Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Story of a Bad Trip

Disclaimer: First things first, this is not autobiographical, not completely anyways. Rather, it is a mish-mash of patient's accounts, some of my own ramblings and lots of free time that really should not be free that has given birth to this short piece.

I am in Lucknow, a place of a terrible summer, a summer that sucks my throat dry in no time. A place of decaying buildings, of a heritage that is too familiar to breed anything but contempt, of big magnificent statues and parks devoted to a single cause, a place with tiny red ants that bite like little knives, pan stains on all walls and a place with many, many people living together in places that are much to small to hold them all. And I live here now. I have been moving around in the streets, and sure it is interesting, more interesting than any other place I have seen or been to in a long time. Its interesting in the sense of a massive culture plate that's teeming with all manners of bugs, good and bad, toxins and antibiotics, a new sight and smell and sound around every corner, sure all other places i have been to seem sterile like a bottle of glutaraldehyde. I am constantly amazed by the smell of sweat and blood and meat, among which people stand and eat, dogs running around their ankles, and none of them have looked icteric to me so far. I for my part have not worried about stuff as tame as cleanliness so far, each glass of water I have had on the streets seems to be anything but clear, the taste faintly brackish, but I have drank it all. I have had lassi on the streets, chaat by the dozen, beef kebabs and mutton kebabs, biryanis of indefinite origin, sweets, and all else that is on sale and is edible. I have been to beef shops with the big bovine legs hanging from meat hooks, scores of decapitated heads of lambs, their eyes glassy and fixed lying together in companionable comfort waiting until they are sold, and I have never ever been able to buy a good dussheri mango so far. However, I am still fairly certain that they exist, I just need to find out where they are available and for how much. But I do not consider all this a bad trip, pleasant and unpleasant, maybe, but bad, no. It just the way it is. I will come to the bad trip and the story in a little while. Let me ventilate a little bit. I have triesd to try everything that is available, trying to be unafraid. I have walked more than I have in a long time. Every evening I get out of my room, and start walking in a direction I have not taken the previous day. And I walk until I am tired or have reached where I wanted to reach, then I roam about for some time, maybe have a lassi or a kulfi, and take a rickshaw back. I try not to sit on the richshaw when the goin is uphill ( all roads here are on some sort of a gradient), I do feel loike an exploitative fat man sitting on a rickshaw that is being pedalled with obvious difficulty by a man who is probably less than half my weight. But then I cant afford a vehicle just now and the guy who pedalling me around needs employement too.
So one of these evenings, I was on a rickshaw and I reached the chowk. I did not have to get down but I did. There was nothing better to do, thirst had me floored and there was no beer available nearby. So looking around, I saw this shop selling thandai. I have a vague idea what thandai, I should know better now but I still don't. In fact, if I went to the shop again, I still would not know what to do. Well, let me visualize this shop, its a fairly usual shop, a few benches and there was a sikh family sitting on one of those benches. A plastic chair bedecked with flowers, I never knew what that was for, though some of the customers at that shop bowed before the chair before they tokk their places. Behind the counter is this man who looks a bit like a rodent, I am sure he is a nice guy otherwise. So I sit down and make myself obviously wanting to be served. And ambles along a nice, pleasant looking boy who asks me what I want so I ask him for a glass of thandai and he asks me what kind and i tell him that i want him to get me the tip-top, super-duper absolute best there is.
So a super-duper, tip-top best there is I get. Its green, and about half of the green goes into a biggish glass, topped up by some other concoction and on tasting, it is slightly bitter. Hmm, so this is what bhang is all about. And its no fucking good because it does nothing, and that is absolutely nothing, to me.

Bloody hell, so I walk around listlessly. I eventually find the shop of someone who is supposed to make the best biryani in town (incidentally, I haven't tasted it yet) and generally felt annoyed. Anyway, I walked back and by the time I reached back I had forgotten all about the thandai and its constituents. Just a vague thought that i did not want to waste my money anymore on such frivolous and useless stuff. Better buy some more dusheri mangoes and hope for the best.

