Discharged on the evening of 29th of January, as soon as he sat in the cab, the first thing he did was, ask the driver if he would go to City Centre Mall. We all started laughing for the kind of spirit he had even after 7 tough days at the hospital. This wasn’t anything new, he has always been high spirited in all the lows of the life. Next morning he woke me up and told me to get ready. On enquiring about where he was taking us, he said –
“Bahut bekaar khana kha lia, chalo City Centre! Aaj dopahar City Centre Mall me chae pee ke aate hai aur fir wahan se Quest Mall chalte hai. Dinner karke aaenge wapas. Chalo Neeti, baccho ko ghooma ke laate hai!”
Since we had come, all he was bothered by was that, he had not taken us anywhere. To malls, to restaurants, to shopping, he wanted to take us everywhere. In the hospital sometimes I would see sadness on his face for the fact that we had to come to the hospital to see him. So we used to cheer him up by saying that – “Itna bada shock diye aapko, thoda time to lagega recover karne me, aapki galti nahi hai! Ab aaram krlo yaha, nikal ke bahut ghoomna hai!” This would brighten up his face and lighten up his mood as if you told a kid – “I would take you to Disneyland tomorrow”. He is in many ways, childish, he would get upset about silly things in a second and would smile with his dimpled cheeks the very next moment if you try to cheer him up. He wouldn’t hold up things for ages or keep grudges inside for a long time. He would say that ‘life is too short to keep grudges, learn the lesson, smile and move on’.
Soon after lunch, he went to bed to rest on continued persuasion by maa. I sat with maa and talked about the future course of action for how should we move forward with his diet and doctors. Hours passed by and he was showing signs of discomfort. We called the doctors and checked his sugar levels. Forced a couple of biscuits inside his mouth and gave him the medicines as suggested. He wouldn’t open his mouth for dinner or medicines, so we had to force. The doctor told us that he needed to rest and take his medicines in time and check if he was okay the next morning. We did as instructed and I remember going to him at 1.30 am to feed him some biscuits. He had stopped giving meaningful responses to anyone but me. Maa asked him so many questions, “Are you hungry?”, “Khichdi bana du?”, “Ab kaisa lag raha hai?” and a list of questions she was seeking answers for, but he would say anything that we could understand. In return, he would chant some shlokas in Sanskrit and closed his eyes. But surprisingly when I asked him anything, his facial reactions would suddenly change and he would calmly answer me like a kid. He did not open his eyes this time while eating but followed what I told him to do like a very good boy, that he always has been, and we went to sleep.
Next morning I woke up because I heard my maa shouting “Sahab Ji – Sahab Ji” (maa always call papa with this name and he would answer lovingly to her as if they had just been married yesterday). I got up from bed in haste and went straight to see papa. I saw him sleeping with his mouth open making some weird sound, as if he was snoring louder than usual (he was a regular at snoring since as long as I remember). The panicking part was, he wasn’t responding to anyone or anything. We tried everything we could, one by one. Shouting and calling out his name, pushing & pulling his cheeks, tickling the lower part of his feet, opening his eye-lids etc. No sign of response. We called the same number for ambulance after the doctor asked us to and asked him to come at the earliest. Meanwhile we kept trying to wake him up from a sleep. This time there was no “Ramji” no “Prabhuji” no “Hayeee” no “Ohhhoooo”. Last time when he was admitted, the doctors told us how much he chanted away “Ramji” and “Prabhuji” the whole day. This time I wanted him to say something, even “Ramji” would work. But he didn’t.
We reached hospital.
The same Emergency Ward and the same doctor in the ward, the only difference was that my papa was way more critical than before. Within minutes of taking him there, before we could even fill the form, we were informed that he was put on “Ventilator”. Our hearts sank.
He was in COMA!
We did not want to believe the “illiterate” doctors who were far more educated than us. We wanted them to go and check the facts before stating something that big, afterall he was taking us City Centre yesterday. He continued to tell us about the criticality of the situation and informed him that the next 48 hours are decisive. He wasn’t responding to anything, his brain was completely non-respondent and that if there is any activity in between these 48 hours, there might be a chance of revival. He was doing his job but I am a daughter, I wanted to slap him left and right for just saying the word “Brain-dead” but my father has taught me to never to respond when you think you would not respond nicely, never utter a word in anger, it doesn’t just ruin relations, it affects you in an irreparable way. I kept quiet and saw a tear roll down maa’s cheeks.
My maa is the epitome of strength. Papa would sob sometimes or brim up his eyes on little things, he is as much of an emotional fool as I am, but I have rarely seen my maa cry. She is the strongest person I have seen till date and here am I, seeing her crying helplessly in front of me, as if she was asking me to do something. Her eyes were red and yelling for help in silence. I did not know how to react, I could have easily talked to papa about anything and made him smile in a minute, but the one who was rock solid all her life, so much so that she did not even cry while sending me away with Aman (my husband), how was I supposed to console her that “everything will be alright”?
