Bad luck hi kharab hai

The Bean has been sick for more than a month now. Fever, cough, cold, a bout of urticaria, an allergic reaction which gave her boils in her nose, her ear and her face, and a chance that she had an intestinal obstruction. And of course the ever present asthma.

She’s a fiery little spirit and apart from the days when she’d thrown up too much to be active, her sharp little tongue and sharper brain, kept us entertained and reassured that she was going to be okay.

She began class two a couple of days ago, but hadn’t been to school in weeks. So I finally gave in to her pressure and sent her to school. With her nebuliser in her backpack.

She can assemble it in a trice, and knows how to pack it up and fit it back in the case neatly too. As she slung her heavy bag on to her skinny little back, waved her fragile wrist cheerfully and set off to school, I felt my heart break into a million pieces.

No child should know how to do this. And no child should have to carry her nebuliser to school.

In other good (!) news, my mother slipped in the toilet yesterday and smashed her ankle. A little piece has separated and she might need surgery to see it through.

I teased her that this was text book old age – Slip in the bathroom and break a leg.

I sit here chewing my nails in worry as I surf the net for a ticket. I keep an eye on my phone in case the school calls saying the Bean needs to be sent home.

And all the while I wonder how people who have terminally ill patients, be they parent or child, manage to do this endlessly. Perhaps they make their peace with it.

All I know is that I’m emotionally wrung out.

Chhote Nana had his last surgery day before yesterday and they had to give him 8 times the dosage of anaesthesia that they give to regular patients. He now has 15 rods in his leg that they keep fiddling with, keeping him in a constant state of agony. Seven months and he’s not out of bed, nowhere close to walking.

I’ve lost count of the number of surgeries he’s had and I worry for Cousin K who has been with his father through all of them.

He’s only 23 and he’s been through more than most of us have experienced in a lifetime. Three of the family of four in hospital. One close to death.

We’re watsapping each other on the family group and the phone pings madly through the day and night. The US arm, the sleepless invalids, everyone is up at all hours. I suggest that our generation take a vacation once all the oldies have recovered. We deserve it. The parents chorus  - Yes, you all do.

I’m busy checking on who has eaten, who is in pain.

Cousin K messages – I’m on hospital duty and Dada has had his breakfast.

I suggest something else.

And a weary – No one gives a rat’s arse about what I’m saying -is the response.

I giggle inspite of myself.

Yes, we’re highly irreverent.

My mother responds immediately – What nonsense, I’m doing as I’ve been told.

A weight lifts off me slowly. The tickets have come through and I can be by her side as she undergoes the procedure tomorrow.

Don’t come, she begs. Stay with the Bean.

My mother with a badly smashed ankle.

My daughter so badly asthmatic that she takes the nebuliser in her stride and merrily heads off to school.

Do I stay or do I go?

The OA gives me a look – Do you really think I’m less capable of caring for the kids than you?

No. No, I don’t. In fact he’s more meticulous and careful than I can ever be.

But I’m good for cuddles, laughs, stories and general smothering.

I tell my maid not to skip work while I’m traveling because Bhaiya will be managing office and kids alone. I tell her why I’m going – my mother has had an accident.

She tsks with real concern – How terrible. Now who will take care of your father?

I resist lecturing her and head off to pack my overnighter. It takes me a couple of minutes because now I have a mental checklist of what I’ll need in case of an emergency in the family.

Hopefully this is the last we’ll see of illness for a while.

Or as Cousin K helpfully suggests on our watsapp group – Anyone else want to break any bones? Please do it now. We have a room booked in X hospital and might get a group discount.

Laughter really is the best medicine.

See you on the other side.

 

35

So my 35th came in (25.09) without the bang I’d hoped for. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t post about it as I usually do.

You read in the papers about this family that was going for a funeral or a wedding and  everyone was together and they crashed up and you say – damn… all of them injured? How tragic. *shudder*
Yes, well, that was our family. A tragedy to crown a tragedy.

We had a death in the family on the 31st of August and those who could, set out for the funeral immediately. A car carrying 8 family members crashed up – and 5 ended up in hospital with serious injuries. Little cousin J, my baby, the one I still hold in my arms and rock even though she is 20, was the one who pushed open a door, crawled out, and hailed truck drivers on the highway to help them turn the car around and get the rest of the family out. The Scorpio, if you see the pictures, looks like scrap metal. Truck drivers tore it open to inexpertly pull out some of the people who were crushed into it and caused a lot more damage to their limbs. They then rushed them to a small road side dispensary. Calls were made. Cousin J called me first and all I could hear was her sobbing, while others in the background screamed in terror and in pain. It was almost like being thrown on to the sets of a rather scary film. I kept asking, What’s wrong, baby? And she couldn’t explain, just kept crying, ‘accident, accident.’ I didn’t know where they were or what I could do to help. I quickly made the rest of the calls to my parents, to family friends, others who were close enough to help. I joined within the day, leaving the kids with the OA.

I’ve spent the last month in and out of various cities and it’s not been easy. We’ve all had a sick kid, sick parent, ailing elderly members – but having five family members in hospital is not easy. Nursing them in a strange city? A nightmare.They were all in different rooms, had different needs and now I am an expert at sponging, feeding and so on. With just three caregivers we were stretched beyond belief and sleepless, tired and worried.  All the patients had different needs, and were soon split up across 3 specialty hospitals. We went mad keeping track of them but it was worth it to get them the best treatment.

