Thursday, November 20, 2008

Withstanding Life

Withstanding Life

This is the hardest times of my life when my mother was diagnosed brain tumor. She nearly lost her speech. And I was told she never could walk again if she wasn’t treated fast. Life ran so fast after that. And I was only an axle in the wheel of life. I had no control except to rotate with it.

I-The News
February 12, 2008, Tuesday: The blank white wall stared back at me and the world offered nothing. It closed the door on me. There was nothing that I would want to live for.

I had lunch at 4:00 pm. My mother was then moved to the medical ward. She was kept in a corner, bed number 16. My mother wouldn’t eat anything. She lost appetite. She took a bit of milk. My friends who work at the hospital came to see her.

We had taken her to the hospital in the morning to do some tests. She was to do Ultra sound the first thing that morning. I made her drink water. She didn’t want to drink so much of water. She told me that she felt like vomiting. But I still told her to take little by little as we waited for her token number to be called. She had had it. She vomited – but she had not taken anything since last night. So she vomited water. Only water. She felt weak. I called Karma and we took her outside in the sun. She couldn’t sit, so she tried to lie down on the ground outside. It wasn’t comfortable. So we took her to the casualty.

Luckily Dr. Ballab Sharma came for rounds and Karma requested him to see my mother. He saw her and then it was decided that she will undergo CT scan. CT scan was done at 12:20 pm. The people there told me that I was a little late to bring my mother to the hospital. This worried me hell sick. “Late” could mean many bad things. They said there were two big masses inside her brain. This didn’t worry me to tears because I was numb and I didn’t know so much about it to worry like that. But worried I was.

And that was it. We had no time to go home. We were to be strong and invite no tears. But I was already feeling weak. But for my mother, I had to stand strong even if it was by squeezing my heart. And I did.

(12th February, 2008)

I wanted visitors to leave. Not because I wasn’t touched by their concern but I was at a discomfort because I had nothing to offer. My mother felt more uncomfortable. She wanted me to offer them drinks. Besides, I thought my mother would be more at peace in the quiet.

I asked Karma and my nephew Sonam to leave too. They left around 11:00 pm. I got into bed beside ama, much against the rules of the hospital and let out my emotions in tears silently. I let it fall until I felt a little better and fell asleep. Sleep was a very disturbed one. I kept waking up every now and then.

I thought of what lay ahead – a lump of darkness that is, maybe, going to take away the last gem I had in my hold. I contemplated on the process – the only choice that lay ahead. Neurosurgery? It didn’t look awful – it looked monstrous. I wondered if it’d go smoothly and how that smoothly would mean in determining how I lived the rest of my life.

I tried to stop myself from thinking of woeful consequences and at this time, I could not fear much, for, I did not know what it means to have a mass, a lesion in the brain.

It scared me but I had to put up courage. I desperately tried to grasp the stronger side of me and tried to smile but the smile wasn’t coming easily.

Going in for CT scan was scary enough. I didn’t know how long that scary path lay. I could curl up in fear and not think of what I might have to go through, for that was my reality. Reality was tougher, rough and dark. I could only hide the fear and think hope would do a better job. But now and then fear sneaked through and I consumed more smoke of fear than I could control. My reality then laid a different path for me.

II-Stuck in the Cell

February 13, 2008, Wednesday: At 3:15 am, my mother went to toilet for the first time in four days. She told me that she felt better. We didn’t go back to sleep after that.

Brother Neten called me early this morning to see how she was doing. I talked with him as if I was a very mature grown up woman who has seen worse things in life and knew that nothing beats us. But I was getting torn inside.

We took breakfast at 7:00 am. She ate only one slice of bread with tea. She said that she was thirsty – this was after a very long time too. She talked normal and looked a little better. She complained of pain in her right hand due to the IV-line. So the sisters changed it to the left hand. I sat next to her the whole day. I didn’t feel like reading though I carried a book. I just stared at nothing and talked to her whenever she did. I didn’t get bored. There were thousand conversations going on in my mind. But I could make out nothing.

We waited for the CT scan result to come. It seemed like it took forever. When Dr. Ballab came on rounds in the ward, I prayed that he would see the urgent need for my mother’s treatment. My fate lay in his hand. And when he went to discuss about my mother’s case, I prayed that he would be the angel to save us.

III—THE Prayer Answered.

And then my prayers were answered when it was decided that my mother would be sent to Kolkata for surgery. This was done as an emergency referral case. But when I talked to my brother in Bartsham, I cried again. I stood in the medical ward corridor and cried like I was all alone. I felt alone in fact. Not a single sibling was beside me. If it wasn’t for Karma I don’t know how difficult it would have been for me. (Even as I write this here, I am choking and I feel this same lump in my throat.)