Soon came the doctor who was treating my father all this last week and we rushed behind him like children following their teacher inside a classroom after recess, in the hope that he would be a better doctor than the one we just spoke to. We all are stupid people, basically! We only like people who says what we want to hear. We disapprove everyone and everything that is against our wishes, no matter if it’s true or false. This Doctor was, ironically, very patient. He did not tell us anything that the previous one had said, instead he told us to be calm and just hope for the best. He did not use any scary medical term but tried to make us understand that the situation was really critical and assured us that the doctors were doing everything possible for things to get better. He told us not to worry about the “Ventilator Havoc” as it was designed to help him revive sooner. No 48 hours, no Brain-dead, no irrecoverable state, he just told me to take care of maa and that we must remain calm in order for the doctors to work in peace.
I realised that the previous one said the correct things and since he is incharge of the emergency ward, he was supposed to be harsh and the one communicating the fact without sugar-coating, it was his job. The next doctor that followed him already knew that the facts were conveyed to the family and now all he was supposed to do is calm the family members and make them optimistic and both were good in doing their respective jobs.
So now papa was on ventilator but it felt like we needed some help with breathing. The bad thing about amazing people is that they make you cry. The mere thought of them suffering drenches you with unexplained emotions and you cry in helplessness. No matter if you are a RAW agent or a pilot or a scientist, your profession looks petty to you right now and you wish you were a doctor and could help the situation in any which way possible.
We settled down in the sitting area for we knew this would take forever now. I called my maasi because I could evidently see that maa needed a support. She was acting all brave but at this very moment she needed someone she could become her weakest self with. Maasi rushed within an hour and maa just couldn’t contain herself anymore. Chacha-bhaiya, my father’s twin brother was called immediately too. We needed to be a wall for papa and I was collecting bricks.
The clock ticked away and 36 hours passed by like a breath of air. In these 36 hours, we started praying more than ever and talked lesser than ever. All 3 of us downloaded games on our phones like kids and engrossed ourselves in playing those games day in and day out in those huge waiting areas of the hospital and through every sleepless night we had since the 31st January. Everyone had developed different crying techniques and discovered different sobbing spots by now. Every passing hour would sink in the hearts more and we started calling the ITU section to ask the condition of the patient on the bed 329. Standard reply they had for the same question we asked.
On 1st February at 4 p.m., I got ready in a black kurti and pink legging with a bindi on my forehead and a smile on my face with the hope that he would open his eyes this evening and see me the way he always liked me, all dolled up. Afterall it was more than a day and a half past his second admission to ITU. Visiting hours started and the number of people who qued up to meet him increased (he is quite famous among the people who know him, for obvious reasons). Between the transition period when 2 guests were going down and sending the next 2 up, I used to go in and talk to him. Sometimes just stare at his kind and beautiful face and sometimes fire him with questions like “When are you getting up?” “Aren’t you getting bored here?” “Don’t you want to go to Manali with me, feel the snow and throw some ice balls on maa?” It was 6 p.m. and now we were to wait for the doctor to come in at around 8. He came in early that day and talked to maa and bhaiya for sometime before I could get in and meet papa again. I didn’t cry today as I was sure he would wake up before the day ends and seeing me cry would not even be the last thing he would want. So I was smiling the whole time.
He was still on ventilator when the doctor allowed me to get inside. I was standing there with bhaiya just looking at him hopefully when I called him “papa, oo papa, suno naa”. Before bhaiya could tell me to shut up and not disturb him, we both noticed his eyebrows moving up and down as if he was asking me in his usual way “Kya hua beta?” Strength kneeled down in front of love and I continued a little louder with eyes all wet “papa, suno na, utho na please. Dekho aapki Aishu aai hai ready hoke.” And papa opened his eyes for a second and closed it back again. I looked at bhaiya and he looked at me in an awe before he rushed to the doctor who was at the other end of the ITU with some other patient. Meanwhile I continued my questions and he suddenly answered to one of my questions with a nod saying ‘yes’. I do not even remember the questions I hurled onto him, but that nod gave me hope. The way I was unintentionally shouting and talking in desperation, I was told to stand out of the ITU by the nurses till the doctor came and talked to me. Restlessly, I waited for the doctor to come and hear out my encounter with papa. As soon as I saw the doctor I started explaining him everything when looked at me like I was an insane daughter. He looked at my bhaiya for a consensual declaration of insanity when he supported me with his welled up eyes. Be it insane, I wanted him to believe me and treat him accordingly. My desperation was at such a level that the doctor got convinced to bring me in and yell at my father in front of me – “Rakesh ji…. Aankhein kholiye.” He repeated. On getting no response from papa, he turned towards me with sympathetic eyes, as if I was lying all this time. I was again sent out and I was trying to explain him things when he went inside to treat the other patients. At that very moment I broke down in the arms of my bhaiya. Had I been alone there and had experienced a similar situation, no one would have believed me for a second, but luckily my sensible and logical bhaiya was right there when this happened in front of us.
