All those who really love to think are sure to relish this.
You are welcome to comment here and/or on Shilpi's blog.
A protracted harrowing experience shakes one out of the ever-deepening stupor induced by routine-bound, ‘normal’ everyday life – and, in our family at least, nothing does that better than a medical emergency (perhaps because we do not obsess over weddings and parties and children’s school-examination scores and shopping and looks and meeting celebrities and other trivia of the same sort, as most people do these days!).
My wife was being prodded by her doctors to get a hysterectomy done without delay for quite some time, and we together (that includes my daughter, whose opinions are given far greater weightage already than most parents I know give to 18-year olds) decided that it should be done in one of the supposedly best (and most expensive) hospitals in Calcutta, because my wife had liked the ambience, and even more so, the surgeon who had dealt with her. We firmly believe that since most senior surgeons have more or less the same academic ‘qualifications’ and a couple of decades of hands-on experience, it is the way that they talk to patients that should decide which of them we should entrust with a major operation (an open-abdomen hysterectomy has become more or less routine these days, especially if the patient’s vital signs are okay, but one keeps hearing horror stories about things that can and do go wrong now and then that can keep one’s teeth on edge for days on end, give one sleepless nights and several score grey hairs within the space of a week!)
Except when in the midst of a full-blown emergency I absolutely refuse to break my seven-days-a-week work schedule, so my wife (poor dear) ran to and fro alone first to confirm the date of admission and surgery, and then, two weeks later, to deal with the insurance details and submit the results of some last-minute critical tests. We eventually left town, the two of us, the very same day she was to be admitted, leaving our 12-year old daughter behind with an elderly couple next-door, because she had her annual examinations in school to attend to, and she had herself suggested and permitted us to use this twelve-day time slot because I would not have to miss classes then, since all my pupils had their own exams, and had therefore told me they wouldn’t attend classes (so no parent – believe me, there are lots of them – would have a chance to complain I was charging fees without doing all the classes I should).
The operation took place the very next day. God is (sometimes, at least) kind to those who have hardly anybody but Him to rely upon – so not only did the surgery go swiftly and smoothly (the lady in the bed next to my wife wasn’t half so lucky!), but the patient, who looked half-dead when she was being wheeled out of the O.T., and was in considerable pain the whole of the rest of the day, recovered dramatically over the next 24 hours, and was already eating solid food and hobbling about unaided within two days: the hospital discharged her on the fourth day, the stitches were taken out three days after that, and she came back home to Durgapur last night without any great discomfort. She will have a final checkup a week down the line, and will have to live under some strict restrictions – which has turned me and my daughter into round-the-clock domestic helps for the time being! – but the only thing that matters is that we have got back our priceless mother, and she is not only alive but showing every sign that she will be kicking within a fortnight.
However, since as I said before, I have my hands full (ably assisted by my daughter though I am), no one makes me angrier than those who, despite having some idea about the state of affairs in my home, want to come over for idle chatter or to get some little urgent favour – the same people who are otherwise too ‘busy’ for months on end even to ring and say hello! Such people had better beware of a very nasty tongue-lashing: you have been warned. The same goes for those who call on my cellphone though I have not personally given them the number.
Now here are a few observations regarding everything that passed through my mind over this last fortnight:
The new, much-widened, much-improved NH2 which now links Durgapur with Calcuttta is a marvel, and travelling along it in a swift air-conditioned Volvo bus is a dream. But I wish this improvement had happened 20 years earlier – today I am old and tired, and even with such luxury, coming and going six times along that route within ten days was a drag.
I have been to many metro cities around the world, from Calcutta to New Delhi to New York, and I hate them all with the same cold, implacable hatred, because of the congestion, the pollution, the slowness of traffic, and the heartlessness of people all around you. That said, Calcutta today is just a wee bit better than it was 25 years ago, when I went to college there.
I was terribly lucky that the doctors and nurses didn’t just smile and charge the earth for their services – so far, every sign indicates that they gave me excellent service (though not without giving me a few nasty and irritating moments!). I know very well indeed how horribly things can go bad with people seeking serious medical care in this country, and hospitals with the most excellent credentials often make a hash of their jobs even while they make you pay through the nose. I fear that until our mothers start teaching their children that they shouldn't become doctors solely to make money (show me such a mother and I'll show you a pink elephant), or the Consumer Protection Act really begins to bite, most of us will have to count on luck, even if we have a lot of money in the bank. But that reminds me: lots of people who should know have assured me that the state of medical care even in the US leaves much to be desired (I shall be glad to take questions on this point). No one has yet found a really good substitute for prayer!
I am grateful to all the people, young and old, who gave me help, sometimes just by being beside me (even if only via the net and telephone from thousands of miles away) to render moral support. They are too numerous to name individually here, but I am saying a heartfelt thank you to every one of them, and I am not the sort of person to forget such kind favours. At the same time, I could not but take note of how many people knew but simply didn’t bother even to ask if they could help in some way, or did so in such tones of cold formality (some took care to do so only after the event) that it was only too evident I was not expected to ask for anything. Many such people, mind you, have got unstinted help from me when they were in need. Their baseness, too, I shall long remember. Their ranks, by the way, include some family members. I was born in a truly wonderful family. No wonder P.G. Wodehouse wrote in his ripe old age that one key requirement for happiness is ‘loved ones’ being far away.
Finally, my daughter worked a miracle I shall ever be wonderstruck and grateful for. For almost a fortnight she stayed with neighbours (actually in her own house, alone for most of the time, attending to all kinds of household chores and studying all by herself for her annual examinations at school, and even doing more than reasonably well). How grown-up she has become I can judge from the fact that very few parents I know would dream of putting so much pressure and responsibility on their 'immature' children in class 10, 12 or (in extreme cases I know) even in college! To say I am proud of my daughter would be an understatement, and no matter what her school exam-results are, I know she has passed a far tougher examination with flying colours, and to me, nothing matters more.
Every disturbing event like this changes a man ever so little, and today I am certainly a somewhat changed man. As a lot of people will find out, soon. I am not sure they will all like what they see.