Saturday, 14 September 2013

Two deaths in a day

Tuesday was a hard day.

In the morning - while our morning devotions were going on - ***Tanya died.  We have known Tanya for years.  And have watched her grow from a skinny 13 year old - to a skinny 18 year old - and die.

Tanya's story is almost to sad to tell.  Orphaned along with 3 brothers - she the only one with HIV - looked after the three, keeping house for them as they moved into adolescence and young adulthood.  Our teams met her when an uncle came and asked that she be put in a home of some sort.  Those don't exist anymore.  And with the uncle and other relatives washing their hands of caring for this family it was Tanya who cared even as she went funcionally blind.

In her anger and despair Tanya withdrew from our staff.  They would visit regularly, but her way of coping was to retreat into her shell.  Things did not get easier as she grew weaker and stopped taking her medicines regularly.

The last year saw us admit Tanya a number of times for in-patient care.  She should have died 8 months ago - but for the loving care that our nurses gave her at the JSK centre.  Many people loved Tanya.  She usually did not show much love in return.  Her brothers came and went.  When she became a bit better she would want to go home.  And then our team would meet her in her shack, lying in her filth.  Her brothers dealt with things in their own way - but staying out of the home for most of the day.

It would be nice to say that Tanya's last few weeks were ones of joy.  They were not.  Death is cruel and hard.

But we do know that Tanya received a lot of love.  Though she hardly responded, our staff cared for her.  They bathed her.  Massaged her.  Church volunteers came and gave home-cooked food.  On her final day Sheba fed her soup and sang with her.  Tanya received a massage while she sat curled up - a living skeleton - her glassy eyes staring forward.

When she died her brothers came for the body.  They took it away without a word of thanks.

Farewell sweet princess.  Your life here was short and full of sorrow.  But we know we will meet you on the other side.  And then we will have the conversation that never happened here.

Later in the day a church from Mumbai's western suburbs brought one of their members to us.

Munni had been admitted at the government TB hospital in south Mumbai.  It is a hellish place. She was not doing well and so they asked whether she could be admitted at JSK.  We agreed and they brought her in an ambulance to us.

Later that evening Munni developed gasping.  We tried hard, but her life slipped away.  Her husband Bhaskar was numb.  He had never been tested for HIV.  During that day we counselled and tested him - and found out the next morning that Bhaskar too was HIV positive.

But by the next morning his wife Munni was dead.  She died at 10.30 PM on Tuesday.  Sheba went over to sign the death certificate.  One of the church leaders came in the middle of the night to be with Bhaskar.  Now what to do with the body?  We linked the pastor with a senior pastor in Mumbai who was on a cemetery committee.  He agreed to facilitate her burial in a Christian cemetery.

I met with the young pastor the next day.  He himself had been picked off the streets and helped by a group of people who loved God.  After working with them for some years, he has been groomed by his local church and now is helping people with HIV through his church.  He was wearing a crisp white khadi shirt.  He and his fellow leader husbanded Munni's husband.  They arranged for the undertaker.  The body was taken down to the small hearse.  We prayed and off they went.

The church was grateful that Munni had died with us.  She had been loved too.  By the church members and our staff.  She died in peace.  In a clean place, well away from misery of the government hospital.

We are running on a skeleton staff.  Our single trained nurse had terrible pain on Thursday.  A mild appendicitis?  Sheba's major surgery last month means that she is working through weakness - a wounded healer.  We are all stretched.  Is there an end to all of this?  With so few staff to run our place, we are hardly able to admit folks.  And then when they come they die.  We know that it will happen.  We know that our efforts are not in vain.  We know that eternity stretches before us - and that we have the privilege of being with people who are at the very edge of time.

But when we lose two people in a day it is hard.  One - a very long and drawn out saga of care from us and neglect from everyone else.  An end which almost feels like a relief.  The other a person totally new to us - with only a few hours of care before she too breathed her last on the same day.

Are Tanya and Munni talking together?  Exchanging notes about their last hours in this life?  Or lost in a swirl of beauty?

Time will tell.

Two deaths in a day.  Two lives-as-we-know-it ending with us.  Two-lives-as-we-hope-for beginning.

We remain behind.  With the memories. And with the hope.  And tears we have not shed.

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