When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
- Lao Tzu
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"Life is what happens to you when you are busy planning things". I had never experienced this phrase till the night of 24th June 2017, the eve of my son’s birthday. I had no clue what a massive crisis was lurking around the corner. I was at my maiden house to bring in the festival of Eid.
Tired with the previous days travel I was fast asleep with both my kids. I remember suddenly waking up and seeing everyone asking my husband. What happened? Say something, speak up, but he kept looking at everyone speechlessly as if he was tongue tied. He was unable to say anything. For a minute I was confused why he was behaving like that even when my parents and all others in the house were pleading him to speak up but he stared at all of them in their face.
Everyone started making their guesses. He must be tired, lack of sleep or some mental stress, but I felt something was not ok, in fact nothing was ok. I took him aside and asked him what happened? Was there some issue that was bothering him? But there was no reply. Initially I asked, then I pleaded him to speak; to say something but he ran out of words. He being an introvert person by nature I thought he is framing in his mind what he wanted to say. But to my surprise he said weird irrelevant things and looked confused like I have never seen him before. He grinned to cover up his confusion but my heart was pounding with anxiety as if telling me that this was not normal. It is this anxiety that you feel in the pit of your stomach when you are in anticipation that something grave is about to happen.
After the momentary silence he was normal as if nothing had happened. Everyone started talking to him again, joking about what just happened. They were all pacifying me that it was just a transient thing but I kept looking at him with suspicion. There was a constant uneasy feeling each time I looked at him. I then consulted one of the physicians who after hearing me out said that my husband had visited him 15 days back with minor headaches. I had no idea what he was talking about. My husband has been a busy doctor always, an absolute workaholic, for whom work has always been the priority. He never told me anything about the headache in the recent past as he is always so busy I thought. The physician advised me to get some tests done just for my satisfaction and assured me that it was not an emergency.
But something within pushed me to get it done right away and I sent him for a CT scan with my sister and her husband who were at home for a family dinner. That moment onwards I was in absolute state of unrest and kept on praying relentlessly hoping that the CT scan will be normal. I kept looking at my cell phone anticipating a call from my sister and the call did come but she said that the report is not normal and he needs further tests. Somehow I knew that this is something serious now. The further test would be done next morning as they did not have the technician for the same in the night hours. They will admit him under observation in the ICU that night my sister informed me. I did not know for a minute what to do next. Here I was with my two little kids, and this dreadful reality had already hit me. I suddenly dialled my surgeon’s number who I worked with soon after my internship several years back. I generally called him for any medical advice but it was 2.00 am and I was apprehensive if he would pick my call. The bell rang once, then twice and I was about to disconnect the call is when I heard his saviour voice. He guided me to take my husband to another hospital where things would pace up. I immediately sent his report to all senior doctors on my phone list for them to opine. But nothing was absolutely clear in those CT images.
All this while I was just left with my strong faith in God that he will be fine and no harm will ever touch him. I kept praying and frantically called my sister to get updates. He was all well on the exterior but something deep inside was wrong, like it is all calm before a storm. That night my tears did not stop in prostration. I did not know how I would manage the finance part and I had to inform someone from his family but did not have the courage to call his aged parents so I called his elder brother. At that point I wanted someone to tell me it is okay, all will be fine and they were the first to give me that assurance. All this while I was the one assuring my family that it is not something serious, although in reality it was. Being a doctor yourself can be really traumatic sometimes. You got to know everything, you got to be strong, you cannot have fears and you cannot afford to lose your cool. But this was my husband who was in the patient’s chair and was I still strong? Not really. I was petrified.
In the early hours that morning his MRI was done and I got a call from my sister who had no clue about his report she just said there is some mass seen inside his skull. Did I hear her right? I was flabbergasted. It was as if the world around me stood still. I did not respond to my sister but inside me I felt a sudden rush of blood to my heart. I gathered myself back and told her I was reaching the hospital as soon as I could and rushed. My husband was absolutely normal just few hours ago with no complaints at all and now I have this report that left me jolted. The junior resident at the hospital explained that the final report was not out yet and we can hope for the best till the neurophysician comments on the same.
We waited impatiently for the doctor to arrive. My husband was fast asleep like an innocent baby who was unaware of all the chaos outside. I did not want to disturb him but I wanted to hug him tightly and assure him that all is well and I will make sure all his suffering just vanishes like it never existed. But why him? Why this? Since when? Were the questions running in my mind.