My husband did everything. He stood so strong. He did all the arrangement that were needed to go to the hospital in Kolkata. At such times, you cannot help but be frustrated at the long procedure and bureaucratic system. People said my case came through so fast. And they thought it was because my husband works in the hospital. Maybe it was. Or maybe it was not. I was only worried about the surgery for now. But yes, all my friends helped me a lot through all this. They came over time and again when we were in the ward. Those friends who work in the hospital drove by every single free time they got. They talked to the doctor and tried to convince them about how important it was to get my mother treated fast.

And on February 18, 2008, we went to Kolkata. The Liaison Officer there waited for us at the airport. My mother could not walk. Her right foot couldn’t even rest on the wheel chair. It wasn’t tough, really, but I thought of how tough a woman my mother was. How hard my father and she worked all their lives. And I couldn’t help think of those days.

We were directly taken to the AMRI hospital. I stood by my mother’s bed when the two doctors there saw her. We were now in the casualty and it took forever again. We did not even know where we were staying. But that wasn’t important. Liaison Officer – I later called him Ata Ngawang, left soon after that. He introduced us to a girl called Soma who looks after the Bhutanese patients.

Then, my mother was given a bed in the ward. I was wrong to think that we all would be finding a room to stay and would be going there together. So fast, she was changed into the patient’s dress of the hospital. And that night, she slept alone in the hospital among strangers. She was in bed number 533. When Karma dutifully went on fulfilling the procedure at the hospital, I quickly went to the guesthouse to reach our things. A young patient attendant helped me. He told me that he is an army. He is from Nganglam. He was there with his dad.

Karma and I quickly fetched a cup of coffee from the stall on the downstairs of the hospital and that was our lunch that day. My mother hardly ate anything.

Karma and I took a long walk that evening, looking for utensils and ration. We wanted to buy rice, cooking oil, vegetables, salts and other necessities. We did not carry anything except a rice cooker and a boiler. The town looked old and scary. We walked until we found a vendor selling steel tumblers and plates. We quickly turned back to the hospital after we bought few things. After my mother was served dinner, we left. My heart ached to leave her alone but we were told that attendants were not allowed. We could visit the patients only during the visiting hours. We obliged and left to the guesthouse.

III – Life in Shambles

The guesthouse for the Bhutanese is called Jyoti Tower. We were told by other Bhutanese there that we could tell the rickshaw driver to take to the Jyoti Tower. All the patient attendants left by around 7:00 pm. We left a little later than the rest. We took rickshaw. We passed by them. They all walked back to the guesthouse on foot. They told us that after you had been there for a month, you could not afford but walk.

When we reached the place, we were not sure which floor the guesthouse was. It is a three storey building, not a spectacular building but a little better than the rest, squeezed between the small mud houses. We waited. There were lots of misquotes. Our Bhutanese friends came after what seemed like an hour or more. There was an empty room and Karma and I took that.

If we expected a homely feeling, that was it. But the guesthouse seemed like it was worn down without care. There were three metal beds unarranged in the corridor. The bathroom had the slippery algae kind of thing on the walls. And the kitchen had two electric stoves. One was worn out and its wire was naked. But people used it anyway. I never got to connect it for my whole duration there. I could not risk myself getting an electric shock.

People seemed happy in some ways but I knew everyone of them had different worries behind their smiling faces. It was hard to bring ourselves to be happy to sleep on that metal bed with the dirty mattress and pillow. But we did not talk about looking for a better choice. We knew we would get used to it. Yes, the itchy feeling and the discomfort disappeared in a few days. I guess it almost disappeared the next day.

That first day, we got up around six thirty or seven, took bath, had breakfast and left to the hospital. That was the routine there: Get up, take bath, prepare breakfast and go to the hospital and hang around there till it was seven in the evening to go back to the guesthouse.

My mother seemed bright that morning. She told me that everything was so clean at the hospital. She told me about how they washed them and changed dress. She also told me that the nurses were so polite and gentle. I was glad she did not feel so alone, though she was so far away from home and was among strangers. She never complained. I have never heard her complain in her life.

IV – Life in Fear and Suspense

We met the neurosurgeon. He is called Dr. L.N. Tripathy. He is a smart looking man, very smartly dressed. Maybe it is because he is a doctor that he carries that air of smartness. He told us that the operation would be done in two or three days.

The operation wasn’t carried out that day on the 19th February at 3:00 pm as appointed. It dragged on. My mother’s head was shaved and she now looked cleaner and better.

Karma and I did not go to the guesthouse for lunch. We just had coffee and ate cake or sandwich from downstairs. My mother did not want to eat that. She liked the hospital food. Or maybe she ate that without complaint as is her nature.

On the surgery day, we were at my mother’s bedside early. I have been talking to ama about it for a while now – ever since we knew that she would have to undergo surgery. I told her again about how it wasn’t going to be very scary. I told her that nothing would happen – that everything would go well. And I did not quite believe that myself. I was scared shit that I might have to face the world without hope the rest of my life from that day. But I prayed so hard. I called on to my Tsawai Lam so strongly. I knew he heard me. Whenever I pray, I say, ‘I know you hear me. I know you are right there…” Yes, my prayer went on. And I clutched so strongly to the little edge of hope and life my mother held. (My mother took it cool. She did not panic. I was to learn later that she did not remember any of this much. She did not remember the several CT scans she did. She did not remember even some very important talks and events that followed after my father’s death. I knew only then that she was clouded by that disease and she did not think clearly.)

