A sudden flash of white light blinded my eyes. It was so extremely bright that my head hurt. I blinked. Or at least I tried to. But my eyelids stayed in place, unmoving, almost as if they were taped to my eyebrows. Gradually, my eyes grew accustomed to the light and I could see colours in place of white, I could see the fan whirling, hanging from the roof above me. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a woman leaning on the wall. She was short with long, greying hair. I strained my eyes to get a clear look at her. She was wearing an indigo coloured saree and a depressed expression on her face. The eyes that usually lit up with love and laughter were now filled with impending tears. I reminisced her kind and handsome features that were now concealed beneath the frown that marred her face. I’ve missed her, I realized. I’ve missed my mother.
Abruptly, she turned to look at me and as she blinked back her tears, her unhappy expression slowly morphed into a surprised one. She dazedly stared at me for a few moments before letting out an ear-piercing cry.
“She’s awake!”, she yelled as she rushed to my side.
Had I been asleep all this time? As her face loomed over mine, I wanted to relieve her of whatever it was that had been bothering her. My mother is a fierce woman, determined to protect what was hers. But under her strong demeanour, she was essentially sensitive and fragile. One would never gather this unless one was close enough. I opened my mouth to tell her that everything was okay. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
I heard the door burst open. Through the periphery of my eyes, I could see my father hurrying inside, followed by my brother. I struggled to shift my gaze back and forth between the two of them as I tried to figure out why they were both sporting identical expressions of despair.
My dad walked toward me and looked into my eyes.
“Are you awake, kannamma? Talk to me.”
My heart wrenched when I heard his voice, I had never seen my dad this upset. I wanted so badly to tell him that I was okay. Only I couldn’t get my lips to move. What was wrong with me? A feeling of unease started to set in.
My mom slowly moved to sit next to me on my bed. My bed? That was why the fan was the first thing I had seen. I had been lying down all this time. Beds always provided me with relaxation. No other feeling could possibly compete with that moment when my body hit the bed after a long and tiring day. Unexpectedly, I couldn’t find that comfort this time. I was then alarmed to discover that I couldn’t feel the mattress at all. It was almost like I was floating in air, only I couldn’t feel the soft whisper of the wind against my skin either. I looked at my mom again who now had her palm on my cheek trying to offer me some sort of comfort. But it did nothing to ease my panic. I wanted to both scream at the top of my voice and burst out crying at the same time. I wanted to throw my arms around my mother and beg for help. I felt absolutely helpless. What in the world was happening to me?
The door opened yet again. This time, a man I didn’t recognize walked into my line of sight. He was in scrubs, a stethoscope hanging around his neck. A doctor? And then, I took note of the distinctive smell of disinfectant that could only belong to one place. Oh my god! I was in a hospital.
And suddenly, memories of what happened hit the centre of my consciousness like a speeding bullet. Greenday blasting in my ears as I was driving. The unexpected turn taken by the Innova. The sudden flare of lights as the huge car accelerated towards me. The fear and horror that engulfed my heart.
The dormancy that took over my brain. The crash, the pain and lastly the blood. And then it had all gone black. The next thing I knew I had woken up here, in the hospital unable to feel anything.
The doctor brought his index finger up to my eyes and slowly moved it right to left. My eyes tried to followed the movement. Then he tapped my knees. I flinched. Or that’s what I thought I did but my body didn’t cooperate. He took out my file and after looking it over, he faced my parents with a look of finality.
“As you already know, we’ve been providing Ms. Kumar with intensive therapy that was directed towards preservation and restoration of her neuronal function.”
“Yes, yes” my parents nodded in unison urging the doctor to go on.
“Well, the treatment was unsuccessful.”
“So what’s next?” my father’s voice was a paradoxical mixture of dread and hope.
The doctor’s expression became apologetic as he bent his head down, pretending to study the file he held. He shook his head, his expression turning decisive as he looked back up at my dad.
“She’s brain dead.”
What? I heard my brother gasp and my mother let out a high-pitched wail. My father stood stone-faced, his unwavering stare directed toward the doctor.
The doctor spoke again. It was almost as if he couldn’t wait for us to digest what he had said before he delivered the next blow.
“Time of death – 15.04.16, 16:32 hours.”
No, no, no. This couldn’t be happening. I was right there. I could see and hear everything the doctor had said. I couldn’t be brain dead! I panicked and did what always did to calm myself down. I counted in my head. There! How can a person who was brain dead count? Was the doctor a moron?
