26 June 2021

What old age looks like!

** all names are cooked up to protect privacy

“Betty, my patient is still sleeping in her room. Why don’t I take this gentleman off your hands?”, I asked.

Well, my hospice patient was sleeping. I was not sure what to do. I came down to the lobby level and saw Betty – at the front desk – struggling with all the calls to the front desk, buzzing visitors in and paying attention to the impatiently walking John (also a patient).

“Thank you”

“No problem”

The next 30 minutes was an eye opening exercise. Gave me a window into what my dad must have gone thru. And what I might too, myself.

You see, John has been suffering from a lot of old age issues. At a macro level, his kids have been great to him. They pay for the hospice facility, they visit him religiously every week and make a big deal on special days.

At a micro level, he has no idea about any of that. He needs them with him NOW!

The walk up and down the corridors was mostly pleas from him to see if I could get his kids to pick up from that place. (He thinks he lost his way and one of his kids just needs to take him home).

When somebody is totally daft, it is one thing. You just talk past each other. The only purpose is for the other person to think you are listening. They have no ability to judge otherwise. But when you swing between the real and unreal worlds like John, it becomes dangerous.

It is a delicate act of balancing between soothing him down when he is angry because he thinks I am not helping and supporting him when he thinks that his daughter is going to call him back moment she is done with work.

He had a mobile phone on him. That had a lot of saved numbers. And he fumbled his way to high heavens trying to call any of those numbers. All this time, walking up and down with me in the corridors.

“Why don’t we go out and sit?”


We settled down. But he was fixated on his phone.

Then I heard the “click” “click” noise!

“What did you do?”

“I think I took pictures.”

“Of what?”

“I have no idea”

Apparently, he was totally lost in the phone options.

“Listen, Mr. John. Why don’t you let me take a picture of you and me so I can show my daughter?”

“Is she in Stamford, Connecticut?”

“No. she is here, in Georgia”.

“This is not Georgia”

“You are right. I meant she is in Georgia. You and I are in Connecticut”. (I had to play along with his memory)

“Will you send it to my daughter?”

“Moment I meet her, sir!”


And of course, the instant I take the picture, he starts calling his daughter again!!

The evening went on like that…

Here is what I learnt that evening – When you grow old, you do not want anything more than being surrounded by your near and dear ones. You do realize that they have more important things to do in life. But you really, really want to be with them.

If you ever get a chance to make a difference to an old person by just being with them, please do. You do not have much time left. I know I do not!

24 April 2021

Finally, got the clearance!!

The good news is that after fourteen months, I got the message that I am finally cleared to go back to hospices to spend time with people who are in the last stages of their lives. Need to still get the painful subcutaneous Mantoux test done (to test against TB), but right now I have been assigned two young ladies (both 87) pining away their last days in two different hospices. And I have a brand new mask to show off too!!

The bad news is of course, none of my old friends that I got abruptly sundered from are there any more. In fact, most passed away without even being able to see their loved ones at the height of the pandemic.

28 December 2019

Nikita visits my friends in the hospice

Nikita had asked to accompany me to one of the hospices during the holidays. Finally, our times matched today. (You will be surprised how busy a high schooler can be even during the Christmas holidays). I am glad she came today.

When I arrived, one of the patients was particularly agitated. We will call her Maria for privacy reasons. I sat her down and started talking to her. She just wanted to go home. Of course, being a memory care unit patient meant most of her memory and cognitive power has been fried. She tried explaining that her dad was supposed to come and pick her up and he has not come yet.

“How old is your dad”?, I asked her softly
“Oh! mid seventies, I think”.
“How old are you?”
“I think I am older than him”.

You get the idea about how the conversations go. Nikita, who was patiently watching all this time, drew a chair and sat next to us. I introduced her to Maria. Within seconds, they were chatting like old buddies. Most of the discussions went in circles. After some time, I left them to do my rounds with other patients. When I left, they were having a discussion on who looked prettier. Each insisted the other did.

Half an hour later, I came back and these two were still talking. Nikita asked if she could stay for some more time.