We had to stay in a hotel right by the hospital, often got back too late to get a meal, skipped meals by the dozen, survived days on roadside tea and buns because no homecooked food was to be had, slept on the floor outside the ICU, ran up astronomical hotel and phone bills, called everyone on earth to get doctor recommendations, had to buy essentials like clothes and underwear, and pillows (silly things, but things you don’t realise until you are in that position) and just kept going. Tambi flew down from the US immediately and my Uncle (Chhote Nana) took one look at him and said – Am I so seriously ill that you flew him down to say his final goodbye? No, he was not on his way out. But that’s what a lifetime of love and goodwill gets you. Your entire family around you in a moment of crisis.

Getting blood, has my God, been a nightmare (and all our friends abroad were shocked that hospitals don’t organise this). We’ve always been blood donors, which is why we took it for granted that there’d always be enough blood if you needed it. But there wasn’t at first. We mobilised blood donation on a war footing. Calling friends, who called other friends, who called other friends and found us blood in Lucknow. A miracle. A blessing. True friends. At one point I was flopped on the hospital floor, my knees aching from the stairs, when I looked up and realised that every single person in the blood bank right then, was there to give blood for my uncle – and not a single one of them was a familiar face. Forty or so strangers, all giving something as precious as blood.

I learnt something that day, that wasn’t a part of my culture – I learnt to fold my hands and say thank you. I saw my mother fall at the doctor’s feet when he came out of the OT and said that my Uncle was alive and breathing. Another thing that is not part of our culture, but comes so naturally when someone gives you back a piece of your life.

This is also that time when you realise, you are THAT generation, the one whose time has come to step up to the plate.  There is no one else to come here and handle it. The younger ones are too young, the older ones, too old. You are the one that needs to care for your children, and also tell your father that it isn’t his place to stand outside the OT and wait. To go back to the hotel and rest and that you will call him and your mother after the surgery. To tell them to put their feet in your lap and give them a foot rub after a day of standing in various queues. I also learned that you don’t have to give birth to someone to feel a fierce love, to want to protect them with every fibre.

We have a neat little divide in our family where everyone openly picks a favourite. My dad’s pet is Cousin J and after the accident, she pulled him into her hospital bed, broken arm and all and slept curled up against her beloved Uncle. Cousin K is my mother’s precious brat – and through the last month, she has been his strength as he is the only one unharmed in the family of four. My aunt, chhoti nani, thinks the sun rises and sets with my brother, Tambi and when he walked into her room, jetlagged and tired, she took one look at him and pain disappeared for a while. I am my uncle’s pet – with my sharp tongue and ready smile and impetuous nature, I’m everything he likes in a person. And so it was that I fell naturally into the role of caregiver for him while others organised blood, hotels, medicines, ambulances, organised our homes over the phone and fought the endless battle over insurance.

As I wiped my uncle’s mouth after a sip of  water, pressed his forehead until he fell asleep, I realised there was no way I could ever do for him what he did for me when I was a child. Everyone gets their turn to repay family debt – you just don’t get to do enough. Who is he to you, the nurses ask, because at 47 he doesn’t look much older than I probably did at that time, careworn, sleep deprived and unwashed. I looked old enough to be a wife, too old to be a daughter. I’m his niece, I’d say and they’d frown, unsure of why a niece should be so frazzled and devoted. They believed it on the days I went wearing jeans. On salwar kameez days they looked doubtful. People are uncomfortable if they’re unable to slot you. And with our varying age gaps, early marriages, early kids, its hard to put us together for a family photograph and be able to identify who the couples are and which kids belong to them. After being asked how I was related to my uncle, for the nth time, my tired retort was – He’s everything. Everything to me. Uncle, father, brother, son. As you can imagine, that answer didn’t go down too well. We’re a convoluted, complicated family and I’m unable to decipher today, what a niece’s love is meant to feel like. I just feel what I feel.

We’ve finally shifted the patients back to our hometown and I’ve had to have the kids miss school – it’s interesting how many people are so shocked that the kids are MISSING SCHOOL. I have to keep reminding people that the kids are in Class 1 and 3, not taking entrances to medical college. That a seriously injured family is a little more important than missed sessions in the sandpit. That this is an early lesson in what it means to be family. They are hanging around with me at my parents’ place while we care for all our patients. It’s been a good experience for them too, to learn consideration, to have a meal delayed, to get no attention, to fetch and carry, to know pain and sorrow up close and to be strengthened by it, to know a missing limb and not be repulsed by it. They’re doing fairly well, my little stalwarts, bringing cheer and happiness and occasionally getting away with too much TV.

Most of our other patients are healing well, but my Uncle got the worst of it and will need many more surgeries and many months before he walks again.

