*D Day – I waited outside the huge, beige toned doors while my mother scurried inside to meet him. Center of the door had a piece of transparent glass set rigidly amid sheaths of strong solid wood but I did not want to peep through it. I was scared. Further up, about 3 meters upward from the apex of the doors, three bold letters screeched out ‘ICU’ in red. Somewhere behind the doors, was my father. He had been there since last 24 hours.
Day -2(read 2 days back) – It was 12 in the afternoon and I was fuming.While calling out to my mother to hurry up, I kicked my drowsy brother hard enough to wake him up. We had planned to start sightseeing early in the morning but everyone was too busy catching up on their precious sleep, this chilly morning. I had arrived in Kolkata some fifteen days back but my dad was on an official tour. He had reached just yesterday and I did not want to waste even a single moment at home now. Time spent with him is usually precious and rare. His nature of work does not let him make a lot of free time for us. So, usually when he is around, we try to spend quality time together and make the most out of it. We went to a lively park in the city and gorged on the delicious kolkata biryani in the manicured lawns under the mild December sun. Dad pulled my mom’s legs and it was amusing to see her make faces and flinch. We spent time clicking pictures, kidding around and laughing together on childhood memoirs. When the entire family is together, the feeling that fills your heart, is indescribable. I secretly made a wish that such perfection should never be scarred. We completed our day’s plan by visiting a few places and returned home after a sumptuous dinner at a local eatery. That day was filled with small, precious moments which made it stand as one of the best in my life. It always will.
Day -1 – My parents left for my dad’s hometown from Kolkata for an urgent work. Grumbling, I bid them a sad goodbye.
Day 0 – I was at my in-laws place, trying to flip a pancake on the pan.My father-in-law barged in, asking me if I had a talk with my dad recently. “Last evening”, I replied casually, still fussing over the shape of pancake. He informed me that I should call them as my dad was being taken to the hospital. Shocked and startled, I called up my mom immediately. Her teary voice on the other end, made my feet go cold. She informed me that when he woke up this morning, he was not able to move his body. Not even an inch. Just last evening he had his dinner and went to bed in a perfectly normal manner, complaining only of some tiredness. Everyone in the family thought it to be an after effect of his endless travels that he has been doing since last one month. One paracetamol and he snoozed off comfortably the night before. But the scenario, this morning left everyone including him in a state of shock. My father is a fairly fit person with pretty healthy habits. He has a knack of being conscious of his health. Regular Yoga and exercise, a constant early riser and with an attitude of a strict no to street food or any food from outside for that matter ,he was a popular health figure in my extended family. Hardly has he been taken so sick to be in a hospital. Hence a condition of sudden paralysis and hospitalization came as a big jolt to me.
D Day contd. – With a strong heart and a prayer on lips, I pushed open the huge doors of ICU. Mesh of wires, the catheter, that black screened monitor with bizarre lines of random numbers.These are not a pretty sight to witness. Swathed in a light blue sheet, my father slept on the hospital bed. He looked as calm as he would if he were well. The only difference being, he lay there, motionless. Just as the doctor walked in, I got a chance to converse with her. A much needed conversation with her revealed that multiple scans later, they found that it was not Paralysis, which had left his body motionless. His brain and other vital organs were perfectly fine.The peripheral nervous system seems to have stopped responding. He was diagnosed with an auto immune disease known as ‘Gullien Barre Syndrome’. A viral attack of sorts, that renders the human body in a condition of temporary paralysis for a significant duration. A rare disease that affects 1 in a varied population of 1 million. A disease which can strike any normal person at anytime and anywhere. Auto immune diseases don’t come with reasons.Wikipedia suggests that it is possible to recover from this disease fully but the duration of recovery is not fixed.It differs from body to body. Usually, the word hospital scares the hell out of me. Hearing all this medical jabber with my Dad being the patient, it was certainly difficult to stay sane. A curious question to the doctor that every individual asks in such times with a positive anticipation, is ” when will he get back to normal?”. The casual reply of the doctor “It may take Months” sent shock waves in my spine. But keeping up hopes is the only key to maintain your mental balance. Though I haven’t seen a lot of hardships in my life,I had an inkling about the fact that life is not a straight road. You are bound to encounter hairpin bends at certain points. But what I had not realized yet was that life does not come with shock absorbers. You need to grow a strong gut to digest a few things which are par digestible. Medications were being injected into his system continuously but as per the doctor the effect was supposed to be visible after a minimum of 5 days. Hospital was abuzz with people. There was chaos around.Our hearts refused to speak though.The only words that we uttered to keep us going in those times of hardship were from the Holy Quran. Those were the words of prayer.
