Read Part 1 here.
Read Part 2 here.
Read Part 3 here.
Listen to me narrate Part 4 here.
“You’d understand, right? If I didn’t come back?” Nick’s question took me by surprise. How could he not come back? The thought of leaving someone you’d grown to care about in some hospital in a foreign land seemed so incomprehensible to me, far beyond my range of understanding, but then again, I was the one in the hospital.
I wanted to tell him: no, you have to come back; you can’t just leave me here! But I knew I couldn’t ask that of him or anyone. Instead I responded: “You know what’s so great about God? He gave us free will. He gave us a choice – we make a choice to love Him because that’s the only love that’s worthy of Him, the kind born of our own freedom, our own free will,”
Nick started gathering his things and I began to whine about him leaving, asking him to stay just a little longer. “Jen, don’t get attached…I’m just an object – now you can see me and now you don’t,” he walked into my bathroom and then back out to demonstrate. I felt angry with him but I knew he was right. Attachment is a luxury I cannot afford, because I can’t afford the disappointment in the after, but all of that is much better seen in retrospect, from somewhere far away, seldom is it seen in the beautiful eyes of a man you love. All the same, I felt certain he’d return.
Kailash came back after Nick had left. He was angry. “I’m not going to come anymore.”
“Whynot?” I said, half hoping he’d make good on his threat and half terrified he would. I didn’t speak Hindi and I couldn’t do anything by myself. The nurses came in to sponge bathe me in the morning and bring me a bowl of water so I could brush my teeth. I was immobile and couldn’t even reach my own hairbrush without someone handing it to me, much less my books or clothing. Despite everything, Kailash was a huge help. He’d done my laundry, made sure I got wifi and he helped communicate my needs in Hindi to the hospital staff.
“Why did you tell your boyfriend I keep trying to kiss you?” He said accusingly.
“Because you do,” I responded. “And he’s not my boyfriend.”
Our back and forth resulted in me begging him to stay, a fact he would later enjoy bringing up often. I like to think I’m not prone to manipulation, but what I like to think and what actually was are two different things. I was really scared and didn’t feel strong enough to be on my own. I bit the bait.
The days in the hospital passed slowly. The first few days after I saw Nick, I thought every knock on the door was going to be him, only to be disappointed. Kailash would mock me always asking “where my boyfriend was.” After three days, I knew he wasn’t going to come back.
“Ow! Ow ow! It hurts!!” My physical therapist, Arun, was pushing my knee back for flexion. He looked me straight in the eye, “Of course it hurts, you broke two bones.” I liked him immediately.
I was finally well enough to manage walking to the bathroom with my walker so they took the catheter out and the IV. The difficult parts of the day were the mornings and right before bed. In India, they don’t over medicate so I was pretty much given a glorified ibuprofen twice a day for the pain. The worst was receiving the injection of straight antibiotic. I would cry each time and grab hold of the nurse’s hand hard. At one point I think I was screaming bloody murder from the pain. I later learned from my “rescue nurse” from Canada, that in the west the antibiotic is usually diluted in an IV bag. That explained my sore veins and hands which are still swollen and hard one month post injections.
“Oh, my sweet, if I could take the pain for you, I would,” Kailash would say after the night nurses left.
But he couldn’t. No one could.
Kailash visited me daily for ten days and then he had to start working and stopped coming. He even held a puja for me and the recovery of my leg. He had behaved much better after Nick had spoken with him. He’d still try things, like kissing my cheek, but I was stronger so he was easier to deal with. I thought about Nick a lot, trying to understand everything. I’d hear his voice in my head:
What time is it, Jen?
And where are you?
I am here…but you’re not. Why aren’t you here? I’d start crying.
Be here now, Jen, I’d tell myself. He’s not here, you’re here. Be strong. Be here.
Soon I had no visitors. India has such a familial culture that seeing someone, anyone, in a hospital alone is a rarity. The hospital staff is not used to it, I’d started to feel guilty every time I pressed the button for the nurse, for the most basic of things I couldn’t do myself.
I looked forward to my physical therapy the most. Arun spoke great English and he was kind. I kept practicing my Hindi by asking him to bring me samosas because I was sick of the hospital food. Arun swore he would never bring me outside food. “Are you sure I couldn’t charm you into bringing me some?” I asked coyly. “Nope, you can’t.” He said matter of factly.
A few days later a younger physical therapist came with a paper bag. “Arun is really busy today so he sent me and these are for you,” she said. In the bag were four samosas. I was touched by the gesture of friendship. It’s the tiniest things that mean the most when you’re at your worst.
The nurses would walk in on their rounds and catch me crying. “No crying, don’t cry, don’t cry, why are you crying?” as though it was some mortal sin to cry in India. I’m heartbroken, disappointed, far away from anyone that cares about me, in some hospital in a foreign country where people don’t understand me or my culture very well. I won’t be able to continue this “Round the World” trip I’ve been planning for the past year, I won’t be able to walk for at least three months, I’m exhausted, I feel like a failure because this happened. I’ve never felt so alone. I’m in pain and I’m losing track of the days spent in this hospital.
“Akele.” I responded. They sweetly held my hand and my face and said, “No, akele, we are here. You’re not alone.”
Those were the hardest of days, I prayed, I sat still, I looked out the window, I tried to be present, but presence is a whole lot easier when you’re looking into a beautiful man’s eyes then when you’re lying in pain alone in some hospital bed.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had two and a half months left on my “round the world” trip and at least five more countries. Part of me, the ambitious type A part, thought I could just hang out in south India or take some more meditation courses and not have to go back home, but in the end, that decision, like every other decision in my life was out of my control.
There would be no going back to that girl I was – she lived in a world of illusion. The illusion was that she alone had control over how her life would play out; she never had control – that was part of the big ploy. In the end, she was a character on a much bigger stage with constantly moving pieces. The question of why did this happen? Was a question not up to her to answer – as infinitesimal as one human life could be, the arrogance necessary to proclaim the why and how of things; the characters cascading in and out of our lives. It’s our own western culture that always tries to mask things with the positive to make us feel better, always tries to intellectualize the mystery of life and analyze it as though we could possibly KNOW the why and how.
I didn’t want to live in that illusion anymore. I didn’t want to sugarcoat how I was feeling. I didn’t want to wear the tough girl façade anymore. I didn’t want to try to act like I knew something that I didn’t. I didn’t want to control things, I wanted to be. I popped the bubble. I surrendered. I did nothing.
My insurance would only cover me if I went home and continued treatment there. In the end, I had to come back to Chicago. The thought of coming home felt like defeat and my surrender didn’t feel sweet. It wasn’t a triumphant white flag waving. It was a tattered flag barely raised above my head slowly as I dragged my body out of the battlefield.