Karma and I waited outside the operation theater. We paced in the corridor. We did not know what was going on inside. When my mother was taken inside, I suddenly felt so alone and cold. It was now getting dark and my mother was still not out of the operation room. I prayed hard. Sometime I went blank and I did not know what I thought. Finally after five hours of waiting, the surgeon came out. My mother was quickly taken on a trolley to another room. The doctor showed us the masses that were taken out from my mother’s brain. I understand how such a foreign substance could grow inside us and hamper the normal living of life. I understood how that could have killed my mother. But I did not know yet if she was living. But I wanted to believe that she was. The doctor said that the surgery went well but he couldn’t say how she will be. If they did anything there, they did not give hope to the patient’s family. I thought even if it did not look hopeful, they could tell the family that everything was going to be okay. If he told me that my mother as going to be fine, I would have felt much better, even if he did not know it for sure.

We were finally taken to the ICCU where my mother was transferred. She lay there on the bed without any life on her face. She breathed but from the machine. Her eyes were closed. I tried to call her but of course she was unconscious. Her life hung only by the thin thread of uneven breathes evaluated by the machines. It seemed strange and scary to me to see her connected to different machines. I left the lama’s kupar near her head and silently left.

What happened for next few days held me irritated and worried. I learned more than ever before what it was to be on the “miserable” side.

V – Change and Transition

The visiting hour at the ICCU was from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm. We had to queue up and wait for our turn. When our turn finally came we found that for one visiting card, only one person could go. So Karma went in first. I waited and counted seconds. Then I went in. My mother still lay there unconscious. The nurses told me that there had been no complication but she did not look good to me at all. There was a very paralyzing fear and I felt so weak.

And finally on the second day in the ICCU she opened her eyes. But very slowly and not fully. I called, “Ama…ama…” and she slowly opened her eyes but she didn’t seem to see me or recognize me. I again stood near her, said a prayer and left. The smell in the ICCU itself paralyzes you in fact. There is something like a chloroform smell there. Something like there is someone lurking to stab you.

And then on the third day when I met my mother, she was little upset. She had a very hard day. She could not converse with the nurses. She was hungry. She was thirsty as well. And when she saw me, she could finally speak and she asked me, “Where were you?” in kind of a harsh tone. I told her that we were not allowed to visit except during the visiting hours. My mother’s anger does not last more than a minute. So it vanished. I told the nurse in-charge that the meals were not served on time. For some reason, I had a fight with the doctor in-charge. And the thought that followed after a while wasn’t good at all. I felt bad that I reacted strongly then.

My mother was still supported by machines. The nurse in-charge told me that the ventilator might be removed if she was steady. But that went on for another two days. And my fear still had not left me. But when she had first opened her eyes and looked at me and talked to me in our dialect and talked to Karma in his dialect, I inwardly jumped in happiness (We requested the doctor and went in together that day). We were not sure if she would speak. We were not sure if she would see. Problems like that could happen after a surgery, if it didn’t go right. Karma and I thanked the Triple Gem for this.

My mother did not feel comfortable to have her pee through the urine pipe (urinary catheter). So she removed it and asked the nurse to take her to toilet. But the nurse did not heed and she wetted the bed.

My mother still complained of hunger. We even went to the diet section and asked them if the food in the ICCU was served on time. There was nothing much we could do though. My mother did not like being in the ICCU. She wanted to leave. She felt strange there. A patient died almost every day there. Finally two more Bhutanese patients came there after their surgery and I felt much better because since both those patients were children, one of the parents was allowed to stay with the kid.

As often as patients died, every day some patients cured and moved out of the ICCU. And nonstop new patients came in there.

One day, when we waited outside the ICCU this happened and I noted this down in my journal:

Shattering Sight

I come to the ICCU, wanting to meet the doctor in charge about the diet my mother is given.

I meet another Bhutanese just outside the ICCU. He says, his daughter is now advised to shift to the general ward. I laugh, a little heartily when he tells me that my mother insisted the nurse that she has her denture back because my mother did not trust the nurse to take care of it. But a second before I have laughed, I see a man on the phone, crying helplessly.

I realize that his father is in the ICCU, most likely without much hope. A doctor comes out and consoles him, but yes, rightly as the doctor says, who can replace one’s dad?

Karma and I go out and wait in the lounge. There a woman is crying. Some hold her hand and some pat her on the shoulder. But for that woman, there is no ambiguous reality, but just one – that she has lost her loved one.

We sit outside. There we see two groups in grief. Dead bodies are carried away. If there is one power I wish to possess, it would be to bring dead back to life, if only to end those miseries. But would life be happier if there was no end and birth?

And finally on February 25, my mother was taken to the general ward. There was no empty bed in the other ward rooms. My mother felt so much lighter and happier to be out of the ICCU.