I called Aman and called him back from Hyderabad. All this while, everyone was telling me to call him and ask him to come because they thought the end has come and that the son-in-law should come now. I too wanted him to come and be with me but I never called him in the fear of negativity that scared me from whatever the people around me said. I thought if I called him, it would mean that I have accepted that this was the end. But I called him because he wanted to come and I wanted him to see papa coming back to life. Maybe hoping that he would contribute towards his recovery.
Even though doctors didn’t believe me, I knew my papa would come back smiling before the given deadline. I have been a papa’s girl all my life and therefore I believed in miracles. I assured maa that miracles like this happens every minute across the globe and we will experience one such miracle soon. I tried to make her optimistic by saying that it’s a very little thing for God to save someone and that there is a world beyond science, so “don’t worry about what the doctors have to say, they are humans afterall”. My mother would just smile at me and stare into the nothingness to find the answers to the questions that filled up her mind and heart. Afterall I had seen him come back, she didn’t!
Next morning he was sitting with oxygen support going through his nose and eyes opening and shutting on the questions we asked. Faith on God, Miracles and Doctors was restored in that very moment. What followed was he getting visibly and audibly better with every visiting hour we saw him, even though doctors said that he wasn’t fit enough for them to transfer him to a normal ward. His “Jai Govinda” echoed in the ITU everyday, helping other patients smile in pain. Whenever maa asked him “Chale ghar?” he would nod a “No”, unlike the last time when he was in ITU. But for some unknown weird reason, whenever I asked him “Papa, ghar chale?” he would never say a “No”. It wasn’t surprising because he had never said a ‘No’ to me ever in my life, be it a night-out, be it a holiday from school, be it my boyfriend or be it this time, this questions in ITU. Super- pampered child, remember!
Days went past and he wouldn’t improve beyond the point of saying a yes or a no. Things started getting worse as he got infected by E-coli, which entered his bloodstream. It apparently did not have a cure as such but the doctors tried to recover him with the help of some high power antibiotics in the hope of recovery. Among all the things that were happening, a reason of frown was our empty pockets. During the first admission, we had exhausted our insurance quota that bhaiya had taken for papa and worse, this time the bill was getting lengthier in terms of paper and figures. We are nowhere near normal by society’s standard and we did not earn an amount where we could save for emergencies like these. It was hard and that’s the simplest way I can explain the situation.
Doctors gave up and we had to shift him to a distant hospital which was apparently better known for curing diseases like the one my father was suffering from. With better treatment comes a higher cost and this time it wasn’t just burning a hole in our pockets, it burnt our entire pant! In the desperate hope of getting him back home, we were ready to burn ourselves by now, so the increasing zeros didn’t stop us from getting him treated. And we did whatever the doctors told us to do, be it signing any consent forms or putting him again on ventilator. The prayers got desperate amidst the restless mind ruling out the obvious negativity which poured in from directions we didn’t know, existed.
It was 9th of February, a day before he shared his love, me, with the man called ‘My Husband’. It was a weird day, I couldn’t sleep last night for even an hour, called the hospital trice since 5 o clock in the morning to know how he was doing and in the morning before we left home for hospital, a marble rolling board fell on my little toe. It swelled up like balloon, but it didn’t hurt me as much, maybe because the fear of a different pain loomed inside with more intensity. By this time, we could no longer see him in the kind of pain he was in. Last night we had seen the Ventilators breathing in his place rather than helping him breathe. We had not seen him open his eyes since the last 30 hours and there was an heart wrenching silence in the ITU and our hearts alike. We had, by now anticipated what could follow next without talking it out to anyone. In silence we prayed for either recovery or end of this pain because we no longer could bear it like papa did. Scared to death, we reached the hospital to discover that he had puked blood from every opening he had. There were sobs and prayers working us up together as we were told to call up the relatives we wanted. The extra doses of medicines to keep his blood pressure stable were to be taken off and the prayers seemed to have stopped working. We came down to the waiting hall in tears and had no clue what to think of.
He had turned 60 last year and you guys have no idea how excited he was to travel throughout the country for half the price he had paid for his 59 years. He hadn’t tasted a drop of alcohol all his life in an environment where it was served openly in our Punjabi weddings, but he suffered from chronic liver failure in the end. He posed with bottles of Champaign in pictures and sent mugs of beer on Whatsapp while giving me more than a thousand reasons why indulgence was wrong. In hospital when he overheard the nurses talking about his liver issue, he told me in the following visiting hours “Isse acha to main pee hi leta”.
He taught me everything I know in my life, but he forgot to teach me how to live without him and now I have no idea how to spend my remaining alive years.
It’s his birthday today – 9th of April and I want to hug him like his Bitiya Rani always did, but unfortunately I don’t find his lap to lie down upon, his arms to wrap me perfectly and his lovely smile to lighten up the whole world for me again.
I love you my Chunni for that’s what I called him all my life (Chunnilal is his birthname which can only be seen written on his birthbook)
I miss you forever…..