My Bloody Gallbladder Stones
For uninteresting reasons, I end up in the emergency room of Fatimiyah Hospital in Karachi, Pakistan. I must have a very large stone in my gallbladder removed. Kind of chap-chap. The hospital is in Soldier Bazaar, located in a lower-middle-class neighborhood of this sprawling city. The emergency room is busy, with the display of human suffering of all kinds on show, and this puts me in an instant depressing mood. It takes a couple of hours for the process for admission to complete, so am told to relax on a cot emptied by a nervous elderly lady earlier. Except the staff does not inspect or clean it, and I park my behind on a small pool of urine that leaves a pattern of vague images across the seat of my pants.
I make it to the fourth floor, to an ‘executive room’, my home for the next three days. Here, it costs more than triple the general ward and one-third more than a semi-private room. It’s a large room and comes with basic drab hospital furniture. The cot looks lumpy, and the pillowcase looks like it has not been changed since the last greasy head rested on it. It’s only for three days; I console myself and brace for the discomfort. Until I go to the washroom and the stink caresses my nose; I think I’m sedated already. The floor has not been mopped either. I feel the first spasms of ire and ask the person in charge to have it cleaned up. One thing about Pakistan. Nobody ever says no to me. They are most polite and will always say yes to whatever I request. Fulfilling the request is another matter altogether. When my request goes unheeded for 30 minutes, I go charging to the nurse station outside. The nurse, a plump, short woman, wearing a dangling nose ring that I instantly feel like yanking, sits text-messaging on her cell phone.
Aree, saheb ka kaam karo, she yells at a lingering cleaning lady without looking up as I complain. The cleaning lady claims the floor is clean and she changed the pillowcase just before I came. Well, clean it up well, this sahib wants his room to be chamak-chamak, retorts the nurse.
The urge to yank her nose ring intensifies.
I’m offered a gruel of mashed daal and an undefined bowl of soup at 22:00, which I promptly dismiss. The nurse warns me I will not get to eat for the next 24 hours, so I better change my mind. I still refuse. She makes a face and disappears with the tray, muttering something about spoilt foreigners with more money than common sense. I promise myself I’ll have a go at the nose ring the next time she nears me. I fall into an uneasy slumber, made worse by the scurrying of rats darting across the false ceiling on the topmost hospital floor.
The surgery itself the next morning is pretty straightforward. I’m wheeled into a decently equipped, well-organized operating theater, prepped, and before I can say lollipop, the anesthesia kills me. Dr. Anjum Fazel makes a small but deep incision in my abdomen and removes the bloody renegade stone laparoscopically before stitching me up again. I am pumped with painkillers and left alone to return to life. I come around in my room, all groggy, and with the feeling of intense thirst; my tongue feels like the grit from the Gobi Desert. Peering down at me are some of the most beautiful pair of feminine eyes. They belong to Dr. Fatema.
Dr. Fatema is a demure 25-year-old doctor on call, and she is checking my vitals as I come around – all is well. I have seen beauty in my 64-year-old lifespan, but Fatema, masha’Allah, is exceptional. Her skin is flawless, and her hair strong and bountiful and deep-black, untainted with splashes of ghastly blond currently soiling overwhelming scalps in the guise of fashion. Not only is she a stunner, but Fatema is also exceedingly modest and soft-spoken, and will not meet my eye – her medical patient, and old enough to be her grandfather. However, she insists on practicing her imperfect English instead of conversing in Urdu with me, and I oblige. When I remark that she looks too young to be a qualified doctor, the gal deepens scarlet. My, my. This is a rare moment in my life where I wish I could ask a fair maiden for her hand in marriage. As a daughter-in-law. Jeez! Fatema checks in on me throughout her stint to ensure I am pain-free, then leaves; I do not meet her again, unfortunately.
The next day is a supreme test for me, for I am in pain with every movement; I’m certain Allah mia absolves me of all my major crimes the last 64-years this very day. I cannot cough, move, fart, sneeze or eat without excruciating pain, even though I am supposedly drugged with painkillers. The nose-ring nurse checks in on me, and I think I detect a smug sneer on her face when she sees the pain I am in. I will not swear to this, however; it could be my perception. Good thing she does not near my reach, nevertheless.
The food offered to me is nauseating. A sorry-looking omelet with nothing added to it for breakfast and a gruel of lukewarm daal for lunch and dinner. I am informed that I must finish the meals in 40 minutes or lose them; I’m not sure why. The tea offered all three days is tepid at best. Remember, this is the food and service for an ‘executive room’ package. I shudder to imagine what the semi-private and general ward patients must endure. I survive on some very nice, crisp, and sweet apples bought for me by Hussein Ali, an employee of Husseini Foundation, the local NGO CAI partners within Pakistan.
At 22:30, to be exact, I feel the urge to pee. I am well enough to walk to the stinking washroom, but I am connected to two drip bags, keeping me hydrated, pain and bacteria-free. I ring the call button to have the nurse set me free. And wait. I ring it again after 15 minutes, and I can hear it chime at the nurse station outside. Still, no response. After I do not get a response the third time and my bladder reaches a bursting point, I rip off the needles in my arm and hurry to pee, greeted this time by a lone roach warming the toilet seat. When the night nurse finally comes in to check on me, he is aghast to discover I did what I had to do and begins to lecture me. You should have been there to see the marammat I did of him. By the time I am done with my verbal assault on him (blunted only by the pain I am suffering at the excretion) and his employer, the hospital, he is a whimpering and wounded puppy,
Thankfully, I am released from the hospital on the third day. I am presented the bloody culpable gallbladder stone in a plastic sandwich bag. It is a huge stone, bright-red, and looks quite attractive, like a precious stone. I consider having it mounted on a ring (for future use, perhaps?) and preserve it safely in my possessions. Alas, the color has changed to a dull brown the last time I take it out to admire it. Ah well.
Oddly, I am not paid a post-surgery visit by Dr. Anjum Fazal, the urologist who performed the operation. Perhaps he is too busy? Surely hospital etiquette and professionalism call for a courtesy visit? Maybe I’m expecting too much for the ‘executive package’ I paid for?
Note: I write this piece about Fatimiyah Hospital, not in jest or malice. Precisely the opposite. I do it because I profoundly care for the institution and what it means for a minority and disadvantaged community. It is my earnest hope and prayer this write-up will bring about a genuine change in management towards a profession and service I consider Godly – restoring the sick and injured to health, especially the underprivileged.
Allah knows best.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this Blog are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the Blog do not reflect the views of CAI and or her Trustees.