VI – Disagreement and Conflict

Now my mother was in the general ward, bed number 51. We were the second to the last bed near the door. The nurse in-charge’s seat stood very near as well. The toilet was near too and that was more convenient.

I wanted to stay with my mother at the hospital. So I requested the nurse but she did not understand it. I wanted to talk to the manager but he/she was never available. I talked to the in-charge of the ward but she did not seem to understand. I had to fight for it. As patience slipped, my words came out in stronger tone than I intended. That evening, my husband and I left to the guesthouse angrier than relief for my mother was better and was out of the ICCU. The next day we were at the hospital, my mother told me that she fell down in the toilet.

I did not complain that the nurses did not work well. I did not complain that they did not look after my mother well. I did not say that I did not trust their work. But what I wanted to tell them was completely different. I knew they could not accompany my mother inside the toilet like I would. I knew they would not feel the same care I did for my mother. Whenever my mother wanted to go to toilet they helped her. But that was only as far as the toilet door. They reached her till the door and they came back. Since my mother needed assistance to even stand, to pull her pants etc, she needed a constant companion. But they did not understand this. That morning, I made a fuss that my mother fell down in the toilet. She was hurt, but luckily she did not hit her head. If something happened to her head, you are sure it would have brought more complication than we can imagine. She still had the stitches and it was very vulnerable.

Many of the nurses were from Mizoram. People of Mizoram and Bhutanese look similar. They made sure to assign a Mizoram nurse for my mother. They even mistook that they spoke our language. I had to clarify this. And that day, after much fuss and argument, I was allowed to stay. And my mother was now moved to another ward to a four bedded room. On the first night, I did not sleep until the nurses came on rounds, gave medicines to the patients and left around midnight. I thought they might not agree to me sleeping on the same bed with my mother. I had no peace that first night. Every time a nurse came in, I woke up and got out of bed. But from the next night, I knew that they were not going to say anything. So I peacefully slept beside my mother. This was so good. I did not have to worry about what was happening to my mother. I was with her. I took her to toilet. I gave her food. And I talked with her.

My mother’s right limbs still had problem. Her right foot dragged and she could not walk. Her right hand was limp and had no sense. She could not hold anything with it. They were supposed to give her physiotherapy treatment for this but we found that they did not do anything much. My husband being a physiotherapist knew this. We complained about it and said we were not gonna pay for that. But for whatever reason, we are not allowed to see the bill since it is cleared by the government. But I made sure I had a glance at the bill and was not charged wrongly before we left. But they told me that I could not have a copy of it.

Now I was more at peace. Karma brought me breakfast and lunch. He was my constant companion. He was my best friend.

VII – Making Friends & Finding Life

There was that lady, a huge lady who was 79 years old. She was a lady who talked much and demanded attention. I did not like her so much that first time she came. She called me over to her bedside and asked me things like where I came from. What I was to my patient and all that. I patiently answered.

She had the habit of ringing up for the nurses now and then and asking for something. When I was in the room, I made sure I attended to her in serving her food: for example by taking the table near her, by assisting her in getting up from the bed. Then taking the table back to its place and helping her with closing and opening the curtain. But as time passed, we became friends. Her name is Mira Dutta and she told me that she was a social worker. She fell from the stool when she was placing a garland around her husband’s picture on his death anniversary and broke her leg and had to undergo operation.

It became my job to close the curtains in the evening, to open them it in the morning, to put out the lights and put on the bedside lamp and close the shutters around the individual patients. The person who served meals and tea only brought the tea and food inside the room. It was now my job to serve them tea and food on their tables. I did this with enthusiasm and grasped this as a good opportunity to serve them.

Though not many of them spoke English, we became friends. More important, we smiled at each other.

In the first ward where my mother was kept when we first reached there, we made friends with few other people. There was a Mizoram family. Their child was sick and different people came there. But before they left, my mother was taken for surgery and when we later went back to that ward, they had left. And there was also an elderly Mizoram woman in that same ward. She spoke English. Her daughter spoke good English. She told me that she was a teacher in Mizoram. She liked my hand bag. And she asked me from where it was bought. She wanted to buy it if I was willing to sell it to her. I now regret that I did not give it to her. Even then the thought about giving it to her crossed my mind, but I had no extra hand bag. Besides, there was no possibility of going to a shop and buying one. So I had to grasp the one I had. And I feel sad even now that I could not give it to her. Her mother recovered and they left before my mother’s surgery. We bid goodbye with a sinking heart. It is surprising how fast we can make friends and how fast we become attached emotionally. There was her brother, who dressed very neatly. He was nice to me. We did not talk much but I saw him passing glances. He asked me if my husband and I were siblings. I told him that he was my husband.

And now, in that other ward, the social worker woman was discharged on March 4, 2008, Tuesday at 3:40 pm. Her son and daughter in-law came to take her. She told me that she had only two sons. One was in the US and was doing well. Even her son looked to be in 50s.

