the grimaces.
‘It must be food poisoning then?’ I ask.
‘You having pain in stomach?’ the doctor asks Kathy, as presses her stomach with his fingers.
‘No,’ she assures.The hospital doctor seems uncomfortable about endorsing the verdict of food poisoning, so it seems to me he does not want to let down his fellow countryman, the fellow at the restaurant who has made Kathy ill!
A packet containing a hypodermic needle is opened and a needle inserted into the back of Kathy’s hand, I watch like a hawk at the procedure to ensure that nothing risky occurs. I recall that before leaving Britain Kathy’s sister Marjorie had suggested she take some needles. Kathy had at first thought she meant sewing needles.
A plastic bag of clear liquid is set up on a stand and connected to the needle on her hand. I begin to make a note of what they are giving her just in case the information should later be needed. I write in my notebook ‘Compound Sodium Lactate injection’.
Kathy eyes are closed, she looks as though she is asleep, and for the most part she appears oblivious to the comings and goings of the doctor and the nurse.
The doctor directs me to give Kathy some medication, he hands me a squashy red capsule.
‘This is under the tongue!’ He directs.
‘What is this for?’ I ask.
‘Under tongue,’ he repeats as Kathy rolls the capsule around her mouth.
‘What is medicine for?’
‘Kathy, keep it under your tongue,’ I tell her, for she appears to be sucking on the capsule.
‘I’m cold,’ she complains.The room is getting ever colder as the sun goes down in the sky. Looking about the ward, I find a blanket and stretch it over her. Soon she is asleep again.
Kathy in Karnaprayag Hospital
The doctor has suggested that both Kathy and myself stay overnight here, but as I watch over her I puzzle how the two of us will fare through the night in this freezing cold room.
From time to time I catch a glimpse of someone outside in the corridor. It is our taxi driver so I go out to him to assure him all is well before returning to sit with Kathy.
After our arrival and helping Kathy up the stairs into the hospital I have been all too aware that my lower back is causing me pain, an intermittent problem which has been re-visiting me over many years, I really don’t need to complicate matters by being ill myself.
Kathy wakes up and complains again of the cold but I can only tell her there are no more blankets about. Wearily she moans, then, suddenly, she pushes herself up and stares intently at the bed sheet and pillow, inspecting them.
‘Ohhh!’ she exclaims. It is apparent she can see the sheets are stained and soiled. I fear that she will make a fuss but she just lowers herself, makes herself comfortable and is soon fast asleep again.
Next time the doctor checks her, I point out to him that the room is very cold and that it’s not possible to close the windows. I suggest to him that I might find a room in town to take Kathy to stay. He stares at me and shrugs his shoulders impassively, whereupon I resolve to locate a proper room for her locally and tell my intention to the doctor. He appears reluctant, but nevertheless I take my leave of Kathy and go in search of accommodation for the night.
Our destination is the Government Rest House on the banks of the Ganga River. The driver negotiates the narrow streets of the bazaar before going over one of the two wrought iron bridges spanning the fast flowing waters. Once there at the hotel I find I have to enter into heated negotiation in order to secure a room at a reasonable price. I then pocket the room key and return by car, back to the hospital. Looking at my watch I am surprised to find the jaunt has taken the best part of an hour to achieve. However, it is reassuring to see that Kathy appears comfortably asleep. But, presumably sensing my presence, she opens her eyes.
‘I need to go to the toilet.’ She tells me.
Whilst I am helping Kathy to her feet, the doctor returns to see how she is and is able to direct us down the corridor to where there is a toilet. Thoughtfully, he lends me his torch, which proves invaluable on our way down the dark corridor and in finding the floor-level porcelain toilet.
I explain to Kathy that I have booked a room and that we should soon move from the hospital before the night gets any colder. Back in the hospital room I gather up her shoulder bag and help her get her shoes on.
The doctor watches us as we prepare to leave.
‘For you I would have phoned guest house, but telephone here is not working,’ he explains.
Apparently, I am to give Kathy three sorts of medicine, one is for blood pressure, another is a tranquiliser and the third is anti-acid.
‘You come here to hospital, tomorrow in morning,’ he instructs me. I thank him for his help.
At first it isn’t possible to get Kathy down the steps, but with help from our driver I finally get her down and into our taxi.
‘I’m so-o-o cold,’ Kathy shivers.
‘Don’t worry; you can go to bed soon, when we get to the room. I have asked for extra blankets there.’
Our car pulls up outside the guesthouse and I set about getting Kathy down the concrete steps, which is not easy but eventually I manage to get her inside and reasonably comfortable before going back upstairs to fetch our bags.
I offer Kathy some juice, opening two small cartons for us.
‘Can you manage to eat anything?’ I ask. ‘We have some fruit and biscuits.’
She speaks clearly enough, but the words don’t make any sense. Kathy’s response confuses me.
‘I hear you but I don’t understand what you are saying.’ I tell her, trying not to show my concern.
But it seems Kathy has no sense that anything is amiss about her speech and she answers with another string of words that are totally incomprehensible to me. I recognise the condition as dysphasia for I have seen it once before in someone else and I recall it very soon passed. I decide to refrain from making any further attempts at conversation with Kathy, thinking it far better that she gets some sleep. I decide to get some rest myself and settle down cross-legged to meditate for a while.
Going beyond the thoughts of the day proves refreshing and definitely re-energizes me a little. Meditating is a practice which involves being seated comfortably with the eyes closed, and the knack is to attain a natural unstrained state of no-thought, and remain in such a state long enough to compose oneself and feel very relaxed. When such periods of no-thought are experienced the mind becomes very satisfied and when the meditation is over and one gets on with one’s daily existence, the benefit of this brush with super consciousness lingers and gives one a big lift.
After my period of meditation I sit there in the half-light (why do Indians use such low wattage bulbs?) becoming intensely aware of an unpleasant smell – it must be coming from the drains. I figure the stench will probably soon pass so I resolve not to think about it further and instead slip out of the room and go to the shops. There I intend to buy some more fruit and to try and phone Chris, but I am disappointed as it is not possible to obtain a line out of Karnaprayag.
‘Coming telephone, soon telephone is coming,’ I am told.
When I return to the room the smell only seems worse, it is really quite sickening, it is intolerable so that I have to go and and find the management to hassle them into giving us a better room.
‘Same price,’ I emphasize.
After initial resistance, an alternate room is eventually offered, and joy, it is SO much better, it is much larger, and still on the ‘ground’ floor but with no smell. I go back to awaken Kathy and walk her to the new room before ferrying our luggage there too.
Kathy seems a little better; she has brushed her teeth and is getting herself ready for bed. I tell her I need to go out for a few minutes, and make another trip back to the market to the PCO ISD telephone shop, to try and make my telephone call to Chris, but there are still no lines to be had. Back at the Government Rest House I try the manager’s phone, but with no better result.
Whilst I’ve been out, Kathy has been doing some unpacking and she has laid our two cotton sleeping bags and stretched out on the bed, but I notice that instead of laying them side-by-side she has laid them one upon the other! Looking down at the carpeted floor I discover her discarded money belt and I notice, with concern that she appears to have ripped it off, judging by the frayed end of the belt.I can hear her in the bathroom washing.
'Hello Paulipop!' Kathy says as she re-enters the bedroom.
'I couldn't use the phone, they're not working.' I tell her.
'I've got such a headache, can I have some tablets?'
'I gave you some paracetamol only an hour ago, I can't give you any more for a while.'
'It was so terrifying having that headache and being sick. They were really druggies at that café, weren't they? Do you really think they poisoned me?'
'Well, you were very sick.'
'I've always been afraid I would die like my mother, she had headaches and died of a brain haemorrhage.'
'Have you taken out your contact lenses yet?'
'No, I'll do them now,' says Kathy sitting crossed-legged upon the bed.
'Don't you need the little pot and the bottle of liquid?'
She ignores me instead placing the delicate lenses upon her bare leg.
'What are you doing? Why aren't you doing your lenses properly?'
'Huh, don't go on at me!'
'But, the lenses are supposed to go in the special pot. Where are you putting them? Why are you putting them on your leg?'
'Huh?' She feels for them and it appears that she transfers them to a small cardboard box.
'What are you doing now?' I shout. 'You're going to ruin your lenses, why aren't you doing it properly?'
'Oh, be quiet, what are you going on about?'
I am shocked, it is as though she has no idea how she normally manages the care of her contact lenses!
Quickly, I pick up the box and look in it, but I cannot see the lenses, I guess they are probably shriveled and stuck somewhere.
Kathy gets into her cotton sheet sleeping bag, and pulls the blankets over her.
In silence I get myself ready for bed too. I decide to leave the bathroom light on as it sheds a faint light into the bedroom, enough to re-assure Kathy should she awaken in the night.
After I lie down the minutes pass and I sense no movement from Kathy - I am reassured that she is asleep so I too close my eyes.
'Paul? Can I have a headache pill?'
'I gave you two not long ago.'
'Oh, did you? Oh I've got such a headache.'
'I can only give you paracetamol every four hours, otherwise they might have bad side-effects.'
She takes it well. Poor Kathy, she must be in such a lot of pain but what else can I do for her?
Silence returns to the room, but not for long….
'Paul, I've got such a headache, can you give me a tablet?'
'I gave you some not long ago, I'm afraid you'll have to wait.'
Clearly, her short-term memory is playing up. Another effect of the poisoning?
I get myself comfortable again and attempt get to sleep but instead I lie thinking of the events of the day, remembering how Kathy has been speaking gibberish, behaving strangely and losing her memory.
'Yes, what do you want, love?'
'Can I have a tablet, I've got such a headache?'
All night long I am intermittently awoken like this, again and again Kathy asks for tablets for her headache, from time to time I get up and get her another drink. I witness myself being uncharacteristically patient with her, but it has been a very strange and worrying day.
Thursday 3rd November 2005 - (Day Two)
I have been awake for some time, lying peaceably and just taking in the new day.
'Paul, have you got a headache tablet, I've got such a headache?'
I answer her in a relaxed manner.
'Sure, just a moment.'
'Oh thanks, I don't usually get headaches.'
'My mother got headaches just before she died, I always worried that that would happen to me too.'
After swallowing the paracetamol tablets Kathy lies back down and closes her eyes again. I see this as an opportunity to take a period of meditation. After sitting some minutes I open my eyes again and note that Kathy still seems fast asleep. Although I agreed to return with her to the hospital this morning, I think it best to take a relaxed attitude to the fact that she just seems to want to sleep a lot. Instead of waking her I ready myself go out alone in search of some breakfast and provisions.
When I return I bring with me a tray of steaming hot boiled tea, biscuits and fruit. Kathy opens her eyes and struggles to sit up. I give her a hand.