If I had to pick out the worst moment, it would be the one where we shifted him from one hospital to another in an ambulance that had no air conditioning. To begin with, it couldn’t leave the parking lot because of the number of vehicles parked in front of it. Cousin K sat holding his father on to the bed and I sat holding his hand and stroking the sweat off his head – unable to do much more than beg for them to start moving. At some point my parents, Cousin K, all hopped out and began to scream at people to move their bloody bikes and cycles out of the way and the frustration was palpable. As we drove down the streets of Lucknow, the siren blaring, people chatted on phones and with loved ones on the seat beside them, callously and stubbornly refusing to move out of the way. All the while my uncle was losing his life, and we were talking to him to keep him awake, conscious, alive. My parents drove along the side, my dad and mum sticking their heads out and screaming at people to move. At some point Cousin K and I dropped uncle’s hands and leaned out of the ambulance, pleading, begging, abusing people and asking them to move out of the damn way. The ambulance driver nodded casually and said – If this were a heart patient, he’d be dead by now.  Right. Good to know.

But perhaps the best lesson I learnt in all this is to be a better friend. I’ve always been the one who felt awkward to call in friends in illness and death. I’ve wanted to help but not known how. I’ve said – Let me know if I can help, and then wondered why no help was demanded. Well, I’ve learnt how to offer help now. By not offering, just doing.

A friend collected and gave me her air miles since I’m travelling back and forth. Now this is a blessing when time is of essence and trains not available and travel plenty. Another just came and stayed with the kids at our place on a day the OA had a meeting post their school hours and needed to leave them. She figured they’d be most comfortable in their own environment when their mother was away. A third picked them up straight from school and kept them at her place until the OA got back from another meeting on yet another day. A lot of others offered to keep the kids but needed the OA to drop and pick them – something that made no sense in a city as big as Delhi. Someone else offered to bring in dinner to my uncle every evening. This helps even now on days that there is no cook and we’re all madly rushing round. Another just comes and sits for 2 hours each evening so that all caregivers can go home and bathe, rest, just do whatever else constitutes their life and is on hold. A friend who is in the army got us a whole lot of jawans to donate blood. Another found out rates of helicopters to fly back our patients. We didn’t use it, but it was amazing to see how their brains were working overtime to help us. Yet another called a friend to call his brother who is a senior police official in the area and see if strings could be pulled in anyway. We didn’t need it, but the thought counted. Yet another bought a new bed pan (ha!) because they said the hospital ones have been used by so many people. I could go on. Someone else brought disposable glasses and plates for the attendants/caregivers/us to eat in. Another sent us aromatherapy for sleep, because most trauma patients have trouble sleeping – did you know that? Yet others offered to show the medical reports and x-rays to well known physicians they knew. Another got us a discount on the ambulance that takes one of the injured people for dressing everyday. Some have offered us a wheelchair, another has given us two hospital beds that can be cranked up and down. Others called up friends in the hospital administration – from the head of security to a low down accountant to the CEO of hospital, we had friends call each one of them and ask them to look out for us. And they did. We were the ones who got offered a little stool in ICU. So many of them offered to call up friends who worked with the insurance agency and speed up our paperwork. It goes on.
Many messaged saying, let us know if we can help. Well, here’s something I’ve learnt in the last month – I don’t know what you can do for me, so YOU let me know how you can help. And in future, that is what I will offer. Concrete help. Be it a box of pastries that the attendants can take a break with or a flask of homemade cold coffee. A care package with wet wipes and some tetrapacks of cool juice are a blessing. Every bit helps. Every bit gets them across that difficult patch. What doesn’t help is the endless text messages and long phone calls – we just don’t have the time or energy to respond, and yet we’re forced to out of civility.

I had wanted another tattoo to commemorate 35 years on this earth. I didn’t get a chance since I haven’t really been back to Delhi yet. And I’m wondering if I need it – this experience has left a mark on me that no tattoo could match.

And so on this year’s birthday post  (if you can call it that), I’m sharing a few Facebook statuses I’d put up through the last month.

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Lessons learnt in a hospital.
1. Superheroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they wear surgical masks and disposable gowns.
2. Call the nurse Chechi, smile at the ward boy and flirt with the plastic surgeon even if your heart is breaking and your mind with your loved one. Makes them take special care of your patient, give you extra minutes in the ICU and brightens their day. They too are sick of people crying and snapping.
3. Leaning out of an ambulance and screaming at people is more effective than a siren. Abusing them might be undignified but it is effective.
4. There is no adequate thanks for a blood donor. Folding your hands and thanking them is all you can do when you’re tired and worried but grateful.
5. College students are the happiest and most generous donors.
6. A blood bank spilling over with donors for your family says something.
7. Nothing brings a family close like an accident and a shared hospital thaali.

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A crumpled car, crow bars and truck drivers pulling him out, bleeding for 12 hours, a dirty little highway hospital. He went through it all and after 5 hours of surgery has come out alive and well… my stubborn mule of an uncle didn’t give up. Thank you all for your prayers, wishes and help.

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May those who don’t heed the siren of an ambulance, never know what it is to sit in one, hanging on to a loved one’s hand, watching in despair as traffic stubbornly refuses to give way.

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There’s a 6 year old on the next bed in the ICU. She was out on the bike with her parents when they had an accident. She hit her head – and then a bus ran over her arm. It is now in 3 separate pieces and will take a year or so to reconstruct over many surgeries. Her parents say they will have to sell their house and land to pay for it.
She screams in pain each time they give her a shot and her little body is swollen with the IVs she’s had in for days.
Even being witness to it is a nightmare. Right now if anyone who tries to give me gyaan or tell me this is God’s way of testing us or pichchle janam ka karma or paap or tries to explain or rationalise her agony in any way, I will bite their head off. This world makes no sense.
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Okay, so we’re managing, somewhat, to take care of our various patients. Just help us to get by, without asking us how we’re ‘coping up’. We’re not coping up, we’re coping. Not cope up, simply cope.