The doctor finally arrived that Sunday morning which was not at all that laid back for me as it used to be. He met my husband and enquired about the episode and left with us to see his reports. We rushed down with him. He watched closely at the desktop and discussed with the technician. I heard him mutter “it looks like an abscess but he will need surgery” but what was the reason for that. We will have to see why it has come up he said and referred my husband’s case to a neurosurgeon; the one he felt was the best to handle this case. I fumbled on my words and gathered the courage to ask- “Is this condition benign??”“Yes 100%” he said. I wanted to jump with joy like the lady in the Dairy Milk commercial who danced her heart away in the middle of a cricket stadium. But I settled with a sigh of relief .It is not the worst that could have happened. I thanked Almighty a million times for that one positive sentence that I heard.
My brother-in-law and his wife reached the hospital by afternoon which extended the moral support that I much needed. I informed my twin sisters-in-law and asked them to inform their parents who lived at our hometown. I told them not to narrate the gravity of the situation. Anyone who called me wept on the phone and I wondered why they were crying. At times I wanted to cry with them too. ‘You have to be strong’ they all counselled me. WAS I strong? I did not know.
What should I tell and how I should respond was a task at my end. I kept telling everyone that he is fine and asked them to pray for his speedy recovery. My sister-in-law insisted on him talking to his mother so that she would be relieved that he is doing well. But that call or the emotional surge precipitated his second attack of focal seizures. This one I witnessed I saw him helplessly blabbering, trying to say something and his body jerking. I screamed at the nurse to please do something. They gave him the first loading dose of the anti epileptic medicine that calmed the attack.
As I walked out I could not imagine what I just saw.He had an intra cranial abscess that was putting pressure on his brain and he was speechless in the attack because of that. I always looked at him for support and strength but there was no one around me at this point to give that support. My pillar of strength was lying weak in bed suffering from this unexpected illness. Every 10 minutes I peeped in the room to see if he was OK. I kept praying that whatever happens he should be out of this at the earliest.
The junior resident informed us that the neurosurgeon would come to see him. But every hour after that was just not passing by and I kept enquiring when the doctor would arrive.
I informed his close friends about his condition. They visited him at the hospital and he felt better by meeting his buddies. He looked weak though was able to do all stuff by himself. I could see his independent actions even in the most stressful phase. He insisted on using the washroom but was forced to stay in bed. I saw his piety and strong headed nature where he insisted on offering his daily prayers. He is generally the one who will not discuss any problems, as I tend to take stress. Each time I asked him he said he was fine. But how I wished at this point that he would have shared his troubles with me and I could have done something about this earlier.
The doctor finally arrived late in the evening with a flock of junior doctors with him. He asked me how I knew the general surgeon who had referred us. He asked me “How do you know him”?? And I quickly replied I am his wife. You’re his wife he asked in surprise. I quickly corrected myself “No I am the patient’s wife” and he laughed. That was the first time I smiled in the last 24hours. He saw all the reports and concluded that my husband needed an immediate surgery to evacuate the abscess. The surgery is the only option and just medicines could not help. Brain surgeries are tricky and have serious complications and I wanted to know what the possible complications were before we gave the consent for the surgery. The doctor had a positive and calm demeanour and he patiently answered all my questions. The complications could be that of any brain surgery from bleeding to convulsions to serious functional deficits. But there we were, with no choice but to go ahead hoping that all will fall in place. The doctor posted him the very next day afternoon for the surgery. Sometimes I pinched myself to come in terms with the situation that I was in, was I really going through this at the moment. That night was not easy, the anticipation, the stress was at its peak. I kept praying to calm my nerves. I had lost touch with all my knowledge as a doctor and stood there like any other patient attendee in despair and confusion. I wanted to be doubly sure about event the slightest thing concerning my husband. I asked the nurse in the corridor that how soon patients with this kind of surgery recover. She candidly replied, some recover in days, some in weeks, months or even years “It is a brain surgery “she smirked. It is her smile that hurt me the most. When you’re in the decision making chair it is difficult and heartening is what I realized that day. Decisions are not easy especially when you are not sure of the outcome.
