I could clearly remember that evening when the call came in. "Joash," the operator said. "Pack your defibrilator, a young lady just went into a cardiac arrest."
Grabbing my gear and dashing across the empty streets at 2 am in the morning with a cup of steaming coffee at the side of my door, I briefed the juniors following me in the back seat of what they had to do with cases like this. "What were the probabilities that this could be a severe case? How would I diagnose whether is it a cardiac arrest or brain dead?" I asked them. Part-time lecturer, some people called me.
As soon as the monitor at the dashboard told me that I was at the accident scene, I jumped out from the car with the gear in my hand and my juniors tailing me closely behind. She lived in an apartment at the 4th floor, so by the time we reached her room we were heaving, huffing and puffing.
A lady in her senior age was at the door weeping, close to a total mental break down.
"Please doctor, she's dying.." she sobbed while pointing towards the bedroom.
We rushed in and saw a motionless figure lying on the bed. That was all that we could see. Without much thought, we went right up to her and began our job. No pulse, no heartbeat..
"Ready for charge sir," my junior finally said. That was the signal for a clearance to pump the defibrilator. I checked the little nodes over her chest and on her heart. The electric sensors attached on her hand clearly indicated that her pulse was dropping by the second.
"30 watts, clear!" I shouted. Pressing the defibrilator against her chest firmly, I pulled the little trigger on the handle. Boof, a little sound and her body jolted up violently.
"No pulse sir."
"40 watts, clear!" Boof
"No pulse sir."
"50 watts, clear!" Boof
"50 watts, clear!" Boof
"50 watts, clear!" After a last and violent jolt, the danger warning on the heartbeat screen faded away. Her pulse was coming back. We heard a little cough. We saw her turn her body a little, and she was moving her hands. My junior pushed a breathing mask into her face and started pumping the gas bottle attached to it.
The next morning before I went home for my off day, I decided to pay that fine young lady a surprise visit. Straightening my shirt and taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door.
"Yes?" a sweet voice from inside called out.
Opening the door and walking in with a small bouquet of flowers I just bought 2 minutes before, I tried my best to stay as calm as possible though looking at the most breathtaking lady lying on the bed with a charming smile carved on her lips.
"Hi! I'm Joash, paramedic. How are you feeling now?" I extended the bouquet of flowers to her. She looked great, better than the night before. Her pale face yesterday was now flushed pink on both cheeks, making her look greater than ever.
"I'm great.. thanks for saving me.." she said politely. "..and for the flowers."
She was supposed to stay in the hospital for a few days for observation and stuff. Every evening after work or before my work started I'd drop by to pay her a visit and chit chat with her. She was a really really fun lady to be with. She had this totally assuring, encouraging and easy way of laughing out loud. As reserved in the way she laughs - like any other conservative women in the West - yet she was never too stingy to give any. It nearly became routine to sit down by her bed to talk to her.
In that one week, I knew the most about her. She was an orphan whose parents passed away in a highway accident back when she was little. Grew up with a nanny that she was sent to by the Children's Aid, the nanny brought her up through labour, pain and sweat. Deprived of all forms of luxury, she was forced - at times - to take to the streets selling newspaper, collecting tins, and occassionally as a cleaner from house to house. The carrying of goods, the scrubbing of floors, the washing of bathrooms, the picking of scrap metal rejected by people, all of it made toughened her up over the years. Her beauty, through the trials and tests of time never faded; her heart, over the months and years of rain and fire never grew cold. Instead, she walked out of that situation a better lady. Like a little butterfly hatching from it's cucoon, she went through a metamorphosis that transformed her from a girl to a fine young lady, lying on the bed now.
She never had enough money to pay for tuition fees, so while working in a paper recycling factory for a few months she gathered all the old school textbooks and revision books. After her long day's of work, she'd creep out to the streets and squat under a lamp post to study. She could never sit down on the damp wet floor as her back would hurt due to the long day's work. Many years of perseverance, she sat for the SAT test and aced it. Offered a place in Harvard Business School to study acturial science, she humbly turned it down for a teaching position in a local training college to fulfill her lifelong dream.
"I want to teach!" she beamed. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke of her childhood dream. "I'd stand by the window in school from outside, watching little kids learning how to read and write inside. I envy all of them inside. They were so fortunate to be sitting inside there to study while I was outside helping my nanny collect the rubbish while trying to keep up with their lessons on my own."
It became a desire to help those who needed the help most, but yet couldn't afford it.
She made her vision a mission.
And yet, as she walked out of teacher's college when she was 23, she collapsed and fell in the midst of a shocked crowd. Panic striken, the college board sent her to a nearby hospital. After a few examinations, doctors diagnose her as a chronic case of 'cardiac muscle malfunction'.
The state whereby the heart fails to beat normally due to the occurence of malfunction of the cardiac muscles occasionally, resulting in a temporary state where the heart stops beating. Symptoms similar to a cardiac arrest, but in this case the heart is perfectly normal other than the muscles.
She would just collapse or feel a shocking pain everytime that happened.