We’re going through enough trauma without having to deal with shitty grammar. Thank you.

I am now going back to the ICU and regular programming shall resume when my shift ends.
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Interesting how many people thank the OA for ‘sending/letting me come home to care for my family’. I wonder how many cows he gave my family in exchange for me.
Also, how come no one thanks a wife for letting her husband go home and help his family in times of need? Morons.

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Hospital learnings:

1.When you have a loved one undergoing surgery, an hour measures 120 minutes instead of 60.
2. Even if you’ve been married 10 years and are worried sick about said surgery, you can still have plenty to talk about with your spouse, sitting outside the OT on the floor.
3. The midnight shift is when you really need to befriend hospital staff.
4. When the staff ask you how you’re related to the man on the ICU bed, saying that you’re his niece just doesn’t seem adequate.
5. Everybody hurts. Including those who were not in the accident.
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After a long day of attempting to work from home (something I’ve done for 8 years now :-/) while the kids go on with their various activities, back from school, lunch, nap, swimming, homework, playtime, the OA collapses in exhaustion and observes – Raising children builds character.

Absolutely. That is why I am so character-ful.

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She was an elderly lady with chubby red cheeks and the cutest little jet black top-knot, wobbling in outrage on the top of her head. And she was driving my uncle nuts. He was in the bed next to hers and just as he drifted off to sleep hooked up to various tubes, his exhaustion overcoming his pain, she’d let out a loud cry of Hai Allah and wake up the entire ICU. All in various stages of sleep and pain, the other patients would yell for her to shut up.

She had only two men (about my age) to attend to her and they stood at a safe distance, looking helpless. She’d yank off her oxygen mask and push it up on her head like a party hat and say – ‘Look, this little trickle? It’s getting to my nose. This is where I will wear it.’
Every day I’d flirt, smile, beg, plead, charm my way through doctors and nurses and ward boys, into the ICU to feed my uncle (against the rules) who was being troublesome in his own way and refusing to eat.

We approached her out of sheer selfishness. To get her to BE QUIET for a while, so that my battered, bruised, weak uncle could get some sleep. I know Ma had a little more love than I did – she feels strongly for all old people after she lost both her parents.

We acted chatty and held her hands in a friendly way, to keep her distracted so that she didn’t pull off her oxygen mask, we rubbed her arms that were sore and red from days of IVs, I gave the nurses a break and fed her after I’d fed my uncle, I chatted with her while they changed her diapers. I’d tell her that she must have been prettier than Mumtaz Mahal in her youth. And she’d say, Get me off this bed and I’ll take you shopping for the best chikankari in Lucknow.

She began to look out for us and we grew attached to her.

I’d pass her sons in the corridor and waiting areas and glare at them until one day I couldn’t take it anymore – Can’t you be a little more helpful? Why do you just stand and stare when she’s yanking out tubes and pulling off oxygen masks?
They shrugged helplessly- She’s a ladiss. We don’t know what to do with her.
I never berated them again.
For a few days after I left the Lucknow hospital she kept asking for me.
She died on the 14th.My mother sobbed. I was too tired of death and pain to cry.

Her son calls my mum every few days, offering to come down from Rae Bareilly, arrange for blood, give us money if we need – says he will now help us get my uncle back on his feet since he has no one else. We need nothing, but it’s good to hear from him. He refers to my mother as Ammi too.
Everyday there is a little hospital story to tell.
Moral of this story? Hospitals are not the place to get attached to people.

Of chicken and pork – II

If I’d thought that the Bean getting chicken pox was the worst of it, it wasn’t. Keeping the kids away from each other was a Herculean task. We entered the house and both kids flew to Button – I screamed, “Don’t touch him!!” They came screeching to a halt and remembered everything I’d coached them all the way from Delhi.

At this point everyone in the family rushed in to ensure that their feelings weren’t hurt and I lost track. The basic rules were that we were to sanitize our hands with bottles lying around the house in between touching my two and the Button. Button had also been given a homoeopathic antidote and I don’t care what people say about the system, it worked, and how!

X’mas at our place has always been crazy. Throw in three kids who have to be kept apart and a bout of chicken pox and the crazy quotient sky rocketed. On the whole it wasn’t too bad because the Brat had his shot and the Button had the antidote. So the whole family did their best to entertain the Bean and not let her feel unloved each time the Brat and Button cuddled. If I had a rupee for every person who said it was unfair to expose the Button to CP, I’d be a rich woman. But I think we’re all a little richer for having spent that time together. The Brat and the Button were soon inseparable. The Button actually believed he was the Brat’s equal and would keep beating him up, pulling his hair, crawling all over him, and finally pushing him over, all while the Brat lay on the floor laughing helplessly and hugging him.

We had our annual X’mas party planned so it seemed only fair to call and tell everyone who had kids to keep them away from mine. Dutifully we called up and told everyone that we’d understand if they didn’t show up. I was surprised by the number of people who showed up anyway, some without their kids and some with. The kids had a blast and I hugged the OA through the last dance that night, grateful we’d come home. I can’t imagine what we’d have done stuck in our flat in Gurgaon, unable to take the kids to the common park, to the grocery store, unable to have friends over. A shitty X’mas that would have been.

