It is Diwali and I wish all a wonderful Diwali and a prosperous year ahead. I finally have decided to write it all. I do not like personal intrusions for many reasons. Firstly since it is personal, whatever anyone may say that individual and their family only has to go through it. Secondly, I call it intrusion because I can’t handle people reacting in far too dramatic a way. I don’t mean to undermine their good intent but often find people are too melodramatic and emotional which, i cannot handle.
Our day began as usual. My sister was visiting us, my brother was down from Pune..so it was one different sort of Diwali, us siblings together after a decade. My parents were thrilled and especially after few trying months. My father is a recovering cancer patient. That too was detected in July, when he had a near ‘total renal failure.’ We admitted him by noon and by the end of the day, the family doctor looked shaken and colour had run from his face and asked to speak to me separately. He asked me to go and prepare my mother for the worst. When I shared the readings of his reports with my Doctor friend R, he told me it was a near TRF. Baba hates hospitals and suddenly was in the ICU, something i’ve never seen and ever want any parent to experience.
Well, my father’s family is endowed with some war genes. The way they bounce back is amazing. And the first sign is when they ask for food. Baba first asked for an idli in the morning and the sisters in the ICU said its fine, give anything but liquids. Later, he insisted on a masala dosa only from dakshinain-we believe one should have a memorable end, eat good tasty food, if alcohol permitted then the best of it, as death should be worthwhile. So contended with his food, by evening father was set to leave. Even though he was out of danger, drs wanted him to be put under observation. By the end of the second day, he came around completely. In those 10 days, he underwent innumerable tests that were gruelling and could have taken toll on him,but he was rock solid.
The news of cancer was not told to him till then. My family doctor first asked me to prepare my mother. But I was clear baba needed to know first and yes, usually the tough part of telling the harsh truth is my job. Like me, Baba too had a hunch it was cancer. My father’s mother, his older and younger sister had all died of cancer. He has an excellent sense of observation having been an ace photographer (professional). And he had picked up the leads already. He was just waiting for me to tell him. He wasn’t shocked and we discussed in details life here after, the options and time frame.
After the biopsy, endoscopy and other tests we learnt my father’s prostate cancer had spread. Now there is a good and bad to it. Bad is that it had spread a lot, affecting his urinary tract. Good part is it had not spread to his bones or vital organs. We had few options and going by his age, (was nearly 82 then), there weren’t many choices. Thankfully it pays huge dividends to have very good doctors in the family or neighbourhood. We have in our extended family and school batch, friends who are fine doctors. We took second opinion from one of the best doctor and we were told the possible treatment option and the side-effects. The fact is going by his age, doctors made it clear prolonging his life was NOT the priority, which I too 100% agreed. Our priority is to give him a good quality of life in the remaining days/weeks/months or even years. Moreover, we felt he should be most comfortable. We were told to look at the hormone therapy as the best option. I went online and read in details.
Hormone therapy is especially useful because prostate is to do with hormones, I mean that’s why we are born in the first place…now the down side to this treatment and that’s where relevance of today’s illness comes into picture. It enhances the chances of heart attack, stroke, enlargements of breasts (imagine male he first boobs), etc. What caught my eye was the stroke, heart attack bit. But you know, what was the choice? We want only the best for our loved ones. I had seen my aaji who took the stand in the fourth stage of oesophagus cancer that no needle will be pierced into her body and she died in 21 days of internal haemorrhage; both other atyas who took the medical treatment of every intervention, surgery, name it and they both suffered through it all. Or then the option of hormone injections. We opted for the last. And what a memorable period and healthy life my father has lived!
Initially he struggled to get up in his bed to even have food, then a bigger struggle after 2 weeks to take stand and even walk with the help of a walker. From August 15, there was a complete turn around. He began to move around in the house without any support, do every chore in the house, walk from one end to the other- and by Bombay standards the house is a cricket field! This was a huge improvement and we were actually relieved for him. Honestly, we had forgotten he had cancer, despite weekly urine checks and monthly blood tests with the injection and medicines.