She could even die from that.
Before she left, I gave her a little portable Radiator-charged-defibrilator - simplified rad-charger. It functions similarly to the defibrilator. She was to tell the people around her about that rad-charger, and if she were to go into a state of cardiac arrest, her friends were to pump and charge her with that and she'd be fine in no time. We exchanged numbers and met up with each other on and off. And one day during lunch she told me that she was going on a UNICEF mission in Chiang Mai. She was to go there and enter the rural villagers to teach the small kids there English.
"The administrative told me that they would need help from a couple of trained and experienced doctors there," she blurted. "The only person in my mind was you." Before I knew it both of us were spending all our free time going to the shopping malls purchasing proper gears and clothes to take down to Chiang Mai. Apparantly UNICEF reported that Chiang Mai that year was going through unpredictable weather changes and temperatures has dipped below 10 degree Celcius.
"Better safe than sorry," she said with a chuckle. Going out with her was an amazing experience altogether. She would surprise me by choosing clothes of my favourite colour of matching size. She'd pick up shoes with designs I liked and put it back after looking at the price tag.
"I know you inside out dear." she mumbled, often with a little smile.
Few days later, we were in Chiang Mai and for once UNICEF was right. It was freezing and it was a real rural area. Expecting to see a similar scene to the slums in New York, I was taken aback by seeing children wearing nothing except for a sackcloth over their waist. Huts with no electricity, huge jars containing water, ladies cooking using no gas or electric stove but charcoal and firewood. Tears came to my eyes as I saw their dilapidated state. Tash - as I call her - was more concerned on starting her job.
Together we unpacked and swiftly did what we had to do. Little nonsense, little talk. Pure work. She set up a little blackboard and gathered the little children. With what minimal Thai she learned while onboard Thai Airways, she slowly taught the children the alphabets and gave them all pencils and papers to write and scribble on. From afar, as I treated the villagers of all sort of disease and sickness, from the corner of my eye I could see her joy and satisfaction of hugging the little children, sitting them on her lap as she told them stories, holding their small hands and showing them how to write...
Speak of a dream coming true.
Approaching the end of our mission trip there, I took her to some higher peaks near the local village. I promised her a surprise earlier the week after a villager took me up there to pluck some rare plants to take back to NY. She gave me the best hug when I brought her up there and gave me a light peck on the cheek. She sat down on a near by rock and motioned me to go over. Sitting down beside her, she cuddled up beside me.
"I forgot to bring my jacket dear. Care to lend me some warmth?" she asked cheekily.
I touched her and realised she was freezing. Though the night was dark - except for the illuminating moon and the flickering stars overlooking the valleys and creeks - I could make out that she was shivering. Taking off my jacket and revealing my singlet I was wearing inside, I wrapped it around her.
Shocked, she gasped, "You'd freeze!"
"I won't." I replied softly as I zipped the jacket over her. "You by my side will keep me warm."
Nesting my head over hers, I couldn't resist from smelling the fragrance of her hair. The natural odour, I'd never know why I'd be so attracted to it. Holding her hands from the side and rubbing it gently, my fingers made it's way through the fine valleys on her palm. The evidence of a rough past and proof of hardship.
Suddenly she started shaking. I knew what was coming.
"I.. I think.. I need my Rad-charger.." she mumbled. Her hands reached for the little bag she carried everywhere with and took out the little equipment. Unzipping the jacket and placing the electric nodes beneath the shirt she was wearing, I asked her, "How does it feel everytime you charge yourself?"
Without stopping from assembling the equipment, she looked at me in the eyes and said, "Hurts.. stings.. pain.."
And that moment I felt the pain she went through. I cried in the heart, with no tears falling from my eyes. Scrambling behind her just in time before she pressed the charge button, I wrapped my arms around her tightly.
"Let your pain be mine too."
Her finger that was over the button never did tightened. She never did press the button. Instead she turned her head over. "You'd feel the shock too, dear."
"What shock is greater than the shock of standing beside you, not being able to be share your pain? What hurt is deeper than the hurt of not being able to help you?" Too long she has suffered, too long she has been in pain. I realised that she became the one I loved with everything I had in me.
She never did press the button. Instead she turned over and hugged me tightly. Holding her in my arms, she drenched herself in her own tears. The muscle problem never triggered. She forgot about it and she was fine after that. As the moon blanket us with a layer of imaginary snow, her thoughts became mine. Her heart became the only means of expressing her feelings, and her passion and her dreams to teach became the only bridge that brought us together.
We flew back with new dreams. We chatted happily about our future throughout the 7 hour flight back to NY. Upon landing, I held her hands firmly as we walk out of the airport.
She pulled her hand away. "Oops.." she exclaimed with a little grin. "I forgot something dear.. wait for a moment ok?" without waiting for a reply, she ran back inside the airport. As I saw her from outside she walked towards a souvenir shop. For a while I couldn't make out what the cheeky Tash was up to, then I saw her walking out with a large bouquet of roses. She grinned from ear to ear as she strolled out slowly, and that was when...