And in all this we’d wake up each morning and frantically examine the Button to make sure there were no spots on his little dimpled self while he’d look at us with his curious, big bright eyes, convinced that he’d left the comfort of his home only to end up in a madhouse. It was almost like having a third baby and the OA and I kept him with us as much as we could, washing his little butt, changing diapers and feeding him his bottle. Everything but his meals – only his mother could manage to make him finish his entire portion. It was also her job to feed the ultra fussy Bean who can drive a saint to crime. I have no idea what she did in there and I don’t want to know. All I know is that she made insanely huge portions and got them down the Bean’s throat while I enjoyed the respite from begging, pleading, coaxing, screaming, threatening to feed her to crocodiles and finally attempting suicide.

And then of course because all of this was too good to last,  we woke up one morning to find spots all over the Brat  -he’d got the bloody chicken pox after all. I’ll never forget the betrayal writ large on his face, ” YOU said if I got the vaccination I won’t get it!” Oh well, we tried, I reasoned with him, but the doctor said you might have already been in the incubation period.

But a child who has had a poke in his butt and still gets CP is not to be reasoned with. He got it worse than the Bean. At least a 100 little boils all over his body and we were back to the neem leaf and oatmeal baths and slathering on calamine by the gallon. On the bright side, his bout barely lasted a week. On one occasion, while trying to make sense of the unfairness of getting it after having had the poke, he seriously explained to a visitor, “I got it because Nani cooks too many things for dinner. We had chicken as well as pork at the same meal. So it turned into chicken pox.” Errr, okay, whatever helps you make your peace with it!

The Bean was torn between relief and remorse. “Now he won’t leave me to go play with the Button!” and “Maybe he got it because I was teasing him and saying I’m coming to lick you. I’m very sorry now.”

But honi ko kaun taal sakta hai yaada yaada and we couldn’t have got it in a better place. All day they played across my parents’ and my uncle’s homes, swinging, cycling, climbing trees, sitting by the pond and watching fish and even going boating to the Sangam. None of this could however make it up to the Brat that he could no longer touch the Button. And we tried hard, I’ll tell you this much. In fact many weeks later, we were back in Gurgaon and the Bean casually asked, “Mama, how do you know when you love someone?” And the Brat responded gravely (he thinks he’s an adult now that his permanent teeth are in), ” When you love someone you want to play with them all the time, you share your toys with them and if you have chicken pox you don’t touch them.” I thought that summed up love pretty succinctly.

A close shave

‘Are you home?’ she screamed, her voice barely audible above the shrieking and shouting in the background.

No I’m not, I said, ‘what’s wrong?’

Are you home, she shouted again. No, I repeated, what is wrong?

By now the shrieks in the background were getting louder and I began to feel my heart sink. A child was screaming in pain. There were loud voices. She was distracted while trying to talk to me. ‘I need your help’ she said before cutting the line. I called back, my fingers unsteady – WHAT did she need my help for?

The OA and I were on our way to the railyway station to drop Chhota Nana and Chhoti Nani and Cousin J. And the Brat and Bean were playing in the apartment complex play area with the maid overseeing them.

The more I asked, the more hysterical she sounded and I could get no sense out of her. The OA jammed brakes, unsure of what was wrong and whether we’d have to turn and rush home. Finally she managed to get it out – Her 4-year-old son had fallen from his cycle and was hurt and she needed help. I told her not to panic and that I’d do something.

I called Cousin K who is staying with me during his summer internship and told him to wear a pair of jeans, grab the other set of car keys and rush down to the park and look for a spot where there was sure to be a crowd and a bleeding child. I messaged them each other’s numbers and we went on to the railway station because now we were too far from Gurgaon to be of any use to them.

Cousin K drove her to the emergency ward of a nearby hospital where they stitched up the little boy whose head had split open. And for the rest of the evening I couldn’t do anything about the knot in my stomach. That could have been my child. For the few awful minutes until she could bring herself to tell me what was wrong the worst had passed before my eyes.

The OA and I rush to her home after we finish with the railway station where we hurriedly dump Chhota Nani, Nani and Cousin J in a heap with their luggage, even while they urge us to rush back and help. Cousin K was there and had been of a lot of help. Driving them to hospital, being there with her, and now going to collect their elder son from the neighbour’s place where he’d been left. Cousin K is a gem. Being a local guardian has never been so easy and he’s done more for us in the last 2 years than we have for him.

The little boy is quiet and pale, his head entirely bandaged up like a cap. He put up a fight when they gave him a shot in the head before they could stitch it up. Cousin K quietly tells me he’s never seen so much blood and was close to throwing up. The OA and I  exchange glances – it was more than most college boys would do for strangers. I offer to send them dinner, keep their elder son for the night, send them lunch, anything else they need. But for the grace of God, that could have been my child, both had been downstairs on their new cycles too, cycling around with them.

And it is for reasons like this that neither she nor I can go back to full-time work.  Not right now at any rate. Because of the maid who burnt my 7 month old son. The burn scar is fading as his stomach goes from round baby tummy to a flat, little man belly. But I carry the scars in my heart and they will stay a lifetime along with the stretchmarks and the cesarean scar.  I’ll never forgive myself that 45 minute grocery run and trusting someone else with a piece of my life. Because my child will never mean as much to anyone else as he does to me. No one else will peel their eyes and watch out for him as he turns the corner on the bike and skids. No one else will notice him shiver as he passes the AC. No one else knows the difference between him being sleepy and angry. Which is not to say that no harm will come to him on my watch, but to say that I’d rather be the person on watch than anyone else.

