"Aapke saath amboolans ke paise ki baat hui!?!" (Has anyone spoken to you about the ambulance charges?), asked the driver to my hapless mother.
Money – I was stunned. Actually disgusted was more like it. Barely had they strapped in my dad's skeletal frail frame in the bed, key in ignition, pat came the demand for money. I wonder if he would have driven us at all had we (God forbid) fumbled and expressed inability to pay. It was INR 2k to drive my ICCU-ridden father to and fro from a specialized diagnostic for MRI and scans that was 2mins by Mumbai traffic stds. Monetary demands had been the top and most consistent priority in the last few days. True it was the same during my hospitalization but there was better management and 15% good faith. Here, while my father battled to stay alive, his investigation costs came before his prognosis and next vital steps. I felt sorry for the scores who waited, wondering where to produce money from their measly income and no insurance. The hand-to-mouth population. The 90% population. And even though I could produce the money on demand, I felt attacked even slightly blackmailed at the thought of care and basic treatment being pulled if I couldn't produce. Every step spewed money. I think I will be charged even for the air I breathe in the waiting area. Money 1st; care and vital steps later. Period.
Waiting – Day 5. So far the multitude of docs including passing 2nd opinions couldn't put a finger on it. All I could do was talk, speculate, question, meet dad, comfort him and wait. That wait. The painfully long question-mark accompanied by traffic and yapping people. 6hrs in a row. And the most irritating part was the ladies who attempted to start a conversation with me about my dad's health and then suddenly turning a sharp curve into their family members and details and gross issues. Being nosy and then unloading it on me. I wasn't insensitive. If anything I listened quietly. I was mentally exhausted processing my dad and didn't need to hear everyone's issues. Its exhaustion really that makes us all quiet. My parents were too when I was operated upon. Sitting around or lying around for hours is far more daunting than actual activity. The smell, the cries, the laughter, the running around, the silence. The brain is a powerful ALL-organ. It controls what your body does and reacts to. Keeping it well oiled and running in such situations is a challenge and 1 that teaches us tremendous lessons in courage and patience.
Patience – such an underrated word. I had 3 layers of patience to deal with. Having just completed my stint of hospitalization and an attempt to piece back all elements of normalcy including fitness, I had to pause everything. The 2nd was dealing with a hysterical and high-octane-tensed and wired mom. The last was the main 1 – dad, his illness, his diagnosis, the reports, the tests and what not. Everything cannot be speeded up just cuz your heart wishes so. Nada. Even if you live in Mumbai. Instead, Indian mentality slows down the most mundane activities or wastes time on stuff that is red-taped high priority. Nurses and on-call doctors would much rather chit chat and complete their packet of noisy wafers than cater to the patient. Any patient. I saw it myself. They get ‘bothered’ if someone were to beckon them once they just sat down for their cuppa chai with a side of toasty gossip. Too bad. Leave the profession if you can’t handle the pressure and the duties it demands. Worse if you don’t have patience with delicate, ailing bodies and minds.
Empathy and Etiquette – or the lack of it. I have been routinely thrown out and ordered into the ICCU for dad over the last 5 days. I have jumped up at prompt and performed like a trained bomb-squad dog. Except, my actions came from the fact that he’s my dad and I will wag a tail if I had 1. I would do that for any member of my family and that includes Abeer and Elsa. But, the officers of the healthcare profession who take the oath upon graduation and get in knowing fully well what the profession demands, shun it. I don’t pass this verdict for all. Actually, the lowest in the hierarchy (the maids and bais) are the most compassionate and kind. Feed them a few Gandhijis and they care for you and your loved ones like you were their progeny. The most distressing part of hospital stay is the bedpan and loo usage. If you are bedridden and have to entirely depend on others for your basic bodily functions, no matter how many times you may have lectured others, you are going to cringe and worry. I did. Twice. But the Tai makes all the difference. The guards ask if you are ok, need some water, comfort, need a fan etc. Nurses are the worst. They carry the expression of corpses; sometimes taking extra effort to hiss at you without actually doing it. The tone, the attitude, the malice is ridiculous. Some don’t make eye contact. Maybe they fear it may humanize them to look at the patient or the relative. I was ‘warned’ not to create trouble the 1st night I was admitted 2 yrs ago for arthroscopic ACL surgery. Here, after asking me not to disturb dad, I was disturbed by their chit chat and their chiding of a poor lady clearly in end-stage renal failure and another who’s heart had but a few beats left. They fought with colleagues who didn’t turn up for shifts on time etc. All this in few view and audible range of patients and their near burned out families. Empathy is a crucial chapter missing in the fat pages of the medical bible.
In India, the doctor is God and those associated with him in the slightest… his disciples and messengers. Such blindness. Doctors change their tone and language with me when they know they can’t play paddle-ball with a para-medical professional. What about the scores less fortunate (read educated)? Despite dad’s status right now, we are far better treated (by 70% I reckon) than the rest of the populace. They just want someone to talk to. Someone to tell them it will all be alright. Someone to tell them that they figured it out and that its fixable. Things and people break every day. People just want to know “can this be fixed?”. I too am asking the same. I had an unfortunate incident today where an annoyed lady found it too taxing to wait in line for her mother’s MRI cuz my dad’s was taking too long. Rudely (after blasting the diagnostic center receptionist) she asks my doctor in front of me and scores of waiting people, “a thigh MRI is not so important then why is it taking so long?” Before he could answer, I gave a fat piece of my mind. 1 of the rarest times I didn’t care for being judged or considered a noisy nuisance. No one stopped me or dared come my way. Shockingly she turned out to be a doc herself and realized she had cut the wrong wire when she took me on, proceeding to profusely apologize. I would’ve relented except my heavy heart had found the perfect outlet and opportunity to let the screaming banshee out. Then I went back in the dark ambulance and shed whatever tears had surfaced. Wiped ‘em. Even like a fool, used sanitizer on my own hands and walked back in.
I had never seen a loved 1 with 8 tubes piercing a frail body and another 15 tubes running out of each 1. So many monitors all beeping at once, bandages, raw flesh, blankets, catheters and 2 simultaneous saline drips. I had 1/4th of these but ACTUALLY seeing it is a whole new life lesson. Watching them go through a non-stop cycle of progress and regress. I learnt about my own patience and my own vulnerability. How much is too much for me? I think I have held on long enough and am gonna hold on more. Even candles give that last lil strong bright flicker before they completely burn out. I’m not ready yet to burn out. Still have to burn my brightest best yet!