Eventually, I had to tell her that we needed to go home for dinner. Maria immediately asked if I could give her a ride.

“Where do you want to go?”
“I live in Ohio”
“And what when your dad shows up?”
She thought for some time and said “I think I will stay”.
“No problem. He may take some time. The weather outside is not good”, I lied thru my teeth.

The hope was that the sleep medicine would soon do its trick and one more day will come to an end in her life.

Also, the further hope is that Nikita got a sense of the cycles of life we go thru and how blessed we are now. The proudest moment for me was when the staff – and one particular patient too – asked her to come back.

20 September 2018

Goodbye, Mr. Stocks!

When I left your bed at 8 PM on Monday with your beautiful family around you, I promised you that I will visit you the next morning. Perhaps you did not hear me with all the struggle you were going thru – gasping for breath. Or perhaps I should spoken up a little bit so you could hear me.

The next morning came for me. But not for you.

Ruffling my fingers thru your sweaty hair while you lay on the bed, it felt very strange. This was the first time – in the one year that I knew you and have visited you at least forty to fifty times – I actually went in to your room. Every single time I visited you, I found you in the common area and that is where we spent all our time.

It was so strange to see you lying down without any movement. Before that you were the person who could not sit down. The only way for me to spend time with you was to walk next to you as you kept walking up and down the corridors. Purposelessly. Incessantly. Always whispering something to yourself. The only reaction I would get out of you was when I gave you a handshake. Inexplicably, you would burst into a smile. How many ever times I repeated it – that was your acknowledgement. Unfailingly.

You never told me about your son and your daughter. I got to meet them for the first time on Monday night. You never told me that you were part of the armed forces. I saw the certificate in your room. For that matter you never told me anything! Or to anybody else. I learnt from your wife that at the young age of 48, you had started deteriorating. I got to know you about twenty years after that.

By that time, you had lost your ability to say anything. I would ask you simple questions. You would stop. Look at me for a long time. As if you were trying to process what I had said. You would then mumble something – that was barely audible or coherent for me. I would nod. And away we would go shuffling down the narrow corridors of the hospice again.

Last couple of months started being different. Your walks got slower. And for the first time, I saw you tentatively sit down and doze off in the sofa between your walks. It was there for everybody to see that you had started to slow down.

Till you stopped entirely on Monday night.

Ours was a relationship borne out of silence. Its strength was never rooted in words. It was in the time we spent together silently.

Without a word you came into my life.

Without a word you went away.

But I had to put in a few words for you to remember our time together!

16 February 2018

A sub chapter in my life that I almost forgot to write about

As you know, I spend a lot of time on the road for work which means many an evening is spent grabbing a quick dinner sitting at the bar. And the days I am not traveling, usually Sharmila and I go out and get a drink. A common theme in all these settings is that I make friends with the guy or the girl behind the bar and get to know about their life stories.

There is an interesting pattern there. Try it out yourself if you do not believe me. More often than not, it would be a young person in her or his twenties. They would have invariably finished their high school. After that either they could not afford college or are working at a bar to earn money to some day go to college. I know of kids (and I consider twenty year olds – kids) for whom a few thousand dollars is the difference between going to college or not going to college.

A few months back, at the urging of a friend of mine – Aaron, I attended a breakfast meeting of YearUp.org. I had some familiarity with this organization from one of my prior jobs. I would recommend that you read up on them – what they do and all that if you live in the US. In short, they take kids who are done with high school and try to give them a “break” into the corporate world.

Money is not the only issue with the kids. Professional skillsets is also not the only other issue. Most of them do not have the background or exposure to present themselves. They have a hard time writing a reasonably good resume. Because they have no understanding of what corporate America thinks is a “good resume”. They have little to no interviewing skills in a corporate set up. Most of them would not even know how to talk to an executive for a few minutes.

That is what YearUp tries to solve for. They try to give those kids some professional skills and a lot more of the soft skills and try to engage other corporations to give them an opportunity at an internship for six months. In all, as the name suggests, the full program is for a year.