It was hard to bid goodbye to her. The woman at bed number 545 cried to see her go. I was sad to see her go too. I had nothing to give her. Ever since I came from home, I was dumped in the hospital and had not seen around except go to an internet café to write mails to my brothers. I did not carry any reading materials either. I carried a notebook and pen. I wrote all the articles there. And I had the Tashidelek – The Drukair’s in-flight magazine. And I flipped it hundred times. There were cards inserted between it, the pictures of Taj-Tashi hotel. So I scribbled something in one of it and gave it to this social worker woman who became our friend. She was so touched by this. She was so nice to me that she shared every small edible thing with me. She told me that I was nice. She wished me good in life. And I found that she only sought the feeling of importance that she probably had when she was able and strong, and young.

And now, the other woman who cried was discharged on March 5. One by one, people left and I had started to get a little impatient. There was so much we shared though we spoke less. Human touch speaks volumes and words aren’t needed. We all made friends and for once I found myself wanting to work for them really. Really as a nurse. And seeing them go made my heart ache, though happy in one sense since they were all going back happy and better.

VIII – Other Bhutanese Patients and Activities

There were many Bhutanese patients there. Most patients were children. It seemed like, a Bhutanese came there sick every day. Ata Ngawang was at the airport almost every day to pick them up. This was a hard job, except that it did not really need any brainstorming thinking.

There was a patient whose child was sick. He was from Wangdi. He was a monk before. He did not speak Hindi. He did not speak English either. So he had tough time communicating with the nurses and doctors there. He had been there for more than a month already and nothing much was done to his son. When we were there, it was decided that the treatment would be started. But that required taking his son to another nearby hospital. He was sick with all the waiting and not getting to see the doctor. I felt sorry for him. I felt sorry for another couple from Yalang who were there with their first child. I could not imagine the problems those people who came from villages faced. I wished there was a nurse exchange program. If there was even one Bhutanese nurse working there, it would be so much better. But that was life again. And each of us had to make through, day and night, even if it meant staying awake the whole night and asking questions to God. But it was better when we were all together. We all helped each other.

Since all of us stayed in the guest house together, we easily became friends. Once we went to a park. We played few games, had ice cream and returned. Around that time, the heat in Kolkata is so hot that you do not want to get out of the house.

Since my mother was feeling better, I left her and went with Karma to see around town. I took her to the toilet, gave her lunch and made sure to return before she would want to go to toilet or need anything again. We went to watch football match at the Salt Lake Stadium once. It is a big stadium but it isn’t looked after properly. It is worn out and dirty. Ah, Baichung Bhutia! What did I know about him? Nothing. I think I heard about him the first time then. But my husband was excited to watch the match. And I did too. I sat next to him, munching ground nuts.

Then there was the Book Fair at the stadium for three days. We went there on March 3. I bought few books and now I had good books to read. The heat was scorching but it was good to get out of the hospital and just look around wondering at the speeding cars and milling crowd.

Life started to become bit lighter and better. Though something like a lead hung down my heart, I felt much better and hopeful with life now.

XI – Another Problem

It took a long time for my mother to walk. I took her in the corridor to walk every morning, afternoon and evening. This was our schedule now: Chant mani or pray the whole day. Talk sometime. Eat, and then go for walk. My mother still needed support to walk. Her right hand still was numb. Her thumb and forefinger could not catch the prayer beads. She couldn’t count them. It was heart-shattering to see her crumpled on the bed, not being able to move on her own or eat on her own.

Karma patiently did small exercises for her fingers and foot. He taught me to teach her how to do them. And when he wasn’t there, I helped my mother do these small exercises of moving her fingers and toes. And slowly, this helped. She could slowly walk with my help.

But the problem persisted. When we finally met the doctor after patiently waiting and had cursed enough, he told us that, there was swelling in the brain and he could not do the cranioplasty (God knowS how I wished to talk to the surgeon and know what he thought of my mother’s sickness; what hope I had and what were the negative possibilities. But it was hopeless. It seemed like doctors there cared nothing about the patients and their families). This means, we would be delayed there for longer period. Though I had asked for a leave from office around 20 days, time was running short. I wasn’t so worried about my leave but my mother was getting impatient to go home. She wanted to leave this hospital and be home among her people. She got worried that Karma and I had taken leave from office.

So we waited. My mother did CT scan and MRI for around four times again and each time the doctor said that the swelling had not subsided. So we waited again. And one time, doctor told me to decide to go ahead with the cranioplasty or to go home and come back after the swelling subsided. I had hard time to decide. I did not know what I should do. I wasn’t sure it would be good to go ahead. That would smash the brain, I thought. So when a Lama was consulted on this, he said that if we went on with the surgery again, something regretful might happen. This weighed me down with worry. And not really knowing what to do, I cried.