Day D2 – He was stable this morning. But still, danger loomed over him as well as all of us. Regular chats with different doctors, monitoring his condition every 15 minutes revealed that my dad was lucky enough that it has not affected his chest. Other patients suffering from the same disease had a worse condition which led them to be on ventilator. Ventilator is a life support system which helps a person breathe. When the chest muscles are not able to suck the air, in and out, the ventilator comes to their rescue. Thus, it helps a person to survive, until his chest muscles repair themselves and are able to work normally. Medical jargons aside, if a person is in a condition when he has to take the support of a device to be able to breathe, his condition is serious. Very serious. We thanked the God that his condition has not deteriorated to that extent. Spending time in a hospital is not easy. Negative thoughts attract more of that bunch and it eventually freaks you out. But holding on to any stray word of positivity from the doctor helps you survive the phase. Though not able to move,numbers on his monitor indicated stability. As we were about to leave that evening, I noticed some commotion outside his room. The usually quiet nurses seemed worked up and my uncle rushed to call my mom aside. I sensed something wrong but still holding a brave facade, waited patiently for her to return. She did not return for a long time and I grew more impatient. My uncle came out, looking quite downcast and upset. I approached him, my heart beating faster than usual. He asked me to sit down as he explained that the oxygen requirement for him has suddenly shot up to a very high level. I sat hearing to him, blood pounding in my ears. My dad was on the ventilator.
Day D3 – Sometimes, when the worse you can imagine, comes true, it kind of gives you more strength to face the situation. After yet another sleepless night, we were back in the hospital to face a day full of apprehensions and tension. A beeping monitor, a wire attached to the monitor finishing up at a pipe that elongates itself into the mouth of the patient and ends at the throat. That pretty much sums up the entire body of ventilator.One major issue, that we all could anticipate was the mode of communication.Ventilator has mercilessly moved the level of difficulty in communicating at a higher plane. The only mode of communication between him and us were his eyes, which, by Gods grace remained unaffected by the wrath of this devilish disease. He was paralyzed heads down. Many a time, he would move his pupils side-wise or down to indicate the need for someone to hold his inert palms or to squeeze his toes. Sometimes, we would misunderstand and make a move that would cause him more pain than reassurance. This worried us as we could see the repercussions of our actions. Doctors at this point, came up with a very innovative solution that they have been implementing to facilitate the communication process between severely paralyzed patients and others for quite some time. It turned out they had this colorful board which had a mix of alphabets at one corner and a couple of lines at the other corner. Lines like “need a hand massage”, “press my legs”, “shift my body to right/left”, “motions” were jotted down at a corner of the board. So, with a blink of his eye, the skilled nurses would know his needs and immediately cater to them. The hardness of a thick pipe through the mouth with the sharpness of a couple of other nerve like food pipes inserted through his nose, ending up at the same throat looked really painful but we were a little relieved that his health care was in practiced hands.
Day D4-5 – People say temples and mosques are the holy places, where you would find a huge number of theists or believers. Visit a hospital and your views will change. Everyday, when I entered the hospital, I would find a lot of people sitting on benches with a small book of prayers open on their laps. I would find women counting beads, reciting continuous prayers with moving lips. Sometimes, I would spot a group of happy faces distributing sweets among the staff, perhaps in the glory of finally leaving the hospital with their loved one, who has recovered. While, sometimes a deafening wail arising from a freshly arrived group of women would startle me, who perhaps lost a dear one after a long struggle. All of these happening under the same roof.The only thing that kept us going in those times of trial were the verses of Quran and the satisfaction that there are people praying for him. A large number of people.