But there is a catch. They have strict rules for the students. No cuss words. Always formally dressed. Always carry a resume. Never be late…. If you play by the rules, the year is free to you. If you get demerits, you are thrown out of the program. Lest you think these are easy… I want to remind you that most of the students can not afford cars. One of my students takes a bus, then a train, switches to another train and then a bus again – a two and a half hour ordeal EACH WAY to go to his internship place. And he cannot afford to be late as long as he wishes to stay in the program.

In any case, late last year, I enrolled myself to give my time to the cause. I came in mid stream but a few folks – like Amrutha and Carla – were very helpful in getting me inducted. I was assigned twelve students. I have to tell you – all of them have incredibly humble beginnings – one girl pushes disabled people in wheelchairs at our airport, one girl worked in the catering section of a local racetrack, one guy mows lawns, one guy worked at the backend of a local retail store… but their determination to be successful someday is jaw dropping to me. I certainly had a humble beginning myself – but nowhere near these folks. My parents gave up a lot in their lives but they always paid to make sure we got college done – even if they had to borrow money. And yet, these kids while not having that advantage, has more determination than I ever had.

Ever since last November, I have been spending one on one time with these new friends of mine helping them understand how to present themselves in a corporate environment, how to behave in a corporate environment, how to write resumes, how to interview, how to think about careers and all that good stuff. I am thrilled to say that due to the efforts of Yearup, six of my twelve kids have scored jobs in the last two weeks. I am still working with the other six.

If not anything else, I would ask you to just go to Yearup’s website and read up about them. They just want to create opportunities. They certainly created a few for me. Who knows? Someday you might create some opportunities for a few of their kids too!!

P.S. In the picture, I am addressing a larger set of students giving them my thoughts on how to work with recruiters …

22 January 2018

She gave me something to think about… What do you think?

Last week, I spent some time with one of my favorite friends in one of the hospice centers – let’s call her Mrs. Nancy. I walked into her room and was not sure she would have remembered me.
“Mrs. Nancy. Remember me?”
“Of course. You went to India to see your dad.”

That was surprising. In fact how our whole brain works or sometimes chooses not to work still is an enigma to me. Both Mrs. Nancy and my dad can remember certain things so well and then there are obvious things that we have to keep repeating to them!

“So, how is he doing?”
“Thank you Mrs. Nancy. He actually has had a surprisingly good progress. That was very encouraging”.
“That is good”.
“Indeed. Looks like I missed your birthday when I was gone.” I had noticed a few cards over her table.

She kept looking at me. I was not sure I had a grip over the whole situation. So I asked:
“When is your birthday?
“Jan 19th”, she said after a quick thought.
“Jan 19th? I see. Let’s see… that was… that was… wait a minute. Today is Jan 19th! Is it your birthday today?”
“I do not know”

I opened up a couple of cards and sure enough – one stated Jan 19th.
“Happy Birthday! It is your birthday today!!”, I yelled.
I was not too sure why I was yelling. I was inexplicably excited.

“Have you read the cards? Did somebody read them to you?”
“I do not remember”
“Well, that is what we are going to do now then”.

As you see in the picture, I held the cards very close to her and slowly read them out. The particularly favorite one for me was the one from her son and daughter-in-law who wrote a very touching card, I thought. In fact, I read it out a couple of times for her. (The picture is of that card).

I did not realize it then, but the picture has partially caught that incredible smile that can come only from a blissful pride in your child.

Later, when we were done, I packed up the cards and then settled down in my chair.

Suddenly, she remembered my dad again. She can’t remember her own birthday but she remembered a person she had only heard about a couple of times. Go figure!

“Do you write to your dad?”

Whoa! I am reasonably fast on my feet – even if I say so. But that one stumped me.
“No”, I stammered… Too many things were swirling in my mind – the two weeks it takes for a letter to go from Atlanta to Kalyani. The missed mails. etc. But I soldiered on – “I call my parents up everyday”. I omitted the part that should have clarified “parents” mean “mom”. My dad can’t hear anything on a phone.

She nodded. I figured I had made peace with her.