Desperation slapping hard on my face, I went to mail my brothers. And when I had composed my mail and was ready to send, the power went off at the internet café and this shattered me once more. I prayed that it did not mean anything ominous. I felt like slapping myself or hitting against the wall hard. I felt like I would feel light if I did that. I really wanted to run against the speeding car and end my life. I had no one to discuss, except Karma. He was everything but it wasn’t the same to not have my own siblings. I called Brother Neten at home and he told me about my father’s death anniversary. He was busy with its preparation. I did not tell my mother about it. He did not want me to tell her either. He thought that might bring back memories and she would not be happy.

One day, I called home and found that one of our relatives, my sister in-law’s (my elder brother’s wife) step father died. I kept this news away from my mother too. My mother was very close to him.

I don’t know how many things I was concealing from her and how many times I cried silently. Sometime in the silent of the night, I would suddenly think of our lives at home when I was a child and I would break down. I thought of days when all of us got together at home in winter. And I thought of my father who would always whistle a tune when he walked outside. It would always be a tune that would touch our hearts and make us feel life tugging at us with nagging consistency, insisting us to see it well. It was like it talked to us somehow.

Then on March 5, when Karma and I were coming to the hospital by rickshaw, when we were about to cross the bridge, it hit on some rough edge at the end of the bridge and both of us fell down from the rickshaw. It was around 10:27 in the morning. Except for small bruises on our hands, we were not hurt. But this made me worry more about my mother. It seemed like there were messages for me, telling me something would happen. It was yesterday that the power shut down at the internet café and I could not mail my brothers. Just as soon as I realized that we fell, I said a prayer and I was very mindful. Nothing bad happened after that. The doctor told me that my mother was recovering well. That there would not be any problem.

So finally I got to a decision. I decided to go back home and bring back my mother after three months. The doctor wrote in the advice column that she should be brought back to the hospital for cranioplasty after three months.

XI – Fragmented Moments

March 1, 2008, Saturday: There is a better moment: She doesn’t know how I am crying inside. I don’t want her to see my tears. She is sitting and pulling the prayer beads in deep devotion. She tells me that she is trying to keep her right hand on the knee. I smile at her. I don’t find no words.

I try hard to keep myself up and thinking well even when haziness blurs me. But no, sometimes, the result turns out just the opposite to what you expect. I know my senses are not failing me. But yes, I have become a lot less independent. I am here to give my mother strength. She should get that and not see me cry.

I have let myself wander in pitiful state sometimes. But no, I should never die in self pity. When every moment changes, why shouldn’t this one pass? There has to be a better moment, a change to this one. We are both waiting for it.

March 1, 2008, Saturday: More Precious is Human Life: My mother was operated on February 20. She was kept in the ICCU for five days. Saying that there was no empty bed in the 4-bedded room, she was moved to the general ward (bed no. 509) at 4:30 pm on February 25. She was better than she was at the ICCU. But the fact remained that she could not communicate and walk. Our request to stay with her was however turned down.

But another Bhutanese patient was discharged yesterday and my mother was moved to a 4-bedded room (room no. 543) on February 29 at 4:40 pm.

She told me that she fell down in the bathroom. But she said she wasn’t hurt. This was impossible to believe. The nurse in-charge of my mother didn’t admit it. After she was moved to the 4-bedded room, we requested the sister in-charge to let me stay with my mother. She said she was going to discuss but it did not happen during our patience’s lifespan. So after much hassle, we called Soma, the receptionist who looks after the Bhutanese patients. She talked to the nurse in-charge and it was decided that I could stay. Finally.

Nurses did not finish their work until it was around midnight. I thought I should get into ama’s bed but, what would the nurses say? Ama did not sleep well. I think she could not sleep because I was with her and she did not feel good to have me sitting beside her and not sleeping at that time of the night. My mother’s nature is like that. She cannot bear to cause inconvenience to anyone. I sometime wish she were a demanding mother who thought it was her children’s responsibility to give everything and attend to her needs. That would ease many things in me.

I once got into her bed. But no, I couldn’t convince myself that it was okay. Besides there is this woman at bed no. 544 who keeps calling nurse, needing help. (But we became friends later as I mentioned before.)She kept calling me too – one time she wanted to know what time it was. Another time, she wanted to know if I have helped my mother go to toilet. I was freaking out. I got out of bed. I chided that I held a shitty chicken heart.

This 544 woman wanted wanter. I gave her water but she said she needed a nurse to help her. I called one for her. Yes, this chirpy little nurse signaled me to jump into bed and catch some good sleep. I asked her if it was okay really – my still chicken heart wasn’t ready to give me peace. On getting assurance from her, I caught two hours’ sleep. This 544 woman wanting a nurse to help her, in effect helped me get some peaceful sleep in the early hours of morning. She must have some powers. Didn’t she say she is a social worker? She’s 79. Now and then she calls me and inquires my family details.

I talked to the nurses and more so, trusted my mother in the social worker woman’s hand and went to the guest house at 7:40 pm when there was no sign of doctor visiting my mother. I should mention here that the chance of meeting doctors is like hoping to win a casino and buy a diamond overnight. We haven’t met the surgeon since the surgery.

