The Hospital Room and Other Places To Die
by: Matthew Bu
I was sitting quietly in a beige Honda, gazing out the window where trees and autumn leaves flew by like comets bursting through the somber night sky. “We’re going to see your grandma at the hospital,” my mom said, “she’s unwell.” A memory flashed in my head, a memory of my grandma collapsing to the floor. When she woke up, she was in a daze, unable to speak properly. I shut my eyes trying to forget that terrible memory. I asked softly, “Will she live?” My mom stalled a bit. “No…it’s terminal,” she responded.
As I entered the room, the pungent smell of people silently waiting to die overcame my senses. The room was illuminated by a dim, humming light and the peeling walls were bleak white. Flower pots and get well cards cluttered the tops of cabinets. Out in front of us was a bed where my grandma lay. She had a bandana wrapped tightly around her head which hid her falling hair. Her complexion was fine, but she looked fatigued.
From my side, my mom rushed towards her, trying to comfort her, fixing her bed sheets, fluffing her pillow, massaging her body, all whilst crying within her sleeve. My mom started sobbing to my grandma in Korean. I didn’t want to get emotional and start tearing up too, so I quickly left the room and entered the hallway.
The terminal illness wing was barren, but I wondered — maybe it was inhabited with the ghosts of those who had died in this miserable place. I slouched down on a red chair located right beside the door. The hallway was plastered white just like the room, as if the hospital designers were trying to make this wing seem as if it was a pleasant, peaceful place, but I knew otherwise.
I tried to sleep, but I couldn’t help but overhear my mom’s dialogue with my grandma. “How are the nights here?” “I hate them…that delusional woman keeps talking to herself… It scares me.” I looked back into the room and saw my grandma pointing to a silhouette on a semi-transparent curtain that divided patients from each other.
There was a small, frail innocuous Indian woman lying in the bed behind the curtain. She had a bindi, fixed delicately amidst the middle of her forehead and her silver hair was pulled back tightly in a bun. No one was sitting in a chair beside her despite that it was visiting times. She started babbling in cryptic messages, waving her hands and showing emotion as if she were talking to someone there — but there was no one, just her fading shadow and the hospital air.
Something struck me when I saw her, however. Here lay a woman who was paralyzed, unable to do anything except talk and wave her hands, but she probably had aspirations, dreams, people to live for and people to care for. I thought about what her life was like. I envisioned her as a single mother, standing at a packed immigration center. Her two children were held within her arms and she was begging the immigration officer to let her enter Canada in hopes for a better future. When she arrived in the country, she opened up a small store to put food on the table, but funds were always lacking. The landlord was fed up with her ruses and lies, so she begged to her gods for help. Somehow she was able to send her children to a good university, but in return she was evicted from her apartment. She spent the next few years as a derelict on the streets; her hand, which was holding an empty cup, shook like a violent tremor as she begged people for spare change.
One day she suffered from a stroke, and when she woke up at the hospital, she received news of her terminal illness. So, since then, she would wake up in her bed, and continue to talk to the air while the knowledge that she would eventually end up die in this small hospital room slowly trickled down her mind. I thought about this story for a while. She didn’t have to die here. She could have married a rich mogul, living a life of abundance and pleasure, living a life of milk and honey, living a life of fine silks and glowing velvets, dying in a marble palace with a smile gleaming on her face. Or she could have peacefully passed away with her beautiful husband, children and grandchildren surrounding her bed; she had lived a long productive life where she achieved her dreams of teaching youth about Indian history and culture, or of becoming an iconic Bollywood actress, or maybe even becoming president of India.
She could have been a woman who sparked an Indian revolution for women’s rights. One day after gathering a group of female protestors for a women’s rights rally, she was shot through her skull. Her comrades would bury her a few days later with an Indian flag draped over her coffin. Soon after she would become the face behind this revolution, a face of freedom and equality. You couldn’t go one day without seeing her name graffitied outside of Indian slums or deteriorating brick walls. But here she lay, not in a marble palace, not in a bed surrounded by loved ones, not in a coffin beneath the ground while others fought for what she had fought for, but in a hospital room with no one watching over her.
I realized something then. All the decisions we make and how we handle what life throws at us ultimately decides our death, where and how it happens. How the Indian woman handled life and what decisions she made ultimately led her into this room. I hope she didn’t regret anything.
My mom and I stayed at the hospital for a few more hours. I spent my time playing on my phone and sleeping while my mom talked with my grandma. Eventually we said our goodbyes and we left the hospital. My mom and I came back a few days later to checkup on my grandma. I noticed that the bed where the Indian woman was in was now empty — my grandma said she had died the night before.
Matthew Bu is a grade 11 student at Upper Canada College, Toronto, Canada. He is active in his community and writes for his school paper.