Bombay, Bypasses and Burning Questions

This last week has been spent in a tizzy. I left for Bombay last Tuesday to be by aunt’s side, while my uncle went through a quadruple bypass surgery. Even as I type out the reality, it feels dreamlike. Perhaps it’s my consciousness trying to soften the harshness and the suddenness of events.

My uncle, being  a long-standing diabetic and a recent sufferer of Parkinson’s, has always been particular about his health and my aunt’s one-point program has always been to look after him to the best of her abilities. She’s been devoted in that aspect and together they’ve managed to stave off major complications. Perhaps that’s why we were all so shocked when she called us late morning on the 5th of Jan to tell us, they had taken him to hospital with breathlessness. I remember the moment with that peculiar clarity that seems to accompany such moments. Moments when you know that Life as you knew it is about to change and nothing is ever going to be quite the same again. Moments, that cause you to hold your breath and shut your eyes. Moments in which you find yourself praying (if you’re a believer and sometimes even if you’re not), and hoping that what you’re going to hear is not bad news, while your sixth sense is telling you that it is. The proverbial ‘sweaty palm moment’ before you decide on ‘Fight or Flight’. I’ve had my fair share of these and perhaps that’s why I recognized this one instantly and knew what I had to do.

I’m thankful that once I knew what I had to do, circumstances conspired so that I could indeed do it, not always a possibility. I’m referring to Ishaan of course and the fact that I would have to leave him with my Mom and Pushpa, while I travelled to my aunt’s side. My boy is a gem though and he sailed through with flying colors, barely missing me if my Mom is to be believed, and certainly not missing me nearly as much as I missed him! He made up for it though with much hugging and kissing and smiling on my return 🙂 Good boy! But I digress.

The operation lasted approximately four hours, and I am happy to report that they were four relatively tension-free hours because we had such great company. This is when family needs to rise to the occasion and I’m glad & grateful to those that did, couldn’t have done it without them. I can now happily report that the operation was successful and that my uncle’s recovery has been without major hiccups. We’ve been lucky so far and all I wish for now is that our luck should hold and his recovery be completed without further complications. Minor hiccups are unavoidable though…aren’t they always? He’s been a little disoriented and drowsy because of low sodium levels, just like my Dad was after his hip surgery. It’s a very common post-operative imbalance in the elderly and one that you need to watch out for and keep in mind if you have older relatives. But the hospital has provided excellent care (unlike my Dad’s time) and things are getting better.

I spent most of days just being there for my aunt. We got to spend time together especially for the first two days when my uncle was in Intensive Care where no visits are allowed. We spoke like we always do about everything and nothing! And happily we found that we could still laugh together J I was even able to read two books. The Squire, His Knight and His Lady by Gerald Morris and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, both easy, enjoyable reads. I’ve had a lot of time to think too, while sitting around and waiting. So much of time spent in hospitals is about waiting. Waiting for doctors to arrive, for nurses to leave, for tubes to come out, for reports to come in, for tests and results, for evidence of recovery and signs of deterioration, waiting and watching and staying alert to every nuance, every change, imagined and unimagined in the patient’s condition.

I’ve been wondering about several things this past week. How are senior citizens in India expected to manage without any help or support in a medical emergency? It’s not like the Government has any infrastructure in place that will help, nor do I see such a service developing in the near future. India has so many burning issues right now, that the care and need of its older citizens, is hardly a priority. Sadly, I’m talking about this myself only because I am now surrounded by several aging family members, many of whom cannot expect help from family, whether by choice or through misfortune. I do hope though that someone, somewhere, who can do something, will take notice. I would love to be able to help somehow.

The visit also served as a prelude of our move to Bombay this summer, and it’s not a pretty picture. I didn’t expect it to be, but I am saddened by the speed with and the extent to which Bombay had deteriorated since we were last here seven years ago. The city is bursting at its seams and no one seems to care, not the people and certainly not the Government. Traffic is horrendous, hygiene non-existent and corruption rampant. These aren’t new problems, just old ones that seem to have strengthened their strangle-hold on this seamy Metropolis. It makes me sad, as I see Bombay being buried under her own debris. The spirit that all Mumbaikars are so proud of, apparently only surfaces in times of crises, and although I’m thankful for that, I wish it weren’t so.