As I walked out of the hospital and rode on the rickshaw, the morning breeze still had its fresh breezy sweeps. The last of my night’s sleepless hangover were washed away.

Just when I was about to reach the guest house, I saw hundreds of fish cut and laid on the vendor’s movable-plank for sale. For the briefest moment – a thought passed through me sharply. I was coming from a place where people are buying life and refuting death. There humans are, thousands, sick – yet, fighting in their means to escape death. And now I saw hundreds of lives laid bare. Why should lives of anything/anyone be different? Then I thought that not all beings are born equal. And not everyone has the power to fight for their rights.

But maybe it is good to find a faster end to life in lower realm, for they will them be reborn the required number of times faster – and thus have faster chance of being reborn in a higher realm. I had no other consolation.

March 6, 2008, Thursday: Ama is worried that I am going hungry. Karma never came this morning. I got worried and called on a friend’s cell but he told me he was at another place. That left me no choice but to hope he was okay and was on his way.

Ama tells me that she is better now. I need not stay tonight with her. She doesn’t get convinced when I tell her that I am not hungry.

Patients here are all children except my mother. I mean the Bhutanese Patients. So when mothers stay with children at the hospital, the fathers stay at the guest house. I stay at the hospital with my mother. This is granted upon the ground that Ama cannot speak Hindi and English. This has made us feel much better in many ways. We don’t have to worry not knowing how she is doing in our absence.

Karma gets me food from the guesthouse. He usually reaches the hospital between 10:30 to 11:00 am but today he seems to have been pulled back by sleep.

When mothers are at the hospital day and night, fathers have found a way to ease their time by playing cards. They stay up late playing cards and go to bed only around 3:30 am. This has made the schedule falter and put soreness in the hearts of wives.

Oh yes, I personally am an anti-gambler. No matter what you gain or what you lose, gambling is in all sense a way to steal yourself from good habit of spending time. I don’t usually put my dislike hard on his palm – but I suppose he understands.

This change in schedule happened after I started staying at the hospital. I need not panic. I can go out and eat something. But I am a person who gets easily worried. Every time the door opens, I turn expecting him.

They find things like watching football to pass their time. One of their wives even went on to say she wished she were a man.

Men and women find interest in different things but there should be a point of intersection.

March 8, 2008, Saturday: Fragile Heart: I have not held my husband’s hand for a week now. I have not kissed him passionately for a while. I look at him with love imploring for the same feeling but he hides it by briskly looking away. He doesn’t hold my gaze.

I ask him to talk and he says, talk will only be a gossip. He puts his hand on the edge of the bed and silences away. I ask him what time he went to bed and he says he isn’t sleepy. He looks tired and bored. He has stayed here for so long now. He cannot stay in the hospital except during the visiting hours. This makes him wait in the lounge downstairs without company and nothing to do. This kills his smile and makes him tired.

I know, not all men will exhibit so much patience and love. I beg him to say it only because I feel good to hear it. He is more a quiet kind. I know he has in that heart of his, more love than anyone.

Just as he stands to leave, I look at him and he tells me that he has been missing me. Oh yes, this makes me feel good. I want to hold him back. This is how fragile my heart has become. But to me, love is more beautiful than it is in dreams. And this is all because of him, the one person who I have been blessed to meet in the crowd.

March 8, 2008: Celebrating Women’s Day: Karma and I went to the internet café but the power was still off. This hurried our other plan.

We took a walk along the street – we did not know what street it was. At the other side of the road lay a beautiful meadow and small bungalows. We crossed the road determined to ferry there.

It was Women’s Day and it has to be a treat for me. Huh! Not that I mind. But when your beloved shows he cares, during some marked days, it does make you feel different.

So we walked and in we went to the Swabhumi Heritage Plaza. We didn’t buy much, except a hand bag, a purse and a pair of slippers each.

We were surprised this plaza was filled by very young couples. It seemed like people came there to date. I bet they were college goers. Many like them, we bought ice cream and delicately licked on them, tasting every bit delicious. The sun shone so brightly above our head scathing our skin. Love need not melt our heart – sun did the job.

Oh but if love wasn’t in the air, even the beautiful atmosphere would not have appealed to us. The sun was little too bright and hot.

The radio stations hosted talks and shows on Women’s Day. We sat in a corner at the table for two. Over the lunch at Paschima, we felt relief lifting us above the ground. On the napkin paper, he wrote, “You’re the woman of my life,” and wished me happy women’s day.

This is how simply we celebrated the women’s day. He sees me as I am. And for the person I am and more for his seeing me truly, I am happy to be a woman. We need not fight for equality. We are so happily harmonized.

X – Going Home

So the decision was made. We were going home soon. Another CT scan was done on March 10 and still there was swelling. The doctor was ready to go ahead with the surgery if we were okay, but I decided that we would come after three months.

