Chemotherapy is a strenuous treatment process. It takes a toll on your mental health, drains you physically and put a hole in your pocket. On the other hand, the physical process of chemotherapy treatment is quite simple. The doctors put medicine in your veins through an IV slowly. You start losing vision after the session and have low vision for a day. You also feel bloated, your joints ache post the chemo sessions for a couple of days. You pass your medicine in your urine for the next two days. And you feel bad as medicine cost you a fortune.
Consider all this a difficulty of the treatment. As I said, it’s heavy on the pocket, too, considering each session costs roughly Rs 50,000. The drugs used are life-saving drugs and unfortunately, pharmaceutical companies have a monopoly over deciding any price they want, especially in Third world counties. Governments don’t decide or even interfere in the process of deciding the rate card for these life-saving drugs. ‘Health for all’ is only an election promise to promote your manifesto to win votes.
An MBA graduate comes on their bike to deliver one vial in an icebox. Their take-home salary by the company might not even match the cost of the medicine fixed by a pharmaceutical company. A team of doctors recommended to me to only buy his prescribed medicine from the hospital dispensary and follow a particular channel. I smiled, ‘You are the worst sellers, please don’t sell, it’s not your job.’ I don’t know how people with no money manage such an expensive chemotherapy treatment in our country.
Even emotionally, it’s draining. The newly acquired disability after chemotherapy sessions is difficult to get used to. Losing energy in your legs feels surreal. Caretakers and family members get exhausted being there for the person who needs extra care all the time. They keep running between the hospital and pharmacy, while trying to keep up with the medical expenditure.
Then comes basic assistance in food and frequenting the washroom: ‘Again you will require to use the washroom?’ It takes a toll on your family and relationships, too. It is hard to watch breaking down in the chemo ward. I once witnessed a husband getting separated from his wife undergoing treatment. I muttered from my bed, ‘Asshole, is this the only place to break up? At least get her off the chemo bed and this ward.’
I complained to my doctors about such breaking expectations just like a child complains to their kindergarten teacher. While checking my medical chart, she said with a straight face, ‘Vaseem, chemotherapy and this ward is a litmus test. After the second session is when the reality hits the family real badly. This place keeps seeing such broken scenes.’
Reminding myself of an old Bollywood antic, I would keep my right hand on my heart and say to myself before sleeping, ‘All is well, our bond is special, it won’t break. Allah will not punish me further.’ I would forcefully wake up to the heavy chanting of ‘Praise the Lord.’ For a second, I thought, ‘Has the Lord come to our ward listening to these prayers? Finally, prayers from these dying patients have borne fruit.’ The ward was charged up by Pentecostal church sisters and social workers. The annoyed me changed sides on the bed and sulkingly said, ‘Behen, abhi bhi kisi Bhagwan par bharosa hai kya (Do you still have belief in God)?’