'The phones are still not working, no lines out of town,' I explain.
'Who do you want to phone?'
'Thought I'd call Chris.'
We chat awhile mainly about the events of the previous day, and how mysterious it is that Kathy got so ill whilst eating back at Adi Badri. I mention to her that we are going to visit the hospital.
'Because they wanted to keep you in hospital overnight, but I persuaded them you would be better off here.'
'The last thing I remember is getting a blinding headache and the man in the chaay house gripping my head with his hands.'
'We went to the local hospital, you were there for several hours.'
'I don't remember anything about a hospital.'
'What shall we do today?'
'When you are dressed and ready, I will find our driver and tell him we are going back to the hospital.'
'Oh, how is he? He is such a sweet man.'
Though her appetite is meagre, she crunches on a couple of biscuits before getting up and readying herself to go out. Kathy now looks so much more her normal self, in fact, other than the headache and the lapses of memory; she appears to be fully recovered from her sickness.
Returning to Karnaprayag Government Hospital we have difficulty finding the doctor who treated Kathy the previous day. Instead we are directed upstairs where we chat to a Dr Sharma, a woman doctor who on hearing about the food poisoning warns us that the symptoms can sometimes be very serious indeed. She is concerned when she hears that Kathy has a stiff neck, and asks whether or not she can place her chin on her chest, when put to the test it is found she cannot. This is worrying, as I seem to remember this is a test for meningitis, a potentially fatal illness if not promptly treated. Dr Sharma re-directs us to a colleague of hers. We join the cluster of people upstairs waiting to be seen. Someone knocks at the nearby door opens and after a considerable lapse of time a man wearing a long green waterproof apron appears. He looks over at me expectantly and I tell him whom we have come to see. He withdraws back into the room.
At length another doctor emerges who ushers us into an adjacent office - I sense that we are being given preferential treatment, that we have jumped a queue. As I watch the doctor (also called Dr Sharma) reading Kathy's file, I am impressed at the amount of notes so far collected.
'She was yesterday admitted…..?'
'Yes. But it was too cold yesterday in the ward so I asked permission to take her to a hotel for the night.'
'So, what can I do for you?' he asks simply.
'Do you know what is wrong with my wife, it appears that she has been poisoned?'
'I see not symptoms are poisoning of the food, she is having high blood pressure.'
He checks Kathy's blood pressure and asks various questions about her general health.
'Mmmm yesterday she was very sick and last night she was speaking nonsense. Today she is not really eating yet.'
'I think this problem of her speaking yesterday, it is Dystonia. She has high blood pressure still. We treat with Depin and Rantac too.'
Dr Sharma subjects her to various tests, one of which is to check whether or not she can rest her chin on her chest. She cannot and he looks concerned about that. He impresses me in that he is neither over confidant of his diagnosis nor does he try to silence me about any of my concerns.
'I would like to move Kathy from Karnaprayag to Rishikesh. Is it safe for my wife to travel?'
'Why not?' he responds easily, 'But she is still patient in this hospital. Before you can go the discharge paper must be completed.'
I watch as Dr Sharma writes her details on the Discharge Slip and enters his diagnosis - 'HTN E acute gastritis'.
He continues writing for a while and then pauses to ask: -
'You are going Rishikesh? Then if you want, you can get her checked again at SPS Government Hospital in Rishikesh, there you will find Dr Srivastava.'
I read the Discharge Slip, he has written: - 'Improved and discharged in satisfactory condition. Referred to higher centre for management of hypertension.' On the back of her Discharge Slip her medication is listed, Nimesulide (tablets for headache), Tenomac (tablets for blood pressure, hypertension), and Rebemac (tablets for acidity of the stomach).
'And how often should she take the tablets for her headache?'
This sounds almost too good to be true as this way I won't have to keep reminding Kathy when she last took her paracetamol.
Before signing his name at the bottom he writes 'Cardiologic Neurologic checkup'.
He passes me the slip.
'So that's it, we are free to go to Rishikesh tomorrow?'
'She should be okay to travel, medicine is enough for five days.'
'Where do I pick up the tablets?'
'At chemist shop.'
Talking with Dr Sharma has been most useful, but I am left with a strong impression that there lingers a doubt in his mind, relating to his diagnosis of Kathy's condition.
Just before we leave the hospital I catch sight of the doctor that assessed Kathy when we arrived at the hospital the day before. He is easily recognisable on account of his shock of rather wild hair. I suspect that he is the doctor-in-charge of the hospital so I bring him up-to-date with Kathy's condition. He listens to me in a mood of deep concern, his concerned expression somewhat magnified by the lenses of his spectacles. He nods resignedly as he hears the various aspects of Dr Sharma's diagnosis. Then I confide to him my concern about finding it difficult to find any Western style food for Kathy in Karnaprayag. In fact I suspect that both Kathy and myself would benefit enormously just from some plain cooking.
'In market you can find Kellogg's soup. That is available in chicken.'
'We both eat only shakarhari food, we are both vegetarians.'
'Then they will have tomato soup, vegetable soup ….'
'Can you tell our driver where we need to go please?'
As we turn to leave the hospital, I turn to speak with the doctor again.
'Thank you so very much for your time and attention to my wife, you have been most helpful.'
He appears happy that I take the trouble to thank him personally. He wishes us well.
Our driver parks up in the Main Bazaar and asks a couple of pavement fruit and vegetable vendors where the grocers we are looking for is located, then points triumphantly to a nearby shop.
He points at a shop called 'Bhatt' which I can see sells traditional Indian sweet preparations, but though it looks to be the wrong shop I pop inside and glance around the shelves. To my surprise, there perched high up near the door are some Knorr brand dried soups in foil packets. I take all of them down and select two packets' one tomato flavoured and another corn flavoured. I notice too that this shop also sells another rare commodity - packaged sliced white bread!
Back at the G.M.V.N. Resthouse, I seek out the management.
'Garam paani, boiling water dijiye!' I ask. I also obtain two bowls.
To my amazement the water is soon ready, and it is not just warm but very, very hot. They want to know whether I want the water sterilised in order to give an injection? They must have heard we have been to the hospital.
Back in our room I discover Kathy back in bed, she has become tired out by the outing. It is not long until I have prepared the tomato soup and I offer some to Kathy alongwith some slices of bleached white bread.
The soup is a success.
After lunch Kathy slips back into bed beneath the blankets.
'You don't mind do you,' she mumbles.
'I have to go into town,' I respond.
'Okay, mind how you go.'
I have two errands uppermost in my mind, firstly I must see if the telephones are working yet, and secondly I must find the prescribed medicines for Kathy.
Before going to the market I meet with our taxi driver and stop to spend a few moments explaining our intention to move on to Rishikesh. I mention the SPS Government Hospital there, where I will need to take Kathy.
'Government Hospital - Dehra Dun Road?'
'Yes, han ji. Aaj Rishikesh ko, saat baje, aath baje,' I explain that we will be leaving for Rishikesh at seven or eight the following morning.
I get on with my trip into town only to discover that despite walking the distance to the Main Bazaar, none of the telephones are working yet. It seems I cannot get Kathy's medicine from the chemist's shop and will have to go to the main medicine supplier, which means climbing some rickety dangerous stairs and staircases to the rooftop premises above the bazaar, near to the central temple. It is closed and I am advised to return in about an hour.
When I return the main chemist has still not re-opened and so I ask instead in a neighbouring dispensary. Surprisingly, they sell none of the items on my list, not even the pills for headaches. I stand there looking at the shelves in disbelief, at the packets, bottles and tubs of tablets. And then … belatedly, it dawns on me that this is not a conventional chemist but a shop selling traditional (ayurvedic) preparations, mainly herbal in content. At the shopkeeper's invitation I sit on a bench and await the opening of the proper chemists. As luck would have it, I do not wait long before the shutters of the other shop are raised. Several of those seated next to me get up too and we form a sort of a queue. I stand next to a lady, evidently poor and weather-beaten, her skin is shrivelled and hardened probably by long exposure to the sun. She is tending a small boy with an open wound on his head. This morning I had seen this very woman visiting the hospital. I get to thinking how difficult it must be for these people when anyone in their families gets sick. With such under-resourced local medical facilities and the expense of paying for the drugs that are needed, health issues must be hard to deal with.
I obtain the various tablets the doctor has prescribed and walk quickly back through town. I linger by a jeweller who displays pretty little silver mouldings of cows, itched by temptation to buy one for Kathy. Instead I get myself back to the guest house but before returning to Room 203, I try to arrange hire of an electric heater to keep the room warm, as I sense it will be very cold tonight.
'Not have. No is working!' I am told.
'Meri patni bahut bimar hai, bahut thanda hai,' I explain, telling him that my wife is ill and cold. Still he insists there is no heater available.
When I open the door of our room Kathy stirs.
'I got your tablets, can you sit up and take them please?'
'Is there any more soup? I'm hungry.'
'Sure, I will get it sorted out, soon.'
The day has been a satisfying one. I am pleased that we have gone to the hospital and spoken with to various doctors. Furthermore, it looks as though we will be travelling to Rishikesh tomorrow, so hopefully things will soon return to some sort of norm, maybe in a couple of days all the hassles over Kathy's health problems will be behind us.
'I think I'll be better if I just get rest,' she assures me.
A sharp knock on the door surprises me, but it is only someone come with a fan heater. He warns me that the appliance might be faulty, but as we are so cold I just plug it in without delay and just hope for the best. Well it appears to work well enough as the room soon becomes tolerably warm.
I am so looking forward to getting back to Rishikesh, an area so familiar to me, a place where I am comfortable and where I know I will be able to get some 'proper' food. Strangely, I am never quite as comfortable elsewhere else in India, though some of the places are quite magical. Some months back I visited Kedarnath temple high in the hills near here, an incredibly steep climb, but well worth the trouble. There in the ancient temple I thought I heard the voice of Lord Shiva inside my head! I wonder that some supernatural energy made itself known. Never have I had such an experience either before or since, and as I use neither drink nor drugs there is no reason for me to dismiss the experience as imagination.
Friday 4th November 2005 (Day Three)
It is barely five o'clock when I awake and as I am keen to leave as early as possible, I force myself to get up and out of bed. As I have loads of time I am able to meditate and get myself ready for the day, long before Kathy awakes.
It turns out that she too is keen to be on her way, and is looking forward to staying in Swargashram.
'I'm sure I'll soon be better with a bit of rest,' she assures me.
It is good to see her helping with the packing; she appears definitely to be on the mend.
I have to settle our bill; I have also to make sure our driver will be ready for the journey. I find him ready and waiting. The car has been cleaned and on the little shrine on the dashboard a stick of incense smolders. I bring out our bags and together we stash them in the boot.