So we went to the market and did shopping. I went there twice. It is a very noisy and crowded place. But you get different fancy things there. I bought small gifts for my niece and nephews at home. Our nephew who was studying in class nine and niece who was studying in class 10 were with my nephew Sonam Phuntsho who works in the Ministry of Health. He looked after the house and took care of it in our absence for more than a month from home. I called home saying that we were coming home on March 12, Wednesday.

On 11th evening, I called Dr. L.N. Tripathy and Ata Ngawang and thanked them. I got everything together now. The tickets were booked. The procedures, the bill signing and all were done.

We were leaving around 5:00 that morning. I got up earlier than that, dressed my mother, signed the bills, got the medical records and thanked the nurses. I wanted to thank particularly this amicable nurse from Mizoram. She was so gentle with the patients. The same nurse who let my mother fall in the bathroom. It was not really her fault. Like some clear realization, I was struck and startled by what noble job they did. I thought, this indispensible lot in our country isn’t so happy. They always complained about having to work hard, having less rest, and not paid enough. I don’t know if it is appropriate to mention this here, but they are doing a great job, if they aren’t just thinking of it as a job to earn a living. I feel that when they choose this profession, they must choose it, knowing in their heart the hard work they have to do, the little rest they will get, and more importantly they must join this profession, only if they are enthusiastic in helping people.

Yes, we bid goodbye to all the people we made friends with at AMRI hospital on March 12, 2008. I don’t know if I felt sad to say goodbye to them. But I was happy we were finally going to be home. All my relatives were worried about my mother and they did not know what to expect. My brothers called us constantly and asked how we were doing. But there wasn’t much to tell them. When you are sick like that, progress does not come in a noticeable heap in a day or two. We need patience to see the patient recover. I’m glad Karma was with me during all this hard times. He stood by me so strong. I’m glad he simply listened and never did once throw a tantrum at me, though often my nerves broke loose and I lost control.

When we first reached the hospital, people complained that the Liaison Officer did not come to see them regularly. We understood that he wouldn’t be able to make it every day but to ask the patients’ well-being and progress once in a while was his job. However, we found that he is a nice man. Very easy to get along. Very comfortable. We even went for lunch at his house once. And he was there at the airport to see us off. He does that to everyone. We thanked him and asked him to come over when he was in Bhutan.

That was it then. My mother, Karma, Dawa Gyeltshen, his wife, their baby and I were together. My mother did not need wheel chair this time but she still had difficulty walking. She got tired very easily and she felt giddy.

But what was more exciting was that we were gonna be home. My mother looked forward to it even more strongly.

XI – Sickness Persisted but Hope Did Not Die

My mother was doing well only until something else struck her. She started getting rash on her bodies. Her whole body was swollen. And it itched like hell. We took her to the hospital and we were told that it must be a drug reaction. She stopped taking that medicine and started taking different medicines. But it took a long time to heal.

It went on for months. If she wasn’t so patient, it would have been very difficult for all of us. She bore it so patiently and kept saying that it would recover. But that was hell, hell…a long time.

Some Bartshampa people came to see my mother. It was protocol work now. My Azem (maternal aunt) came from Monggar and she helped me through all this. She catered to the guests, and looked after my mother in giving her medicine and applying medicine on her rash.

And yet again, when her swelling and itch subsided, she started getting pus from the incision mark. I could have really asked God what vengeance he sought. But of course, that is now what we do when we are not well.

We took her to the hospital endless times and endless times. We hoped that she would get better. We worried that she could not resume her regular activity of going to chorten kora until very late. She stayed at home. She took walk in the veranda and she started reading prayer books. And Yo! That is a great achievement. She is a woman with great persistence and hard work. She never got bored getting around to learn reading. And she succeeded.

But finally, everything got better. It has been around a month now (today is November 5, 2008) that the pus stopped and she felt much better than before. She goes to kora every day. She reads every day. She chants mani every day. She now caters to work like cleaning the house, and cooking. Karma and I tell her not to do all this but she jut doesn’t listen. She has worked all her life and it seems like she just cannot not do them. Thinking that maybe that is what makes her feel important, we let her. It is a great help to us indeed but we don’t feel so good to have her work for us. But she thinks cooking is not a work at all. She compares her life now to the life she had in the village.

I tell her that she worked so hard and she only has to think of death and pray hard now. But she will listen only to her heart.

This mother I have, the mother I so dearly love, the mother for whom I wish death wasn’t there, is the mother who taught me love and affection. She is the mother who taught me never to complain. Whenever she is sick, she will say,” It will get well.” And that shows how everything passes and doesn’t necessitate the sadness and tears. But when you are sitting next to your mother when she is lying in bed and has not spoken a word to you about what is going to happen, you cannot help.

Everything is well for now. But I don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow. For a disease like that, we can never say what will happen when. I lost my friend to the same disease. Just when everyone thought he was well, he died – so sudden that it left all of us and his family aghast. But for now I can only pray. All I did all this time is pray and I think I don’t know anything else. Let me pray then.

This is Bhutan

I moved to Adelaide, South Australia 10 months ago. This decision was driven by my belief that family has to be together and pursuing your c...