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TILL MY LAST BREATH DURJOY DATTA PDF

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When can I go? Did you tell my parents? Did you? What the fuck is going on? She nodded to his questions unthinkingly, and told him the doctor would see him in a little while. He swore at her. In Hindi. Cursing came as second nature to him … His sentences often started and ended with abuses, most of which had been improvised and perfected over the course of years that had passed by. The first time he had hurled abuse was when he was in the eighth standard.

Not too clever, but ever since that day, bhenchod became a way of life. It replaced emotions, feelings and entire situations, depending on how it was being said by him. He had no visitors. He had no friends really. In the four years and the few extra months he had spent in the college, he had made drinking buddies, smoking buddies, getting- fucked-upwith buddies, but none who would come to see him in the hospital.

Had it been six months before, some of them might have come. But now everyone who had graduated with him was either working or waiting for their offer letters.

So days before college ended, he rented a flat just outside college and started to live like he was still studying—in his fifth year of engineering. Dushyant was about to doze off when a doctor—presumably in his mid-thirties— entered the room. I am just okay. When can I fucking go now?

Are you fucking kidding me? You have the wrong patient, Doctor. I came here yesterday. Is everyone here an incompetent fool? Get me out of these things! And confusion. Well, these are common symptoms for hepatic encephalopathy. You have every symptom in the book.

I have what? And three days back, you had a seizure and passed out. And the confusion was not a symptom of the hepatic whatever he had, but what the doctor had just said. Not unless you have to undergo some drastic medical procedure which requires them to be around. I have some other patients to look into, who are not killing themselves.

I will check on you later today. Hepatic encephalopathy is a very lazy disease—somnolence and acting stupid being the main symptoms. You have already done with being stupid, so I guess there is just one left. Go, sleep. Frantically, Dushyant called his friend to confirm if what the doctor had said was true. It was. This is seriously fucked up, he thought. A few search results popped up and he read through them hurriedly.

Combing through the labyrinth of medical words and terminologies, he knew where his problem came from—his excessive drinking. He was right, but he was into all kinds of stuff and the more he read up on the disease the more he realized that he was at fault.

A few sentences stood out and he lay there breathing heavily and cursing everything that he had ingested in the last five years, but still wanting some more of it at that moment.

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Ideally, he would have loved a couple of large shots of vodka mixed with a few shots, big shots, of tequila. If worst came to worst, a cigarette. Dushyant had never been an addict, and unlike addicts who thought they could kick the habit any time, he could actually do so. Or so he thought. Soon, sleep took over and he closed his eyes, wondering if he would wake up again. What he had read circled his head for the entire time that he slept.

Those with severe encephalopathy stages 3 and 4 are at risk of obstructing their airway due to decreased protective reflexes such as the gag reflex. This can lead to respiratory arrest. Intubation of the airway is often necessary to prevent life-threatening complications e. Are they going to cut my throat open? If encephalopathy develops in acute liver failure, it indicates that a liver transplant may be required. Where would I get that! Even in his sleep, he wanted to get hammered.

He walked the hallways of GKL Hospital with a confidence not seen in doctors three decades older and much wiser. His peers said he was arrogant because he belonged to a family of remarkable doctors and extraordinary businessmen. He just knew he was that good.

Had he been one, he would have worked in the chain of hospitals his father had amassed in the last twenty years. He would have been sitting pretty in a corner office with a few brilliant doctors working under him, doing whatever he would have asked them to.

He had earned every bit of the reputation that he had got himself in the last three years. His sincere good looks—he stood at six feet, had short hair and wore expensive rimless spectacles—and savage drive to succeed had helped. Guys like him make their own lives hell and come here with diseases which I have no intentions to diagnose or treat. He was, after all, a rare genius. A guy who cracks a competitive exam to a good engineering college only to drink and smoke himself to death.

Should he live? Or should the people who die on the streets be given that chance? Did your parents tell you what not to do? And when did that stop? When you got through medical school in Delhi and they had no idea what you were studying and how much you should score? The hospital mails them details of every case I work on here and they keep telling me what to do.

The patient coughs up blood, my dad calls; a seizure, my mom calls; and someone slips into a coma, my sister calls! The worst part is—they are never right! Pretty standard case. The good thing is that the girl is like you, only younger. She got admitted into medical school last year, found something wrong with her hands and diagnosed it herself.

Anyway, he always felt something was wrong with Zarah. She was way too reserved for the way she looked. At five feet seven, she towered above even a few male doctors. Neither did her chocolate-coloured exotic skin, which was smooth and velvety.

Maybe Brazil. Or Chile. Or Uruguay. Some place not India. Usually, the prettier female doctors were outspoken; Zarah, on the other hand, was reserved. It was intriguing. Maybe she was a perfect case for his mother, the acclaimed psychiatrist. We will admit her to the hospital in a day or two. Age He had expected it.

When he had first heard about the case, he had felt the same thing. She is just nineteen. Have you heard about Stephen Hawking? He was diagnosed at the age of twenty-one. Doctors said he had three years. It has been forty years since then. His disease was progressing slowly. She was diagnosed one year back and she might not make it through the next three months. There is no cure, right? I am on the research panel trying to find one. Clearly, Zarah was stunned and her face contorted to signify the pity she felt for the nineteen-year-old dying girl.

Zarah had studied to be in the noble profession and save lives and get people healthy, but she never really had the heart to overlook the pain of sick people in the first place. It reminded her of her own angst. She felt sorry for Pihu, and for the bastard who lay in the room with a damaged liver.

Her lips curved into an embarrassed smile. She looked around and hoped nobody had seen it. Examinations were around the corner and everyone was stressed out and high on caffeine. Pihu was high on anticipation. She had finished the course. Pihu had smiled, shaken hands and hugged. She knew it was just the beginning. School never offered her the opportunity to bury herself in course books the way she had always wanted to.