Till she came up with the words that has been ringing in my ears – “Sometimes you should write him a card. He can read that over and over again”.

I must have stared at her for a few good seconds.
That is true. Phone calls are one and done. Cards and letters are forever. I know how much I cherish the letters that I have saved from my childhood. And how much I regret not saving more of them.

She might have just pushed me to write to my dad. Maybe a letter every other week? What do you think? Should I do it?

Would you do it for your dad or mom? Do physical pieces of memory transcend ephemeral ones like phone calls?

24 December 2017

A memorable statement from one of my hospice friends

Spending time with folks who are in the last short strokes of life sometimes can be very funny, sometimes very educational and sometimes outright heart-tugging. If not anything else, watching the compassion that the patients show to each other and the employees there show to the patients, is singularly educational.

I had a memorable moment day before yesterday. First let me set the context. One of my patients – a octogenarian lady – is more or less physically functional – however her short term memory is pretty much non-existent. She does move around in a wheel chair but she is able to move herself.

She has three kids but I am under strict instructions not to bring the topic of two daughters up unless she happened to mention it and even then I am to just acknowledge and move on. There is a particularly painful history she has with her daughters but let me spare you of that.

The son, on the other hand, is a completely different story. It was her son, as I understand, who moved her from a pretty bad situation and put her in the hospice that is very close to her house. He visits her often with his wife and kids and takes her to their place once a month. She absolutely lights up whenever anybody talks about her son.

My last visit this year to any hospice was this Friday and she was my last hospice friend that I had to visit. I was expecting a 20 minute experience. Turns out, we talked for nearly an hour. She was in a very good mood.

So, you ask yourself – what can you possibly talk for an hour with a stranger? First, you will be surprised how people want to tell their story if you let them. In this case, I did not have to bother about that either. She is so devoid of short term memory that an hour of conversation is pretty much twelve re-runs of the same five minute conversation.

I must have answered her standard questions about my family, my daughters, where I work and so on a clear ten times or more. Similarly, she made sure I had heard about ten times about her grandchildren, their ages, her original place of birth and such other things.

To break the monotony, at times, I would press further on the topic of her son – since I knew she is very proud of her.

“Your son, Mrs Valerie, is a gem of a guy”. (names changed to protect piracy)
“He is. He is an absolutely great son. I am very proud of him.”
“As you should be. You should be also proud of yourself how you raised him.”
“Thank you. I had friends help me.”

I was not sure how to avoid broaching another sensitive topic – her husband. So, I just smiled and was wondering what to ask next when she dove into the topic herself.

“My husband left me after my son was born. I needed my friends to help me”.
“I am sorry to hear that. But I am sure glad your friends were around.” Trying to veer away from her husband, I continued “You chose some real great friends”.

She was not to be deterred. “My husband ran away with a floozie”.

Okay, I do not know how you would react, but I was stumped. At that point I was hoping that she will ask me again the same questions about me that I had already answered for a few times.

“Did you re-marry?”
“So, you raised the kids all by yourself?”
“My husband left us. I had no choice. But I had friends help me.”

“I have to say this, Mrs. Valerie. I am very proud of you and what you have done. I think I have a lot to learn”
“Why, thank you!”
“They say that a great mother raises a great son”
“That is not true”
“That is not true?”, I asked somewhat confused.
“No. A great mother raises not just a great son. A great mother raises a great father”.

It took me a minute or two to realize what she was trying to say. Then it dawned on me. Her pride in her son was not how he has treated her – but how he has treated his own kids. It is not the son in him but the father in him that she feels so proud of.

She immediately interrupted my thoughts with the same old “How many kids do you have?”, “Are you retired?”…

On the drive back from my last hospice visit of the year, I could not help think of a young lady with three kids suddenly deserted by her husband. Somehow, somewhere, she picked up her broken pieces of life and must have made a promise to herself. Although the newborn son she had was going to be bereft of a father figure in his life, she will work the hardest to make him the absolute greatest dad in the world. For sure, she would make him – in her own eyes – far superior to the man who hurt her.

