There are very few places on earth that have the level of contradictory emotions squeezed into the same corridors, as a hospital or an airport. Beginnings and endings: happiness and sadness; all life changing events. Whether it’s a dying sibling or a recovering spouse, these experiences are intermingled, most always with strangers and with the immutable chaos of crowds. Maybe it is saying good bye – forever or for just a few days; alternately, it’s welcoming someone forever or for a short visit.
Since my travel has taken me to five continents, I have had the opportunity to first hand examine many airport in its flow, complexity, distress and disorganization. Fortunately, I haven’t had the chance to see hospitals in five continents.
One of our relatives, described the last few days of her husband at a hospital, in England, with one suitcase; after collecting a lifetime of wealth, property and good friends and family, he still died alone in her arms and the timing seemed short.
My most memorable hospital stay was during the birth of our beautiful Daiyaan. Fourteen years ago, at the red-brick Toledo Hospital. I distinctly remember the day Wasima and I met (we drove separately) to see her OBGYN: Dr. Terry Gibbs, and he said, that she would have to stay back and have the baby soon.
My young wife, nervous and anxious: ready to change our lives forever. She was wearing a beige suit with big maroon bamboo buttons and baggy pants. She looked beautiful and vibrant with her hair tied up in a pony tail. We were too young and not just geared up for parenthood. But it all happened as a series of events out of some TV movie. I cannot imagine pain of childbirth, but those 36 hours of waiting, poking, walking and breathing left both of us somewhat breathless and exhausted. Daiyaan was born, and in a couple of days, we brought her home to change our lives forever.
My first depressing hospital story was in Rushmono Poly Hospital ~ 25 years ago in Dhaka. I was out with some friends, on a May afternoon; upon return, I saw an ambulance at our front door and my unconscious father being carried out in a stretcher. He was an epileptic and had periodic seizures every year. We knew about them, but never really had to go to a hospital in the past. Those 10 or 12 hours at that dark, understaffed hospital, I never thought my father would die. I seriously thought that my melodramatic mother was overreacting in her classic exaggerated style. But, just like a bad movie, the following morning, my father died. Later in the day, I helped carry the stretcher to take his dead body home.
Every time I walk through the airport security, outside I see crying mothers, lovers or sisters saying goodbye; similarly, at the arrival gate, I see people waiting with flowers, with glistening eyes; families waiting to welcome their sons/daughters or parents from war.
My most memorable airport stories are connected to the time when I made my journey to my new home; I left Bangladesh on a moist August evening with friends and family in a caravan of cars – on my way to win the world. I was young and impressionable to think that I could escape the misery of my birthplace by carving out my own new identity in this new land where the options are “endless” and the roads are paved with golden opportunity. At Zia International airport, for some odd reason, I was taken on a micro-bus to the gate. As my transport carried me, I saw from afar, one of my friends running after the car, and my mother with her moistened eyes, wiping tears of uncertainty.
Similarly, when I arrived at St.Louis’s Lambert field, I was looking for those golden opportunity stickers everywhere, hoping to see the welcome wagon from my new University. After all, I had sent them a letter and a telegram (these were pre-email days) many a day back informing of my arrival. There was no one there. I didn’t realize that Columbia, MO was ~ 120 miles from St. Louis and that I couldn’t just catch a bus or car to get there. The yellow floor tiles and the faded red carpet of the TWA terminals still haunt my dreams.
Today, everytime I land back in a US airport, irrespective of the “port of entry”, I feel relieved. When I land at the Fort Lauderdale airport, I feel elated; I know the path from here very clearly. Short walk to the garage, elevator to my 3GG parking spot and then off towards my piece of heaven. As I walk through the airport, I can smell Wasima’s cologne, see Daiyaan’s sparkling eyes and can feel Shania’s lips on cheek…. I know I am home. In a few more minutes, I will be reunited with my destiny.
Uncertainty, anxiety and doses of pain and pleasure, like a poorly mixed martini. It never comes in a “moderately” shaken or stirred concoction.
You have to take it, as life is doled out to you; at airports and hospitals.