It was past midnight. I was just settling in my bed with my three-year-old. My lawyer wife was sifting through some case papers and we were pestering her to switch off the lights. My phone rang. It was an my childhood friend Rashid, who has lived in Dubai for some years and works as a salesperson with a bank.
I answered in my usual jovial tone. Rashid's voice was glum. He said he needed urgent help. "Arif bhai has cancer and it's in the last stage", he said, his voice choked. My heart skipped a beat. I had always known Arif bhai as a strong, well -built guy measuring six feet. About 10 years older than Rashid, he was a kind of Rambo for us schoolkids back in the day. He is in his late 40s today and has two young kids.
"He was diagnosed with renal cancer some six months ago, and his condition has gone bad to worse since." It took me a long moment to process what Rashid told me. Due to our preoccupations with jobs and family lives, Rashid and I were talking after about nine months. So all this came as a shock. Rashid had gone through a bad patch in his life financially in the last few years and had just started to settle down with a somewhat decent job in Dubai.
Rashid told me that Arif bhai's condition deteriorated on Friday and doctors at the J N Medical College, Aligarh, told the family that they needed to rush him to AIIMS in Delhi. His sister and elder son (13 or 14) accompanied him to Delhi's premier medical instititution on Friday afternoon. Till Saturday midnight, when I got that call from Dubai, the hapless family could not get a bed or a doctor's attention. Rashid wanted my help in getting his brother admitted to AIIMS. I talked to his sister, who told me that they were lying in a corner in the Emergency section of AIIMS since Friday afternoon with no medical help coming their way.
I spoke to a doctor in the morning, called a few colleagues to help. The doctor and a journalist friend who knows a thing or two about healthcare in the capital, after knowing his medical details, gave two frank opinions: A) He doesn't have much time left and B) Don't make it worse for him by hanging around at AIIMS.
They were being candid and I know they were also right. I don't blame AIIMS for being unkind to a patient. The institution and its resources are way too much stretched. For them, it's a choice between sparing a bed for a patient for whom there is some hope, and a "gone case".
But I didn't know how to tell this bitter truth to Rashid's sister who is sitting in a corner of the AIIMS corridor with a brother in deep pain. I simply didn't have the courage. I called Rashid and told him all this in one breath and a flat tone. He heard me out in complete silence and after a few seconds could only manage to say a "But..."
"We have to try..." I completed his thought in my head.
Rashid's sister decided to try her brother's luck at another sarkari hospital, GB Pant. He is yet to be admitted.
This is the third case of cancer I have witnessed in my family in the last one year. What's common is that they were all diagnosed at the final stages. All three patients were all perfectly healthy till the other day and never had any serious health complications. The killer just struck suddenly and struck hard in the late 40s.
A cousin who lost the battle to cancer about six months ago got to know of a bunch of stones in her gall bladder a little too late. The stones just lay there for God knows how long, without any pain or warning, squeezing her liver to a point when one day she was told by the doctors that it was too late. She lived for seven months after the diagnosis.
An aunt, also in her late 40s, had a similar case. She died three weeks ago, just two and a half months after the diagnosis.
And I am being told today that Arif bhai has two or three months left.
In the earlier two cases, shocking and painful as they were, I at least have the satisfaction that despite late diagnosis, they both got best of treatment at best of hospitals. The medication couldn't save them, but at least made their last hours less painful and somewhat dignified.
In Arif bhai's case, because the family cannot afford inflated bills of fancy hospitals, he is being denied basic dignity in his pain and suffering. And that is a harsh reality for millions who suffer for being poor. There is just no hope for those who don't have deep pockets.
There's also a larger issue of awareness regarding health. We don't have the concept of regular health checks among most of our people who are simply too preoccupied with the struggle to manage even the basic needs of life for themselves and their families.
I feel sad, angry, helpless and disgusted. I don't know who to blame or what to do.
Cancer is about to strike a hat-trick in my family. Two women, whom I loved dearly, and were fine till early last year, are gone today. And a good friend's brother is staring at a very painful end.(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.