The course was never a challenge. The entrance examinations were a necessary evil. She knew she would sail through. When news broke out in her hometown that her AIR All India Rank was third, cunning pot-bellied owners of coaching institutes had flocked to her place, wanting her to advertise their highly qualified staff and fully airconditioned classrooms with a picture of their most illustrious student—Pihu Malhotra.

A few days later, she was in the local newspapers. Hers had just taken root. These were the first set of exams in her college. She had the book Human Anatomy open in front of her. She had read it twice. She itched to read something else. Her eyes had been on the book on pathology lying on the side. A second-year student was sleeping on it.

You spent all the time with us. When did you get the time? Pihu knew that. Venugopal and Pihu were destined to be friends after the first roll call in their class of students. Venugopal where P stood for something unpronounceable for north Indians.

Kind of what it means for two engineering students to have the first peg of whisky together. Other than that, they were very similar. Middle-class families, dads in government service, mothers as housewives and CBSE toppers of their own regions. In a parallel universe where north and south Indians got along, it was a match made in heaven.

In the past three months, they had become the best of friends. They never kept anything from each other. Simple people with simple desires. They had nothing to hide.

They had never partied, never smoked, never drank. Neither of them had stayed out of their houses after eight. They never felt the need to. Which ones? General Pharmacology. A few others. Why would you? Ever since the time I was a little kid. At first, I thought I liked the candy my paediatrician gave me! But slowly, it became an obsession. I used to fake illnesses as a kid so I could go to the clinic and hear the doctor talk about various medicines and cures. You will be a great doctor.

You could have taught me. I am struggling here. Pihu always thought of Venugopal as a sweet, well-mannered guy. He was from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and barely spoke any Hindi. Pihu had spent the first few weeks forcing him to talk in Hindi and laughing her head off.

Somewhere between the lectures on human lungs and lymph nodes, Pihu knew she had found a friend for life. Their bond strengthened over countless meals of butter chicken and shitty sambar, and arguments about which tasted better.

Fear clouded her mind. A million possibilities battled each other and she cried. It stems from the paranoia one suffers from after obsessing over different symptoms throughout the day. She had left the examination hall thirty minutes before the scheduled time. She knew all the answers. She had wanted to write them.

The pen was in her hand, and the answers in her head. But her hands had cramped. There was something wrong with her hands. She had tried moving her hand in vain. After struggling with intermittent pain and the lack of sensation for half an hour, she had started to write. She had written three beautiful answers when the pain and the lack of sensation came back.

She had tears in her eyes. Every page from every medical book she had read came rushing back to her mind. Her head hurt. Tears streamed down her face. Half an hour before the exam ended, she left the hall, tears in her eyes and strange cramps in both her hands. Venugopal had been calling her for quite some time now. Pihu had disconnected all calls till she asked him to join her in the library.

You did well, right? Everything you taught me was perfect! It was like you knew the questions beforehand. You are teaching me everything from now on! What happened? Were you nervous? I knew the answers. The librarian asked them to be silent.

Venugopal looked puzzled. He took her hand in his palms and applied pressure at a few points. He asked her if she had any sensation in her hand. She picked up a pencil from her neatly arranged geometry box.

She tried to write her name on the piece of paper in front of her. Venugopal watched in horror as she scribbled. It was hardly legible. It looked like she was using the wrong hand. She cried. It could be something as simple as Vitamin C deficiency. There are cases reported where Vitamin C deficiency causes paralysis. She looked at her hand. Pale and useless. Stop being so negative! Maybe Venugopal is right. All the possible causes for the symptom started to shadow her mind.

She was freaking out, her tears were uncontrollable. What was it? Nerve injury? Spina bifida? Multiple sclerosis? All of a sudden, it looked as if she could have every disease she had read about till now. The deadlier the disease, the more convinced she was about its possibility. Sleep evaded her that night as she looked up every possible cause of her problem. By next morning, she had a list of eighty-nine possible causes. She scheduled herself for a plethora of blood tests the next day.

Venugopal had a horrendous next exam. They narrowed it down to twenty types of blood tests and visited a pathology lab at night, rather late for them. Pihu waited for him outside his examination hall the next day with her blood test results in hand.

Her blood work was clean, eliminating eighty-eight possible causes. There were no tests left to be done. Go out, Venu! The exams just got over. Go out and party with the guys.

You have to be positive. I am sure of what I have, Venu. See a doctor. She knew he was going through denial. A certain part of her was going through the same. Except for this call, she had not stopped crying since the time she discovered what she was afflicted with. She had cursed the unfair balance of nature. What she had was not something she deserved. She had cried and pored over the reports again and again, hoping there would be a mistake. She wished she was wrong in her self-diagnosis.

She could be. Her eyes watered up. She heard the flipping of papers from the other side. The signal is cracking up. I hope I am wrong about this. She sighed. The tears returned and they never stopped during the three hours it took for her to reach her home from the college hostel. All her dreams washed away in an instant. Once home, she stood in front of her parents, complaining about the strange sensations in her right arm. Her mother started to ask her about the examinations.

Dad asked her if she was eating right. It took her an hour to make them take the cramps and the loss of sensation in her hand seriously. Her mom suggested stress. Dad suggested infection. She insisted on seeing a doctor. Her dad smiled at the irony. Pihu knew what he was thinking about. He had imagined her as a doctor. Something that Pihu knew would never happen. I hope I am wrong, she sighed.

On the way to the hospital, she tried to be her chirpy self, even though all she wanted to do was cry. Maybe she was wrong. The doctor in the hospital asked her a few questions and prescribed her some blood tests. Back home, she fished out every research paper and every document ever written about the disease. Looking through various reports she found a research team in a hospital in Delhi which specialized in stem cell research and developing experimental new drugs for the disease.