'Rishikesh chelo!' I say encouragingly.
Our driver makes some ritual movements with his hands, bows his head and softly murmurs something. He then starts the engine and carefully navigates the car out of the grounds, through the narrow streets of Karnaprayag and onto the main winding hill road, which carries traffic down from the hallowed pilgrimage towns of Badrinath and Joshimath.
As I sit next to Kathy in the back of the taxi, for a while it feels like old times, that is until she asks me if I would sit in the front passenger's seat so that she can lie down in the back. It is not a bad idea, but as I have to watch over her to ensure she is not sick, I resolve to turn round to check her health every couple of minutes.
From the front of the Ambassador I have a good view of the local people getting ready for the day. Many of them perform their ablutions in public, especially those who live in the shacks lining the road. Someone has their head beneath a jet of water; another is brushing his teeth with a twig. I see the woman who was yesterday getting her boy attended to at the hospital. She is sweeping dust from the road with a branch taken from a bush; presumably she lives and works with the road repairing gang.
Today we have about one hundred and fifty kilometers to travel before we arrive in Rishikesh and it is unlikely that we will make very rapid progress, for this a twisting turning mountain road constantly beset by rockfalls and landslides. I reckon it is unlikely that we will arrive before mid-afternoon in Rishikesh.
The next town is Rudraprayag, where I had intended to get to the day Kathy had gotten ill. By the time we arrive I am more than ready for a spot of breakfast. We stop at Suri Hotel and Restaurant, just beyond Rudraprayag. I have stayed at the Suri several and have always enjoyed eating here. But today they seem unprepared for visitors!
'No sir, we are not having any cornflax sir.'
'Are you quite sure? You had cornflakes when we stayed a few weeks ago!'
I follow him to the kitchen area. But he sticks to his story, there is no cereal to be had, so I just order some tea and toast for Kathy and myself and some breakfast for our driver.
I notice that, even without being asked, the bearer from the restaurant delivers Kathy's cup of tea to the taxi. There she sips the hot brew and smokes a hand-rolled cigarette whilst I take my tea, toast and jam in the restaurant, making conversation with some Indian travellers. I notice that our driver sits away at a distance, probably that is what he is used to doing when chauffeuring clients.
After my meagre breakfast I wander down the road, back to the car to wait with Kathy. I find that she is again sick, for the first time in more than a day. I wonder that it is the travelling that is making her ill or whether it could even be the smoking? It is upsetting to see that she is still showing symptoms of the food poisoning.
Our driver stands waiting, drawing on a bidee, a cone-shaped Indian bay leaf cigarette rolled and tied with red cotton.
'Chelo,' I call to him that we should go.
Soon we are on the road again driving down and out of the mountains area, hugging the left-hand side of the road against the rockface, which is preferable to driving in the other direction where there is often nothing between the road and a massive drop to an abyss below. Progress is fairly good today; there is little evidence of fresh rockfalls. However, from time to time we encounter gangs of men working to improve the road. Rarely, but only rarely are bulldozers and other earth-moving machinery seen since rocks are usually removed by hand.
Since Kathy has now wrapped herself in her shawl, in order to monitor her health I have sometimes to call out to her, to make sure everything is all right. Her face peeps out and she peers up at me smiling weakly.
'I'm okay, don't worry.'
But I continue to routinely check her every few minutes, and I notice that most of the time she appears to be sleeping. Probably the best thing for her.
I offer the driver biscuits, placing beside his little shrine on the dashboard.
'What time arrive Rishikesh?' I ask.
He looks at me uncertainly.
'Rishikesh check-up?' He wonders.
I nod in agreement as I think to myself how much he reminds me of an Indian friend of mine, Dandi Swami Narayanand Saraswati, a hermit I sometimes meet up with. I guess it likely that they probably both hail from the same area. The driver's question sets me thinking though, for it challenges my plans. Up until now I had intended to prioritise going to a hotel. But on second thoughts I suspect that it would be a better idea to go to the hospital first, to get Kathy checked over. By doing so we will then no longer have to concern ourselves with having to make a special trip later on.
We pass through the sprawling plateau of Srinagar and then on to the town of Devaprayag. On this occasion we do not stop at this picturesque spot where some would say the Ganges River officially starts. We continue onwards picking up speed as we get steadily closer our destination. Before we get to Rishikesh we make a stop at a village, as Kathy wants a toilet. Our driver takes the stop as an opportunity to get himself some late lunch at a roadside eatery. Though I am hungry I decide to wait until I can be assured of getting a decent meal.
We move on, the road now cutting through some heavily forested woodland, we pass the riverside camps that cater for those tourists that seek the newly established water sport adventures. We drive on past several religious institutions, past the ancient cave where the guru of Lord Rama is said to have lived (he is thought of as an immortal, so perhaps he still lives in the neighbourhood?). As we reach the outskirts of town, I see gangs of monkeys clambering about in the trees, both the red-arsed and the comparatively gentle langur or 'Hanuman' monkeys clambering in the forests about Tapoban and Lakshman Jhoola, I am really quite elated to be back here again.
I think to check with our driver that he knows precisely which hospital we need to visit when we arrive in town.
'Government Hospital?' he says.
'Yes. Han Ji, SPS Government Hospital, Dehra Dun Road.'
'Dehra Dun Road?'
We pass by several religious ashrams - Shivanand Ashram, Yoga Niketan and then Om Karananda Ashram - it is obvious we are now in Rishikesh. I have visited and re-visited this town for the last thirty-five years and each time it never ceases to excite me. This time I am really looking forward to again spending some time over the other side of the river, in the village of Swargashram, and soaking up the shanti (peace) and sunshine. But first, we have to find the hospital and get Kathy looked over, just as a formality.
As usual the traffic in Rishikesh is congested, but our driver is back on his home turf, he honks through the congested roads, blocked with autorickshaws, cars and buses, and brings us into the centre of town unscathed and parks up by a hospital. He takes it upon himself to go in on our behalf. This surprises me, as he does not even know the name of the doctor we are looking for.
He returns shaking his head dolefully.
'Dr Srivastava?' I ask.
'Clinic! Doctor retire from hospital, now doctor in clinic!'
Amazingly, he seems to know who we had wanted to see; therefore I go along with his plan of taking us to a clinic instead.
It is only a couple of minutes before we pull up outside a local clinic, the Uttranchal Heart Care Centre. After parking up in the driveway I am soon inside asking to speak to Dr Srivastava. There are others waiting about in the reception area, the place seems quite busy. I show them the discharge note we were given at hospital and I also explain Kathy's symptoms. Kathy is first examined, her blood pressure taken and then a young man comes to give her an ECG test. This involves attaching wires to various parts of her body; these wires feed information to his portable printer on which results are produced instantly. With the job done the assistant packs up his equipment and disappears from the room holding the band of paper printout. We are left alone for a while and I wonder how much longer it will be before Kathy gets the a-okay to leave and book into a hotel.
A pretty young Indian nurse appears and beckons me to follow her. She takes me to Dr Srivastava who explains that he is concerned about the results of the tests. He fixes his eyes on mine, gestures with his finger and tells me: -
'I think problem is with her brain,' he explains, pointing to the side of his head. I feel kind of sick. I sit there just staring.
'She should have tests, she needs CT scan. Here we have no CT, therefore you should take her to Dehra Dun, to CMI Hospital.'
I nod, but I don't know what a CT scan is.
At reception I pay for the consultation and the ECG test and then I return to Kathy and attempting to disguise my concern, I pass on the news that the doctor recommends more tests
Returning to the taxi, I tell our driver we need to go to Dehra Dun, but he tells me we should wait awhile as apparently his boss (the manager of the travel company) wants to speak to me. Ajay arrives on a motorbike; the two of us work out how much is owed. But as I pay him he notices how upset I am about Kathy's health. He reassures me she will be well, that God is looking after her and if I wish I can leave paying him until another time. But I pay him in full, including the return fare to Dehra Dun. Before leaving he reassures that if I am in need of any money, just to let him know. He is being very kind and unexpectedly thoughtful. I really appreciate it.
We are now ready to leave but as our driver pulls away someone blocks our way. I had noticed this individual earlier, loitering about in the driveway. He tries to extract a fee for parking the car in the grounds. Though I am very upset about Kathy, I am in no mood to become prey to his nonsense, so I tell him just what I think of his scam. But on condition that he receives a receipt, our driver takes it upon himself to slip him a few rupees, so the man finds a scrap of paper and writes something on it.
As the car swings on to the Dehra Dun road, I calculate how far we have to go, it is not so very far, perhaps about fifty kilometres. The road cuts through some very pleasant woodland scenery that abounds with monkeys who sometime sit on either side of the road eyeing up the passing traffic. Drivers are on red alert for the monkeys, viewing every one of them as bandits.
Dehra Dun is the principal town in these parts, being the headquarters of administration of the province of Uttranchal. It is a large sprawling place with broad avenues criss-crossing the blocks of shops and offices. Our driver seems unfamiliar with the place and keeps leaning out of his window asking directions.
'CMI Hospital!' I remind him.
He calls to a passer-by.
'Hardwar Road, Hardwar Road,' he points.
We cruise slowly, eventually finding the correct turning, and there we find CMI, The Combined Medical Institute Hospital. Checking in to the Accident and Emergency Section we get to speak with Doctor Amrit Choudhary who listens patiently as I tell him the full story of how Kathy became ill. How she got a headache, was sick, lost consciousness, talked gibberish and now has little recollection of anything that has happened since the moment she got the headache. Further, I tell him that the clinic in Rishikesh has suggested we come here for a CT scan. He listens to me with the utmost concern and then gives instructions to the ward staff. A nurse then checks Kathy's blood pressure and connects her to an intravenous drip. The doctor directs me to the dispensary to buy quantities of Amlopin and Alprazolam. Whilst I am there I notice a public phone so I able to contact the Rishikesh hotel and ask them to hold a room for us.
I return where I keep Kathy company and await developments. But it turns out to be a very long wait and I become increasingly concerned especially since she has still not had her scan.
Eventually when I simply cannot tolerate any further delay I go in search of a member of the staff. But they don't seem to know what is going on. I therefore have to wait for Dr Choudhary.
When he comes around I ask him what is happening.
'Senior doctor, I want senior doctor to see your wife,' He explains.
'But when will he be here?'
'Not long, he will be coming here. Soon.'
Patients come and some patients leave - this is after all, the casualty ward. Most of the patients arrive along with a whole gang of people, their families and friends. To my surprise almost everyone here seems to have a mobile phone. I wonder how they can afford them, since in Britain they are still regarded as a luxury. The phones seem to be an unnecessary intrusion as ringtones go off constantly and raised voices incessantly blast through the ward.