Boy! Did she come thru on that promise!! “A great mother raises a great father”!!!

5 December 2017

Two lessons learnt after three months of volunteering at three hospices…

Long time back, I had read a book “Top Five Regrets of a Dying Man” by an Australian hospice nurse – Bronnie Ware who had distilled her 51 years of being around people who were waiting to die in 5 simple truths on what we regret about when we look back at life. Sometime around then, working at a hospice became an entry in my my bucket list after reading that book.

First, I reasoned that it would help me set perspective for the years I have left. But more importantly, I thought there was a second part of that book Bronnie meant to write some day – what the postitive reflections are that people have once they realize that their days are numbered.

Getting the opportuinity to work at three hospices for the last three months (started with seven patients, lost four of them and added six more), I am starting to get some glimpse of those reflections. Specifically, I have come to two realizations…

Lesson 1: People take great pride in their children

Without exception, every patient – at least the ones that can hold a rational discussion – is very proud of their children. Even the most quiet ones can become animated if you just ask them “What do your kids do?”

You probably remember the gentleman who kept his daughter’s phone number in his hat. You may also remember the blind gentleman who was very proud of how much his kids do for him. I even have a patient who has a picture of herself with her three kids on her shelf – but I am not allowed to talk about the daughters (who as I understand are fighting unsuccessfully drug addiction and swindled their mom of a lot of money). Try talking to her about her son though and she will hold court for at least half an hour before she will come up for breath.

The general sense I get is that in your last days, you realize that your kids are one of the very few things that are absolutely your own creation. Nobody else could have create exactly they way they are. And in any which way you have influenced them – your effects in this world is going to outlive you by about 30 years or even more.

Lesson 2: Everybody has a story. And they want to tell it.

Once a patient starts opening up, almost always it is about their past life. It is like they just want somebody to listen to their reflections. Most are very proud of what their life has been.

The other day, as I was walking from the parking lot of one of the hospices to the building itself, I saw an old lady walking along with her walking stick enjoying the sun. No sooner than had I greeted her and asked her how she was doing (I did not know her at all), she stood there for thirty five minutes and gave me a synopsis of her life story. With a great sense of humor too!

One of those patients who is no more (in fact, he passed away when I had gone to India to tend to my dad), used to wait for me to come the next time to tell me one more of his chapter of life. Same with the blind gentleman.

Now, realize that some of those stories were not very consisten. For sure, they were biased. But the accuracy of the story is not my point.

My point is, I think before they die, they want their story to be heard. They want to leave their story behind. They are proud of the unique achievements they have had and most look back with some satisfaction. But there are no avenues for them to let the world know of their story. And perhaps, they realize that with them, their story will die too. Not too many of them are going to write down autobiographies.

Giving them an avenue to narrate their story the way they saw their life is an interesting “service” I have stumbled upon. One thing is for sure – each and every one of them has a story. And they are in a hurry to get it out… if you have the time to listen.

Those are the two lessons for now.

Would love to exchange notes with any of you who might have had similar or contrarian experiences.

I will certainly keep you posted as I learn more from my association with hospice patients.

23 November 2017

Of turkeys and such…

“Good Morning! How are you?”
I quickly recovered from the unexpected greetings from a stranger, stopped in my tracks and wished back – “I am good. A very happy Thanksgiving to you. How are you?”
“I am waiting for my son to come and pick me up”, he said grinning from ear to ear.
“That is so nice. Have a great family time”.

By this time, I had figured out what was going on. I went to the lady sitting in the next sofa with a walker near by. “Good morning. And a very happy Thanksgiving. How are you doing this morning?”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too. I am waiting for my son in law”.

This morning after my coffee and all that, I told Sharmila that I would go make the rounds in all the three hospices and try to be back before the girls wake up. I was worried that some of the patients may not be able to see their families on Thanksgiving day (some have family well outside the state). I was going to wish them a very happy Thanksgiving and if I found that somebody was not going to get the gift of family presence for one reason or the other, I was going to sit with them and perhaps spend some time with them. I am no family to any one of them but caring and companionship might count in their books, I figured.

