The year was 1928 and the place was London. An Indian Army doctor was walking with his wife along a shop-lined street. Suddenly, his wife spotted a fur coat in a show window. “Oh, what a lovely coat!” she exclaimed. The coat was indeed very striking. “Let’s go and look at it,” her husband said. Those days the use of animal fur for wearing apparel was not banned. The terms, “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” had not yet been coined, and conservation of flora and fauna was not considered necessary for these were in no danger of extinction. The couple entered the shop and asked the lady in charge to show them the coat. As she laid it on the counter and mentioned the price, they were both taken aback. “It’s too expensive,” the doctor’s wife said, and her husband agreed. “We can’t really afford it,” he said and they left the shop, disappointed.
As they walked along, the husband said: “Maybe we’ll see another coat that is cheaper, and you may like it. But first we must go to the hospital.” The hospital referred to was the one in which the doctor had qualified as a surgeon before he joined the Army. And the reason was to get his wife examined by the senior surgeon under whom he had worked in the past. She had been complaining of vague digestive disturbances for the past few months while they were in India. Her husband had got her checked up, and some treatment had been given, but her discomfort persisted. X-rays were also inconclusive, so the doctor told his wife that they would go to London and get her attended to by the chief surgeon at his old hospital. His leave was also overdue, and they would both spend it here in London.
When they met the chief surgeon, he was happy to see his old student after so many years. After a preliminary examination and x-ray, the surgeon could not find any answer to his patient’s problem. “I can do an exploratory surgery, and then we’ll know what the problem is,” he suggested. “I’ll have to put your wife under general anaesthesia and do the needful. It will take at least a couple of hours so you needn’t wait here. You can go and do whatever you have to and come back here in two or three hours.”
The doctor had nothing in particular to do, so he went for a tram ride around London. Then he went to a park and sat on a bench and took in the lovely green surroundings. Suddenly he looked at his watch. It was over two hours since he had left his wife in the hospital.
When he arrived at the hospital, his wife was in a cabin and was still under the influence of the anaesthetic. He asked the sister in charge if the surgeon had found anything. She asked him, “Have you seen the chief surgeon?” When he replied in the negative, she said, “You’d better go and see him.”
When he went to his old professor’s room, he found him sitting at his desk and looking reflective. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said, “but I can’t do anything for your wife.” Seeing the questioning look on the doctor’s face, he said, “Please sit down.” The professor held his old student’s hand and said, “I’m afraid your wife is in an advanced stage of cancer. It started in the gall bladder and has now spread too much. It was too late to do anything so I just stitched her up……I’m sorry, but I don’t give her more than a month,” he said, blinking away the tears that had suddenly sprung in his eyes. “We’ll keep her under sedation much of the time so she won’t suffer,” he ended. “I’m so sorry,” he again said.
The young doctor’s head started whirling. His wife was only 35 and she was dying. What could he do? The thought of the fur coat suddenly came back to his mind and he abruptly left the hospital and found his way to the shop. The woman who had attended to them was still there. “My wife and I had seen a fur coat here this morning,” he began. “My wife liked it very much, but she’ll never be able to wear it.” He paused for a while and then said, “I’ve just found out that my wife is dying of cancer. The doctor has given her just a month.”
After a few more moments of silence, he spoke. “I’d like to buy the coat, just to show it to her. I’ll bring it back after a few days and return it to you. It will be returned unworn, but since I am taking it out of the shop, you can deduct half from the amount of money I’m giving you.” The woman was taken aback. “I’ll pray for your wife,” was all she could say. She silently packed the coat and gave it to him.
When he went to the hospital his wife was awake. “How are you feeling?” he asked her. “I’m feeling okay,” she replied sleepily. Then she spotted the parcel. “What is that?” When her husband opened it, she said, “Oh, you bought it for me. Thank you so much. I’ll wear it when I am all right.” Her husband had a hard time trying to hold back his tears.
His wife was kept partly sedated for the next three weeks until she passed away. The doctor went to the shop to return the coat. “My wife passed away this morning,” he said handing the coat to the woman who had sold it to him. She took it from him and returned all the money that he had paid. When he asked her to deduct half the amount, she refused. “I’m glad your wife saw the coat before she died. May her soul rest in peace!”
(The Army doctor became my father-in-law many years later.)
(The writer’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)