Saturday, April 4, 2009

Mumbai freeze-frame: Ambulance

11. Ambulance

It was one of those mornings. The bad hangover, the extended shits, the maid coming late, the car keys missing just when your fingers are on the front door-handle. I eventually made it into the car, turned on the air-conditioner and luxuriated in the intractable sweat from the short walk to the car park, evaporating slowly from my pores. Only when I turned onto the Western Express Highway did I remember the pen drive, with my favorite Sigur Ros tracks, left back at the apartment. Again, the traffic was nothing new – a chaotic maze of cars, buses, lorries, auto-rickshaws, motorcycles and scooters, stretched into infinity on the six lanes, over and under the flyovers, or at least as far as the eye could see. I found a decent CD of something House to put on. At the Andheri overpass, I managed to get behind an ambulance that was desperately weaving its way through whatever space the driver could find with the siren blaring. It was a logical thing for me to do, hoping that the folks in front of it would feel some compassion for a possibly gravely ill victim inside, and give way, thereby allowing me to tag along behind. But then again, everyone around had obviously seen too many ambulance drivers drop nurses off home at the end of the night-shift by making use of the same shrill plea. And like I said, it was one of those mornings where patience ran thin in the collective air. Only after five minutes of tailing the Ambulance did it strike me that there was actually something going on inside. At the beginning I thought that it might just be an exhibitive orgy through the large clear-glass windows with doctors and nurses playacting a sex romp in an airy mock operating theatre – you know how the mind works when you’re late for work and can do nothing about it. There was a man with a stethoscope round his neck who moved back and forth from either side of the back of the ambulance hurriedly, checking for this, looking concerned about that. There was another man, a relative I thought, sitting behind what I judged to be the patient’s head and was stroking it with a hidden hand. There was a nurse who was at the feet of the unseen patient checking the pulse – I assumed so because she was looking at her watch constantly. I didn’t even know that I had turned down the volume on my stereo. A call then, from work – Where the fuck are you?, Do you know where the file for the Walking Tree account is?, How come you didn’t leave home earlier, asshole? I couldn’t hear too clearly on the Bluetooth earpiece so I told the boss to go fuck himself, under my breath, and said I would get there eventually and sort things out, with it. The scene had changed in the ambulance by the time I had disconnected. The doctor by now was standing by the side of the patient and not moving back to his seat at intervals, as before. The nurse was on the phone looking frantic and straight towards me through the back window, and the relative was working over time with his hands. I then saw the knee – bare, yellowed and enervated in movement as it came slowly into view and then dropped back down out of sight. Another five minutes as we finally came into view of the Santa Cruz overpass, still inching along. I did have many half-opportunities to overtake the ambulance during this time, but to my horror I found that I couldn’t – the scene in front of me was just too raw, and I couldn’t leave without seeing how it ended. I saw a ventilator in the hands of the relative, and as the doctor began his manual resuscitation, the nurse sat with her back turned to me and I couldn’t see what she was doing any longer. There was frantic pumping from both the men for a very long ten minutes, and then a shudder ran through me as the relative dropped the ventilator, and broke down wailing with his head out of the window for whoever cared to notice. The doctor fell back into his seat on the other side tiredly, and the nurse was on her feet, suddenly with a pad and a pen in her hand. The driver of the ambulance then swerved left to the side of the road just before we reached the airport exit and stopped. My last look at the ambulance was blocked by a van that swerved dangerously from two places behind me to take the momentarily empty space in front.

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