Why do we lack the essence of eldercare as a nation?

This is a personal experience of the author and how he did feel about an incident.

I had a very moving encounter with a visually impaired old man who came to Civil Hospital Karachi. I was walking back to my campus with a colleague, absorbed in a conversation about an ongoing research project when we passed within shouting distance of him. My black polarized sunglasses put him at my retinal blind spot, but my female colleague had to cut short my monologue for his desperate calls. The man was calling out for directions to anyone who would care to explain the scribbling on a small paper he was clutching.

Over a broad consensus, the old man’s hand was given into mine and I was directed to take him to his destiny –the cardiology OPD at CHK. He must be in his seventies and had a hoarse voice, weak stature but a steady gait. Hand in hand we started walking against throngs of people walking in every direction, seemingly more against us, at a slow, laboring pace.

My ability to get around crowds was suddenly neutralized. My partner held my hand and kept walking in a straight line. The crowd on the other hand reminded me of the kinetic model of gaseous particles I was taught in high school –crisscrossing, bumping, stopping and turning in every direction. If I were alone, I wouldn’t have a problem making repeated adjustments to avoid the incoming people. But sadly my blind man wouldn’t see the chaos.

So people were bumping and rubbing past him at the face of my amazed stares. I had assumed that a blind man would have a problem of bumping into people on walkways, but here I was seeing people bumping into him head on!

The pedestrians were not the only ones up against our faces. One motorcyclist streaked past his shirt and tore his side pocket. The blind man was furious and so was I, he being more verbally expressive while me being dumbstruck.

Soon I realized that the low lying topography of Civil Hospital needs careful mapping for him. I kept telling him to ‘step up, now step down, now be careful, don’t splash water’ while he dutifully followed. For him this was usual, but he appreciated my keenness. Navigation is my weak side too, so I asked a couple of people before I was finally at the cardiac OPD (Civil is like level 10 of a maze puzzle). 

The doctor examined him and wrote him his prescription and refilled the drugs. I hope that somebody at his place will be able to administer him those. I was relieved to have done my duty and asked the doctor if I can leave. The doctor looks up and asks me: ‘Are you not his attendant?’

And I thought, ‘Am I?’

He only met me near the campus; so how did he get here in the first place?

May be his attendant will be picking him up from somewhere. I asked him that, and his reply still leaves me in awe of human dignity and courage:

Allah brought me here’ –though the symbolism was completely lost on him.

 He has no son or anybody to come with him at this age. He took a bus to come from Malir, a neighborhood we also metaphorically refer for a place that is very far away. Not to mention he is on cardiac medications.  

 The bus ride I later realized was no short of Jihad itself. I walked him to the bus stop on the main road –the perils only magnifying here. Motorists seem not to realize that 2.7% of Pakistan’s population suffers from some forms of visual impairment. With my heart in my mouth I leapt forward to stop one car trying to park –the footpaths being already taken by vendors. In our zeal to beat the clock and the system, we seem to have forgotten that if not blindness, old age does afflict everyone. 

The first bus conductor to respond to our wave apologized. Understandably, he wasn’t prepared to make arrangements in his small bus with its filled seats to take him home. Once again, the old man did not care. We waited for another one. Thank God, this time my patience was not tested. The bus had a vacant seat and I was really happy that finally he’ll be on his way home. We carefully got on the bus and I seated him. I told his fellow passenger that he has to go to Malir, still in disbelief as to how a man of this age and impairment can make it from there.

With a sigh of relief, I got off and disappeared. May be I was too embarrassed at the treatment meted out to him by my own fellow countrymen, or maybe I was so rushed that I forgot to pay him my due respects.

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