Lekha gripped the steering wheel and wished the traffic would clear. The endless rain in Chennai had inundated the city and getting around was a nightmare. Angry drivers swore and gesticulated while morose pedestrians navigating the muddy, swirling waters hurled back abuses. It was absolute bedlam.
Lekha anxiously checked her phone for any new messages from Dr. Roy. Nothing. It was her day off at the hospital and she was at home doing the laundry when the doctor called.
“Lekha, please come to the hospital right away. Rajeev suddenly collapsed at work and his colleagues have brought him here. He’s unconscious but stable and we’re running some tests on him. There’s nothing to panic. But get here as soon as you can.’’
A thousand questions flooded her mind, but she knew better than ask unnecessary questions and waste time. She grabbed the keys and ran all the way to the car, unmindful of the pouring rain. Her face was hard, writ with anxiety, focusing on a future that heralded much uncertainty.
She remembered their fight that morning, just before he had left for work.
“You know it wouldn’t kill you to give it another chance. Just because it didn’t work out at the first attempt doesn’t mean it will never work again. I don’t get your negative attitude about all this. It’s almost like you don’t want a baby as badly as me!’’ Rajeev had said.
“Rajeev, I’m turning 38 this month and you’re almost 42. We’ve given IVF a fair chance and it just didn’t work out. Probably we weren’t destined to be parents! Why don’t we leave it at that?’’
“Lekha, you do know that IVF treatment doesn’t always succeed the first time. Didn’t Dr. Roy warn us in our counselling sessions? Haven’t you seen for yourself at the hospital, all those couples who’ve had failed IVF attempts try over and over again?’’ Rajeev pleaded. He was 42, but looked much older. He had already downed a couple of glasses of vodka instead of breakfast and his speech was slightly beginning to slur.
“Rajeev, why are you endlessly obsessed with this idea of being a biological parent? If it is a child that you want, then there are other options – We can always consider adoption, can’t we?’’
“You don’t understand! It isn’t the same. Oh God! I’m tired of arguing yet again over the same thing! It is so difficult to reason with someone as callous as you – no wonder God decided you weren’t fit to be a mother!’’
He regretted the moment the words were out of his mouth. She stared at him for a long minute and walked out wordlessly.
Nine years of marriage and the stigma of being a childless couple had taken its toll on both of them. The fact that both came from a conservative Hindu background that placed immense value on family life and raising children didn’t help either. Their family felt sorry for them but weren’t supportive. All their friends had their own kids to keep them busy and didn’t really care.
Rajeev’s drinking had steadily worsened over the years to an extent that he started and ended each day with a customary glass of vodka. Lekha’s job as a dietician at the Heath Trust Hospital was the only thing that kept her from going insane. Even at work, she had to bear the brunt of her co-workers insensitive questions – “so how many children do you have?’’ Once a nurse had carelessly made a remark about Lekha not being worried about getting home late as she didn’t have to worry about “dinner for the kids or their homework’’. Lekha had cried herself to sleep that night.
After an initial sense of disappointment at being let down by her own body, her emotions veered between defeat to determination, anger to resignation. It was ironic that in her profession, she’d counselled numerous pregnant women on healthy pregnancy diets, yet here she was barren as a desert in the midst of a fertile field of glowing pregnant women on their way to motherhood.
There was a time when she would visit the paediatric wing of the hospital on the pretext of some work or the other, just to see the babies, touch them and hold them for a bit if the parents didn’t mind. Watching their smiles and holding their pudgy, balled fists, gave her a few moments of bliss.
It was Dr. Roy Abraham, her mentor and guide at the Hospital who had advised her to consider IVF. After their first IVF counselling session, Rajeev came out looking much more at peace than she’d seen him in a long time. They had gone out for a cup of coffee afterwards and talked for a long time, for the journey that they were embarking on was going to be a difficult one – emotionally, physically and financially. Rajeev was wonderfully supportive. They started treatment the very next month. Though Rajeev was the passive contributor and Lekha had to endure the onslaught of numerous hormonal injections and pills and a slew of tests and procedures, he continued to be her emotional rock. Enduring the ups and downs in the difficult treatment brought them closer.