Which brings me to another burning question…how do I adjust to living in a tiny two-bedroom apartment? More importantly, how does Ishaan, who’s lived his entire life in a sprawling bungalow with its own garden? Will he adjust to playing cricket in the narrow compound? Or will he get bored of the game, coz he’ll have to constantly check his shots to avoid breaking car windshields & apartment windows? How will he adjust to his new school, a large set-up as opposed to his present small family-like environment? That he’ll cry is a given, for how long is what worries me! Oh I know he’ll adjust eventually, we all will, it’s not like we have a choice. But it won’t be easy, and we don’t have to like it…which is what scares me. There is of course the bright side, thank goodness! All the advantages of living in a Metro will automatically be ours…better education, opportunities, healthcare…although sometimes I think that depends on every person’s personal definition of ‘better’. Our apartment although tiny is situated in a quiet lane (in itself a miracle in Bombay), and surrounded by the green tops of the surrounding coconut palms. It is not far from a couple of parks that will have to serve as Ishaan’s playgrounds. And Goa is just a 40 minute plane ride away 🙂 Never thought I would be saying this, but I think I’m going to miss it more than I care to admit 😛

So this has been an eye-opener of a trip. It’s brought me face to face with my own prejudices and fears, but also left me with the knowledge that every crisis can be overcome with the right attitude and approach. It’s not a new lesson, just an old one that has been reinforced and now sits deep & comfortably within my conscience. And I’m a better person for it.

The Ramblings of Mr. Fluey…

So here’s some of what I’ve pondered, learnt and wondered about the World and myself during the time I’ve been away…But let me warn you first, the trusty Brain is all ‘Fluey’ right now so NONE of this may make any sense. Yes I know, not much of anything makes sense these days anyway…well not to me it doesn’t, or maybe that’s just the depression talking! See I told you…’FLUEY’! Just think of these as the ramblings of ole Mr. Fluey! He’s beginning to grow on me, the sneak 😛

It’s that time of year again. The Monsoon is firmly entrenched in Goa, clothing her in resplendent green. Unfortunately so are the mosquitoes. And the flies. There is NO escape. This is also the time for the annual Flu marathon. You would be hard-pressed to find a household that does not participate! You know the drill…the vague malaise, a hint of itch in the throat, the heavy head that signals its arrival; followed by the incessant sneezing, the running nose, that makes you wonder where that waterfall in your head otherwise lives, and the cough – hacking, phlegmy and lingering. Oh how the blessed thing lingers & lingers and lingers! And to add to all the physical discomfort, how about a little low-grade depression thrown in to spice things up?! I mean what’s a marathon if not a grueling test of endurance? And more obstacles only demand and prove endurance right? In case you were wondering…just being rhetorical here. It’s a favorite past-time of Mr. Fluey’s!

But what’s a marathon with a lone participant eh? The more the merrier – in Health and apparently in Disease! So we have everyone in the family affected, together or serially making for a wonderful month-long tournament of illness. There, so now you know what I’ve doing while I’ve been away for the most part. I think I’m just about to cross the finish line, although who’s to say? The Flu is nothing if not treacherous! But it can be illuminating too…occasionally. Because you have all the time in the world to think. Provided of course you choose to think about the ‘real’ stuff, you know, not the frivolous stuff that I so often let Mr. Fluey ponder upon 😛 Let me give you an example. Did you know that from a certain angle, the curve of a dog’s tail is easily and very convincingly mistaken for a black swan’s head? You didn’t know that? Just ask Mr. Fluey!

And here’s a few other things Mr. Fluey has been thinking these past few weeks.

When the inside of your car is comfortable, the outside really doesn’t matter 🙂

Never stop the cold fluids during the Flu! Especially when that fluid is a chilled Thums Up!

You’re never too sick to Dream 🙂

Enjoy the depression while it lasts. Reality is worse.

Thoughts are nothing without action and language means little without speech.

Frivolity is a fun nay essential requisite for Happiness 🙂

Most parents equate respect with obedience. I respectfully disagree.

When you have to cough…don’t bother to fight it.