She found the email ID of one of the doctors on the team— Arman Kashyap, supposedly a genius, and shot across an email giving him the details of her disease. She was desperate.

That night, when she was done reading about her disease and had cried enough to make herself tired, Venugopal called again. He had been texting her constantly.

Pihu knew for sure he had been doing some reading on the disease too. Did he order all the blood tests? Did he guess anything? Any alternative causes?

Durjoy Datta

Differential diagnosis? I know they will be clean. We did the tests just once. And these government pathological labs make mistakes all the time. Where did you go?

Apex Hospital? He had checked and rechecked the reports; Pihu was sure of that. She had promised herself that she would be strong and not cry. She had read about the suffering of people who had the same disease as hers, and she felt terrible. Having read horrendous accounts of how patients lose control of their body as it slowly rots away, she started to question the fairness of it all. Why me? Of all people! She cursed the mirror in front of her for it was lying. Her insides were rotting away, slowly, bit by bit.

You know that! She was alone in this. She had to get used to it. Things only became worse the next morning. Her denial had given way to acceptance, and the acceptance of her condition depressed her. A little later, they were in the car, negotiating the early-morning traffic to the hospital.

Pihu sat on the back seat, wondering if the doctor had any inkling of what was wrong with her. She hoped he would. The anticipation of the pain her parents would go through was getting unbearable. He was smiling. Pihu remained expressionless as she looked at all the branded merchandise—pens, diaries, clocks and notepads—from the big pharmaceutical companies.

Her father absent-mindedly played with a plastic model of the human brain. Difficulty in breathing? I would have made such a good doctor. She tried not to buckle and weep. Her parents were still distracted. She felt sorry for them. The doctor looked at her parents and started to ask them about their families.

They are still alive? She knew he was yet to make any sense of it. But he had a hunch about what Pihu had. Nothing major. Pihu smiled back at him. Does he know? Why is he smiling? She is a medical student, you know. Lots of pressure, big books, late nights, you know? She is a brilliant student, topped the region in her board examinations.

She wants to be a surgeon. The doctor nodded approvingly. I am dying. It took the doctor three hours, a battery of tests and consultations with other doctors to come to the conclusion Pihu had reached days before.

She had noticed the expressions of shock on their faces while her doctor discussed the case with other doctors in her presence. Some of them even called their counterparts in other hospitals for a second opinion. She felt sorry for the doctor, too. Why should he be a part of the gloom that was about to engulf her family? First year, Maulana Azad.

I did the tests myself. I know there is no genetic history. I know there is no cure. I know that I am slowly dying. I could be gone this year or the next. But I will die eventually. I have read all there is to read about the disease.

I will not be able to eat on my own, go to the bathroom or even breathe. It looked like it could never happen to her. As she finally described her own death to the doctor, she came to terms with it.

The news finally sank in. In that moment, all her dreams, her aspirations, her visions of herself as a doctor melted away and the morose faces of her parents stared back at her. Her eyes glazed over and she resolved to not weep. There is some mistake! I have done nothing to deserve this. I am perfectly healthy! Her heart cried out loud. They will give me a few months more.

A few days more of breathing on my own. I have read all about it. She had to be ready for what was coming next. ALS is a cruel disease. It starts with the patient becoming clumsy.

You drop things, get tired easily, and the sensations in your limbs keep getting dimmer till paralysis sets in. You will be on crutches … before the wheelchair comes in. You will be paralysed and bedridden. There will be tubes running in and out of your body to help you eat, breathe and defecate. Machines will keep you alive. I can give you some books you can read about people who have fought the disease. She tried to stifle her sobs the best she could.

Never had she thought her parents would outlive her. What greater misfortune can there be for a parent? She is seven. Pihu wondered if he was praying for them to be wrong. She wondered how many death sentences the forty-year-old man had given before hers. The watery eyes of the doctor told her that he was still not used to it. Pihu took one too. The wails of her mother and silent groans of her father already resonated in her head and she felt dizzy. Their faces fell as if they knew what the middle-aged doctor was about to tell them.

She went and sat next to her mom and held her hand. The doctor started to explain. The world blocked out. Her mind was blank. The denial of her parents, their shouts, their screams, their accusations against the incompetent doctor and the irresponsible hospital, their claims of their daughter being perfectly healthy —nothing registered in her brain.

She had just one image seared on her retina. She was going to die, motionless on a hospital bed with a tube cut into her throat. The news of Dushyant lying unconscious for three days had just reached her. When they were dating, she was used to going to the hospital, picking him up and cleaning up his shit. But the last such call was two years back.

Today, she had suppressed the impulse to drop everything and visit him. Do I want to see him? Two years had passed since the last time they had talked. Kajal dialled the number. Can I talk to the doctor of a patient admitted there? The name is Dushyant Roy. The waiting sound piped up. This is Zarah Mirza.

It was none other than the swearing, belligerent, infamous, drunkard of a senior with a penchant for getting into trouble—Dushyant Roy. Forever began on the day Kajal was sitting idly in the library, looking blankly outside the window … Kajal looked at the open grounds of Delhi Technological University and felt disconnected.

Two years had passed since she had started studying electronics engineering and felt more disillusioned with every day that passed. While many had resigned themselves to their fate as engineers for life, Kajal still believed she would be something more. At least she hoped. People with money can always do that— hope, change careers, do crazy expensive things, and call themselves travellers after buying travel packages to posh European countries and staying in beautiful resorts.

Though Kajal had never been that type; she was just directionless. Her latest direction was to turn to writing. She had always been a voracious reader.

Naipaul, she had read it all. She picked out a corner in the library and started to read from the page she had folded the day before. It was the latest book by Nicholas Sparks. She turned around to see the guy who had been following her around college for the last few days, standing just over her shoulder.

