He really would not have had even the slimmest of chances. The speeding truck apparently mowed his little car down, leaving nothing behind except a mangled mass of metal that snuffed his life out and the crushed and twisted remnants of his cell phone from which the Police managed to retrieve the SIM card. Which was how his dear wife of more than 50 years came to receive the news of her husband’s death. A call that numbed her into a stunned state of shock. She told me that that they found the remains of his car just 20 minutes away from their home in Nandurgargh in Dhulia district.
He was so proud of his little car and had recently driven down all the way to Bombay to see his treating physician for his periodic follow up. Yes, he had survived Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia for over a dozen years, doing so well on the Magic Bullet and surmounted several odds during those years – the least of it being the bilateral knee replacement surgery he underwent a couple of years ago. In his early 70s, lightly built and only seemingly frail, he was already taking his first steps when I visited him in the Dadar hospital a couple of days after his surgery. Even now I can feel the way the blood rushed to my head and threatened to black me out as I felt his pain.
But he and his wife, herself a recently retired Matron from the local health centre in their town were champions throughout the procedure and I still can only marvel at how this elderly couple took such great and proud care of each other.
I still remember when I first them .He had just been diagnosed with cancer and the world had simply been pulled roughly from under their feet. She was still working and somehow managed to take the leave that would allow her to bring her husband to the best doctor in Bombay .
When she was told the only chance her husband had was the new medicine that had burst on the cancer scene as recently as a few months back she was determined to move heaven and earth to find out all she could about it.
Those early days in Bombay , she would tell me later , were the hardest. But she never gave up and like a tough and determined lioness fighting for her loved one she overcame obstacle after obstacle.
Since the medication was not yet in the market and cost the very earth, she was told it all depended on the company that was working on the drug. I remember her telling me how that name was etched in her mind and all day she wondered how she could get to them.
Providence she says brought her finally to me and the access programme into which he was eventually enrolled into but I do believe Providence received much help from the lady.
She was on a BEST bus on the busy roads of this alien city where she had to perforce spend these days running from the proverbial pillar to post. Gazing blindly outside at the busy city whizzing past her tired eyes , she says she suddenly saw the name of the company emblazoned on the walls of a building the double decker red bus was trundling by.
In a second she was up and gathering her bags and unmindful of anything, even the fact that she was on the way to collect a blood test report from the hospital, she simply jumped off the bus!!
She jumped off the bus and walked straight into the fortress like office of the multinational drug company and demanded to see the “boss – person in charge”. The shocked receptionist to this day never fails to recount this encounter. With a twinkle in her eye, she has countless times told me how the lady in the crumpled saree, holding bags in both her hands, stood in front of her, brooking no resistance. Struggling to wipe the perspiration of Bombay and the sweat of her exertions with a corner of her saree , she simply refused to budge. There was something about the lady, her demeanour and her cold determination to see the big man of the company. Her husband would die if she was not at this moment allowed to go up. I have always felt that it was equally her determination but in no small measure the compassion in the heart of the receptionist that made her call the assistant to the CEO and convey the demand!
I have no idea how it all fell into place and how she eventually managed to meet the busy top man, the country head of the company. The executive assistant who eventually met the wife and facilitated the meeting too still remembers the desperate woman who waited for hours in the foyer and after all these years , never fails to ask after her.
Love, grit, compassion, courage and the grace of the Universe which peopled the drug company with such humane individuals colluded to ensure that the lady got the audience she wanted with the company head and the drug still on trial that would provide the extension she so desperately needed to the life of her beloved husband.
And this was how they came one morning, some months later to meet me and he came to be enrolled as maybe one of the very first recipients of the access programme by now in place through which the Magic Bullet was made available to all deserving patients.
They called me Madam, always, till the very end but treated me like a daughter. No visit to Bombay went without them coming to see me and in all the years not one appointment with the doctor did they miss. Not his surgery, not her long struggle with an injured foot – not the torrential rains of the Bombay monsoons – not anything. And they would mark the dates of the patient support group meetings and without fail attend each one of them; no matter they had to make the road trip. The last time they came they lamented that they had not been able to attend one of the Annual gatherings.
I can never forget the happiness on their faces when at one such gathering , they got to meet friend and supporter of our cause Salman Khan and spent some happy moments chatting with him and as our senior most volunteer , cutting our 10th Anniversary cake with him .
My lasting regret will always remain that I never made the effort to go visit them in their home. Not in all the years I knew them and despite heartfelt and loving, repeated invitations sent with train timetables and a recent message telling me they had even modernised the bathroom for me .
The call one dreads most from a patient’s family came to me one morning last week and hearing about the cruel and needless manner in which this gentle and dear old man’s life was taken, has stilled my heart and left a very cold and chilling anger in there. Road traffic accidents caused by negligent, speeding and many times by drivers under the influence of alcohol are so needless, so cruel and so unfair.
We can fight everything, even cancer. Then why not this scourge?