As afternoon fades and evening sets the temperature drops, touching Kathy I feel she is getting very cold so I grab an extra blanket from a bed that is not in use. But the ward keeps getting ever colder and there are no more blankets about, so I look around for alternate solution. The problem is that visitors and hospital staff alike keep on leaving the double-doors leading to the car park wide open, so again and again I get up and close them in order to prevent the cold wind from blowing through the ward. Soon others join in and take their turn to close the doors.
The hours have rolled by since Kathy arrived in Casualty yet there is still no indication how long it will be before we are ready to leave. I mean, how long can it take to do a CT scan? But as I don't even know what a CT scan is, I prepare myself to wait a little longer. Since I assume our driver must also be getting restless, I go outside to reassure him that we will leave just as soon as we get to see the doctor-in-charge. He seems glad I came to see him.
Really, I am very frustrated at having to wait so long and am virtually on the brink of making up my mind to leave by the time the senior doctor eventually arrives. Having got on his white coat he starts to make his rounds accompanied by Dr Choudhary and the nurse. Making his way systematically through the ward he meets with each patient in turn, issuing instructions for their healthcare. Eventually he gets to Kathy. Dr Ojha talks with us for a while and then moves on to see another patient. At first I am not sure what the doctor thinks, but some minutes later Dr Choudhary returns to assure me that Dr Ojha wants Kathy to have both a blood test and a CT scan. I am to get her ready as quickly as possible to get her to another department. I ease her out of bed and lend her my support as best I can - then we embark on a walk through the hospital in search of the CT unit.
At CT she is placed on a trolley and positioned inside the circular aperture of a large scanning machine. I keep her company whilst the technician, using a computer keyboard, positions the equipment to enable him to scan her head. Soon the process is over and Kathy is sitting up again whereupon I am asked by the technician for fourteen hundred rupees cash. Before returning to the ward I am also asked to pay up for the blood test - another two hundred rupees.
Time is getting on and neither Kathy nor myself have had any lunch or supper. We are going to be very late getting to a hotel, so I go and have another chat with our driver; I tell him it will not be long now before we leave.
We wait again but as no one comes to speak with us, again I seek out Dr Choudhary.
'Soon results will come. CT results have been sent by computer for checking. You must understand that it is now evening and the technician she is home. I think soon she is phoning.'
There is nothing to do but wait some more. At least I no longer have to keep getting up and down to close the doors to Emergency. It has gotten so cold that they are never left open for more than a couple of minutes. Kathy sleeps.
I keep my eyes peeled in hope of seeing a member of staff. I catch sight of Dr Choudhary who beckons to me, and gestures for me to go and sit in his office. When he arrives he looks exhausted, I guess it is unavoidable with so many patients to attend to.
He is holding an x-ray film. He informs me that it is the CT scan of Kathy's head and he holds it up for me to look at. He hesitates a moment. He looks me straight in the eyes and directs my attention to a white area on the x-ray film.
'This is bleeding, she is having bleeding. She has had brain haemorrhage.'
I cannot believe I am hearing this. It is horrible, it cannot be true! Somehow, I had convinced myself that the tests would only confirm that Kathy has nothing wrong with her, other than the effects of food poisoning.
'She needs surgery,' Dr Choudhary tells me. I feel sick. I cannot find any words to respond to him.
'You must go by ambulance to Delhi,' he tells me.
'Oh, all right, yes,' I answer uncertainly.
I hesitate but decide to tell Kathy what the tests reveal.
'You know what the CT scan showed?'
'They haven't told me anything,' she admits.
I explain how the CT scan has showed that she has had a brain haemorrhage and she takes the news well, she does not get upset, she just appears subdued.
'We have to go to hospital in Delhi,' I explain.
'But what about our taxi?' Kathy asks.
'I'll tell him he can go now.'
'Do give him a good tip won't you.'
I notice that Dr Choudhary is coming over to see us again.
'Can I speak with you?' he asks.
'What arrangements are you making?'
'Huh? I thought you said an ambulance was coming for us.'
'No. You have to make arrangement for ambulance.'
'But, I don't know anything about any ambulance.'
'Oh okay then I can give you telephone number?'
'I don't know anything about ambulance,' I tell him again.
'You want me to ring?'
I return to sit on Kathy's bed whilst Dr Choudhary talks on his mobile phone. He returns and tells me nervously
'Ambulance will cost eighteen-thousand rupees.'
'Whaa-a-at? For only two thousand we could get ourselves a taxi to Delhi.'
'I am not making this price. I am just telling you what he is saying. For this money you are getting ambulance and doctor.'
'They are taking advantage of us,' says Kathy.
'Mmmm. Is there an autobank, an AMT anywhere near here? I need to get some money sorted out.'
'Which bank do you use?' asks the doctor.
'Any bank. My card is good for any bank.'
He is astonished.
He directs me to the nearest bank, which is just across the road. I soon find it but after tapping the numbers and collecting the receipt no money gets delivered.
I am worried.
Worried about Kathy and now I have an additional worry that about two hundred pounds of our money seems to be trapped in the dispenser of the machine. A man, who I have noticed lurking outside the booth, sees my agitation and offers to come to my help. He suggests that I put the card in again and though I wonder at the wisdom of his advice I open my wallet, however, this time I think to try a different card, which to my surprise soon delivers me a wad of crisp five hundred rupee notes. But I am still concerned about the first transaction so I hold the first receipt up to a light and again look at the card. It is out of date, I haven't lost a thing!
As I walk back from the AMT to the hospital I stop in the car park to tell our driver about Kathy's condition. I explain that we will no longer need the taxi, as we will be travelling by ambulance to Delhi.
'This is good,' he says.
I assume that he is just unable to properly express himself in English.
I return to Kathy leaving our driver to unload the bags.
Dr Choudhary has some news: -
'Ambulance Company will take twelve-thousand rupees,' he announces awkwardly.
The figure still sounds very high but it is much better.
'Whatever…' I answer submissively, secure in the knowledge that I now have enough cash to pay for the trip.
'Before you go you have need to go dispensary. This is list.'
Plucking the chit from his hand I sail away to the chemists counter and while the prescription is being processed I also have time to phone the hotel in Rishikesh.
When I return to the ward I carry back a bag of ampoules, tablets and needles, and place them into the outstretched hands of the nurse before attempting to buttonhole Dr Choudhary once again.
'Delhi hospital? Which hospital should I take Kathy to?'
'Mmm. Apollo or Ganga Ram,' he replies undecidedly.
'Apollo? Ganga Ram? I do not know Delhi hospitals. Which hospital should I take her?'
'Uhhhh?' he asks frowning. It is clear he cannot choose between the two but he tries. It is as if he goes into a trance and then he announces: -
'Ganga Ram. Yes! Ganga Ram!'
I look for the ambulance staff only to discover that they have parked their vehicle out in the street, so I try to persuade them to bring it closer to the hospital.
'Not possible,' I am told.
'My wife is very ill. Please bring the ambulance up to the doors here,' I tell them.
The driver makes a face.
It is an unfortunate and inauspicious start to our long journey to Delhi. But as it happens they do manage to bring the small ambulance close to the hospital and I assist Kathy out to the vehicle and onto the stretcher bed inside. As I carry out our luggage I take note of the details on the side of the vehicle, 'Emergency Medical Services', and read the address, somewhere in Meerut, a town some considerable distance from Dehra Dun. So, it is just as well they happened to be around tonight, near to the hospital here.
I climb into the back of the ambulance and settle myself on a low makeshift seat where I lean my back against the side of the van. The seating arrangements are made that much worse by the cylinder of compressed gas which lies on the floor, as it leaves no space to rest my legs properly. It looks as though this is going to be a most uncomfortable ride. I sigh.
One of the ambulance men now climbs in, stepping first over our bags and then over me. I watch him as he attends to Kathy, connecting a drip to the needle tap (i.v. cannula) in the back of her hand and positioning pads (with wires attached) to various points on her body - the wires being connected to a console and monitor. He also attaches a clear plastic tube beneath her nose and then opens the valve of the oxygen cylinder. He appears to be satisfied with his work and he now moves further to the front of the van and sitting himself down in a swivel chair starts to speak through a hatch to the front cabin, presumably to the driver.
'Delhi, Ganga Ram Hospital ko.'
They exchange further words before the driver starts the van and we pull away from the hospital.
I chat with Kathy; gently reassuring her and attempting to make her comfortable. I drape her shawl over her to keep her warm. I track our progress, the ambulance is now approaching the outskirts of Dehra Dun.
'I think that man wants to speak to you.' Kathy tells me.
I turn around to see the man sitting in the swivel chair raising his hand; seeing me looking at him he rubs his thumb and forefinger together, indicating he wants to be paid.
'You give me receipt?' I demand.
He frowns back at me.
'I need receipt from you,' I tell him again.
At this he opens the hatch to the driver and calls to him in Hindi whereupon the ambulance suddenly pulls to a halt. A pad of paper is passed through to the medic in the swivel chair who takes out a pen from his pocket and starts to write. Whilst he writes, I count the banknotes (noting the serial numbers down in my jotter, which is easy since the notes are new and batched so I only need to note the first and last). Then we do a swap, the cash for receipt.
But after quickly counting the money I have given to him the medic indicates that he is not satisfied, he claims to be one five hundred-rupee note short. So, am I glad I noted the numbers?
'You check,' I tell him.
I look over to the still body of my wife. I find it really hard to believe Kathy has become so ill and that we are embarked on ambulance ride to find a hospital where they can form surgery on her brain, and here I am hassling over a lost banknote in a layby.
Whilst he counts the notes again, I take a look around the floor and to my amazement find the five hundred-rupee note, which must have slipped from my hand whilst I was counting.
With the money paid there is no excuse for further delay and we are now on the move again. Travelling with these strange men feels odd and I strongly suspect that they may be bandits. Before long we stop again - I wonder what it is this time?
The medic gets out of his chair and moves towards me.
'Diesel…' he announces.
We both get out onto the garage forecourt. It will be a long way to Delhi, I'm not sure how far, perhaps about three hundred kilometres? We could be travelling all night so one thing's for sure, we should start prepared with a full tank of gas.
We are soon on the road again and really racing along. I notice with concern that Kathy is being repeatedly thrown each time the ambulance wheels find a pothole, but she does not complain, bless her. I lean over and stroke her gently, lovingly. I can do so little to help her other than giving her my companionship and offering her biscuits, cartons of mango juice and boiled sweets.