My mental turmoil didn’t stop even as I saw my mother collapse down in a puddle of tears, my brother supporting her. I wanted to reach out to her. to let her know I was alive and with her. I wanted to get down on my knees and wipe away her tears. But I couldn’t. God help me, I couldn’t do anything. I think I cried. But I wasn’t sure because I wouldn’t be able to feel my own tears anyway. And then it occurred to me. I was probably paralyzed! Certainly not brain dead. Now, how do I make the doctor understand? I willed him to look down at the test results again, to realize that he had made an error. But he didn’t.
My father finally came down from his trance to ask the doctor- “She isn’t dead. She’s right there. Breathing!”
“Only with the help of a ventilator. She will stop breathing the moment it is removed.”
“Wh..what? How are you sure? She could still be in there.” My dad stuttered.
“I’m sorry sir. But she isn’t. She’s both unconscious and unresponsive. Her brainstem reflexes are absent. Right now, even her organs are being kept in working condition only with the help of the ventilator.”
Dad had grown silent. My dad, who always knew the right thing to say, even at the oddest of situations was finally out of words. Dumbstruck. Like he had given up. The agony grew into a living, burning thing
in the pit of my stomach. How was I going to save myself? More importantly how in the world was I going to ease the pain that my parents were feeling? I looked at them. All three of them were holding onto each other as if each of them drawing strength from the other two. I wasn’t even worried about myself anymore. I wouldn’t wish this situation even on my worst of enemies.
And then, the doctor delivered the final and ultimate blow.
“I need to talk to you about donating her organs. Keeping her on the ventilator isn’t a viable option any longer since we already know that she is brain dead. And that is same as pronouncing her legally dead. I’ll leave you now so you can think about it.”
My mom let out another wail and tugged at my dad’s sleeve.
“I won’t let them take her off the ventilator. I won’t!” she all but screamed. “she’s my daughter! I won’t let her die.”
Meanwhile, I don’t know what changed. But I was starting to accept the situation. Really, what else could I do? I couldn’t even wipe my own snort. I laughed (mentally). I could hear my family discussing about what they were going to do with me. Debating my fate as if I couldn’t hear every single word that they uttered. So I did what I normally do when they got on my nerves. I zoned them out. I was almost 20. Twenty years of life gone to waste. In another day or two, it would almost be as if I had never lived. Every single incident in my life would turn into a memory. A memory that will eventually fade. Fade into a framed picture hanging on the wall. I had been doing my final year in English literature. Had I hit that monstrosity of a car a month later, I would have graduated. But now, I didn’t even get that. I hadn’t done anything in life that was worth remembering. I had been good at many things, but had never excelled at something in particular. I wish I had. God, I had wasted my life away, having done nothing substantial. All the hopes and dreams I had saved for the future were now reduced to dust. What I wouldn’t give for all this to be but an ugly nightmare!
Would my friends miss me? Would my relatives? I didn’t know. Sure they would be upset. But for how long? And if all this wasn’t upsetting enough, another thought occurred to me. I will never get to experience married life. I will never be pregnant. Never have the honour of being a mother, watching my child grow, teaching him the first things about life. I will never grow old with my family.
Alright! I didn’t need to distress myself in my last few moments of life. I made my mind take a path along all my happy memories. Walking hand in hand with mother, lying down on my father’s lap as he brushed my hair with all his love, the loving battles between me and my brother, first day at school, first day at college, discovering my love for literature, my best friends, that cute boy I had a crush on, all the happy, sad and embarrassing moments ran through my head one by one. I felt as if my entire life was a photo album that I was looking through.
After what felt like an eternity, I heard the doctor come back.
“Have you decided?”
My parents nodded. My mother’s loud cries had reduced to silent tears. My father was shaking as he supported my mother, his bespectacled eye red. My brother was standing in a corner, silent and in shock. He had always had a strong heart.
“Are you willing to donate her organs?”
“Then I suggest you say your goodbyes.”
All three of them came toward me. My mother came up to kiss my forehead and my father clenched my hand, except I couldn’t feel either of those things. My brother sat on the foot of my bed, his eyes finally tearing up. They stayed that way for a long time. An hour? Two? I couldn’t fathom. I think I felt at peace. I’m not sure. I was certainly not happy. But it was a good way to go. Surrounded by the three people that I loved most in the world. So what if I hadn’t done anything that the world would remember me for? I realized that I was perfectly at peace with living in the memories and thoughts of my family. They were the only ones who mattered.
I heard the doctor walking up to my bed. I heard him press a few buttons. My mom started shaking and my dad turned around. My brother clenched his eyes shut. In my head, I told each one of them that I loved them. I expected to feel pain as the ventilator shut down. But I didn’t. I just felt tired. It was as if all my thoughts and feelings were sucked into a bottomless wormhole. Everything became clouded before the whole world turned dark. The last thing I heard was the soft words that my mom uttered.
“We love you.”
I felt content.