The sneeze is a mighty weapon! Use it well 😉

Watching a bird build its nest is miraculously uplifting 🙂 and humbling 🙂

Photography is eminently therapeutic but supremely addictive. Beware!

Music has its moments but sometimes only Silence will do.

Prayers come at the strangest hours, uncalled for and not always spiritual, but calming even when unanswered.

Love conquers much but you have to let it.

Snoring is just another form of breathing. Get used to it.

Rage is not always a bad thing.

Terror and terrorists will sadly outlive you and me 😦

Good movies are essential for sanity!

There’s always someone feeling worse than you are! Usually your spouse 😛

When all else fails…trust the BOOZE!!

A body deprived of sleep is like a soul deprived of salvation. Did I really type that? Jeepers…Mr. Fluey is getting away from me…must be the sleep-deprivation…

Mr. Fluey says Good Night…

Just to take the edge off all the tripe above…here’s something to make you feel good…No Words 😉

House of Glass

I wrote this on the 30th of May but as always, couldn’t find time to post it. It’s a tough time right now for all of us. As always, writing is therapeutic. Almost the only thing that is, apart from Ishaan. So here goes…

Monday, 30th May…

We brought Dad home from the hospital, 10 days ago. Although there’s a lot to be said about being in a familiar environment, it continues to be a tough time for us all. The best way I can describe it at the moment is like ‘living in a glass house’. Treacherous they are, these walls – invisible, sly, and unexpected.  You know what I mean. I know I do. Too many times I’ve ruined a graceful exit by hitting my forehead painfully on a glass door that I never saw coming! That’s just how it is living with a patient of dementia. You think everything’s going well, until ‘WHAM’, you walk straight into a wall and everything – your goals, your hopes, and your spirit, lie shattered in a million pieces.

My Dad’s physical recovery has thankfully been on track (knocking firmly on wood here), and he can walk now with the help of a walker and sometimes even without which is a beautiful thing 🙂 But, (and there’s going to be a lot of buts with dementia patients), his renewed mobility, no matter how encouraging and freeing, is a double-edged sword. It makes him confident of being independent, while reality still remains disappointingly different. So although he can get to the ‘loo’, he may not always remember what happens next. Yup…right on cue…that ‘glass wall’. It’s heart-breaking to watch. It enrages me, to see a vibrant, active, intelligent and productive man reduced to a hollow shell. Rage, hopelessness, frustration…we go through them a million times every day. And what makes it so sad is that we know it will only get worse. All I hope for now is that we have more good days than bad days. That’s not too much to ask for right?

Wednesday, June 1st

When I wrote on Monday, I was in a dark place and my words reflect that. It’s not in my nature to stay pessimistic for long, but these days trying to stay positive is increasingly, a challenge of Herculean proportions. A lot of the stress stems from the fact that it’s not just my Dad that’s the patient. My Mom is just as bad. Her fear and concern for Dad (although both valid), have paralyzed her to the point where she cannot seem to make the simplest of decisions. As a result, my Dad, when he’s lucid, gets irritated and angry and yells at her for the silliest of things, and you guessed it, yours truly has the unwanted, unenviable role of mediator. Life was fast beginning to resemble a war-zone in our ‘House of Glass’. Glass walls mean no privacy  NONE. Instead what you get is an agonizing free for all, where nothing is hidden but everything revealed in the clear  light of day. I didn’t realize how quickly Life’s ‘warm sunshine’ can transform into a ‘harsh spotlight’ – a magnifier of faults and a diminisher of virtues. Oh that it would be vice versa.

Since the Monday however, things seem to have taken a turn for the better. I say this warily, coz I’m all too familiar with the unexpectedly sudden twists that are routine in dementia. Dad’s lucidity seems vastly improved. When I say vastly, I don’t mean he’s back to normal. Au contraire, he continues to have difficulty remembering the time of day or year, what month we’re in, what day it is and on occasion our names. He can’t find the right words for some of the stuff he does remember, and his clarity of thought is affected, making it hard for him to sustain a meaningful conversation for a decent period of time. This, in a man who’s joy in life was to debate with me and my brother. C’est la vie. And yet, his demeanor seems calmer, the angry outbursts less frequent, and the disorientation markedly diminished. Perhaps it’s the stars, perhaps our prayers are finally being heard and answered. Whatever the reason…I’m grateful. And although H hasn’t been much for Happiness these days, it’s still for Hope.