We are now passing through a heavily built up area lit with thousands of light bulbs, and I see a group of buildings surrounded by choppy waters, immediately I realise we are passing through Hardwar, one of the principal points of Hindu worship on the Ganga river. When I first visited India in 1970 after hitchhiking from Britain, I came and stayed in Hardwar. In fact I have been here several times since, each visit quite different and all in circumstances far less stressful than this! It is so hard to believe that Kathy has become so seriously ill, I am concerned that she might have to have surgery. Actually, I am disgusted at the thought of her head being cut about,
With Hardwar behind us the driver pulls out all the stops and makes speed. But Kathy is getting uncomfortable. I call out to the medic: -
'Kshama dijije! Excuse me. Toilet? My wife needs to go to the toilet!'
'Bedpan you need? Urination or...?'
'Not bedpan. I just want to have piss. I want to get out and go to the toilet.'
'Not possible I think,' he warns her, opening his hatch to the driver. But soon the ambulance pulls to a halt.
The driver opens the backdoor and starts probing about near our luggage. His colleague brings over a flashlight and the two push and pull our bags this way and that. From somewhere beneath the stretcher-bed that Kathy stretcher-bed is lying on, he manages to retrieve a metal bedpan. Before passing it to her he turns the pan upside down over the road outside, shaking it vigorously.
As Kathy uses the pan, us men also take the opportunity to go and empty our bladders. The medic puffs busily on a cigarette before getting back in.
'Lock the back door!' the medic orders the driver.
I wonder how on earth we will get out of the vehicle if there is an emergency? I wonder too whether the ambulance men have plans to abduct us, but I also consider the possibility that the medic is giving these instructions in case we are waylaid by bandits. Once he resumes his place in the corner of the ambulance, he adjusts his monitor and again sits back comfortably. I stick with my duties, looking over Kathy, keeping an eye on the medic.
Before long the ambulance comes to a halt again. The medic is up on his feet.
'Dhabba!' he announces.
I peer out of the window; we have pulled up outside an open-air restaurant. The ambulance men are quickly out of the vehicle and the medic gestures to me, inviting me to eat.
'Ji nahin, dhanyavad.' ('No thanks') I call out.
Though I am hungry, very hungry indeed, I just cannot face the thought of eating anything curried; I yearn for something really simple without any spices in it at all. But I take the opportunity to stretch my legs for a few minutes before returning to sit by Kathy. Whilst the medic waits for his food to be served, he takes time to familiarise me with the display on his monitor, explaining that Kathy's heart rate is being measured. Pointing to the screen he emphasises what he wants me to do.
'If less than 45-50 then you tell me, yes?'
So I settle down to take on his role for a while. He is gone a long time and I find myself becoming drowsy. What happens if I go to sleep whilst he is away? What happens if Kathy's signs get weaker whilst I am asleep?
It is a relief when the crew return and we get on our way again, but the road is rough and I am concerned that Kathy is thrown about almost continuously.
We have now been on the road for several hours and it is now getting much colder - I place another shawl over Kathy and I reassure her that we are making good progress. She sleeps and I too drop off sometimes but only fitfully. I still can't find it in myself to trust the ambulance men. I look over at the man in the swivel chair, at the doctor, paramedic or whatever he is. I can't be sure whether or not he is awake.
I think I have drifted off to sleep again. I look over at the medic and he is most definitely awake now and sitting bolt upright with an agitated look on his face. I can see he is rummaging through a cardboard box, which appears to contain the remainder of the drugs I bought at the hospital. He takes an ampoule of medicine and strikes it with a metallic object. He flicks the tops off several ampoules and empties their contents into syringes. He empties more ampoules into more syringes. I wonder all the while. My nose begins to run - what a great time to go down with a cold!
Suddenly, the doctor springs to his feet and leans down towards Kathy disengages the drip, connects the intravenous connector on the back of her hand to one of the syringes and proceeds to empty its contents. Then he hurries back to the glowing screen in the corner and studies the display. Again he slumps back in his swivel chair, apparently satisfied that all is well with her.
I signal to him that Kathy's drip has not been reconnected. He waves his hand dismissively but as I continue to frown at him he is spurred to reconnect it.
Perhaps I have dozed off again for I am suddenly aware of activity. The doctor is disengaging the drip, which by now is empty anyway. His expression worries me for he looks quite frantic as he kneels down to insert another syringe full of medicine in Kathy's arm. He returns to his monitor before again returning and injecting another syringe full and then another. I eye his every movement; clearly, there is something wrong. When he returns to the monitor again he eyes attentively for a good few minutes.
'This injection to keep heart level good,' he explains. 'Level is going low, then I must give injection.'
I keep a steady eye on him and soon he signals me again, he is now happy with the readings on the monitor.
We can't be more than an hour or two from Delhi, and I am becoming impatient to get there now, I do hope we have enough medicine for the rest of the journey.
Without warning the ambulance pulls up and the engine goes silent. Our doctor opens the hatch and asks the driver what is going on -there is an exchange between them.
'Driver he is tired, he must rest for sometime.'
'You want to take tea here?'
But we do use the opportunity to stretch our legs and empty our bladders. The temperature has really dropped now; it is very, very cold so when I return to the van I find myself tucking my legs in under Kathy's blanket. My nose is still running I dab at it almost continuously with my handkerchief.
'Are we in Delhi yet?' Kathy asks.
'We are getting quite close.'
'When will we be there?'
'I don't know, the driver is tired, he needs to rest from driving.'
'Oh! Can I have some more juice?'
'Sure. How are you feeling?'
'I'd like to go to the toilet but I think I'll wait until we get to the hospital. And how are you? You can't be very comfortable sitting like that. Why don't you lie down and get some sleep?'
'I'm alright thanks,' I answer, glad that Kathy is awake and aware enough to think of my needs.
I wonder how long the driver will want to rest up - I guess it could be hours. I sense that the doctor is agitated that he also wants to get a move on too. He shouts through the hatch.
We are off again and from now on I am alert, keeping an eye open for any indication of how close to Delhi we are.
When we enter a built up area with street lights on everywhere and we pass buildings with brightly coloured neon signs, I feel sure we must have arrived in Delhi. Since Delhi is such a large sprawling city I guess it might be some time yet before we actually arrive at a hospital. We continue on our way, turning this way and that, everywhere is lit up so I figure this must be Delhi. I look for somewhere I recognise and imagine again and again that I have been along these roads before. We slow and take another turn, this time I get a feeling we are almost there.
I see a signboard that points the way to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, I look around quickly to take in a feel of the surrounding area, moments later we are pulling up outside the Emergency ward and the ambulance men are soon lifting Kathy into the hospital on a stretcher. They take our few items of baggage too. A smartly dressed guard wearing formal uniform with peaked cap indicates for us to the leave the luggage outside the ward.
Once we are inside a nurse quickly attaches a drip to Kathy's arm and connects an oxygen tube up to her nose. Her blood pressure is checked once again.
The ambulance men, neither of whom I trusted, have brought us safely to Delhi, to this hospital in double quick time and with the minimum of fuss. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to them. We embrace, my eyes are tearful, and theirs are soulful. I thank them. The doctor re-assures me: -
'This very good hospital. God is watching for your wife. She is being okay. Do not worry.'
They disappear back into the night, their job done.
Back inside the ward Kathy is having electrodes attached to her; I watch as the nurse administers an ECG test. I show the CT scan I brought from the hospital in Dehra Dun to the doctor in charge, a young unsmiling man.
'She has brain haemorrhage,' he says in a voice devoid of emotion. 'She needs to be admitted to hospital. Charges are eleven to fifteen thousand rupees per day. Operation will cost about seventy thousand rupees.'
It can't be much after four o/clock in the morning. I am upset and tired, perhaps he is tired too. I stare blankly at him but cannot bring myself to discuss the cost of treatment for Kathy; all I know is that she must get the treatment she needs.
'She must go I C U but first you need to get her admitted.'
'Yes, I think she is already admitted.'
'No. You must go to office.'
He directs me to first go outside and then to another building.
I enter the dimly lit Admissions Office where behind a vast counter sits a young woman in almost complete darkness. Impatiently I wait for her to finish dealing with a small cluster of people. On the wall are pinned notices; I read just to kill the time. One is from a local hotel offering discounted rates for those guests who have patients in the hospital - a very enterprising initiative, so I commit the name of the hotel to memory. I scan a list of tariffs for hospital costs noticing most items are counted in tens of thousands of rupees, so I suspect that I will soon be asked for a deposit for Kathy's treatment, maybe for as much as a hundred thousand rupees. Obviously though, people don't carry that sort of money about with them and I am determined not to allow myself to be bullied into letting go of all my spare cash.
When at last it is my turn, I notice the clerk speaks to me very slowly as she collects together information about Kathy and details of how to contact us in the UK. The subject quickly turns to money.
'How much you give?' she asks abruptly.
'I can let you have three-thousand rupees,' I say, offering her a wodge of five hundred rupee notes.
The young woman stares at me incredulously, as if I have offered her nothing. She frowns silently at me, almost mockingly.
'Money is in the bank,' I explain. 'I do not carry too much, just for travelling. I did not know my wife was going to need to be in hospital.'
A man waiting behind comes to my assistance: -
'You will get money,' he tells her confidently.
But she still looks at me doubtfully. Staring long and hard into my eyes she then asks me: -
'You pay? No problem? No problem to pay? Han? Then you write you will pay?'
'Sure! Han ji!'
I write a few words across in the blank space at the bottom of the form - that all hospital costs for Kathy will be paid. She then asks me to sign it too. She takes the three thousand rupees from me and gives me a receipt. Now she proceeds to tap the keys on her computer keyboard, looking from time to time at the form I completed. Quite how she can see what is written on my form I do not know, I wonder that she does not turn on a light, but I say nothing more. The dot-matrix printer snaps into life and soon a slew of fanfold paperwork gets delivered in a heap. Finally, the clerk presents me with the result of her work, a fist full of papers and some printed cards. It appears that I am now free to go.
As I return to the Emergency ward I come back to reality with a jolt, the paper chase has momentarily numbed me to the desperateness of Kathy's plight. I pass on the relevant documents to the doctor who authorises Kathy to be moved and her bed is rolled towards the door, whilst the various tubes and wires are tidied and the baggage is stowed in the space beneath the bed.
From Emergency the bed is wheeled through corridors, into a lift and on an upper floor we race through further corridors where we enter a vast lobby. I am asked to remove the luggage from beneath the bed and as I grab the last bag, Kathy's bed is whisked away through a pair of double-doors. When I go to follow after her, my way is barred by two uniformed security guards.
'But I want to stay with my wife!'
They stand firm.