Her first feeling was of revulsion. She imagined an Indian Vin Diesel. Not her type; she liked leaner men. Like Edward Norton.

Like Imran Khan. Maybe a little darker. Kajal hesitated and he took the seat before she could respond to the question. Rude, she thought. She liked that. The girl dies and everyone cries. All his books are the same book. She started reading, mindlessly. She forgot which paragraph she was on. That is why I read all of them. Well, initially I just read one because I saw you reading it and thought we would have something to talk about. He nodded approvingly. Dushyant had always been more interested in books that took him beyond the realm of the obvious.

A memoir of a serial killer. An out-of-print trilogy about a deranged doctor. And more. Her eyes roved around nervously as an uneasy silence hung between them. He looked sturdy, the veins in his forearms were consistently thick and they disappeared inside his Tshirt, which fit him snuggly.

He was undeniably muscular. He could have shaved, at least! He retracted it, blushing. She could tell he was nervous. His legs shook. Kajal started reading again. The same paragraph, over and over. Dushyant sat there looking at her, and at his palms, rubbing them together, looking here and there, shifting his feet and fidgeting with his phone. Or … really sweet? Dushyant had turned beetroot red.

Instead, he gazed at his own weathered palms. He looked vulnerable, embarrassed and needy. Maybe even a little high. Kajal let a little smile slip. Dushyant caught that and blushed a little more.

Two years? Dushyant smiled, and his eyes lit up like the fourth of July. Quite frankly, his choice in books scared her. They dated for eight months. They had come a long way from the time they had first met in the library and had talked about books, his waning obsession with weight training, her growing dissatisfaction with her career choice, his problems with his parents, her loving sisters, and last but not the least, his enduring fixation with her.

Dushyant was never the perfect boyfriend. Her friends hated him with all their heart, but not as much as her sisters.

One could imagine a news presenter for an idea of what she looked like. Her clothes, understated, were always perfectly matched.

She aimed to soothe. Her fair skin, the defined nose and the confident walk meant business. Dushyant was abrasive. He was quarrelsome. He was possessive. It took Kajal one month to realize that Dushyant was beyond obsessive, almost to the point of being schizophrenic. He drank too much, he smoked too much, and he loved her too much. He had waited two years to tell her he loved her.

He swore he would spend a lifetime doing it. Sometimes, it was sweet. It looked to her like he cared; on other occasions, she was scared. Not scared that they would break up and never see each other again, but scared of what he would do to her. At first, Kajal used to like the little tabs Dushyant kept on her. He used to get jealous at the mention of her ex-boyfriends, fume at her for spending more time with her friends, chide her for staying out till late, and ask her to not to drink in his absence.

Kajal found it thoughtful. Dushyant made her feel wanted. He never let go of her hand, hugged her whenever she needed it, and made love to her like no one else had. Kajal felt like she was enveloped in a protective bubble wrap, something that would absorb anything with the potential to harm her. But soon, the bubble wrap would become suffocating. Kajal loved Dushyant with whatever she had. When they lay on the open grounds of their college late in the evening, his rough, gym-scarred fingers wrapped around hers, she felt complete.

As evenings turned into nights, nights into days, and days back into evenings, their love for each other grew. Dushyant always said Kajal had none. Kajal always smiled, even when she felt pushed to the edge by her control-freak boyfriend. He had done that many times since the first occasion, but Kajal still felt the chills run down her spine like the first time.

But he was the one she would remember forever; she was sure of that. His touch, the things he said in her ear whenever they were in the back alley of the dark library, the lingering feeling of his hands on her bare stomach, his loving fingers on her creamy inner thighs, the wet, gentle touch of his tongue on her ears … she would never get over them.

The conviction in his voice was very unsettling; it often made her wonder what would happen if, God forbid, they ever broke up. It will take time. Kajal never liked to talk about his drinking problem. She loved him, so she had to. But she had had enough. The steroids he took as bodybuilding supplements, the marijuana, the never-ending cigarettes … his addictions kept piling up.

I hope you understand that. I have nothing to gain out of restricting you from your addictions. I will stop smoking. I am addicted to my cigarettes.

It sounds fair to me. I have never pointed my finger at that. I never call her anyway. But you do call Varun. There are times you put my call on hold to pick up his. Sometimes you talk till the dead of night or early morning. What do I make of all this? If you need more friends, why not someone else? Why do you have to be friends with your ex-boyfriend, of all people?

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I have told you a million times that there is nothing between us. She thought about all the times Dushyant had got drunk and harped on about how he hated Varun with every cell in his body. Kajal knew he did. He is a friend. How can I just stop talking to him? He dumped you. He was dating someone else while he was still dating you. How could he do that to you? The movie ended and they exited the movie hall. You spent days crying for him.

I felt alone and lonely. Not because I missed him as a boyfriend but because I missed him as a friend. I had no one to go to. How does that work? You have a boyfriend. The waiter promptly rushed towards them and Dushyant swatted him away rudely. The shocked waiter lingered on. Believe me. He is just a friend. I love you and nothing changes that. I am fine.

(PDF) Till the Last Breath - Durjoy Datta | Mis Khan - cittadelmonte.info

You talk to him, you sleep with him. The rest of the evening, he was rude to her. Dushyant was rough with her that night. There were no intermittent, passionate love-yous exchanged during the course. Six of his friends in his cramped one-room apartment—a fiveminute walk from college—and a few bottles of alcohol, some weed, nail-polish remover and just about everything which could get them fucked up. The evening had started with casual banter about college professors, the new kids who had joined the college, girls and pornography.

A few cell phone videos of girls bathing naked were transferred over Bluetooth amongst them. A little later the bottles had been popped open. Dushyant—who had graduated just a few months back—was mentor to these kids. He knew the exact proportions for deathly cocktails and the people who would have a steady supply of highly potent weed even during a nuclear holocaust.

