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Monday, March 09, 2009

A troubled fortnight

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.


Subhanjan said...

I am glad that you are back and that boudi is al right. Pupu is a fine girl and very sweet (my belief grew stronger on reading about her conversation with Shilpidi). And I must say that very few middle-class children get the opportunity to face such tough examinations. If they get, it will make them better. After all at the end of the day marks won't determine who will go ahead when a challenge comes on the way. I am glad that everything ran smoothly. God is with you. It will be blasphemy to say that He is not with every other man and woman. But then sometimes He puts you to test. And if He chooses to give you a test, it might be a very hard one.

Tanmoy said...

Dear Suvroda,

I am so happy to know Boudi is recovering fast. I wish Pupu very well; I have faith on her even though I have met her only through your words and some photographs.

You have touched upon a variety of issues on this post. I would just comment on the healthcare system for the time being. I do not know much about US healthcare system but I hear something similar to what you have written. In fact, I read this article long time back on US healthcare system - http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/opinion/12sun1.html

In New Zealand, healthcare is system is good but it is not inexpensive. There is very minimal cost involved when it comes to critical issues though but people here avoid doctors for say, an influenza or stomach ache. I have heard the way the doctors deal with their patients is absolutely different from the way patients are dealt with in India. At least it is apparent that doctors are sitting in a market, trying to sell their service.

However, New Zealand is not free from corrupt doctors and death due to negligence. It is appalling to hear about such cases when they are reported by the media. I believe no Government can have control over bad professionals and they do most damage in public healthcare systems. Barring these stray incidents, I believe NZ health system is generally trustworthy. I have met immigrant people who have underwent really complicated operations say that, I was saved just because I was in New Zealand.

Recently, I have been hearing a lot about the healthcare system in Germany from a colleague whose one year old nephew has undergone a liver implant. It is a mighty serious operation and since the patient is so small the chances of success is relatively less. When it was first identified that the boy’s case was so serious, doctors in Frankfurt transferred the boy in an ambulance helicopter to the hospital where such transplants take place. After the suitable liver was found, the boy was operated upon. The criticality of the case meant the boy is in hospital (under observation) for the last four months. He would not be able to leave the place unless the doctors feel he is absolutely out of danger. The Government is bearing the entire cost of this young citizen’s well-being. His chances of living is still less but what I hear about the dedication of the doctors amazes me. I guess even though people residing in countries such as Germany complain about the high taxes, but effective utilisation of taxpayers money through such healthcare systems is always desirable.

Here in India, we are still trying to encourage people to use better sanitation facilities and that is why articles such as these (http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=aErNiP_V4RLc&refer=news) are written about us.

Lastly, shiploads of wishes from Pia and I for three of you.

Sumitha Kurien said...

Best wishes to your wife, for a very speedy recovery! And hearty congratulations to your daughter for handling such a situation so admirably.


Abhijit-Bhabhi said...

Respected Sir

I am very pleased that boudi is recovering fast from the Operation. I wish her very speedy recovery. You are indeed fortunate to have a daughter who is a pillar of support to the entire family during such trying times.


Abhijit Bharadwaj

Sudipto Basu said...

Hope Boudi recovers speedily and without complications. It wouldn't be too far-fetched to assume that Pupu will grow up to a strong-willed woman with varied interests and a capability to more than fend for herself-- all that you and Shilpi-di have written about her indicates so quite remarkably!

Wishing all of you well, Sir.

Shilpi said...

The only way I can keep a tab on my comment is to start off with points:

1.It's a good thing that all of you decided to get boudi's hysterectomy done in Calcutta, and in one of the best hospitals.

2.Both boudi and you are absolutely right of course. All said and done with similar “qualifications”, it is the way that doctors talk with their patients that makes a difference.

3.It is nice to know and a relief to know that the new NH2 is safe, swift, and comfortable. Never having traveled on it - I kept having these bizarre images of some of the hairy and uncomfortable road trips that I had made....

4.I hate cities too, and will never ever want to live in one. But I wonder why you feel that Calcutta is better than what it was 25 years ago....I would have thought that it must have been less crowded and congested and polluted and a little bit cleaner back when you were in college.

5.Yes, you were terribly lucky and fortunate that the doctors and nurses didn't just smile prettily while charging you through the roof....