I try to argue with them but they don't appear to understand a word I say. So I sit down with our baggage ready to camp out on the lobby floor. But the security guards gesture for me to get up and as they show me the way to the lift shaft they make it clear that I must go back downstairs. Since I have no choice in the matter I pile our baggage into the lift and descend to the ground floor, where again I settle down on the polished floor, to make myself as comfortable as I can. But again uniformed guards move me on. This time I am shuffled along into the main reception area, to a large room where dozens of Indians are camping out. Families of Indians lie about on row upon row of seats. Somebody helpfully points to another room beyond this one and mutters something.
'Huh?' I ask.
'Recliners… what is your patient's bed number?'
I search in my wallet for the admission cards and check the number written on it.
A guard appears from the darkness of the room beyond and looks at the card and disappears into the back room. He returns looking uncomfortable; it is obvious that someone is already using my recliner. But right now I don't actually want to sleep, after all I have to keep an eye on my baggage. So, instead I sit myself in a space on one of the rows of metal seats and start munching my way through an apple. It has the desired result in that it refreshes me and settles me down slightly. If I am to stay in this waiting room for any amount of time I think it best to stash our bags beneath the seats where I hope, wish and pray they will be safe. Then I look about me, a man opposite appears to be sitting talking to himself, but then I see he is holding a mobile phone. It looks like a lot of the visitors bring mobile phones, for at the end of the room is a shelf with wires dangling from it. A notice reads: 'Charge Your Phone Here'.
Saturday 5th November 2005 (Day Four)
Noticing a sign pointing to toilets I decide to go and use the washroom. It is great to brush my teeth and freshen up again. When I return to my seat I am actually surprised to find our bags still here, apparently undisturbed. Although I am frazzled, tired and have a running cold…I decide against trying to go to sleep here in favour of settling down to meditate. In meditation I have the best chance of settling myself down - I experience fleeting sensations of peacefulness, a feeling of stillness, of blessed reassurance. When at length I open my eyes to look about me I realise that I have become very disorientated of late, mainly as a result of the anxiety and the uncertainty. Fortunately, I now realise what I must do in order to best deal with this confusion. From my pocket I withdraw my little red notebook and for a few moments I study the bright stickers I chose to stick on the cover. I study the picture of Lord Shiva, the god of Yogis with his trident and drum, and garlanded with snakes, and also the other sticker printed in English and Hindi with phrases that exhort all to 'KEEP SMILING'.
I sit and cogitate, and as thoughts start to arise I take note: -
'WHERE IS GANGA RAM HOSPITAL?'
I wonder what I should do to sort myself out? Answers come slowly:
FIND HOTEL ROOM?
Somehow these two processes, first of all meditating and then secondly focusing on what I must do in the immediate future seems to bring with them a welcome sense of security. In fact I now feel happy enough with how things look that I start to chuckle out loud. I witness this change of condition and resolve to make the most of this positive energy whilst it lasts, so I get up and take myself off in search of a public telephone. In the hospital grounds I discover a row of rooms where one can pay for the use of telephones.
'International. I am phoning U K.'
I draw out my list of contact numbers from within my passport pouch, first I decide to try my brother Raymond's number, but on getting through all I hear is a flurry of electronic bleepings, it seems the phone has been set only to accept incoming faxes. But I have better luck with contacting Kathy's eldest sister Marjorie. As calmly as I am able I then try to convey to her something of our plight, but as I listen to myself speaking, as I well up with emotion, it must appear that I am on the verge of a physical and an emotional breakdown.
'Oh poor Kath,' responds my sister-in-law. 'You know of course that this is exactly what happened to our mother, she had a brain haemorrhage too. I will have to tell Dad,' she announces.
'Have you got insurance?' she asks.
'Oh thank goodness, can you give me the details?'
I make a plea that she contact the English embassy and use any contacts she can call on to get someone to come and meet with me. This she agrees to.
'Can you give me your telephone number?'
'This is a public phone and I don't have the number of the hospital, but I'm sure directory enquiries will be able to give it to you.'
'What ward is she in?'
'We've been travelling all night; I only got her into this hospital a few hours ago. I don't know what the ward is called, I'm sure they'll be able to tell you if you phone them.'
I offer further details of some of the recent events but I sense she has difficulty piecing together the story, in particular she can't seem to understand why I haven't been eating properly lately, but I think better of trying to explain. I point out to her that I am stranded in a place I do not know, in a state of extreme exhaustion and that it is time I went back to the hospital to visit Kathy. But I am glad that I have phoned, at least now if anything happens to me, if I get mown down by a bus or get ill, at least the family will know where she is. The time is rolling by, it is now getting dangerously close to visiting time and I must get to the ward for eight-thirty.
When I re-enter the hospital building security prevents me from entering the area where the lifts are. I am directed back to the reception desk where sits a lady swathed in a colourful saree.
'Can you give me the phone number of the hospital please?' I ask her.
Smiling she writes the number down for me.
'Can I visit my wife? She came in early this morning.'
'Where is your patient?'
'Upstairs,' I say pointing.
'I C U?'
'Mmmm? I don't know. Mrs. Kathryn Mason!'
'I C U?' she asks again.
I show her the printed cards I was issued with earlier when I booked into Admissions.
'I C U ward - Bed thirteen,' she announces, 'I C U is on fourth floor.'
Hurriedly she completes a slip and passes it me.
I soon find that possession of this slip allows me past the uniformed guards and to get access to the lifts and stairs. When my lift arrives on the fourth floor the attendant turns to me: -
'Fourth floor?' he asks
'Fourth? Yes, yes,' I answer him undecidedly.
On the reception desk of the I C U ward I find the same guards whom last night would not let me stay here. They take the pink slip and signal for me to wait. At length one of them waves me over and guides me through the double-doors. He accompanies me along a corridor to a small anteroom where he points to a box. I follow his example and slip a pair of elasticated coverings over my shoes. He leads the open ward where I find Kathy sipping a cup of tea.
'What are you doing here?' I ask her.
'Hellooooooo - lovely to see you,' she answers smiling over at me.
'I've brought your glasses. I've brought you some fruit juice too if you want it.'
I tell her that I am only permitted to visit for half an hour, news that takes her by surprise, in fact she becomes quite indignant. When I tell her I have spoken to her sister she seems pleased that her family know where she is.
In between chats with Kathy, I also talk with the staff; I make sure they know she is a vegetarian. In turn they take the opportunity to ask me to take away her clothes and jewellery, which they hand me in a black plastic bag. It feels kind of ominous to have her personal effects passed to me in this way, not good.
After visiting time is over I stay to talk with the ward doctor who takes time to tell me a little about the treatment of Kathy's haemorrhage and explain to me that she is receiving drugs to alleviate the symptoms and generally lessen the seriousness of her condition. Before I leave the ward I mention to him that I need to access a computer in order to obtain the contact details of our insurance company, obligingly he offers me use of a PC in his office, which is really nice of him.
As I am not permitted to return to visit Kathy again for another nine hours, I have ample time to check out the local hotels to find reasonably priced accommodation.
After making a comparison, I choose a hotel a few minutes walk from the hospital not because it is the nearest or the cheapest hotel in the area, but because the room is reasonably spacious and it also has ensuite toilet and shower. I arrange that one of the staff help me collect our baggage from the hospital. Whilst we are there I let one of the ladies on the reception desk know my contact number at the hotel. They seem surprised that I am not going to remain at the hospital throughout the day and night.
After leaving the bags in my hotel room I go off in search of an Internet café and also to buy a few provisions such as biscuits, fruit juice and fresh fruits. On my return I set up my CD player so that I can listen to delightful crossover music from Talvin Singh whilst I arrange my belongings in the hotel room. I check through the contents of Kathy's bags too, putting any clothes that need washing to one side. I soak some of our clothes in soapy warm water in a bucket. I discover that any let up in activity plunges me deeply into feelings of anxiety and despair about Kathy. So I try to keep myself busy and soon I am pummelling and squeezing, rinsing and squeezing, pegging up some clothes and placing others on clothes hangers. Having dealt with much of the backlog of laundry I attend to showering myself.
It feels good as I walk back along the road to Sir Ganga Ram Hospital clean-shaven and wearing fresh clothes. I take care not to trip on the uneven road surface and am wary not to get mown down by one of the many autorikshaw taxis or other vehicles zooming about. Occasionally I see the odd cow sauntering about peaceably, apparently unphased by the noise and activity of the busy street.
I arrive back at the hospital complex within about a quarter of an hour and am spotted by one of the men who run the telephone booths.
'Yes sir, yes come, sit down sit down,' he calls.
I smile but continue walking on briskly.
Outside Accident and Emergency a security guard approaches me.
'Hello sir, how is your patient?'
I well up with emotion as I struggle to find a suitable answer.
'She is in I C U.'
'God is looking after her,' he assures me.
I smile weakly as he shakes my hand.
I decide to eat at the fast-food café in the lobby here. Prices are high in comparison to normal Indian cafés but then where else can one buy a vegeburger in a bun or a pizza with choice of toppings? I am soon tucking into what amounts to my first proper meal in days, which I wash down with a cup of tea. I begin to feel almost human again as I retrace my steps back up the busy road and back to my hotel. As I open the door to my room I hear the sound of a telephone ringing.
'Mr. Mason, my name is Victoria.'
It is the company who we booked our travel insurance with and Victoria is phoning me from England. I don't think she can really imagine the plight that has befallen Kathy and myself so I try my best to explain. She is very supportive and asks me if I wish to contact anyone in the family. Although I don't want our son Ben to know how seriously ill his mother is, it does seem like a good idea to let him know we are now in Delhi. First I ask him how he is fending for himself, and then I broach the subject of Kathy's health.
'Mum's a bit ill, but don't worry, she is in hospital and in good hands.'
'Send her my love and tell her that Doshki's just come home. He's been away for about two weeks! Lovely cat!'
'I'll see her soon, she'll be glad to hear the news, that you're doing fine and that Doshki's about. Ben I've got to go now will speak to you soon. Lots of love.'
I really hope he doesn't detect the anxiety that I feel about Kathy's condition, he is only seventeen and I have a duty to protect him from unnecessary stress, most especially as he is so far away and unable to share his feelings with us. I wonder whether to contact my son Gabriel in America yet, I wonder what time it is there? India is about five hours ahead of the UK, so it must be late morning there, a good time to get hold of Ben's older brother Richard in London, but alas there is no reply.
Before Victoria winds up the call, she wishes Kathy all the best in her operation and assures me that she will be keeping in constant contact with me. It has been nice to chat things through with her.
Almost as soon as I replace the handset, the telephone rings again.
'Mr. Paul Mason? We are trying to contact you for long time. You are not at hospital?'
'I just walked back from hospital. This telephone is at my hotel.'
'Oh, but you must be at hospital, Doctor Husain wants speak immediately with you.'