He knew how to get out of trouble. But more than that, he knew how to get into trouble. Like he had the night before, when he passed out only to wake up in a hospital bed. He waited restlessly for the nurse to come in and tell him what the hell was going on. I need to get the fuck out of here, he thought. On other occasions, he would just jerk off the needles that punctured his hand and walk right out of the ward, but there were too many of them this time and he wanted to know what was wrong, if anything.

He was not scared, just concerned if it was serious enough for his mother to start crying and his father to start shouting at him for being irresponsible, disgraceful and a blot on the family name.

What family name? He is a bloody head-clerk at the MCD, he said to himself. He never got the flawed definitions of honour and family name. His head hurt and he thought he could do without the nonsense his parents always put him through. While he wallowed in self-pity and cursed the hospital, the door opened and a girl— short and fair—entered the room. She had big eyes—like the schoolgirls in Japanese cartoons—and looked like a confused kid in a candy shop with gold coins in both her palms, not knowing what to buy.

But instead, her palms were clasped around the handlebars of her crutches. Her legs buckled at the knees and seemed to have no strength at all to bear the weight of her tiny five-foot-two frame.

But you know, I could have been a doctor. And then pulled it away. You should get a second opinion. Not a long wait, just two and half hours! Hope to see you again. I might pick this room. I am here for some tests, but they need to admit me for a little bit. Pihu just smiled and walked slowly towards the exit. I need to get the fuck out of here, he said to himself. It was four. The nurse had come and drawn some blood and given him zero answers.

Why am I here? When can I go? Did you tell my parents? Did you? What the fuck is going on? She nodded to his questions unthinkingly, and told him the doctor would see him in a little while. He swore at her. In Hindi. Cursing came as second nature to him … His sentences often started and ended with abuses, most of which had been improvised and perfected over the course of years that had passed by.

The first time he had hurled abuse was when he was in the eighth standard. Not too clever, but ever since that day, bhenchod became a way of life. It replaced emotions, feelings and entire situations, depending on how it was being said by him.

He had no visitors. He had no friends really. In the four years and the few extra months he had spent in the college, he had made drinking buddies, smoking buddies, getting- fucked-upwith buddies, but none who would come to see him in the hospital. Had it been six months before, some of them might have come. But now everyone who had graduated with him was either working or waiting for their offer letters.

So days before college ended, he rented a flat just outside college and started to live like he was still studying—in his fifth year of engineering. Dushyant was about to doze off when a doctor—presumably in his mid-thirties— entered the room.

I am just okay. When can I fucking go now? Are you fucking kidding me? You have the wrong patient, Doctor. I came here yesterday. Is everyone here an incompetent fool? Get me out of these things!

And confusion. Well, these are common symptoms for hepatic encephalopathy. You have every symptom in the book. I have what? And three days back, you had a seizure and passed out. And the confusion was not a symptom of the hepatic whatever he had, but what the doctor had just said. Not unless you have to undergo some drastic medical procedure which requires them to be around.

I have some other patients to look into, who are not killing themselves. I will check on you later today. Hepatic encephalopathy is a very lazy disease—somnolence and acting stupid being the main symptoms. You have already done with being stupid, so I guess there is just one left. Go, sleep. Frantically, Dushyant called his friend to confirm if what the doctor had said was true.

It was. This is seriously fucked up, he thought. A few search results popped up and he read through them hurriedly. Combing through the labyrinth of medical words and terminologies, he knew where his problem came from—his excessive drinking. He was right, but he was into all kinds of stuff and the more he read up on the disease the more he realized that he was at fault. A few sentences stood out and he lay there breathing heavily and cursing everything that he had ingested in the last five years, but still wanting some more of it at that moment.

Ideally, he would have loved a couple of large shots of vodka mixed with a few shots, big shots, of tequila. If worst came to worst, a cigarette. Dushyant had never been an addict, and unlike addicts who thought they could kick the habit any time, he could actually do so. Or so he thought. Soon, sleep took over and he closed his eyes, wondering if he would wake up again.

What he had read circled his head for the entire time that he slept. Those with severe encephalopathy stages 3 and 4 are at risk of obstructing their airway due to decreased protective reflexes such as the gag reflex.

This can lead to respiratory arrest. Intubation of the airway is often necessary to prevent life-threatening complications e. Are they going to cut my throat open? If encephalopathy develops in acute liver failure, it indicates that a liver transplant may be required. Where would I get that! Even in his sleep, he wanted to get hammered. He walked the hallways of GKL Hospital with a confidence not seen in doctors three decades older and much wiser. His peers said he was arrogant because he belonged to a family of remarkable doctors and extraordinary businessmen.

He just knew he was that good. Had he been one, he would have worked in the chain of hospitals his father had amassed in the last twenty years.

He would have been sitting pretty in a corner office with a few brilliant doctors working under him, doing whatever he would have asked them to. He had earned every bit of the reputation that he had got himself in the last three years. His sincere good looks—he stood at six feet, had short hair and wore expensive rimless spectacles—and savage drive to succeed had helped. Guys like him make their own lives hell and come here with diseases which I have no intentions to diagnose or treat.

He was, after all, a rare genius. A guy who cracks a competitive exam to a good engineering college only to drink and smoke himself to death. Should he live? Or should the people who die on the streets be given that chance?

Did your parents tell you what not to do? And when did that stop?

When you got through medical school in Delhi and they had no idea what you were studying and how much you should score? The hospital mails them details of every case I work on here and they keep telling me what to do. The patient coughs up blood, my dad calls; a seizure, my mom calls; and someone slips into a coma, my sister calls!

