Eight months ago. The thunderbolt from yonder. If you believe in that. Karma? DNA. Biomarkers. Utter despair. Then, hope. Trials. Tribulations. Against all odds.
Of having to explain to family and friends."What? Were there no symptoms?"
"Why didn't he see a doctor?"
He was like that, a stalwart—he bore pain, physical and mental, like a stoic.
The sheer exhaustion of having to go over facts, day after day, even while in hospital, listening to tales about those who had conquered the big "C" and were living "quality lives', of being admonished for not getting second or third opinions in India and overseas, for not having sold all our modest possessions and gone across the oceans... of having somehow failed as a wife in not recognising the symptoms, for not insisting on medical examinations... mea culpa.
My parched lips were not due to thirst. Then there was the uncontrollable puking, the tears that flowed when I was alone, through restless nights, checking him every hour...
I was content with the results "Super Watson" threw up, sifting through the 8000 papers that are published daily worldwide. After intensive research—the results corroborated what the doctors had told us and the medicines prescribed, except one, but that had serious side-effects, including raising blood pressure. Which is why it had not been prescribed.
I learnt a new word—a big thing for a teacher of English Literature—"metastasis". I fumbled over the pronunciation. Was it due to the fact that I knew the outcome? Then the concern from well-wishers on the "prognosis"? The word bothered him too and we often smiled in unison. Till the big "C" began its tenacious onslaught.
The fear as each chemo session drew near C1 Day 1 + C2 Day 2 = One Session X 5 over the weeks.
Pardon me, that expression is now frowned upon and we must use the term "infusion", in respect. Full blood tests were required with checks for creatinine levels... and the lab technicians were unable to draw blood, prodding and poking, leaving blood clots all over—to the desolate anguish and pain of both the patient and those that loved him. The need for blood transfusions as his "vital signs" began to flag. Each intrusion caused excruciating pain in my abdomen and my heart ached... heartbeats—did they pound louder than I cared to acknowledge?
My parched lips were not due to thirst. Then there was the uncontrollable puking, the tears that flowed when I was alone, through restless nights, checking him every hour, or the aphthous ulcers that erupted far more frequently than in the past two decades.
Our daughter grappled with her grief and found the strength to keep us afloat. Even guided and helped me push a stretcher through teeming crowds as no orderly was available to take him back to his room.
My grief paled in comparison to his suffering. The biopsies, the frequent x-rays, the waiting for hours for his turn... The burning inside his body, the fear of the unknown, the ultimate truth that he would not see his children grow older. The loss of his muscles, the unbearable moment when he could not get up on his own or turn on his side—the indignity of having others heave him up, calling himself a pitiful specimen, wanting to get out of the hospital, yearning to go home.
Two nights. At home. His own bed. To the familiar sounds of the roller-birds and the black-crested bulbuls... he breathed his last.
We decided... the day he stopped speaking, but opened his eyes when he heard his name. The tears he cried through closed eyes as he could not do namaskar to the orderlies who helped him into the ambulance, the sound of the siren as we rushed through the traffic in Delhi—all too surreal. As my heart pounded, our daughter held our hands and kept us going right into the air-ambulance she had arranged for, with some help from his college friend.
Through turbulent weather in the small charter plane, with the doctor and attendant who kept checking his vitals, till the plane touched down in our home-town.
"We are home." He opened his eyes ever so briefly.
Two nights. At home. His own bed. To the familiar sounds of the roller-birds and the black-crested bulbuls that chirped outside his parents' room that he had painstakingly cleared, having restored the original colour of their wooden beds, he breathed his last—after two nights. With his daughter beside him, reading him excerpts from a book he liked, some news of the world, of how much he had done for his children and his beloved country—thirty-six years in government service and how proud they were of him.
The last sigh. No, I am not moving forward just yet. I need to take deep breaths. It has not been easy inhaling and exhaling these past 240-odd days.