And I felt like a voyeur….

“Dhondu is back” announced Deepak. I groaned silently…”What is it this time?” I asked. It was the same, infected ulcers over both his legs. We would clean him up, put him on antibiotics and discharge him when the ulcers healed. We would discharge him alright  but sending him out of the ward to his home was quite another thing. We couldn’t send him home simply because he had no home to go to..He belonged to the community of the homeless. The Social Worker would contact various shelters for the homeless and use her contacts to get Dhondu transferred to one of them. Dhondu detested the shelters and would do the bunk within hours. The cops would then arrest him for sleeping on a bench or in the  bus shelter and slap charges of vagrancy on him. But they would take one look at his  leg ulcers and bring him back to the hospital. Dhondu would be back to his favorite cot at the end of the ward…

Dhondu was an excellent “short case” in the clinical examinations for the Masters. That’s how I met him for the first time. He knew everything about leg ulcers and the “trick” questions that were asked. “Watch out for the Professor, Doctor. He will ask you if there is any evidence of varicose veins.This External Examiner had come the last time too…He usually wants to know about complications of chronic ulcer. Don’t forget to mention that chronic ulcers can become cancerous” Sure enough, his tips were spot on and I cleared the Masters at the first attempt.

Deepak and I examined him. He had badly infected ulcers over both his legs. “Put him on Amoxicillin, vasodilators for what they are worth, and dressings daily.” Deepak nodded and noted down the orders in the treatment sheet. “Hey Boss” piped up Dhondu, “Please don’t use that Betadine will you? I am allergic to Iodine, I think” Dhondu knew quite a bit about his illness. “The fellow knows more surgery than a registrar” was Tatya Joshi’s opinion. He was right for once.

The next day, I was completing my morning rounds when suddenly I could hear Dhondu screaming at the top of his voice. Deepak and I hurried over to investigate. Dhondu was red in his face. He had a full bottle of saline in one hand. His other hand was clutching the collar of the neighboring patient, an ex-con who loved to bully Dhondu. “Give back my bundle or I will break this bottle on your head” Dhondu informed the ex-con. Sister G Eapen was already at the site of the altercation. “Dhanraj” she called out to the ex-con, drawing herself to her full height of five feet; “You should be ashamed of yourself, trying to bully Dhondu. Do you want me tell the Prof what you are up to?” Dhanraj sheepishly handed over a grimy baby blanket back to Dhondu. Dhondu grabbed the bundle and put it carefully under his pillow. The blanket and Dhondu were inseparable. It went with him to the radiology, the minor OR….just everywhere but the main OR.

Sister G Eapen was specially kind to Dhondu. Several times she would bring him some tasty food cooked by her. Dhondu would thank her with a toothless smile. However, the smile could not hide the deep sadness in his eyes. ” I Think the old crone is in love with the fellow” was Tatya’s opinion. One day I decided to ask Sister Eapen. It turned out that he had a job in a private company and had saved enough to buy a one room apartment. He had a son who he educated and  employed in the same job when he retired. His son had gotten the papers of the house transferred to his name and threw the old father out. Sister Eapen had no clue if Dhondu had any grandchildren

Dhondu was coming along nicely. His ulcers were healing. I told him that he could be discharged the next day. He looked troubled at the thought of going back to the shelter.

It was six in the morning. There was a frantic call from the ward. Dhondu had stopped breathing. The nurse thought that he was dead. I hurried to the ward. Dhondu lay immobile. He was quite dead. Must have died in his sleep…Probably a massive myocardial..His face looked peaceful. His bundle lay next to him…

I was curious. What was in the bundle that made it inseparable from the man? I opened it..A small photo fluttered to the floor…I picked it up. A smiling girl looked back at me from the photo. She was in a school uniform. I flipped the photo over…”To my dearest Ajoba (grandfather) with love” was scrawled across the back. I felt like a voyeur and hastily put back the photo and the bundle next to Dhondu…

The police cremated Dhondu the next week as the body had lain unclaimed in the morgue…….

 

Author: drshirahatti

I am a surgeon, specializing in Gastrointestinal Surgery...I have headed the Departments of GI surgery, General Surgery and Medical Education.....I also was the Dean of two large government hospitals in Mumbai.....I like reading about cultures and like to travel....

2 thoughts on “And I felt like a voyeur….”

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