I wonder what my maid would have done if it were one of mine who had been hurt so badly and I draw a blank. She’s uneducated, cannot dial my number and so I have it on redial  - but she’d not be able to get someone else to make that call down in the park. After a particularly bad delivery herself, she’s lost full use of one arm and walks with a limp. But she’s  gentle and kind and loves the kids. None of those qualities are of any use in an emergency.

I recall a post some years ago when I’d poked gentle fun at the kids who wear helmets when they cycle. We all learnt to cycle without helmets. And we all fell and got scraped and bruised. But it’s not everyday that I am in my home and can be called immediately. Like this – on my way to the railway station or to office for my weekly meetings or out for an interview or a shoot. I am not always available. And it is this that makes the huge difference.

When we were kids, Mama was always home and help was within earshot. Today no one has time for anyone else, parents are at work and neighbours won’t bother unless they see blood seeping out from below your door. Even if my maid could dial, I’d probably be two hours away from home. Two hours too late to be of any earthly use to my child.

At my last job, I’d blanch each time my home number flashed on my mobile screen. Sometimes it was a simple request – Mama, can we watch TV now instead of the night? Mama can we have Maggi? At other times it was worse -He has a fever or, she’s broken out in a rash. But it was all within control. I’d be home in 30 minutes and most days nothing happened in that 1.5 hours between their and my getting home. But from Gurgaon I don’t have the heart to do more than short quick trips out and I am most at peace when I know there is a family member home with the kids.

And the truth is that crash helmets can only protect you on cycles – what about the rest of the day? The OA carries a scar (very Harry Potter-esque) on his forehead from falling down a flight of stairs in school. I look at the mother’s tired face and see that she’s aged in those few hours since her son fell. I know this is one more nail in the coffin of her career. Only a few days ago she spoke to me about how she was wondering if it was too late to go back to work after her ten year break. Only a few days ago she took on a short assignment and was thrilled to be back in the work force.

And then I notice her arms. They’re covered in his blood. Dried blood doesn’t look as scary as angry, red, flowing blood. It looks brown, paint like and deceptively tame. In fact you will never know that it is blood unless you’ve been told it is. And yet it tells a tale if you care to listen. She follows my gaze and shrugs in embarrassment – I haven’t had a chance to wash up yet. I nod in understanding. It’s an image I’m not going to forget in a hurry. I mentally write off the call I got in the morning, again checking on whether I was interested in a certain job – a rather tempting offer. And I tell myself that maybe it is time I finally learnt to drive.

The night in the emergency ward

Sitting in the emergency room at 2 am is every parent’s nightmare and we spent one night last week doing just that. The OA and I were out for dinner and got back to see the Bean wide awake and refusing to settle in to bed. The maid had tried everything in her power and was at her wit’s end.

We took over and the OA took her back to bed. He came back looking rather pleased with himself but that smirk got wiped off his face the moment the door creaked open and a little head peeped in. I groaned, got out of bed and walked her back to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And with each trip she got progressively worked up and soon was in tears. Eventually we got to the heart of the matter – The aliens were coming to get her. Telling ourselves that we wouldn’t be reading anymore bedtime stories about aliens and monsters we tucked her in between us and gave up the quarter-hourly trot to the nursery.

But it didn’t end and she kept tossing, turning, fidgeting.  We began to panic and she finally said she had a throat ache. Sips of saline water, honey and what not later, we were back to square one. Tossing, turning, fidgeting.

Finally she admitted to an ear ache. The OA and I frantically ran around medicating and ear-dropping. No joy there either. By this time she was in fine fettle, throwing herself from one side of the bed to the other, climbing on one prone parent and then the other. I rocked her in the rocking chair, walked her around the room and loudly begged the Good Lord to have mercy on her and as a result, us.

Finally it seemed like the medication wasn’t taking effect and we bundled her into the car and headed to the hospital. It was a stormy night and the roads were deserted. We reached the hospital and were surprised to find no staff at the door to guide patients, a lazy security guy who vaguely pointed the direction we should be heading in and empty corridors with none of the bustle you see in other hospitals at all hours. We were also rather unimpressed with the reaction time in the emergency ward. Yes, a child’s ear ache is small change compared to those dying of a heart attack and brought in off an accident scene, but they had none of those that night. Nurses stood around chatting in Malayalam while the OA and I desperately asked someone to give us a hearing. A doctor who seemed in charge smiled apologetically and said – I’m a cardiologist, I can’t help you.

Yes, well then who can?

The OA was drooping with sleep, the Bean was wriggling around mercilessly and I was close to sticking a scalpel into a nurse just to get some attention. Watching your child suffer is not easy. Watching your child suffer while others chit chat about the weather is simply frustrating.

Finally I pushed the OA awake and sent him to get someone. No joy there. Then I played the exhausted mother card and walked out of the Emergency Unit, found another doctor and got someone to page the ENT Specialist on call. She came after 45 minutes by which time the medication we gave the Bean had naturally taken effect and she was fast asleep. We were even considering going home with her when we decided that it would be better to wait and get it examined in case she woke up screaming again. Of course the doctor examining her woke her up again but she was now out of pain and manageable. The doctor was rather sweet and kind and nothing like our last experience here with the Brat.