But the treatment also put tremendous pressure on their marriage, because of the sheer costs involved and the effects of the drugs that Lekha was on made her moody and difficult. What kept them going was the hope that they would soon have a baby of their own. When Lekha got pregnant, they were ecstatic. A scan three weeks later indicated a non viable pregnancy. They were devastated. They were told ‘’it sometimes happens ’’ and that ‘’only a very few IVF cases get it right in the first attempt’’.
As their hopes came crashing down, it affected them both in different ways. To Lekha it all seemed to be incredibly unfair. But, she couldn’t imagine going through the same process all over again. She was done trying to become a mother. Rajeev was dealing with an entirely different avalanche of emotions. He was determined not to give up. He couldn’t imagine a life without his dreamed-of child. They would try again and again even if they ended up broke, he resolved.
And then the cracks in their marriage had begun to appear. They quarrelled incessantly - Rajeev determined to try another round of IVF and Lekha adamant that she wouldn’t endure another round of pricking and prodding that had every chance of ending in disappointment again.
Weeks and months passed; their life was in a rut. Rajeev would come back from work and drown himself in his bottle, while Lekha would busy herself with other chores. They became experts in dodging each other. He would stumble into bed well after midnight. She knew he was hurting and wanted to help him heal, but how could she, when she was scared of confronting her own grief that she’d buried deep inside? She decided it was better this way, each one confronting their sorrow in their own ways, but bemoaned the slow disintegration of their marriage. On the rare occasions that he wasn’t drunk, he would reach out for her body in the darkness and she would comply, as she didn’t want to deny him even that.
Tears streamed down her eyes as she manoeuvred the car in her usual parking spot at the hospital parking. The hospital was a place she knew well – her second home. But as she walked in today the shroud of despondency tightened around her .With a pounding heart she ran all the way up to Dr. Roy’s room. He was on the phone with someone, but hung up on seeing her.
“Come, he’s in the ICU. But you can see him.”
Over her years at the Hospital, Lekha had come to believe that people involved in the medical profession would gradually build up some sort of a mental resistance to sights of death, grief, pain and loss. She couldn’t have been more wrong .The sight of Rajeev on the bed, sedated and intubated – surrounded by beeping machines chilled her heart. She’d had seen many patients in there before. But this was different – this was her Rajeev. It hurt.
Dr. Roy gently touched her shoulders as she sobbed and said, ‘’ Please, it isn’t that bad. Pull yourself together Lekha. ’’
‘’But how, what happened?’’
‘’He was found unconscious in the restroom. He had vomited a lot of blood.’’
‘’What? Oh my God! Is it his because of his drinking?’’
“I’m not sure, but we are running some tests on him. The results will be back in a few days and then we’ll know what we’re dealing with.’’
“But I don’t understand, if he is just under observation, why is he in the ICU, unless you’re concerned about something else?’’
Dr. Roy Abraham shrugged uneasily. “I was just on the phone with our oncologist Mr. Krishnan, He’s coming in the evening to take a look at Rajeev and perhaps do a biopsy...’’
“Oncologist?’’ Lekha mouthed the word slowly and a cold fear gripped her heart. “Are you suspecting some sort of Cancer?’’
She saw Dr. Roy stiffen. He looked unsure of what to say.
“I can’t say anything right now. We need to...” He broke off and stared at Lekha strangely.
“Are you okay? You seem to be --’’ He caught her just as she collapsed in a dead faint.
She woke up feeling uncomfortable and exhausted. She was on a bed in one of the rooms. For a moment, she felt disoriented and then it all came back to her, a deluge of hard hitting reality and overwhelming sadness. As she sat there on the sterile bed, contemplating their bleak future, it struck her for the first time that, an entire life lay ahead of her and she just might end up living it all alone.
The door opened and Dr. Roy walked in. “Good, you’re awake. How are you feeling?’’
“I feel miserable. And a bit nauseous.’’