And so this is me, trying to stay positive and holding on to Hope however slender. Because although living in a house of glass is like walking through Life with you skeleton exposed, occasionally, there’s a prism – and unlooked-for, a rainbow appears, brief but real. And for a few fleeting magical moments, it lights up this transparent universe, and for a time, we breathe.

Breathe people. Here’s to more rainbows.

Friday the 13th: My Week of Horror

My Dad lies on the hospital bed, fractured – in body, mind & spirit.

While Hubby, Ishaan & I were on a much-needed weekend break, he fell, not once but twice and broke his left femur. Terrible as that was (more so because we were away and out of cell-phone range), it was soon to become the least of our worries. Dad is a patient of Parkinson’s disease. He’s lived with uncertain balance and gait, tremors, mood swings & depression, insomnia, a multitude of drugs and their resultant side-effects for more than 5 years now. He’s actually been ‘broken’ for a long time now. For the last 6-7 months, he’s been on a drug cocktail that in my opinion would knock out an elephant, as his neurologist tries to reduce his symptoms while causing the least side-effects. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, and I don’t mean that in an exciting, happy kind of way. Well, last Saturday, he was finally pushed over the edge. We got home Sunday noon to find him delirious, incoherent and generally lost to this world.

We managed to get him medical attention (after many frantic phone calls to doctor friends, many of whom I must mention were not contactable or unavailable), and X-rays and a Scan confirmed the fracture of his left femur at it’s neck – the most common injury in the elderly after a fall. When we finally managed to get through to his neurologist, he told us to omit all his medications except for his Dopamine tablets. These were to instead to be increased as he had suffered severe stress, which was likely to last a while until he recovered. Makes you wonder sometimes doesn’t it, whether they were needed to begin with?

By Monday afternoon, thankfully, Dad, seemed better. His incoherence and delirium seemed to be waning and his orthopedician decided to operate on Tuesday. All went well, and on Tuesday, the fracture was successfully repaired under spinal anesthesia. Fractured minds however, are not so easily healed. Brain versus Bone (or for that matter any other organ in the body), Brain wins every time. He had as ‘normal’ a night as may be expected after his surgery on Tuesday. By Wednesday afternoon, we noticed that he was becoming incoherent again, & irritable. But Wednesday night, when the doctor stopped by to remove the drain from the surgical wound and dress it, he seemed fine again and responded cheerfully to the doctor’s suggestion that they would mobilize him on Thursday.

Thursday dawned with hope, and yet he seemed irritable and impatient and we had a tough time trying to convince him to stay in bed until the doctor arrived. He never did and Dad’s agitation and irritability reached new heights. As did ours. Who can blame him? By Friday the 13th (I only noticed the date later), he had deteriorated into a full-blown psychosis and was unrecognizable as the Dad I have known every second of my life. He became violent, abusive and even six people found it hard to restrain him in his bed. He refused to take his medications and wouldn’t let Mom or me stay in the room with him. It’s one thing to be a doctor and a whole other thing to see your own Dad transformed into a Mr. Hyde before your very eyes, held down like a rabid animal. That was the darkest hour of my life. And here’s the thing, not one doctor came to see him, until much later that evening. They did however sedate him, giving telephonic instructions to the staff. I could do a whole post on the conduct of doctors in Goa. I can tell you now, it won’t be complimentary.

Friday night was probably the longest night of our lives. We were tense, scared, and uncertain of what Saturday would bring. Perhaps there is some truth in ancient wisdom, because in true ‘The darkest hour comes before dawn’, fashion, Saturday brought fruition to our prayers and his treatment. A string of doctors visited him and each one in his turn explained to us what had caused his sudden psychotic episode. It’s very common in the geriatric age-group they said, more so in those with compromised brain function like Dad. It’s due to a combination of several stressful factors. Firstly the stress of the injury itself, then the surgery, the unfamiliar hospital environment, the pain from the surgery, residual effects of the anesthesia and medications, the loss of mobility, insomnia – all create confusion in the patient’s mind and lead to disorientation. In Dad’s case I think it was compounded by the fact that until the Parkinson’s struck, he had never had a sick day in his life. I don’t ever remember him having a serious cold even! Another fact that must have added to his frustration is that for the first time in his life, he was dependant. My Dad has always been proud of his independence & the fact that he never asked for help from anyone all his life, instead, doing all that needed doing, himself. A broken bone changed all that and for the first time he found himself, confined, limited, weak and helpless. That’s not a great feeling for any of us.

