The Emergency Room
Father drove, Bapsi and Dastan Uncle beside him. Mother, Auntie and Goorookh squeezed into the back of their small Honda. Night had fallen and the flashing lights of the ambulances hurt Father’s eyes as sirens surrounded their car. He squinted and cursed at the traffic. Mother wept. An ambulance sped around them. Another ambulance zoomed by. Father pulled into the hospital’s parking lot. Other cars arrived. Bapsi ran to the emergency room. She passed a blockade of police, showing them her hospital identification. Father and Mother followed but Dastan Uncle, Auntie, and Goolrookh were soon lost in the constantly growing crowd. More ambulances arrived. Shouting from police and emergency room doctors. Stretcher after stretcher came out of ambulance after ambulance. Bapsi saw a boy on a stretcher. She pushed past a police officer. “Adar! Adar!” Bapsi screamed. “That’s my son!”
Father held her arm. “No, that’s not Adar,” he said. “He’s too big.” Bapsi looked back at Goorookh and Auntie. Dastan Uncle had climbed onto the hood of a car, trying to see over the growing crowd. More ambulances arrived. Tears. Wails. Curses. Screams. Flashing lights from police cars illuminated the chaos. Bapsi searched the face of every boy on every stretcher. She tried to stay calm. She tried to remember that she was a physician. Bapsi had seen much as a doctor in Mumbai. Disease, car wrecks, beatings. This was different. She searched through the crowds, watching each ambulance, helping where she could until finally she saw her husband.
“Jahan! Jahan!” She ran. He was pulling a stretcher out of an ambulance. A little boy lay on the stretcher, his eyes closed. Bapsi brushed back his hair. “Adar!”
Father called to a hefty paramedic wearing coveralls and a facemask. “Where are all these sick children coming from?”
“Everywhere,” was the answer.
Father sat beside Bapsi and Jahan in the crowded waiting room. Mother talked quietly with Auntie and Goolrookh. Dastan Uncle paced around the room. Other families were there. Parents, grandparents. Waiting. Dastan Uncle spoke with one of the grandfathers. An elderly Hindu. Thin and very dark, his hands like leather. He told Dastan Uncle about his grandson. In infant, nursing from his mother’s breast one moment, rushed to the hospital the next. The old man gestured towards the worried young mother. Dastan Uncle gasped. It was the young Parsi from the temple. The one who’d married the tall Hindu man. Dastan Uncle moved away. He sat beside Father and told of the Parsi woman and her Hindu in-laws. “I don’t see her family,” Dastan Uncle said. “I wonder if they know.”
Father’s eyes filled with tears, “What difference does it make what girl marries what boy if we are to lose our grandsons?”
Revered pediatrician Dr. Sharma entered the room with a younger woman Bapsi recognized from the Radiology Department. Parents hurried towards her. Dr. Sharma spoke to a few before approaching. Bapsi, Jahan, Father and Dastan Uncle stood as Dr. Sharma introduced the radiologist. She then led Bapsi and Jahan to a viewing station.
They took seats in front of a large screen. Dr. Sharma sat beside them, the radiologist next to her. Dr. Sharma explained the image they were about to see. It was of Adar’s brain. He had a tumor. Malignant and primary. Jahan and Bapsi clung to each other, mirrors of worry. “Are you ready?” Dr. Sharma said. Bapsi nodded. The image appeared. Black and white and gray. Bapsi staggered at the sight. Dr. Sharma’s voice was gentle but direct.
“Bapsi, when we spoke yesterday about the boy you delivered,” Dr. Sharma said. “I failed to tell you all I knew about the new malady.” She waited for Bapsi and Jahan to awaken from the nightmare image on the screen.
“Go on,” Bapsi said.
Dr. Sharma glanced at the radiologist then pointed at the round, white intruder in Adar’s cerebellum. “It isn’t restricted to newborns. We’ve removed as much of this tumor as we could and inserted a shunt to control the pressure. What we are seeing here is consistent with the Y-chromosome linked tumors.” She pointed to another, smaller white mass. And another. Bapsi gasped and Dr. Sharma switched off the offending image. The screen went blank.
Bapsi felt like screaming. She remembered the rose petal Dr. Sharma plucked from her hand. “What do we do next?” she said. “How do we stop the tumors?”
“This condition is new,” Dr. Sharma said. “Here in Mumbai we can treat Adar’s tumors with conventional therapies. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation. In the United States, researchers are developing a new approach. Gene therapy.” Bapsi felt a ray of hope. She squeezed Jahan’s hand. Dr. Sharma cautioned against optimism. “They haven’t begun human trials yet and no one has discovered the cause of the tumors. Why they’re linked to Y-chromosomes or why the symptoms are so sudden and furtive. With our current, conventional treatments, Adar’s tumors will return.”
Bapsi doubled over. The news was too much. She wanted to push it away. Deny it. Prove it wasn’t true. “That isn’t Adar!” she cried. “It’s a lie. I want to see my son! You’ve switched images. This is someone else’s child. Not mine.” She couldn’t believe the words coming out of her mouth. She couldn’t believe the hatred she felt. She wanted to strike Dr. Sharma. “That is not Adar!”
Jahan wrapped his arms around Bapsi as she rocked back and forth, trying not to go mad, longing for Adar’s warm little body in her arms. Dr. Sharma hesitated. “I’m very sorry,” she said. “But I must now speak about your options.”
“Options?” Jahan said.
Dr. Sharma thanked the radiologist and sent her on her way. “None of which a parent should ever hear,” she said. “The first option is that we start aggressive treatments. Schedule Adar’s next surgery. Begin a regimen of drugs and radiation.” Bapsi winced at the thought of what her little boy would have to endure.
“Or?” Jahan said.
Dr. Sharma looked around. She dropped her voice to a whisper. “Do nothing,” she said. “In which case our job – yours and mine – would be to keep Adar comfortable. And treasure every moment you have with him.” Bapsi couldn’t believe her ears.
“How can you suggest such a thing?” Bapsi said. “Do nothing!” She spat. “What a monstrous thing to say. A child. An innocent child. How can we do nothing? I want another doctor.” Bapsi stood up. “Anyone who would say such a thing has no morals.” Dr. Sharma reached out and took Bapsi’s hand.
“Bapsi, please, let me help,” Dr. Sharma said.
Bapsi jerked away. “Don’t touch me.” She trembled and grabbed Jahan’s arm. “Zoroastrians believe in good and evil.” She glared at Dr. Sharma as she pointed to the blank viewing screen. “Letting a child die is evil.” Her stomach turned as she returned to the waiting room and to her family’s loving arms.
“My mother told me once that a woman gives birth to a bag of worries,” Bapsi said to Jahan as they sat waiting for Adar to awaken. His little head bandaged, a tuff of black hair coming out the back, tubes everywhere. Adar stirred. His dark eyes opened into sleepy half moons. He called for his mother, his words slurred, as if his tongue was too big.
“Yes, my love,” Bapsi said. The boy tried to focus but his eyes would not obey. He called for his father.
“I’m here,” Jahan said. Adar squinted. His fingers twitched.
“Can we go see the tiger now?” he said. Jahan couldn’t answer. Bapsi stroked the hair coming out of Adar’s bandages.
“Soon, my love,” Bapsi said. “You’ll see the animals soon.”
Part Six << Part Seven >> Who is Bapsi Cama