“That’s probably because you haven’t had any lunch. I expected a bit more spunk in you, Lekha. After all we are medical professionals, aren’t we? The last thing I want is you falling sick. Anyways I’ve given a sample of your blood for some routine blood work. We may need your blood for transfusion if at all Rajeev....” he left the statement incomplete.
Lekha bit her lip and held back tears. Dr. Roy’s said softly ‘’ Look, There really isn’t anything much you can do till Rajeev’s results come in. The oncologist will be here at 4 and we’ve scheduled a biopsy then. Rajeev is in good hands, be assured. Why don’t you go home, have some lunch and take some rest? You look exhausted. You can come back later, say by 6 o’ clock.’’
“No, doctor. I need to be here with Rajeev.’’ She was defiant.
Dr. Roy shrugged and left her. She decided to wait in her consultation room at least she could grieve there in private. As the hours endlessly dragged on, she considered going home for a change of clothes for herself and Rajeev. But she just wasn’t able to pull herself out of her chair and go back to their empty apartment. It was unnerving. She couldn’t bear the thought of being alone. Their friends were few and family far. It was just her and Rajeev and their sad little world. What if something were to happen to Rajeev, God forbid? What would be left for her to live for –She now understood Rajeev’s anguish to father a child. Her heart went out to all those desperate couples at the hospital’s fertility centre full of hope, addled with hormones, prepared to spend even their last penny in their quest to have a baby. Nobody wants to live and die alone. Everyone wanted someone to love and love them back .It was a basic instinct. She regretted her decision of not giving IVF another chance. If only she’d been a bit more sensitive Rajeev wouldn’t have drunk himself to this sorry state – they might’ve had a happier marriage – and perhaps a baby as well.
She was startled by the sound of her phone vibrating. It was a message from Dr. Roy. The doctors were through with Rajeev’s biopsy. The results would be back in two days. It would be a waiting game till then.
For the next two days as Rajeev continued to be in the ICU under sedation, she had been flitting in and out of his room feeling helpless. On the morning of the third day, Rajeev was moved to a private room. Lekha was relieved. From the moment he was wheeled into the room, she remained beside him holding his hand, waiting and praying. His biopsy results would be coming in today. Dr Roy had promised to message her the moment he received them.
The day passed without any message from the doctor. An impounding sense of dread filled her heart.
There was no news the next morning either. She had messaged Dr. Roy numerous times asking him about the results and was now restlessly pacing the room, phone in hand. She willed herself to not check her phone to see if he had replied. It had been about three days now. She hated that she was constantly checking his 'last seen at' status and yes, he had logged in just five minutes ago. Yet she couldn't stop herself. This sinking feeling to find absolutely no communication from him was becoming unbearable, almost torturous. And then, just as she sat down in her chair, her phone vibrated. With her heart thudding in her ear, she unlocked her phone and stared at the screen. Finally! It was his message. But when she opened it and read it, she nearly stopped breathing. She didn't know if he was joking or not. What was this?
She read and reread his message. She sat there in a stunned silence and didn’t notice that Rajeev was awake and staring at her intently.
“Lekha.. ’’ His voice was feeble. The smile she gave him warmed his heart. Instinctively he reached out for her. She sat beside him and hugged him gingerly – she wasn’t sure if he was strong enough.
“Did you hear from Dr. Roy? Have the reports come?’’
“Yes. But it’s mine, not yours.”
“Yours? What report are you talking about?’’
“Dr.Roy had given a sample of my blood for some tests and the results are here.’’ She tapped her phone.
“I’m pregnant, Rajeev.’’ She said in a choked voice.
Rajeev was speechless. Slowly his bewilderment was replaced by an unbelievable sense of calm.
“But Rajeev, what about your results...I don’t know why it isn’t here yet.” Lekha mused.
“Screw cancer, we’re having a baby,’’ he said smiling contentedly and hugged her tighter.
The rains had finished wreaking their havoc. The worst was over and for the first time in many days, a clear blue sky graced the horizons, almost like an omen for the happier days that lay ahead.