'Is there a problem? Is something wrong?'
'No, no problem, but he wanting speak with you.'
'Okay, I will be there in about twenty minutes.'
'You go New Building, reception you are coming.'
'Okay, about twenty minutes then. Thank you. Dhanyavad.'
At reception I am asked to wait whilst they contact the doctor by phone.
'He will see you now. Go to fourth floor, I C U ward,' the well-mannered lady states, briskly tearing off a little pink paper chitty which is my pass through the guarded corridors.
The lift attendant looks at me searchingly.
'I C U,' I mumble shakily, hoping to be heard above the notes of sampled melodies blaring from a hidden loudspeaker.
'Fourth floor, I C U,' the attendant informs me.
I make for the ward, past a armed guard who stands brandishing a machine gun, to the desk where the regular security guards sit. I hand one of them the clearance slip, he reads it and makes a telephone call then gestures towards the door of an adjacent room. I walk in but find no one about so I wait, glad to have a few moments to myself, before suddenly several Indians in white coats wheel into the room.
'Please sit down. You are Kathryn Mason's husband, yes? I am Doctor Husain,' one of them says in excellent English. He seems an energetic man with an engaging manner.
He has lots of questions for me, about where Kathy was when she was first taken ill, how many days ago that was and also about how we found Ganga Ram Hospital. I recount her story, about how she had first had a headache, become nauseous and then lost consciousness. I told him of the strange facial expressions, the dysphasia and the amnesia. The gathered doctors pay very close attention to everything I say and ask for detail of the drugs she has been taking and about her medical history.
'Kathryn has had haemorrhage before, yes?'
'From the scan I can see there has been one before, long time ago… Anyway, no matter. She is doing very well now, but she has got four aneurysm, that is unusual, one or two is more common. Three and four is very rare.'
Dr Husain explains what an aneurysm is, that it is a bubble of skin which sometimes forms when the wall of an artery is weak. Then if the wall of this bubble fails, blood escapes into the cavity of the brain. Apparently this is what has happened to Kathy. He advises there are two methods to contain the problem, one is called 'clipping' and the other 'coiling'. It is explained that 'clipping' of the aneurysm involves surgical intervention through the scull whilst 'coiling' is achieved by means of a catheter inserted into the groin and fed gradually upwards to the head. Doctor Husain patiently explains the two methods in some detail and offers up an understanding of the risks involved.
'It will be good to deal with the haemorrhaging aneurysm very soon,' Dr Husain informs me.
'I would prefer that Kathy has the less invasive surgery. I don't like the idea of cutting into her brain.'
'I have spoken to Kathryn just a few minutes before you arrived and I explained her all the points we are telling you now. She consents that we perform the procedure tomorrow. If you are in agreement, we will go ahead.'
'Is it a very dangerous operation?'
He looks at me intently, his forehead wrinkling into a frown. Thoughtfully he tugs at his greying neatly cropped beard before gesturing, his index finger raised.
'I will be performing the procedure; I am trained in Zurich, Switzerland and also in Paris. Now, my colleague Doctor Manish Vaish can explain to you some more about the procedure.'
By the time the meeting is concluded my head is whirling with unfamiliar medical terms such as 'sub-arachnoid', 'endovascular', 'angiogram', 'shunt', 'stent', 'hydrocephalus' and 'vasospasm'. I am boggled by the mathematics of risk factors for a variety of potential problems that might occur as a result of the operation, most worrying appear to be the threat of paralysis, heart attack and even death. But not withstanding these very grave dangers, I am in agreement that the procedure should be embarked upon anyway. It is scheduled for first thing in the morning.
It is some while before I can visit Kathy so I have to go downstairs to wait on the ground floor. I am so glad I have managed to find a hotel room and will therefore not be in competition for a bench to lie on tonight. I listen as the hospital loudspeaker system carries an announcement by one of the ladies at reception. She speaks slowly and precisely making her announcement in both Hindi and English: -
'Passes for visitors to I C U are now being issued at reception.'
I am first to arrive at the desk and wait expectantly. But the passes are given out on a strictly numerical basis, when number thirteen is called I raise my hand. After telling them my name I am given a laminated passcard.
It is a drawn out process going through the security checks but eventually get through and after having pulled on a pair of shoe coverings I make my way in to the ward.
Kathy seems glad to see me but also she seems distracted by the arrival of her dinner. Inspecting each of the dishes in turn she samples them, and sips at a carton of fruit juice.
'I hope you are eating properly?' Kathy quizzes.
'Oh, I managed to get a pizza today, I'm fine.'
'Make sure you eat fresh fruit, you need vitamins,' she tells me.
I ask her about her day and she answers uncertainly, she is sure only that she has still got a headache. From a neighbouring bed comes the sound of someone crying out - it is most upsetting. I look about the ward, at the many of the patients connected up to equipment, many of whom are probably seriously ill. Throughout the half-hour visiting period I am constantly aware of moaning, weeping and moaning, the all too obvious indications of human suffering.
Again I am allowed no more than half an hour to visit Kathy, after which time I walk back into the heat of the evening and out of the hospital grounds, down the long road outside towards my hotel.
Back at my room I lie down on my bed for a rest.
The light is on in an unfamiliar room where I am lying outstretched on a double bed. Gradually I remember where I am and how I have come to be staying in a little known suburb of New Delhi. I take a look at my wristwatch; it is almost exactly midnight. Realising I must have fallen asleep almost as soon as I returned from the hospital I figure I have been asleep for about five hours - more uninterrupted sleep than I have had in the several days since Kathy first became ill up in the foothills of the Himalayas. Quite why we came to be travelling there is a story in itself.
One day, some months ago, Kathy had asked me whether I would take a holiday with her in India. I agreed but made no firm plans. Some weeks later our son Ben surprised me by asking: -
'Are you going to India again this year?'
'Huh? Why do you ask?'
'Oh, just interested. I wondered whether you are you going to take mum to India?'
'Huh? What? Are you trying to get rid of us or something?'
'No, I just think you ought to go, with mum.'
But at that time I was very busy and in no particular hurry to make a return visit to India so soon after the last. But the subject would not go away - I was talking to my brother Raymond on the telephone: -
'Flights to Delhi are cheap at the moment, buy a ticket for yourself and I'll pay for it - it can be your birthday present, for the last ten years!'
So, how could I refuse? It was odd how the visit had presented itself - but I made no effort to resist it, instead I considered the various options of where we might go. Eventually we decided on visiting an area in the foothills seldom travelled by tourists, an area promising an abundance of natural beauty and perhaps even glimpses of wild animals such as leopards and bears.
But why oh why had Kathy got so ill? And why there? I had never even considered the possibility of us getting ill in India.
In a country where most tourists do not even trust the water supply, of all places why would it be here that Kathy would need to have brain surgery? I asked Doctor Husain whether or not the high altitude had brought on the attack, but he dismissed the idea saying it could have happened anywhere, at any time. Apparently she had been producing these aneurysms over a very long period of time. The good thing is that she has been correctly diagnosed and her problems are being dealt with, why in just a few hours time Kathy's problems might well be all sorted out.
It might be the middle of the night but that does not stop me being hungry. Remembering that I have recently bought some fruit, I cut a mixture of apples, oranges and banana up into a bowl and then devour the fruit salad with gusto.
Fortified by my meal, I turn my attention to soaking and washing more clothes. Satisfied with my efforts I lie down again.
A few hours sleep and it is now daylight, the sounds of the new day jostle for my attention. I listen to the noisy clamour of street life of people shouting to one another, and the sound of the traffic, and the murmur of mass prayer coming from the Sikh gurudwara temple across the road.
I clean my teeth and then deal with some more of the washing. When the hubbub has quietened a little, I enjoy a period of meditation, as is my habit. I usually sit for about twenty minutes or half an hour in the early morning and a similar period of time in the early evening. It is a habit I picked up long, long ago and maintain that it bestows a natural strength to deal with the bump and grind of existence, a spiritual tonic.
Before I leave the hotel, I switch on the air conditioning fan to give a quick blast to some of the wet clothes hanging about the room. Kathy's operation is due to start at about seven o'clock and is likely to last a couple of hours or so. I decide that instead of going straight to the hospital and waiting there, I will take a walk instead. This way I don't get so stressed as if I was waiting at the hospital.
I am totally unfamiliar with the geography of this part of Delhi, so I take an exploratory route, which I reason will eventually bring me back to the hospital.
I walk along a main road taking me through a forested area overgrown with vegetation and where everything is thickly encrusted with dust. Lush bourganvillia bushes hang heavy with blossoms, some pink, some purple. Vehicles zip past me as I walk along; sometimes a passing rickshaw pulls over to the roadside where the driver gets out to answer the call of nature. I continue on my solitary walk, when I notice a stall, apparently in the middle of nowhere, selling fruits and garlands of flowers. I am curious why there is a stall here, but some yards beyond is a lane where stands a wooden sign which indicates the whereabouts of a temple. As I walk by this lane, an autorickshaw drops a whole family by the roadside; they all go to the stall to buy flowers and fruits (for their worship I suppose).
The sun beats down; my face feels increasingly scorched as I stride along. On and on I walk, lost in thought, thinking of Kathy, hoping it is going well.
I continue to walk along the side of the main road - I have been walking now for well over an hour. Arriving at a busy junction I decide to turn to the left. I calculate this is the road whereon is situated the hospital. A little stripy chipmunk scampers up a nearby tree. I see another and another and then another. They look so charming, twitching and flicking their bushy tails but I guess to some they are no more welcome than rats.
I shall soon be arriving at the hospital - I will soon be seeing Kathy! - I really must remember to tell her about the blossoms, the chipmunks, and the news that I spoke to Ben, that our cat Doshki is home again.
But it is some minutes before I enter the hospital as I decide to stop at the Food Court café where I try to get some breakfast. The café sells mainly Indian snacks and curried dishes to visitors to the hospital. I amazed to discover that they also sell fresh sandwiches! I order two of these, one cheese and one tomato, and wash them down each with a cup of tea. Fortified, I make my way over to the 'new building'.
'Dr Shakir is waiting for you,' the receptionist informs me.
'How is my wife? She has had her operation?'
'You must wait for Dr Shakir on sixth floor!'
'You must go there now!'
'Kya? Kahaan hai? Where?'
'Dharma Vera building.'
'Kahaan hai?' ('Where is that?')
Only with difficulty do I ascertain which building I must go to and it turns out that I must go outside and cross the concourse to the building next to the Accident and Emergency Department. It is as if they expect that I just know where I should go! Once I am in the Dharma Vera building I take the lift to the fifth floor and walk to the sixth by staircase. I am told to sit in the waiting room and once seated there I realise I am really stressed and out of breath. I am not there long before Doctor Husain arrives.