"EVERYONE DOWN! THIS IS A HIJACK!! EVERYONE ON THE FLOOR NOW!!!"
2 masked man with rifles in their hands pointing towards the air was walking in the foyer. Over their heads was a red ribbon with some sort of Arabic words written on it.
Oh no, not now..
And I dreaded the worst. Tash who was nearing the entrance decided to make a dash for the door instead. She nearly made it to the door when one of the gunman saw her running out. He made an aim for her.
"NO!!!!" I yelled as I ran towards her. "DUCK TASH, DUCK!!!"
PANG PANG PANG
I ran to her and pulled her over behind me. Hugging her, I turned her around to face the door with my back to the gunman. I thought the world stop moving. I saw the shock on the faces of people nearby. I saw the beautiful face of my beloved Tash under my nose. Her mouth was slightly ajar as if she wanted to tell me something.
Then I felt it. A piercing shot of pain. Something like the tearing of flesh. And I felt it again. And again.
Warm fluid trickled down from my shirt. My back was burning hot, and in a matter of seconds my strength drained out from my back. My grip on Tash loosened and I collapsed. All I saw was Tash holding my face with tears running down her cheeks as she yelled and yelled for help.
What happened next was a total mess. I thought I saw the SWAT team storm past me and Tash. Many many gunshots were heard, I couldn't make out who won and who lost. But soon enough paramedics were all over me and wrapping my wounds with clean dressing, they lifted me to a trolley and wheeled me into the ambulance.
I was conscious for a couple of minutes in the ambulance.
Before darkness overwhelmed me.
Struggling to open my eyes, my vision was blurred initially but I soon made out who were beside me. Freezer, a good friend of mine whom I met back in college days was beside me.
"Joash, you have Tash to thank for. She gave you your heart." he said solemnly. I thought I knew him better than that. He was the only cardiologist in the whole NY who had enough sense of humour to hold a heart in his hand and crack the whackiest joke on earth.
"Tell me a better joke dude," I mumbled. "Where's Tash?"
He looked at me with eyes I've never seen before. His lips were sealed, but I could make it out.
"Where is she Freezer? Where is Tash?" I demanded. I tried to get up and with all my strength I yanked at his white overall. "Where is she?"
I cried all night. I couldn't have cried anymore than that, I could't have cried over anything other than that.
Tash really gave me her heart. Freezer wasn't joking.
The 3 bullets penetrated my heart and punctured the heart walls. It was as good as dead. Tash, out of desparation signed for a heart transplant. She could donate her heart because her's was in good condition, spare the muscle malfunction. That wouldn't affect me because my muscles and nervous system could take care of that.
Why did she do that for me? She was so silly..
And in my attempt to save her, she saved me in return.
Returning from hospital, I opened my apartment door to a mess. I left my apartment in a mess before heading off to Chiang Mai, thinking that me and Tash could handle the mess after returning from the mission trip.
Now I'm left to clean it up alone.
Frisking through the pile of get-well mails accumulated over the week while I was in hospital, the door bell rang. I thought it was another irritating sales rap trying to promote his product, or probably another sympathetic friend who tried to be compassionate in his futile attempt. I decided to ignore the door bell. Thankfully the door bell never rang again.
It was unmistakable. I couldn't have been hearing a ghost. Though I was going through a depression and was on Prozac, but hallucination was never a side effect of the drug. I could swear that I heard it loud and clear.
"Dear.. I miss you.."
I made a dive for the handle and opened it. I didn't even have to look at who - or what - was standing before me. I dragged her into my arms and cried over her shoulders.
"What have you done Tash?"
"I gave you my heart.." she said. ".. so that I could get a new one."
What Freezer did not tell me, was that he implanted a little glass heart that ran on motor power to replace her real heart. It ran on motor and not on the nervous or muscle anymore, that means that she would never have the problem of a cardiac muscle failure. She was free from the bondage of Rad-charger. She could leave the charger at home for good.
"And that little glass thing," Freezer once explained over a lunch way before meeting Tash, "could well last a decade or so without replacing or recharging."
Hugging her like we never hugged before, I smelled her hair. The fragrance remained the same. My hands crawled up to her heart, and pressing it I thought I felt the motion of a running motor inside a hard casing, and I asked her, "How does it feel like to have a glass heart?"
"It doesn't matter anymore, my heart is in safe hands."
She freed herself from her heart problem by giving me a heart. By giving me her real heart, she gave me the chance to live again, not because I once saved her life, but because by giving me the chance to live again she too gave herself the same opportunity to live a normal life, free from Rad-charger. Her ultimate sacrifice wasn't to let Freezer open her up and take away something from inside her, her ultimate sacrifice came the very day when she, while lying on the bed that one cold night waiting to die, decided to give herself up for a man that God would send to her in time for anything.
In giving me her heart, more than just a new life, she gave me the assurance of a love that will never grow cold, and most importantly she gave me the very basis and roots and fundamentals of a love that will last and never die.