The worst part is—they are never right! Pretty standard case. The good thing is that the girl is like you, only younger. She got admitted into medical school last year, found something wrong with her hands and diagnosed it herself. Anyway, he always felt something was wrong with Zarah. She was way too reserved for the way she looked. At five feet seven, she towered above even a few male doctors. Neither did her chocolate-coloured exotic skin, which was smooth and velvety.

Maybe Brazil. Or Chile. Or Uruguay. Some place not India. Usually, the prettier female doctors were outspoken; Zarah, on the other hand, was reserved. It was intriguing. Maybe she was a perfect case for his mother, the acclaimed psychiatrist. We will admit her to the hospital in a day or two. Age He had expected it. When he had first heard about the case, he had felt the same thing.

She is just nineteen. Have you heard about Stephen Hawking? He was diagnosed at the age of twenty-one. Doctors said he had three years. It has been forty years since then. His disease was progressing slowly. She was diagnosed one year back and she might not make it through the next three months. There is no cure, right?

I am on the research panel trying to find one. Clearly, Zarah was stunned and her face contorted to signify the pity she felt for the nineteen-year-old dying girl. Zarah had studied to be in the noble profession and save lives and get people healthy, but she never really had the heart to overlook the pain of sick people in the first place. It reminded her of her own angst.

She felt sorry for Pihu, and for the bastard who lay in the room with a damaged liver. Her lips curved into an embarrassed smile. She looked around and hoped nobody had seen it. Examinations were around the corner and everyone was stressed out and high on caffeine. Pihu was high on anticipation. She had finished the course. Pihu had smiled, shaken hands and hugged. She knew it was just the beginning.

School never offered her the opportunity to bury herself in course books the way she had always wanted to. The course was never a challenge. The entrance examinations were a necessary evil. She knew she would sail through.

When news broke out in her hometown that her AIR All India Rank was third, cunning pot-bellied owners of coaching institutes had flocked to her place, wanting her to advertise their highly qualified staff and fully airconditioned classrooms with a picture of their most illustrious student—Pihu Malhotra. A few days later, she was in the local newspapers.

Hers had just taken root. These were the first set of exams in her college. She had the book Human Anatomy open in front of her. She had read it twice. She itched to read something else.

Her eyes had been on the book on pathology lying on the side. A second-year student was sleeping on it. You spent all the time with us. When did you get the time? Pihu knew that. Venugopal and Pihu were destined to be friends after the first roll call in their class of students. Venugopal where P stood for something unpronounceable for north Indians. Kind of what it means for two engineering students to have the first peg of whisky together. Other than that, they were very similar.

Middle-class families, dads in government service, mothers as housewives and CBSE toppers of their own regions. In a parallel universe where north and south Indians got along, it was a match made in heaven. In the past three months, they had become the best of friends. They never kept anything from each other. Simple people with simple desires. They had nothing to hide.

They had never partied, never smoked, never drank. Neither of them had stayed out of their houses after eight. They never felt the need to. Which ones? General Pharmacology. A few others. Why would you? Ever since the time I was a little kid. At first, I thought I liked the candy my paediatrician gave me!

But slowly, it became an obsession. I used to fake illnesses as a kid so I could go to the clinic and hear the doctor talk about various medicines and cures. You will be a great doctor. You could have taught me. I am struggling here. Pihu always thought of Venugopal as a sweet, well-mannered guy. He was from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and barely spoke any Hindi.

Pihu had spent the first few weeks forcing him to talk in Hindi and laughing her head off. Somewhere between the lectures on human lungs and lymph nodes, Pihu knew she had found a friend for life. Their bond strengthened over countless meals of butter chicken and shitty sambar, and arguments about which tasted better. Fear clouded her mind.

A million possibilities battled each other and she cried. It stems from the paranoia one suffers from after obsessing over different symptoms throughout the day. She had left the examination hall thirty minutes before the scheduled time. She knew all the answers. She had wanted to write them. The pen was in her hand, and the answers in her head.

But her hands had cramped. There was something wrong with her hands. She had tried moving her hand in vain.

After struggling with intermittent pain and the lack of sensation for half an hour, she had started to write. She had written three beautiful answers when the pain and the lack of sensation came back.

She had tears in her eyes. Every page from every medical book she had read came rushing back to her mind.

Her head hurt. Tears streamed down her face. Half an hour before the exam ended, she left the hall, tears in her eyes and strange cramps in both her hands. Venugopal had been calling her for quite some time now. Pihu had disconnected all calls till she asked him to join her in the library. You did well, right? Everything you taught me was perfect! It was like you knew the questions beforehand. You are teaching me everything from now on! What happened?

Were you nervous? I knew the answers. The librarian asked them to be silent. Venugopal looked puzzled. He took her hand in his palms and applied pressure at a few points. He asked her if she had any sensation in her hand. She picked up a pencil from her neatly arranged geometry box. She tried to write her name on the piece of paper in front of her. Venugopal watched in horror as she scribbled.

It was hardly legible. It looked like she was using the wrong hand. She cried. It could be something as simple as Vitamin C deficiency. There are cases reported where Vitamin C deficiency causes paralysis. She looked at her hand. Pale and useless. Stop being so negative! Maybe Venugopal is right. All the possible causes for the symptom started to shadow her mind. She was freaking out, her tears were uncontrollable. What was it? Nerve injury? Spina bifida? Multiple sclerosis? All of a sudden, it looked as if she could have every disease she had read about till now.

The deadlier the disease, the more convinced she was about its possibility. Sleep evaded her that night as she looked up every possible cause of her problem. By next morning, she had a list of eighty-nine possible causes. She scheduled herself for a plethora of blood tests the next day. Venugopal had a horrendous next exam. They narrowed it down to twenty types of blood tests and visited a pathology lab at night, rather late for them. Pihu waited for him outside his examination hall the next day with her blood test results in hand.