As I entered the first hospice, I sensed right away that something was different. There were a lot of the patients sitting in the atrium. Most of them were not in their shabby clothes. And everybody seemed to be wearing a smile. I was briskly walking past them to meet my own friends there when I was stopped by one of those sitting in the atrium. And that is how the conversation above came about.

I went from table to table, sofa to sofa and pretty much wished everybody who was sitting there and it was more or less the same story. Everybody was waiting for their son or daughter or son in law to pick them up and take them to their homes so they could have some family time together on this Thanksgiving day. And without exception, all of them were going to come back the same night.

Finally, I went and visited two of my friends who live in the assisted area side. One – who is my assigned patient was waiting for her daughter to come and wheel her out. The other – the blind old gentleman who is not an assigned patient of mine was super excited. He had a tie on and a tucked in shirt, a vest and the whole nine yards.

“You must be very excited that you are going to see your family today?”, I asked.
Big mistake.
“Well. Raj, I am not going to exactly see them”, he said gesturing some air quotes with his fingers. Gosh, that could have been really really awkward for me had he not started laughing – “You know what I mean. I have gone blind. I can’t see. But yes, I am very excited.” Well, everybody was in good mood!!

The scene inside the memory care unit (this is where all the folks with Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s, brain cancer, deep dementia etc stay in secured premises) was a little different. The same wishes from me about Thanksgiving had most of them staring at me. I realized that none of them had any idea that it was Thanksgiving today or had any memory of what Thanksgiving was all about.

Lowell was still relentlessly pacing up and down the corridors in very small steps talking to himself incessantly. Jenny asked me to look at the red birds flying behind my head as a response to my Thanksgiving wishes. Leanne was constantly shaking even as she sat there staring at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade put up on the TV in the common area.

Then a gentleman walked in and went straight past me and sat next to a lady sleeping on a sofa on the other end of the room. She was a patient there – and I had seen her before but I had never talked to her. After about five minutes, I noticed that the lady was still sleeping and the gentleman was still sitting next to her watching the TV. He looked neither like a patient nor a staff member.

Curiosity got the better of me and I went over to him and introduced myself. Found out that he was that lady’s son. She is not in a situation to go home. She cannot have Thanksgiving dinner with them. She would not even recognize any of the family members. He is the only surviving child of hers. He had come to give her company for a few hours before he went back and joined the rest of the family for their family get together.

My story about learning the true spirit of Thanksgiving and family ties today will not be complete if I did not tell you about another set of people in the hospices – the staff there. Me having my big mouth obviously had to go around wishing them and asking them about their plans. I was really amazed and somewhat taken aback to realize how much adjustments they and their families made to their personal lives to accommodate the far less fortunate patients. As an example, the CNA had completed her Thanksgiving dinner the previous night with her family so she could spend the time taking care of the patients thru the day. Not one of them seemed to betray any frustration for having to work today. If anything, they seemed to be trying harder to make the patients feel happy!

Driving back home – very hungry (I did have one patient who had no family coming – so I landed up spending an hour talking to him and that made me very hungry in the morning) and somewhat overwhelmed, I tried sorting out in my mind the great strength of family ties that binds us together. The wheel bound stranger waiting with a grin on his face for his son to take him home for a few hours, the son who came just to sit by his mom who has lost her ability to understand what a family means, the staff who has chosen to balance the family at home and those that they are family to – their patients…

It is a great thing that at least once a year, we all step back from our daily lives to acknowledge our immediate and often our larger families. In this hustle bustle of modern life, it reminds us about what should be truly important to us.

Happy Thanksgiving y’all!!

16 November 2017

What if your eyesight was taken away from you?

I was somewhat flummoxed about what to do next. I had just concluded visiting one of my patients in the hospice. I had gone to see a new patient that I had been just assigned but he was deep in slumber. At that hospice, those were the only two patients I had. I was wavering between whether to go back home or visit another hospice center half an hour away when I noticed a blind person shuffling along with his walking stick in the corridor. Two things stood out. First, he was reasonably well dressed – and when I say well dressed in a hospice, I mean his shirt was tucked in and his hair was combed. However, he also did not seem to know where he was going.

