Last week, Sunday evening, as I was playing the guitar at the Gospel meeting, I saw a man sitting in the back row, wearing the blue uniform that marked him as a person who is admitted at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Care Centre.
This evening he was not there. His relatives were. Lots of them. At the end of the meeting, after putting the chairs away, I came into the hall. From the other end I saw two men bearing a stretcher. On it was a white-shrouded body.
The man and the body were the same: Basil.
Last week I had a conversation with Basil (not his real name of course). He said that he was being treated for brain TB. He seemed in good spirits. Today I could not speak with him. The breath of life had departed. The body was being taken away.
Basil is a man who has died of HIV. One more silent statistic. One more life that has succumbed to one of the grimmest reapers of our age.
Over the past 2 months we have been treating a number of very sick people with HIV at the Jeevan Sahara Kendra Care Centre. Most have been discharged in a better condition than they arrived at our center. Our doctors and nurses have worked hard to treat what is treatable - and to provide care when that is not possible. We are so grateful for this labour of love.
Basil's life ended this afternoon. I was taking a nap when Sheba got the call. I woke up to have the kids tell me that Sheba had left for the centre because a man had died.
Basil had been treated at government hospitals. At one of them they detected a node in his brain. Thinking it cancerous they did brain surgery. It wasn't. It was tubercular. It seems mind-boggling that a surgery should have been done on an HIV positive man when TB is always a very clear and present reality.
After the surgery he was told to stop the TB medications because he was not tolerating them well. A few weeks later he went back to the hospital for his follow-up. The examing doctor was aghast that Basil had stopped his TB treatment and shouted at Basil's wife for this. When she told the doctor that she was only following the orders that his hospital had given, he lost his temper completely and shouted at her to 'get this mad-man away from here.'
Basil had been taken to a number of hospitals and the largest hospice in Mumbai. His family finally brought him to us. We had high hopes that he would walk home. He did not.
Basil's last week was not easy. On Tuesday he refused to take medicines. He broke a blood pressure monitor. He was not the 'ideal patient.'
But then dying is not an easy road.
As the week ended, Basil was clearly nearing the end of his life. Sheba sat with his wife and teen-aged daughter and told them to call their relatives. They did. The relatives came. When Basil died this afternoon he was not alone. He was loved and cared for. His final hours were peaceful. The family was very grateful for the care that Basil had received at JSK.
How we wish that every person we care for will walk home happy. Doesn't happen.
As Dr. Bob Carter from Kijabe, Kenya told us a few months ago: when we are doing curative care we want to "add days to life," and when we are doing palliative care we want to "add life to days." For Basil that switch took place this week. And now his life is over.
With the door to Basil's room still open, and his empty bed in the background, I met briefly with our nurses to thank them for their care and then said a short prayer for them.
We trust that we will meet Basil in eternity. Where there are no tears anymore.
Our lives are fleeting shadows. What is even 100 years compared to the vast expanse of infinity? What hope we have to be safe in the arms of Jesus.
These are my thoughts as the rains continue to lash down outside in the darkness of the night.
Photo taken by Jolly Thomas yesterday at a cemetary in Pune