Day D6 – I realized today that we have already stepped into 2016. Today, I felt the newness of this year. I felt the taste of food we were eating at the hospital Canteen since last 5 hellish days.I realized that we could ease our breathe a bit today. My dad was declared out of danger with a good response to the medicines. His hands and feet showed some signs of movement which at that point of time was no less than an achievement for all of us.
Day D7 – Since his condition was improving, my mind took the liberty to be more relaxed than the usual. For the first time in 7 days, I noticed the people with other neurological disorders, lying on their beds beside my father’s cot. One particular lady had this grave suffering of a shaking head. By shaking I don’t mean trembling. The shaking was vigorous and continuous. A neurological problem prevented her head from keeping still, even for a single moment. Sometimes I would find her sitting on her wheel chair, taking rounds in the large corridors of that floor.Sometimes, I used to see her in the food court, perched on a chair, accompanied by a person feeding her. I felt she also saw me at times. But i was never sure. I spotted her one day, trying to wipe her eyes.She picked a corner of her saree and brought it close to her eyes but could never wipe it on her own. Her head just won’t stop shaking. Numerous attempts to do something, a normal person could so easily do. I would never even give a thought before lifting my hands to touch my face and complain “Why on earth, I have to be so unlucky to get such dry skin?”. What I never realized was, that lady was not even half lucky as I was. She did not have the privilege to feel her facial skin. While I have this ultimate dream of going on a road trip to Leh, maybe the ultimate dream for her would be being able to feel her facial skin once, look at herself in the mirror steadily and feel normal. Hospitals might not be the most amazing place to be in, but they certainly amaze you in ways galore.
There was this particular day, when the doctor removed the ventilator and declared that Dad was fit to be tried for oral feeding, i.e. he could eat through his mouth. We waited with bated breath to see, if his body would be able to take the simple khichdi in, after a gap of about 7 days. Hesitantly, he took in a spoonful of normal khichdi and chewed it slowly. His face lit up in a way, I had never seen in ages. He was immensely delighted to be able to eat. Within no time, he finished up a considerable portion of food and looked ultimately satisfied. It is difficult to describe that feeling precisely but it felt as if being able to use your teeth to chew is a great virtue bestowed by the almighty. Many a time, we gorge on crunchy pizzas, squatted in front of television, watching social ads that inform us of harmful effects that consuming fast food could have on our body. Who cares, we think. But when you are able to eat a piece of bread, after 7 days of not being able to swallow even water, somehow it stresses upon the fact that we have been taking our body very lightly. Somewhere, we have taken this virtue of God, for granted.
There are several other teachings that being in a hospital for a long time affected me but if I jot all of it down here, it would look like a page out of a swami’s discourse. And who likes a discourse anyway?
“Or you think that you will enter Paradise without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They were afflicted with severe poverty, ailments and were so shaken that even the Messenger and those who had faith with him said, ‘When will the Help of Allah come?’ Yes! Indeed Allah’s help is close!” – [Al-Qur’an 2:214]
Why did this rare disease choose my dad out of an odd thousand? He was put in a trial, more difficult than others, experiencing sudden shock and discomfort, painful than others. We choose to believe that he was in a way dearer to the almighty than the rest which was a reason why he was put to test. Scriptures say, prayers contain the answer to every question in this world. It was a result of a strong faith on prayers and his strong will power that over the following days, improvement in my dad’s health caught up a great pace and gleefully wronged the doctor’s prophecy. My mom had forgotten to eat, sleep or act normal. She prayed fervently, almost each waking moment those days.She put up a strong fight and never lost hope.Perhaps, her strength, encouragement and prayers sped up his improvement. We knew that hundreds of people prayed for him.Even a million thanks to all the praying lips would not be sufficient for the blessings showered on him. As for the almighty, thanking him, even five times a day,for granting us the virtue of being able to breathe normally everyday, is not enough. It can never be!
*D day – Days of Danger