Monday, December 7, 2009

A quadriplegic my age

Sharad was a 19-year-old patient at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center in New Delhi, India. I met him when I was 20.

Sharad had been on his way to America for further studies and a bright future when he broke his neck in a scooter accident. His friend had been driving, two young men on a celebatory round of their hometown somewhere in Uttar Pradesh before Sharad flew to his dreams in the West. When his friend swerved to avoid hitting a cat on the road, Sharad fell from the passenger seat at the back. Now he was a quadriplegic at the ISIC.

When I met him, my brother was going through his own rehab experience for a broken back and paraplegia. While the ISIC staff was always cheery, all of their devastated patients and their shaken families would have given anything to be anywhere else, in a world where there was no such thing as a spinal injury. The numbed-out families of the patients would frequently run into each other, patting each other's shoulders and hands over stories being shared over and over with strangers who were bonding over despair and confusion.

I met Sharad once when my mother took me to his room. His family was there, all wearing forced smiles for Sharad who lay on his bed, forever unable to move or feel anything below his neck. His father was there too, and a brother and sister maybe. I remember his mother the most. A short Hindu lady in a sari and bindi who looked nothing like my mother except in the permanent helpless smile she had taken to wearing lately. Sharad was lying on his back on the hospital bed, silent with a face refusing emotion. He was a delicate young man. He was fair of skin and had a face that was pretty like a girl's. His slight moustache was like peach-fuzz.

We didn't stay there for more than 5 minutes. It felt like intruding, cruelly forcing the host family to go through meaningless social courtesies. My mother told me later that Sharad's famly often came to visit my brother and her in his room. His mother would tell her how she'd make her son's favourite foods and try to feed him with her own hands, but he'd refuse. She said that Sharad used to have a beautiful singing voice, but now he had trouble breathing on his own.

I think of Sharad often. I don't know what happened to him after that. I wonder where he is now.

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