The palliative care center had completed 15 years. I was helping them put together a commemorative issue. I went around, talking to some employees who had been with the center for 10 years or more.
This is what one of them told me, more or less in his words.
“I was in the ward during my rounds. I saw Ashok on his bed, raising a hand in greeting. He was preparing to get up, possibly to go to the toilet. He had started to walk again, without any help.
“I looked around, taking in what was happening. Everything appeared normal. I started walking towards the door. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ashok slowly making his way.
“Then I saw him fall. Just leaned forward and fell, right on his nose .
“The nurses rushed to him and so did I. We got him back on the bed. His nose was bleeding. He looked stunned but conscious. He looked at me when I called his name.
“I stayed with him for a while. Thankfully, apart from the nose, he appeared to be OK. The nurses brought him a pan. They didn’t want to risk him trying to walk again.
“After some time, he appeared to be falling off to sleep. So I gently let go of his hand that I had been holding.
“He woke up and held my hand tight. He wanted me to stay. He wanted to sit up. I helped him, but kept a hand across his shoulder, just in case.
“The bandage on his nose made it difficult to understand what he was saying. Whatever I could make out shocked me.
“He pointed to the spot where he had fallen and said, ‘I saw me die there. I was standing there when you picked me up and brought me to the bed. Then you called me, said my name. I saw it all. I died. Now, I am alive. How? Why?’
“I had no answer. I just told him to lie down and rest. I eased him down and then left.
“The nurse thought he was hallucinating. Maybe the fall and the blow to the head….
“I was not sure. I am still not sure. What do you think?”
I did not know what to think. The boss did not think the story merited publication.
Experiences at this center have taught me that death is just the next step as you take the long stairs of life, sometimes up, sometimes down.
Have you ever almost missed a step? You are absently climbing very familiar steps and then, suddenly, you panic for an instant, thinking you have missed the next step. You flail your hands, sure you will fall. Then you regain your footing, hearing your heart thud louder.
Did Ashok almost miss a step?