He's her mother's father

My wife's new step into life

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Suresh Pattali

Published: Fri 18 Aug 2023, 5:15 PM

She was born again. Not strictly in the evangelical sense but born out of a process that included the regeneration of the human spirit. I dread to explain the process but would like to call it a remarkable coalescence of medical and spiritual certitude. Not necessarily in equal measure, with the latter part mostly in empirical form.

There is some form of divineness about life-saving medical procedures and surgeons are considered demi- gods in many parts of the world. We refuse to admit such mob psychology until we are confronted with a similar predicament in our own backyard. We then scratch the credentials of our surgeon to find a semblance of humanness and devoutness behind the gravitas he commands. In him or her, then, we trust.

“I don’t want to remove your hair. So beautiful are your locks,” Dr Gopalakrishnan said in the same vein as he touched upon the medical procedure. For a moment, she forgot why she was in the neurosurgeon’s consultation. She felt as if she was sitting in a salon, ready to get a costly makeover.

“A small incision to get rid of the junk in your upper storey. That’s all it takes. I am more worried about the aesthetics than the procedure,” he joked without cracking a smile, a signpost to his alternate persona..

She sat tight like an Indian villager listening to a fortune teller under a bodhi tree.

“Are you ready? Take it as a staycation. Five-star food in a deluxe room. And, of course, some much-deserved rest,” the surgeon said, infantilising a neurosurgery for the patient’s benefit.

“I’m game for it.” The patient seemed to be under his magical spell already.

A lack of such clinical confidence has been responsible for many deaths across the world, especially as it was seen during Covid. At the peak of the pandemic, the daughter of one of my friends called, requesting to talk some sense into her dad. The multimorbid person bet his life on WhatsApp forwards and shunned doctors and medicines. And when the deadly pathogen caught up with him, it was too late to beef up his vitals.

When a jolly good fellow in my sister’s office reduced his carb deposits by half, I told him, “Your bony avatar worries me. What’s happening?”

“I am on naturopathy for the five cardiac blocks I am living with. No medications.” And one evening, he collapsed and died at a deserted bus stop.

What matters most in a life-threatening situation is the fides acquisita in someone — a surgeon in this case. That is what I had done in the past — joking with doctors and flirting with nurses in green scrubs minutes before anesthesia knocked me off in seconds. When life seems to slip away from our hands, what is our option except to laugh or to pray?

In a few intimate moments she grabbed before being carted into the OT, I knew she wanted to say more than the succinct request she finally whimpered: “Pray for me.” Prayers? Should I pray for her or the doctor she had surrendered to? I had never prayed for myself when I was moved under surgical lights a couple of times in the past, but thought it a humane obligation — not an “I-do commitment” — to do it for a person who had been with me for over 40 years. I did it wholeheartedly, and why not, if a prayer can save a life?

With the parietal lobe of the skull zipped up like a round handbag, she came full circle in the race of life. In an inevitable role reversal, she lay in the bed like a newborn, waiting to be nursed by her son. He moistened her parched lips and fed her fluids by a spoon. He scooped her up for vital checks and painkiller shots.

“See, I have saved your locks. Wash your head today with baby shampoo.” The surgeon joked with a sardonic smile.

“But my wound?”

“Wound? What wound? You need to rinse the blood off to detangle your hair. After that, take a new step into life.”

Under the warm sunlight shining down through the glass roof, she relearned to toddle in the hospital corridor, holding her son’s hand. “Look straight, stretch your hands, and balance well on both legs.” She listened to her new parent like a little child.

The exercise reminded me of her matrescence decades ago and how she brought him up in Dubai while I worked night shifts. She walked him to a play centre in Deira’s Hamarain Centre every evening. She was his mother, father and playmate. Today, he plays a father role as he walks her down a maze of corridors. “My son,” she kept whispering as he decluttered and sanitised her room, changed the bed linen and refilled her pill boxes.

There wasn’t a role for me to play. I was just an agent of change. When the ice that time and distance blow into relations melts, we experience an avalanche. I am holding onto a couple of balloons in my heart to stay afloat in the flash flood.


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