Joana would sometimes join the Lobsters, and she walked side by side with me while we were trying to figure out what was wrong. Calm, focused, showing me a clear path that kept me moving forward. She kept me company in the times that felt bleak before the day I found myself in that hospital bed.
To this day I still take myself back and find answers by wondering what she would say or do. And I heed her words that “we can’t save them all.”
From the first day I knew that I couldn’t “save” K. Because, for one, I didn’t know if he needed or wanted saving at first. Second, I was trying to save myself.
What I could do was lend a hand, make that stay of his a bit more bearable and break the language barrier between him, the nurses and the staff.
Step one was a success, he accepted treatment. Step two came gradually while I told the nurses I could help translate. In doing that, sharing a bit of his story became a way to soften their manners towards him. It’s not that they were rude or unprofessional, that bit of harshness came as a result of frustration from trying to communicate and asking for compliance. As soon as that barrier breached, smiles showed up from both sides.
K had a good heart. He had left Punjab and worked abroad before ending up in Lisbon with his wife and two children.
I didn’t get the full story, but at some point he was living under the bridge and had been found unconscious which led to waking up in the Hospital. Disoriented, confused and with blurry vision, tingling in the palms of his feet, the doctors prescribed him with medicine for excessive drinking.
“The dose he’s getting is meant for men who drink 2L a day, at least!” said the orderly.
Sikh don’t drink, their culture is strict in regards to that, and he was religious enough to wear the traditional iron bracelet. I don’t know and can’t imagine what brought him there, or why his family didn’t come to visit or wonder about him. But we would talk almost every time.
He told me a bit about his life in Dubai, about his children, and I never asked about the drinking or what had happened. It felt like he needed to talk more than to have a stranger asking about his life.
I learned to say Subadrina maste in my broken accent to wish him a good day, and Shubh ratri to say good night. I think he kept sleeping towards the foot of the bed because it reminded him of when he was a kid. He was, and is, a good man deep down. Something must have happened to derail him towards the curb and to sleeping under that bridge.
In the first days he was asking about his belongings, a suitcase, a bag, I don’t know. Neither did anyone else, “He was found unconscious, he didn’t have anything with him. Just some clothes that we kept in his storage.” Every now and then he would ask for a cigarette, but I don’t smoke, nor did anyone.
Soon the bed between us was occupied by a man in his 50’s or 60’s. He could barely move and needed help to get in and out of bed. He did smoke, and sometimes would share a cigarette with K. At least once or twice a day he would ask the orderlies to help him onto to wheelchair so he could go outside for some nicotine.
I have always hated smoking. It’s something with little point or benefit. So I politely asked him, in Portuguese, to refrain from giving K too many cigarettes.
My mood was high and I felt optimistic most of the time, and lucky for having had visitors every single day, and at same time guilty for seeing him alone with only me to talk to.
Joana texted me one day saying she would be visiting me. “Do you need anything?”
“Bring me some sheets of paper please, any kind.”