Be that as it may, that was our own personal ‘Black Friday’ and one that has indelibly impacted our psyches. Thankfully as I said, Saturday brought relief and comfort. The sedation had done its job, and he seemed calm if not totally relaxed. We were even able to make him stand and walk a few steps! That cheered him up considerably and probably assuaged what fears he had of being dependant on others in the long-term. We were over the moon to have him back and all we want now is for him to stay that way. The process of mobilization will be slow and rough at times, but I feel confident that I can handle anything Life may throw at us, after surviving ‘Black Friday’. It’s not like I have a choice. None of us do.

And so although this whole week has been about being caught between a rock and a hard place – uncertain of everything, plagued by guilt, fearing the worst and hoping desperately for the best; I am happy to report that this Sunday, Dad’s recovery is progressing well. We plan to make him walk some more today and hopefully if all goes well, we can bring him home sometime next week. The sooner the better.

Fingers & toes, firmly crossed.

Please keep him in your prayers.

The next day…Day 2

So, here we are on Day 2 and this time I have reinforcements in the form of Mom – she of the veteran parenting class and nerves of steel…not quite (she’s now been ‘Grannified’ which means her heart’s softer than butter where her Ishaan is concerned :P), but still, her presence calms me down.

I’m not expecting miracles…I know things will probably worsen a lot more before they begin to get better…and yet still, I hope! We go down to school and again the crying begins as I hand him over to his teacher with a quick hug and kiss. Then Mom settles (barely!) into the chair and I try to find a place where I can be omnipresent but inconspicuous…channel all my Mommy stores of sixth sense & intuition! We hear him crying from the depths of the school and then suddenly everything goes quiet…instantly the silence becomes ominous and not peaceful, as I begin to imagine breath-holding spells and other medical emergencies! But I don’t let my worry show, ‘coz Mom is already worried enough for a thousand of us! She looks at me and mouths “Poor baby!He’s so small, too small! He’s barely begun to speak! We were never in a rush to send children to school in our time! They went when they were good and ready, when they were 5!” At that moment, I agree with everything she’s saying and I tell her, but to convince myself and her that I’m doing the right thing here, I tell her that times are changing and that he would probably cry just as hard if not harder, if he were 5. He would probably have had long arguments about why school was totally redundant…don’t underestimate 5-yr-olds! She nods. She knows what I know, heck she knows a whole lot more! It’s just her butter-heart acting up!

While we’re wondering what’s happening inside, the Directress of the school, visiting from Delhi, comes outside and does her bit to soothe us. She assures us that Ishaan is doing fine, and that crying is totally normal and in control. She tells us how she explains to anxious mothers that when they cried as adults (she used the word great hulks!), while leaving their Mom’s house after marriage to a man they loved and chose and wanted to live with (well most of us), then it was silly to expect that a child, who leaves home and the comfort & security of Mom’s arms, against his will, would do so without a good howl! Indeed it is! Beyond silly! I never thought of it quite like that before! Her analogy is amusing and makes us smile for a while, before drowning out in the next wave of crying.

And so we sit outside, comforting each other with all manner of platitudes, while our hearts are elsewhere, listening for the sounds of his anguish, glancing ever so often at our watches, counting seconds, minutes. I realize my Mom is suffering twice over, for Ishaan and for me too, watching me go through ‘separation anxiety’. There are periods of silence though and a teacher comes out twice, once to let us know that he enjoyed playing in the sandbox and then to tell us he’s naming animals on a chart 🙂 We make it through the hour, all three of us and although it was hard, it was just a little less harder than yesterday.

On the way home, he’s back to his chirpy self, but I imagine I can see the change…a seriousness in his eyes, subtle as it is.

He’s growing up…one tiny step at a time…