'Good morning Paul. How are you today?' He asks warmly. 'I have just left Kathryn, she is fine. But we are not started with procedure yet, rescheduled, we are waiting for you.'
'Ohh! I am shocked, I had thought it would by now all be over by now.'
'We are going into Cath Lab quite soon. Now, you can go and see Kathryn, if you want?'
'Where is she?'
'She is in same place, still she is in I C U!'
So I am to be spared none of the ordeal of waiting about as the surgeons work away. It is about an hour before Kathy is taken to the 'Cath Lab' and before commencing his work Shakir comes to the waiting room and invites me to his office where he discusses with me the details of the proposed procedure. He tells me of the techniques he can use to deal with any problems that may occur, but he is at pains to emphasise that it is only God who is actually responsible for the outcome and not he. I become highly emotional about my concern for Kathy, he is surprisingly brotherly in his support for me, and he even gives me a reassuring hug!
I sign the anaesthetist's form and go to sit again in the upstairs waiting room. There are several Indian families there sat about, most of them chatting to one another or just gazing at the television. As I really do not want to watch a cricket match at a time like this I go downstairs to lobby instead. The sign says 'Waiting Area - I C U Attendants Only', although it much more crowded down here, for some reason it quieter. Though the sound of the televisions have temporarilly been silenced, the screens flicker with images the international cricket match.
I wait about for a long while and then it is time for a break, time to stretch my legs and get a cup of tea.
When I settle back down in the waiting area I notice that most people seem to be quietly absorbed with the cricket match. For no apparent reason, the sounds of religious devotional music become broadcast over the loudspeaker system, I think I recognise the voice of the main singer who I believe to be a man by the name of Krishna Das. The music comprises of long drawn out devotional chanting which seems strangely appropriate for my circumstances. It is as if the waiting room were harmonising and joining in a mood of deep concern for Kathy. The music seems to go on without end. I try to imagine how things are going in the operating theatre - it has been a long time. I wonder if Doctor Husain has had time to deal with all four of her aneurysms. I decide to ask reception to see if there is a message yet, there is none.
Returning I find someone sitting on my bench, so I move further along to what appears to be a vacant seat and I read the nearby notices; 'Consumption Of Food & Beverages Not Allowed Inside The Waiting Hall' and 'Pass Holders. Please Co-operate By Not Making Crowd to Serve You Better.
The time drags and I become very concerned that I have not heard anything yet. Distractedly, I watch as a small army of domestic staff clad in bright orange overalls and baseball caps march up and down the aisles mopping the marbled floors and emptying the rubbish bins. The cricket match continues to flicker on the screens, it is only interrupted by the occasional news broadcast, the chants still murmur over the Tannoy system.
Well over three hours after I came down to wait and I still have no message from theatre. I had thought Kathy would be in there no longer than one or two hours. I make another trip to the cafe, this time for garlic toast and tea. I fall into conversation with a well-dressed Sikh gentleman wearing a turban. His relative is seriously ill too.
'Cardiac arrest,' he tells me.
I commiserate with him. It sounds awful.
'Only to God,' he declares, sharing his belief that all these events are out of our hands.
Sitting again alone, I worry that Kathy has now been in theatre for too long, it is now about four hours, I worry that her body can only take so much and I pray the operation will soon be over, that she will be spared any further stress today.
I hear my name announced over the public address system and I virtually fly my way to reception. Apparently, I am wanted on the fifth floor.
Doctor Husain smiles grimly. He really looks exhausted.
He explains what has been achieved during the procedure, that two of the four aneurysms have been successfully coiled with tiny quantities of platinum. However, he admits that the procedure was not without problems, that during the work one of the aneurysms ruptured.
'Artery is very friable,' he explains.
He tries to reassure me that Kathy is stable but he admits that she is still under anaesthetic.
He tells me I am allowed to visit Kathy once she is back in the I C U ward but he warns me she will not be conscious, as the decision has been made to wait until morning before taking her out of anaesthetic.
When I get to see her my first impression of her is that her chest is heaving heavily - what a relief to see she is breathing! Masses of tubes and wires connect her to various items of equipment; a monitor displays her life signs.
'Hello love, you are going to be just fine,' I tell her.
She seems to respond.
Suddenly, a doctor appears at my side.
'Not to speak to her, please! If she regains consciousness whilst having anaesthetic, this could be dangerous for her!'
So silently I watch over her, hoping that at a deeper level of consciousness she can sense that I am here. In fact I move a little closer to her and notice that as I do so the monitor registers an increase in her heart rate. I withdraw a couple of feet and the heartbeat decreases. I move towards her again and her heartbeat steps up. She can sense me for sure…. Interesting, very interesting. But I sense it is probably best that I leave her for now, in the care of the flock of bright-faced nurses.
As I take the lift back downstairs a stranger asks
'How is your patient?'
I find it hard to put my emotions into words and instead my eyes well with tears.
'God will look after her,' he tells me.
After the procedure it is a game of wait and see. No one knows for sure how the haemorrhage has affected her or how her body and mind will react to the procedure. There are very real concerns for her health such as the possibility of her becoming paralyzed and of her having a stroke.
Additionally, there is the question of when she will have a second procedure for the other two aneurysms. Over the following days I am in contact various people, family and friends who offer their support. It is great to speak with my son Gabriel in the States, and to be in contact with son Richard. By phone and by email I am able to link with some of Kathy's family and friends, who respond with a generosity of spirit that touches me and eases some of my pain. Marjorie and Jenny (Kathy's sisters) drop everything and fly over from England to spend a little time with her. All of us agree that Kathy gets exceptional treatment at Ganga Ram, she wouldn't expect better standards of surgery, nursing or hygiene were she in Britain.
A sign at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital displays; 'Thought Of the Day - CHEERFUL LIVE LONGEST IN YEARS AND AFTERWARDS IN OUR REGARDS'. Yes, I see it my duty to remain cheerful and as free of problems as I can be, not to get ill or miserable. But it is not easy; I have to liaise with the High Commission, with the insurance company and with the accounts department at the hospital. Hearing that there are plans to fly us home immediately, I do everything I can do in order to ensure that Kathy continues to receive appropriate treatment. I am relieved when I hear from the insurance company's agent that clearance has been given for her to have her second operation in India, at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital.
Though in truth I am living through some kind of hell I also sense that what I am going through is a series of tests. I have the distinct impression at times that I am being watched and being listened to. It is a slightly eerie sensation to sense a presence outside of myself, watching, checking how I react to any given situation. There are even situations when responses seem to come when I express my doubts. I would like to say it feels reassuring but it does not, it just feels okay.
The sign displaying the Thought of the Day changes, now it proclaims;
'LIFE IS NOT LIVING BUT BEING IN HEALTH'
One time when I visit Kathy I find she has been moved to Bed 15.
'I'm so glad,' she confides, 'I didn't like the idea of being in Bed 13.'
'Mmmm,' I grin; amused that anyone might connect a bed number with the outcome of a specialist operation, though I must confess that I too was relieved when I realised the number had been changed!
But if we are going to talk about superstition and luck, we should remember that at this time there are only two specialist doctors in the whole of India who can perform endovascular coiling for aneurysms in the brain. Just what are the chances of her landing in the only hospital in North India where such procedures are performed? And what would have happened if Kathy had arrived on a Monday instead of a Saturday, or on a day when Dr Husain is not on duty?
Dr Shakir Husain, Kathy & Dr Atulabh Vajpeyee
Perhaps she would then have been exposed to the dangers of full-scale brain surgery, not the minimally invasive alternative. Indeed, had it happened back in the UK, Kathy would most likely have gone to bed and perhaps never re-awoken. Certainly she would not have been able to communicate her condition to a doctor beyond complaining of a headache (on account of the amnaesia). So… her luck is most certainly good. Perhaps, just perhaps, it has something to do with the puja and the blessing of long life she received up in the ancient temple in the hills at Jageshwar?
It is great visiting Kathy the day after her first procedure; just as she is coming out of anaesthetic. I take her some jasmine blossoms that I find just outside the hospital grounds. When Kathy sees them in my hand she tries to force them into her mouth. Evidently she sees them as prasad, as given after a puja. It shows how trusting she has become in that she would shovel down a handful of flowers thinking them to be some sort of spiritual healing!
As it happens, Kathy's health takes a series of dips before she revives enough to undergo a second 'procedure'. She also has to contend with the rapid deterioration of the sight of her left eye. But, the remaining two aneurysms are successfully dealt with, as confirmed by the angiogram image. On our return to the United Kingdom we both suffer difficult health problems before gradually returning to anything like 'normality' again. Kathy marvels and is so thankful that she has been blessed with good health again.
Kathy in early June 2006
There have been a few articles published about Kathy's story, which help spread the word a little about the miraculous technology that helped Kathy. The first appeared whilst we were still in India, published by a leading Indian newspaper, the second was featured in a local newspaper in Britain, and another appeared as a two page photospread in a women's national magazine in the UK. Whilst the articles are not entirely factual in every detail they do give readers a taste of what we have been through.
In truth it is a big shock to be shown just how mortal we really are, but for me it is made a little easier by the certain knowledge of my experiences of sensing That intelligence out there. That intelligence appeared to be testing me, checking on what I would do in any given circumstance, and there were even occasions when I sensed it attempting to reveal itself! But I wonder if That intelligence is really allowed to show itself, that it can only act through others?
Interestingly, whilst Kathy was in hospital, wherever I went in Delhi, people would often come up to me unannounced and tell me that God protects, that it is only God who gives and that it is God who takes away. I was surprised, as this never happened to me in India before - it was as though these people just 'knew' they had to tell me their thinking! The people who spoke to me were not of any one religion, some were Hindu, some Sikh, some Muslim, some Christian, and some of little faith, but all of them spoke of one 'God'.
To be honest, I would really have preferred not to undergo the ordeals. But then, without this experience I would not be able to understand or agree with the many people out there who tell us that there is a God who watches over us and protects us. I'd like to share a phrase that came to me whilst Kathy was in hospital; 'Be a warrior not a worrier' - that is to say 'face up and try to sort things out instead of worrying needlessly and making yourself ill by thinking about how hellish things might turn out'.
Link to: - 'Times of India' article
Link to: - 'Cornishman' article
Link to: - 'Woman' article Part 1 of 2 & 'Woman' article Part 2 of 2
NB Click on bottom right of images to expand them enough to read them!
Links to more data about aneurysms:-
Feel free to email if you wish to comment on anything in 'Kathy's Story', contact Paul Mason at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many of Chris Marchan's Indian photographs are posted on the following website: - http://www.bebo.com/Profile.jsp?MemberId=9375390
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