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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.