I stepped up, cleared my throat and asked – “Are you trying to go somewhere, Sir?”
“Yes, I am trying to get to my room”, he replied.
“You live here?” I will admit, I did not think of him as a patient.
“Yes. But they have changed my room. And I am all confused now”.

“Okay. Maybe I can be helpful. What is your room number?”
“I think it is 5…7… something”.
I knew that the hospice had no such room number. The highest was 540. So, tactfully, I asked “By the way, my name is Raj. What is your name?”
“Louis Armstrong” (name changed to maintain privacy).
“Hang on here”.

Then I walked up and down a couple of corridors and found his name tag outside room 531.
“Okay. Your room number is 531. I can help you get there”.
“Thank you. Who are you?”
“Oh! I am just a volunteer. I spend time with patients”.
“So you are a doctor or a nurse?”
“No. I just spend time with patients”
“Doing what?”
“Mostly talking to them. Listening to them. Giving them company. Taking them for a walk. You know all that stuff I am allowed to do without a medical degree”.

By now, we had entered his room, All this time he used his walking stick to feel his way thru and I would just tell him which way to turn.
“So, you just talk to people?”. HE seemed almost incredulous.
“Yeah! Something like that”
“So, you will talk to me?”

Well, that presented an interesting conundrum. He is not a patient of mine. In fact, he is not even a patient of the company I volunteer for. But what the heck? I did not have anything better to do.

“Sure. Tell me your story. Who are you? Why are you?”

And the afternoon started rolling from there….

Louis was a NASA engineer. He worked on the first stage of the rocket that eventually put the first man on the moon. He also worked on the first stage of the rocket that put the shuttle into space.

And he was a World War II veteran. Who served in Burma where he was shot down from the sky.

Suddenly, he asked “Where are you from?”
“Which part of India”
“I have been to Calcutta”
“You have?”
“Yes. Do you know what is a third class compartment?”
(I had a vague memory that trains in India had three classes of compartments when I was growing up – usually it is only two now)
“I can’t remember”
“Well, there is no glass in the windows for the third class”
Laughing, I asked “How do you know?”
“Well, we were sent from Bombay to Calcutta by third class compartment in a train to proceed to Burma”

Louis has gone blind slowly over the last thirty years.
“Glaucoma?”, I asked
“Exactly. Are you sure you are not a doctor”
“Trust me. I am very sure. Tell me how was the transition. Are you used to it now?”

“Raj, unless you are born blind, you never get used to getting blind. You really do not know how much you give up till your eyesight is actually taken away from you. I know it is fall season now. I know how the trees and leaves used to look like but I cannot see it now.”

“Do you think it is more difficult to be born blind or go blind”?
After a few seconds of thought, he said “I do not think I can compare. I do not know what being born blind is like. But I also think it is much harder if you are given something and then it is taken away from you than never been given at all. You do not know any different when you never had it to begin with”.

Believe it or not, by then, it was almost an hour and a half that we had been talking. And when I say, talking – I mean he did all the talking. I was mostly listening.

Finally, I let him know that I needed to go.

“Raj – you said Raj is your name right….?”
“It is Rajib. But I go often by Raj”
“Right Raj. I know you do not do this for a living. So you may not come back. And even if you did and went past me, I won’t realize it. But if you find time, I would like to spend more time with you.”
“Sure thing. I have so much more to know about the rest of the life”
“No. Next time, I want to hear about who you are”
“You do?”
“I do.”

Well then, I have to come back, don’t I?

Post Script: Two days later, I went back to the same hospice. After finishing with my own patients, I went looking for him. He was not in his room. I went around all the corridors and finally found him in the common area totally immersed listening to the piano being played by a gentleman who was doing a rather good job at it, I thought. Another volunteer, like me, no doubt.

I thought a lot and decided not to bother him. Felt guilty that I did not let him know that I was around. But did not want to distract him from something he was obviously enjoying either. Will go see him tomorrow.