Now, talking of Diwali. My sister was to leave on Friday night and she wanted to buy clothes from a specific shop. I had taken her to the suburbs and within minutes we got a call from brother asking us to rush back home. My brother said baba’s right side had gone numb and speech was slurred, there was pain in his head and he wasn’t normal.
Now for the symptoms- My father was watching a serial, after it got over, he stretched to pick up the remote and he felt no sensation in his fingers. My brother saw my father’s jaw shift (yes such things happen) and his right knee and right hand had gone numb, while his speech was incomprehensible. He suffered two strokes at home in half an hour. There began series of phone calls and i called two friends Dr R and my school friend. Dr R said my father has to be hospitalised immediately. And my school friend who is a HOD in Saifee said I should move him immediately to Saifee hospital because it has a full-fledged ‘stroke protocol.’ Among the many hospitals in this city, we may not be aware of which has what facilities. There are certain compulsory tests that are required before the person who suffers stoke is admitted.
We moved him for MRI and Angio and in the MRI they detected an ‘intracarnial haemorrhage’ and said it is serious. I read the word ‘haemorrhage’ and for a few minutes I went through mixed feelings. One wants only the best for one’s parents and in limited choices we had taken the best and now we were seeing the impact of that! I believe we have to accept the inevitable but when you see it unfold in front of your eyes, you feel life’s not fair. From a hale and hearty person to someone in tubes, who now has to be told, it may only get worse from here, is not fair for a man who had not seen a hospital in his life. We waited for his neurologist to come, a very senior Dr and just listening to one fact i was sure this is the best Dr. He does not carry a cellphone, he does have a number but nobody knows. He has a residence number where one has to leave a message or at the two hospitals he is attached to and he responds ASAP. This says he is a stickler for discipline which is so important. He is very senior and he is just SUPERB. Firstly he was at the hospital within forty minutes of admission, on a public holiday. He walks in with a brisk gait, absolutely soft spoken but dreaded by all. He was upfront of all possibilities and said the impact of medicines was important.
The problem detected was the blood clot was in a sensitive area of his brain, which controls vital functions-respiration swallowing, palate, speech, etc. The doctor even asked me to prepare father to get a pipe inserted for food intake. Ugh. Never in my worst dreams I’d have imagined my father in this situation. The doctor was more diplomatic, but i told Baba what Dr had said. I had to explain how things will deteriorate and swallowing food will become hard and he may eventually choke on it, if the pipe was not inserted. That sparked off a weird conversation on life, death and we spoke of euthanasia, Indian laws (which he thinks are absurd) and compulsions of living a life. Let me make it clear, my father is NOT the kind to want to give up or take his life. He only told me he will never want to live in that condition. He will motivate himself he said and i was confident. Believe me early next morning when i met him, his speech was fine and my father looked normal.
My school friend called the ICU head and asked for my dad’s report and the ICU head gave a green signal to shift my dad out. It was timely medical intervention that helped andhad a positive effect. The ordeal of waiting in the casualty, getting a vacancy on MRI machine, billing, admission is all a bloody time consuming process, which i battled. We lost time on it. And most of all, being a bank holiday the charges are double. Yes, it doesn’t matter for one’s loved ones, but these practical details we aren’t aware of and miss out. Processes that would cost not more than 5-6K just get doubled because these are ’emergency services’ for which specialists are required; and they work for us even on a public holiday. Despite all those procedures and yes, even the ambulance took 20 minutes to leave, we got him admitted by post noon. Dr felt we had lost vital time, then i told him father suffered third stroke in the casualty in front of the docs who had kept my dad waiting on the stretcher.
Like I said on a normal day in a normal life anything extraordinary can happen, I shudder to think what would have happened if it were not Diwali? There wouldn’t have been two more people to help me and be around for help. Human power is so important and we lack in modern changing Indian society. My brother was prompt in calling the doctor and asking us to rush back. So actually I do mean it was “A happy Diwali.” Had it not been for this festival, we all wouldn’t have been there to celebrate and be here. while one of tackled the docs, the other tied up to shift father to the hospital. It is not the best way to spend the Diwali. But now with parents ageing, i think everyday should be celebrated like a festival and i’m NOT saying it for the sake of it, I truly mean it. So live it up for your parents if they are old and celebrate each day…have a splendid festival season.