We’d brought the Brat in on an emergency  too – his throat began to swell to alarming proportions one winter morning and suddenly he could neither swallow nor talk. Again, we had taken him to the emergency where after a long wait we got an appointment with the Head of one of the Pediatric departments.  Dressed in a short tight skirt and jacket the lady looked really out of place in a hospital and more off the off the sets of Santa Barbara. Fifty plus, heavily made up face and stiffly blow dried hair, long painted talons and massive diamonds twinkling on all her fingers. The wall behind her was decorated with testimonies of how great she was – awards, certificates, photographs with dignitaries.  She was talking to a number of people while looking questioningly at us. A certain impatience making us wonder if we as patients, were intruders in the doctor’s chambers.  Slightly mindful of manners and loathe to interrupt the OA and I finally explained what was wrong with the Brat.

Perhaps we should have walked out the moment she looked blankly at the Brat and said ‘What swelling?’ The huge lump under his chin wouldn’t be missed by a blind man and here the expert needed us to guide her. We kept pointing, she kept asking, and digging her talons into the child and dragging him closer while he baulked at this treatment and pulled away. Finally she told the OA to hold him and when the OA failed to do it to her satisfaction she yelled at him and made him make bands of his arms and literally strap the Brat down. It was unnecessary when all it would have taken is some warmth – he’s not unnecessarily intractable. I wondered how she fared in the pediatric department with no bedside manner, no way with children.

Finally one of the acolytes pointed out where the Brat’s neck was swollen. The fine lady just nodded and said okay, but I don’t know what it is. Could be tuberculosis. The acolyte politely mentioned that this infection of the gland was doing the rounds in schools. I deliberately pulled the Brat away from the high priestess and focussed on the acolyte. No mother wants her children being manhandled by someone who doesn’t know their job.

This hospital is one founded by a famous cardiologist and the entire point, I was told, was to get good affordable healthcare to the general public. But two emergency situations with poor turnaround times and terrible service and I’m not convinced that his vision is working out the way he planned.

And so that night too, we left with the Bean, feeling rather dispirited. At one level glad that we’d had the knowledge to deal with her pain and given her something that worked even before the doctor got to her. At another, feeling disappointed that as parents we couldn’t provide her with better medical care. The skies were pouring forth by now and as we got into the car, tired, sleepy, exhausted, pissed off and grumpy, the wide awake by now Bean pointed up to the sky – Look ma, lightning scribbles.

It reminded me of this book that is doing the rounds – Go the Fuck to Sleep.  You can read about it here and here and here. I have the pdf copy so mail me at themadmomma@gmail.com if you’d like to read it too.

The Proud Mamma post

So the Brat and Bean had their Sports Day in December. When the Bean started school, we chose another one for her but that resulted in us going nuts – taking the day off for each of her events and then for his. So we swore that we’d put them in the same school when they went to big school so that there would be only one PTA day and one Sports Day.  Little did we know that this wouldn’t help either. Both had their events in two different parts of the school and the OA and I kept timing and calling each other, coordinating and swapping like high level police officers escorting a VIP.

The Bean marched in all proud and ready to take on the day, the Brat wandered around looking rather lost. As though he’d never been to the place before – typical Brat. Then he saw some friends and went charging at them, parents forgotten. The OA and I hugged and kissed and bid each other a teary farewell and then went in opposite directions with a child each.

We reach the arena and the Bean suddenly loses it. She clings to me and refuses to go to the teacher. Suffice to say, she spent the rest of the morning in the teacher’s lap. We begged, we cheered, other parents joined in. Yes, this is one of those shiny happy schools where we don’t compete, we all participate. *koff koff*

Towards the end she suddenly sat up and took a shot at the obstacle race. The crowds sitting around cheered, she took one look and skittered back to the teacher. At the end I held her hand and took her to the arena and hey presto, off she went, slithering through hoops like a snake, walking the fine line, climbing ladders, she did it all. Sadly, it was after everyone had a shot and this was during the break. But she did it and I saw that she was fantastically light on her feet, faster than anyone else, well-balanced and very sure of herself. I was proud and I thought to myself quietly, oh well, at least she’s fantastic and her mother knows it. And then, the entire group of parents clapped for her and I realised everyone else was watching too.

I called the OA on his phone – what was the Brat up to? Dreaming in a corner, watching dust particles in the sun and chasing dragonflies while his classmates burnt up the track, no doubt. Apparently not. The son was kicking some butt. In a non-competitive way. What? I refused to believe it. And so we both left our posts and went sprinting across the school to exchange notes. And he showed me pictures of the Brat doing the relay, doing yoga and holding the position far better than anyone else, a look of fierce concentration on his face. This was my son? Really? The one who can’t hold a thought for a minute if it doesn’t interest him? Who will walk away mid-conversation? Really? He was enjoying this? I had to see this with my own eyes.