6.Your comment on showing folks a “pink elephie” in relation to mothers who tell their children to become doctors only if the children think it is their calling in life made me laugh out....

7.So far I haven't chanced upon much apart from a good dollop of luck and earnest prayers either – given the way things and people work. I have heard of and witnessed quite ridiculous and some horrifying and hairy events myself...and at the end of the day one can pray that when one's loved ones need medical care that a miracle is wrought – even if the medical care required is something routine and seemingly commonplace. I keep thanking my lucky stars that I've never fallen seriously sick through these last years and more.

8.I am saddened that there were people who gave you the cold shoulder.

The rest of what I'm about to say cannot be put into points. All three of you – Pupu, boudi, and you have emerged through this harrowing experience with flying grace. And I do not mean this lightly. Pupu is more grown up than most people ever will be. That she managed by herself and the fact that it was she who suggested this time-slot in the first place are instances that speak for themselves. The rest of my thoughts for and about Pupu must remain for now. Boudi has cheered me up and made me stop chewing on my thumbs on more occasions through this last month than I can count, apart from all else. I have been quietly amazed but not surprised (if one knows what I mean) by her resilience, her cheerful patience, her strength – and many other elements besides, all of which will remain with me for now. I could hear her smile over the phone 24 hours after her op. - if that doesn't say anything to people – nothing will! You too, Suvro da. You've shared what you can with folks who read your blog – but nobody else will really know what you've been through these last weeks. And you've been getting people to grin when you've had the chance. Here too, the rest must stay with me.
All said and done for the nonce – you've said it all in the last line of your fourth paragraph.
To keep things short, I'm the one who's left wonderstruck with the three of you. And on a connected note - I can't really express how infinitely grateful I am to have Pupu, boudi, and you in my life.
'nuff said for now, I guess...
May God be kind to all of you in the days, weeks and months to come.
P.S: As for the creeps who come and bother you – they really do deserve rotten eggs aimed at them.

Shilpi said...

And one other thought (not to be rude or offensive): While I'm glad that some people seem to be reading my posts I find it odd and rather bemusing that my posts are what in part got them to think that Pupu is who-she-is. Here I was imagining that since many/some people live close by or indeed do have greater opportunities of visiting that they would have most certainly have found out for themselves....

Soumallya said...

I wish your wife a speedy recovery and I am also glad to know that your daughter has learnt to shoulder responsibilities well and you can fullyrely upon her(unlike most other parents that they can't even think of paying a little attention to their children's opinions).She has really grown up to be the "Woman of the House".

With regards,
Soumallya Chattopadhyay

debasish said...

I dont know if you have changed or will change, but this is surely an experience worth remembering. I have realized so many times that pain is by far our best teacher. Best regards and wishes for your wife and daughter.

Navin said...

Dear Sir,

I wish your wife the best of health, and I hope she has has recovered fully.


Ankan said...

Dear Sir,

I am sorry for being so late to respond to this- my best wishes for a speedy recovery of your wife ( I hope she already has recovered). As goes for Pupu, I have never known her personally but I would never have expected any less from your daughter.
You thank and congratulate her several times in the post, which she fully deserves- I guess I wouldn't want to believe that any child would do any less for his/her mother, but like you, I guess I am still pretty naive and keep getting surprised from time to time!
My best wishes with all of you.


SARITA said...

I don't know how you will react to my comments but I have learned this from you to tell whatever is in my heart. You told that aunty alone had to arrange for the admission! I don't know why you did not tell me. I know I am still not quite adapted to this city but still could have done my best. Sir I think you know me well and I think that you can trust me this much! I am not that irresponsible! I don't care if I had made you angry but I want to tell that I am angry instead. This is not done sir! I was feeling something wrong that's why wanted to meet you when I went Durgapur but learned that you were not there! Sir please don't put me in the patented list of carmelites! May be I had studied there for two years but that does not means I have become like them. I will pray to God for aunty's fast recovery and give pupu my best regards! Again I am sorry if I have hurt you or made you angry!

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks, Sarita. I didn't have anything personal against you when I wrote that blogpost! But notice that you responded to the blogpost dated March 09 only on April 12!... I am not asking you for explanations, just please reflect on that by yourself. I do not go out of my way to ask for help; those who keep regularly in touch do what they can for me. For the rest, our whole family prays that we can handle things by ourselves.