I am alright, fine, great. And i get back and have a lemonade, its dark, and very warm. I sit there, click a picture on my mobile phone and send and receive a few text messages. My mates for the evening arrive, and as I get up, in that split second as my butt is just off the chair, something is wrong and I know it instantly. I don't know what it is, but I kind of totter, light headed to the counter and pay for my lemonade. I am ok, I am fine, it will pass, I counted the money alright, didn't I? So I walk and I notice that I just swayed, now that I think of it, it was kinda strange, I swayed and I walked into the car. It was a nice, big car and the air conditioning was delicious. But that feeling of wrongness just would not quit. And in a minute, I knew I was fucked because I felt like I was going to pass out any second. I was like sure of it, certain. And then I suddenly woke up and in front of my eyes was this darkness and a spot of golden light that went away into the distance, and I woke up. Had I just passed out, man that was seriously freaky. I have had all these people in my family who decide to die within minutes for no particular reason, and I thought that maybe I was about to join their ranks. And considering my state in life, that was not something I was particularly keen on. Lets see, I am thinking, I remember this as the car is moving, I am young but not young enough, I have this strong family history, and I do not want to die right now, I have to see so many things, and do so many things, should I take a risk and not worry about it and hope it will pass or should I play it safe and go to the fucking emergency right away and get an ECG. Before I can decide, I suddenly notice that I dont remember anything that has happened in the past one minute. Sure, I am still making some small talk but, hey this is bloody freaky. And I think, memory is not getting consolidated. And all this while, its like I am passing out, passing out, passing out, I need to stay awake, I need to stay awake, and if I close my eyes, I am not opening them again. My heart is beating like crazy, I can feel it through the my chest, and my fabindia fucking freaky stupid stylish kurta. I ask one of my mates to check my pulse, tachycardia, I make some more small talk about getting an antacid. An antacid, for an MI. One part of my brain tells me, get your ass to the emergency, the other part is like ok, this will pass, and all the while yet another part is scared shitless, keep awake, keep awake, dont close your eyes, and you are going to die. Kind of tough making the right choice. I am thinking, is this how my folks felt just before they died. I think in some vague corner, I also thought about Buddha, impermanence and the need to suffer. I was kind of hoping at that moment that I might be able to live a common, stupid, vulgar, humdrum life. So much for big words, I dont want to die here, away from my family, in a strange place with no one around but some bored rickshaw pullers.
So by the time I got to a particularly busy traffic point I insisted that I needed a BP recording. I am driven back, I get out of the car, by now my condition has stabilized to a state of constant anxiety, palpitations, a feeling of going faint at any moment. Strangely enough, through all this, I am lucid even though I am for a moment terrified. I even look at my wrist watch and see that it is about half past eight in the evening. My pulse is way too high, my blood pressure is matching my tachycardia. I know something is worng now. I want to go to the proper doctors, and I insist. So off we went, and we reached this place where cardiologists were likely to be found, but for the first five minutes none can be found. I am on my feet, I am feeling worse now, certain that I am about to fall. Finally I locate one and since he is not moving I tell him that I think I am in a bad shape and I need his help. So he tells me to go to the other room, slimy bugger. So I do, i still dont fall though I am sure that I am close now. Finally I can lie down on a bed but the ECG machine cannot be wheeled in, I have taken off my fancy shoes, and my mates' plans of a biryani and booze evening are irrevocably down the drain. What a spoil sport I am. So this time round they know that I am an important person and get me a wheel chair. I am taken to a chamber where an ECG is done, I am looking at the face of the cardiologist, and he looks at me and tells me that all I have is sinus tachycardia, my heart is beating at about 130 beats per minutes and he has no ideas why. I am feeling awful and he insists on asking me all those questions like how long did it take for my relatives to die after their symptoms started. And so I look at my watch and see that even after about half an hour, I am still in the land of living. I ask a couple of guys to confirm and pinch my eyebrow hard just to confirm. The pain jerks me awake. And for the first time I consider the effect of a toxin, cannabis. And I look around and see a fan spin above me, I follow it, I am still not sure what it is, not wanting to get into the temptation of resting. My brain is moving and I come up with some differential diagnoses:
1. A myocardial infarction-ask for an aspirin, they look at me and take their time.
2. Hypoglycemia for some reason, I drink a couple of bottles of IV 5% dextrose and it makes no difference.
3. Epilepsy: complex partial type..I think of lorazepam but think the better of it, I dont want to feel more drowsy than I already am.
4. The onset of psychosis, or worse still schizophrenia: I think I am fucked and there is nothing I can do about that.
I look around, everything looks like I am seeing it through a sheet of thick glass with high refractive index, it looks far away and indistinct and unreal. What is it called, jamais vu. Somehow it makes me happy that I am thinking straight. I ask someone, 'am I talking sense?', and he assures me that I am. I get an ecg repeated and the pulse is still pretty fast, its now a couple of hours and slowly I start to think that I am going to be Ok, probably that is. I ask him if he knows the chemical analogue of cannabis in the brain and I tick him off for not knowing that. I want them to have a good story to tell people in case I do conk off for some reason. But gradually, I am getting better, the senior doctor asks me how I am, and I say I am fine. How are you feeling he asks, and I say that I am scared of falling asleep and he grins and walks away. Soon I am getting bored of feeling miserable. And after about 3 hours, I am sure that I am going to be fine and I just have to live through this muck. So I will myself to sleep, and I do, only to wake up and vomit twice after a couple of hours. By the next morning, I am very sleepy and tired, I still feel unreal, my heart rate is down to almost normal levels. I think I feel hungry, and I wonder if I can walk around. Someone has kept my shoes next to the bed, I am touched. I walk out of the ward and get to my room, the pain as the hair on my chest is pulled as the electrodes are peeled off is excruciatinig and knocks all the depersonalization out of me. I have a bath and am back at work.
I think I should have a super-duper, tip-top thandai again and soon.

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