Her blood work was clean, eliminating eighty-eight possible causes. There were no tests left to be done. Go out, Venu! The exams just got over. Go out and party with the guys. You have to be positive. I am sure of what I have, Venu. See a doctor. She knew he was going through denial. A certain part of her was going through the same. Except for this call, she had not stopped crying since the time she discovered what she was afflicted with.

She had cursed the unfair balance of nature. What she had was not something she deserved. She had cried and pored over the reports again and again, hoping there would be a mistake. She wished she was wrong in her self-diagnosis. She could be. Her eyes watered up.

She heard the flipping of papers from the other side. The signal is cracking up. I hope I am wrong about this. She sighed.

The tears returned and they never stopped during the three hours it took for her to reach her home from the college hostel. All her dreams washed away in an instant. Once home, she stood in front of her parents, complaining about the strange sensations in her right arm.

Her mother started to ask her about the examinations. Dad asked her if she was eating right. It took her an hour to make them take the cramps and the loss of sensation in her hand seriously. Her mom suggested stress. Dad suggested infection. She insisted on seeing a doctor.

Her dad smiled at the irony. Pihu knew what he was thinking about. He had imagined her as a doctor. Something that Pihu knew would never happen.

I hope I am wrong, she sighed. On the way to the hospital, she tried to be her chirpy self, even though all she wanted to do was cry. Maybe she was wrong. The doctor in the hospital asked her a few questions and prescribed her some blood tests.

Back home, she fished out every research paper and every document ever written about the disease. Looking through various reports she found a research team in a hospital in Delhi which specialized in stem cell research and developing experimental new drugs for the disease.

She found the email ID of one of the doctors on the team— Arman Kashyap, supposedly a genius, and shot across an email giving him the details of her disease. She was desperate. That night, when she was done reading about her disease and had cried enough to make herself tired, Venugopal called again. He had been texting her constantly.

Pihu knew for sure he had been doing some reading on the disease too. Did he order all the blood tests?

Did he guess anything? Any alternative causes? Differential diagnosis? I know they will be clean. We did the tests just once. And these government pathological labs make mistakes all the time. Where did you go? Apex Hospital? He had checked and rechecked the reports; Pihu was sure of that. She had promised herself that she would be strong and not cry.

She had read about the suffering of people who had the same disease as hers, and she felt terrible. Having read horrendous accounts of how patients lose control of their body as it slowly rots away, she started to question the fairness of it all. Why me? Of all people! She cursed the mirror in front of her for it was lying. Her insides were rotting away, slowly, bit by bit.

You know that! She was alone in this. She had to get used to it. Things only became worse the next morning. Her denial had given way to acceptance, and the acceptance of her condition depressed her.

A little later, they were in the car, negotiating the early-morning traffic to the hospital. Pihu sat on the back seat, wondering if the doctor had any inkling of what was wrong with her. She hoped he would. The anticipation of the pain her parents would go through was getting unbearable. He was smiling. Pihu remained expressionless as she looked at all the branded merchandise—pens, diaries, clocks and notepads—from the big pharmaceutical companies.

Her father absent-mindedly played with a plastic model of the human brain. Difficulty in breathing? I would have made such a good doctor. She tried not to buckle and weep. Her parents were still distracted. She felt sorry for them. The doctor looked at her parents and started to ask them about their families.

They are still alive? She knew he was yet to make any sense of it. But he had a hunch about what Pihu had. Nothing major. Pihu smiled back at him. Does he know? Why is he smiling? She is a medical student, you know. Lots of pressure, big books, late nights, you know?

She is a brilliant student, topped the region in her board examinations. She wants to be a surgeon. The doctor nodded approvingly. I am dying. It took the doctor three hours, a battery of tests and consultations with other doctors to come to the conclusion Pihu had reached days before. She had noticed the expressions of shock on their faces while her doctor discussed the case with other doctors in her presence.

Some of them even called their counterparts in other hospitals for a second opinion. She felt sorry for the doctor, too. Why should he be a part of the gloom that was about to engulf her family?

First year, Maulana Azad. I did the tests myself. I know there is no genetic history. I know there is no cure. I know that I am slowly dying. I could be gone this year or the next.

But I will die eventually. I have read all there is to read about the disease. I will not be able to eat on my own, go to the bathroom or even breathe. It looked like it could never happen to her. As she finally described her own death to the doctor, she came to terms with it. The news finally sank in. In that moment, all her dreams, her aspirations, her visions of herself as a doctor melted away and the morose faces of her parents stared back at her.

Her eyes glazed over and she resolved to not weep. There is some mistake! I have done nothing to deserve this. I am perfectly healthy! Her heart cried out loud. They will give me a few months more. A few days more of breathing on my own. I have read all about it. She had to be ready for what was coming next.

ALS is a cruel disease. It starts with the patient becoming clumsy. You drop things, get tired easily, and the sensations in your limbs keep getting dimmer till paralysis sets in. You will be on crutches … before the wheelchair comes in.

You will be paralysed and bedridden. There will be tubes running in and out of your body to help you eat, breathe and defecate. Machines will keep you alive. I can give you some books you can read about people who have fought the disease. She tried to stifle her sobs the best she could. Never had she thought her parents would outlive her.

What greater misfortune can there be for a parent? She is seven. Pihu wondered if he was praying for them to be wrong. She wondered how many death sentences the forty-year-old man had given before hers.

The watery eyes of the doctor told her that he was still not used to it. Pihu took one too. The wails of her mother and silent groans of her father already resonated in her head and she felt dizzy. Their faces fell as if they knew what the middle-aged doctor was about to tell them. She went and sat next to her mom and held her hand. The doctor started to explain. The world blocked out. Her mind was blank. The denial of her parents, their shouts, their screams, their accusations against the incompetent doctor and the irresponsible hospital, their claims of their daughter being perfectly healthy —nothing registered in her brain.