By the time I got there, the PT display was over, the exercises and yoga were done, the relay and the ball passing were done. All that I caught was the high jump. And I watched in awe. Some kids show their sporting spirit early in life. A tall-for-her-age girl took her place, and I saw the steely glint of determination in her eye. She reminded me of Arjuna and the bird’s eye. And then she took off like lighting and cleared the leap. Another little boy took his position and I was a little nervous. He was short and I was sure he’d not make it. It was as easy as pie.. he just sailed over. I remembered that most little girls are taller and bigger than boys of their own age –  other than the Bean who looks like a 2-year-old but sounds like an 82-year-old.

It was also rather sad to see how many kids in India are already obese. Some couldn’t run because of their weight. They landed on the hurdle and brought it down. At age 5 most should have lost their puppy fat or else should be sent out to play some more. Or fed healthier. It’s not easy for them to fall over and realise that their weight was a problem. It’s unfair that they’re too young to know what to do about it and those who are in charge seem to be doing nothing.

Anyway, soon it was time for the Brat. He had wandered off from the queue and was doing something completely pointless I am sure. And then he ambled to the line when his teacher called, looked around aimlessly and then focussed on the hurdle. Ah? This? Okay. And then he began to run in the weirdest way possible. Legs in every direction, arms all over the place, he spotted me in the crowd and grinned the most beautiful grin and said – Hey look Mama, I’m a dinosaur. I groaned and then laughed in spite of myself. Never mind if he never wins a race or takes to a sport, I told myself. He knows how to enjoy himself and that itself is a rare gift. And then he reached the hurdle and took it with ease, ambling off, the whole crowd of parents holding their sides and laughing at this kid who was playing dinosaur.

The hurdle was raised and the rounds began again. The sporty girl took it. The spunky little tiny boy took it. The obese kids fell over again and cried and I wanted to smack someone – their parents maybe. And my son came again – this time as a water lizard or something.  I was by now laughing so hard I had tears running down my cheeks. He waved cheekily, threw himself over the hurdle and went back in line. By the third time the parents were looking out for him and waving. He came as a crab or something, sideways, took the really high leap with ease and ambled off again. And that’s when it stuck me. He was good at this. He has his father’s sporty genes, (not my lack of coordination that ensures I can’t catch a ball flung from 6 inches away) but no real interest yet. It comes too easy to him. But more than that, the school has taught him to use his body and his muscles and do this and he does it – he just doesn’t think it’s a matter of life and death. Fair enough – let him do it as fun. He’s only five.

He kept doing it till they took down the hurdles for kids. And then – it was the parents’ turn. I looked madly around and promptly dialled the OA. “Come fast,” I said.. “family honour at stake and all that jazz.”

I would, he said, “if I were not crawling into a tube as we speak. Family honour at stake here too. ” He was doing an obstacle race with other parents and of course aced it.

Right. So I hung up, retied my shoelaces, pulled up my tracks, took off my sweater and said a prayer for my knees. The hurdles started with some fathers and a few mothers. I took the first jump and as I soared over it everything I’d ever learnt during my school years came back. Where to build speed, when to lift off, the angle at which you raise your legs and in that split second I was thrilled. It’s such a small thing and yet for someone who a year ago was writing off her legs, it was more than a giant leap. I landed smoothly and sprinted back to my place.

I looked around and I saw a bright-eyed Brat looking at me. Then he smiled, and told his friends - Dekho, meri mamma. Kitna achcha jump karti hai.

Ma ka dil and all that jazz, I made up my mind not to stop until I was dead.

The hurdle kept rising, the other mothers dropped out and I was the only woman left doing this. No biggie when you consider how unfit and overweight most of the parents are. Sadly, in spite of being slimmer than many, my knees tell a different tale.

After the first jump I checked my knee. No extra pain. By the third one, I had people congratulating me on how athletic I was. And I was fine. Raring to go. High on my son’s adoration and general junta’s applause. I’m a sucker for such stuff.

After about 6 raises I couldn’t do it anymore. It was just too high and only the really tall men were able to do it. And I dialled the OA once again. Thankfully the Bean’s events were over and he was free.

And so my knight in shining armour came to save the day.

He did it of course. Over and over again he took the hurdles, landed with grace and ambled off in a way that reminded me of the Brat. They finally called it a day with him being one of the last 2-3 dads doing it.

The Brat threw himself at us. The Bean arrived and we headed home happily with their little gifts. Apparently she’d done a great job of walking a rope too. I suppose she’d shed her stage fright by then.

The OA grinned at me that night – Well baby, even if we have two useless kids, at least we overachievers saved the family honour. I grinned back at him.. well, it was a grimace really, because my thighs were already killing me from stretching them to leap so high.

The next two days I limped around. And everytime someone asked me, I proudly said I’d done the high jump and done it brilliantly, buggered up knee and all. The muscles healed in a couple of days and the knee was no worse for wear.

As for the moral of the tale – I’ve learnt not to underestimate my son. That my spunky daughter sometimes gets stagefright ( I learnt and forgot these two lessons last year). To always trust my husband to save the day (damn, but I knew this one too). And to never let my knee stop me from having fun  - this one is new.

Break ke baad

Bean: Mama, you’re so hot.

Don’t let your imagination run away with you. I have had fever for two days now and the OA is as usual travelling. I think it all built up with my two sick kids and then nursing Cousin K. I collapsed the moment he left.

As for the Brat, he’s been stroking my forehead and kissing my hot hand and saying, Mama, I’ll drink up all your fever and then I will be sick and you can be fine.

Little monkey :)

I’ll see you guys when I am better.