She had just one image seared on her retina. She was going to die, motionless on a hospital bed with a tube cut into her throat. The news of Dushyant lying unconscious for three days had just reached her. When they were dating, she was used to going to the hospital, picking him up and cleaning up his shit.

But the last such call was two years back. Today, she had suppressed the impulse to drop everything and visit him. Do I want to see him? Two years had passed since the last time they had talked. Kajal dialled the number. Can I talk to the doctor of a patient admitted there? The name is Dushyant Roy. The waiting sound piped up. This is Zarah Mirza. It was none other than the swearing, belligerent, infamous, drunkard of a senior with a penchant for getting into trouble—Dushyant Roy. Forever began on the day Kajal was sitting idly in the library, looking blankly outside the window … Kajal looked at the open grounds of Delhi Technological University and felt disconnected.

Two years had passed since she had started studying electronics engineering and felt more disillusioned with every day that passed.

While many had resigned themselves to their fate as engineers for life, Kajal still believed she would be something more. At least she hoped. People with money can always do that— hope, change careers, do crazy expensive things, and call themselves travellers after buying travel packages to posh European countries and staying in beautiful resorts. Though Kajal had never been that type; she was just directionless. Her latest direction was to turn to writing.

She had always been a voracious reader. Naipaul, she had read it all. She picked out a corner in the library and started to read from the page she had folded the day before.

It was the latest book by Nicholas Sparks. She turned around to see the guy who had been following her around college for the last few days, standing just over her shoulder. Her first feeling was of revulsion. She imagined an Indian Vin Diesel. Not her type; she liked leaner men. Like Edward Norton. Like Imran Khan. Maybe a little darker. Kajal hesitated and he took the seat before she could respond to the question. Rude, she thought. She liked that. The girl dies and everyone cries.

All his books are the same book. She started reading, mindlessly. She forgot which paragraph she was on. That is why I read all of them. Well, initially I just read one because I saw you reading it and thought we would have something to talk about. He nodded approvingly. Dushyant had always been more interested in books that took him beyond the realm of the obvious.

A memoir of a serial killer. An out-of-print trilogy about a deranged doctor. And more. Her eyes roved around nervously as an uneasy silence hung between them. He looked sturdy, the veins in his forearms were consistently thick and they disappeared inside his Tshirt, which fit him snuggly.

He was undeniably muscular. He could have shaved, at least! He retracted it, blushing. She could tell he was nervous. His legs shook. Kajal started reading again. The same paragraph, over and over. Dushyant sat there looking at her, and at his palms, rubbing them together, looking here and there, shifting his feet and fidgeting with his phone.

Or … really sweet? Dushyant had turned beetroot red. Instead, he gazed at his own weathered palms. He looked vulnerable, embarrassed and needy. Maybe even a little high. Kajal let a little smile slip.

Dushyant caught that and blushed a little more. Two years? Dushyant smiled, and his eyes lit up like the fourth of July. Quite frankly, his choice in books scared her. They dated for eight months. They had come a long way from the time they had first met in the library and had talked about books, his waning obsession with weight training, her growing dissatisfaction with her career choice, his problems with his parents, her loving sisters, and last but not the least, his enduring fixation with her.

Dushyant was never the perfect boyfriend. Her friends hated him with all their heart, but not as much as her sisters. One could imagine a news presenter for an idea of what she looked like. Her clothes, understated, were always perfectly matched. She aimed to soothe. Her fair skin, the defined nose and the confident walk meant business.

Dushyant was abrasive. He was quarrelsome. He was possessive. It took Kajal one month to realize that Dushyant was beyond obsessive, almost to the point of being schizophrenic. He drank too much, he smoked too much, and he loved her too much.

He had waited two years to tell her he loved her. He swore he would spend a lifetime doing it. Sometimes, it was sweet. It looked to her like he cared; on other occasions, she was scared. Not scared that they would break up and never see each other again, but scared of what he would do to her.

At first, Kajal used to like the little tabs Dushyant kept on her. He used to get jealous at the mention of her ex-boyfriends, fume at her for spending more time with her friends, chide her for staying out till late, and ask her to not to drink in his absence.

Kajal found it thoughtful. Dushyant made her feel wanted. He never let go of her hand, hugged her whenever she needed it, and made love to her like no one else had. Kajal felt like she was enveloped in a protective bubble wrap, something that would absorb anything with the potential to harm her.

But soon, the bubble wrap would become suffocating. Kajal loved Dushyant with whatever she had. When they lay on the open grounds of their college late in the evening, his rough, gym-scarred fingers wrapped around hers, she felt complete.

As evenings turned into nights, nights into days, and days back into evenings, their love for each other grew. Dushyant always said Kajal had none. Kajal always smiled, even when she felt pushed to the edge by her control-freak boyfriend. He had done that many times since the first occasion, but Kajal still felt the chills run down her spine like the first time.

But he was the one she would remember forever; she was sure of that. His touch, the things he said in her ear whenever they were in the back alley of the dark library, the lingering feeling of his hands on her bare stomach, his loving fingers on her creamy inner thighs, the wet, gentle touch of his tongue on her ears … she would never get over them. The conviction in his voice was very unsettling; it often made her wonder what would happen if, God forbid, they ever broke up.

It will take time. Kajal never liked to talk about his drinking problem. She loved him, so she had to. But she had had enough. The steroids he took as bodybuilding supplements, the marijuana, the never-ending cigarettes … his addictions kept piling up. I hope you understand that. I have nothing to gain out of restricting you from your addictions. I will stop smoking. I am addicted to my cigarettes. It sounds fair to me.

ROXANA from Colorado
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