The next day we were informed that as it was a last minute change in the operative schedule, his surgery was scheduled at around 5.30 pm. I was stationed at the hospital and nothing distracted me. I did not know what I was eating, where my kids were, I was breast feeding my little one at that time and suddenly he was off the feeds. I could not imagine doing this to my baby for anything in the world and here I was giving a deaf ear to all these concerns. At around 1.00pm in the afternoon the staff nurse called and said that bed no 411 has to be shifted to OT. I was startled and I rushed outside to confirm and they said the doctor has planned the surgery at 2.30 pm. I was blank. I called and informed everyone about the schedule and started praying incessantly. Just before they were shifting my husband I went in and moved all curtains to hide us both in that cubicle, I looked at him in the eyes and said “You will be fine and you will be out of this “and I kissed him. My heart was pounding and tears welled up in my eyes but I did not weep, I wanted him to face this with all the strength he had, I wanted to be by his side all the time. We went up that elevator to leave him to the Operation theatre. As the elevator moved each floor my heart kept missing a beat. But all this fear was inside me. I kept smiling and telling him that he will be ok. Finally we reached the eighth floor and I told my man, my strong man who was looking frail now "ALL THE BEST" and they took him inside those massive OT doors that shut on my face. I wanted to rush in with him if that was possible but it was not allowed. The security guard told me to give my phone number and that I will be called once the surgery was done. I gave one, then another number to be accessible and waited in the hospital lobby. Everything around me was the same but I was not. I felt all my senses had taken a back seat I kept muttering my prayers as I went towards the prayer room. I prayed as if this was all I ever wanted or this was all I ever had. I just wanted my husband to be out of that Operation theatre healthy and full of life again. I prayed and startled at every phone bell that rang in my vicinity even if was not my own. It was 3 hours now I started getting impatient. I went up to the 8th floor again what if there was no signal or my phone is not reachable, but each time I was sent back and asked to wait. This wait was not easy, I never felt so impatient and restless in my entire life. The phone rang and they asked me to come up as the doctor wanted to see us. As I rushed towards the elevator I missed one of my footwear like a desperate Cinderella. I wanted to hear the most positive thing I have ever heard. We reached and waited outside peeping into the glasses to see some familiar face.
Then the doctors came out and showed us few bottles with specimens that were taken for testing. The surgery was done and he would have to be observed in the ICU for any complications of the same if they come up. The test would help to come to a diagnosis and the big part was told to us at the end. An 8 cm wide part of his skull bone had to be removed as it was completely destroyed with the infection. There was no other option but to discard it. I was baffled, what about the disfigurement? What would I tell him?? All questions overcrowded my mind but the most important thing at that point was the infection was out of his head. The next 24 hours were crucial. There I was outside that Intensive Care Unit. The most dreaded place to be in, at the hospital with your loved one in there. I had lost my identity by now. I was only addressed with bed numbers with an identity card in my neck of my patient’s bed number. No one was allowed in the ICU, I desperately wanted to be with my husband when he lay there unconscious under the influence of general aesthesia. I wanted to hear him, ask him how he was feeling. Was it painful? Did he need any help? But I could hear only the beep sound of the monitors that filled the silence. There were so many critical patients in there. Their relatives also waiting outside that room. Hoping to get some positive news about their loved ones. You cannot see many happy faces out there. Most of the times the attendees are seen weeping or in distress narrating their side of the story to another attendee or relatives for solace. Some discussing how long they have been there, how they have been struggling to get the resources to manage the medical expenses of their loved one. Some tired of being there and have no hopes left as their patient is just breathes away from that last breathe. I was traumatized not only with my suffering but all the suffering that I observed in that waiting area. I was praying every minute that he gets out of this place and recovers completely. I remember this mother who sat in the waiting area and she was telling someone about her daughter who has been lying in there like a zombie almost vegetative for the last six months. She met with an accident on her way back home from her tuition classes. She was her only daughter, a very bright student and a cheerful soul but she never smiled again since the accident. I felt my pain lessening, as if the magnitude of her pain was extinguishing mine. All night was as if the clock did not move and I was labouressly pushing the seconds on that huge watch in the waiting area with all the strength I had. I went in a couple of times to see if he woke up but he was asleep. I wanted him to wake up, please wake up each time I whispered. I could not sleep that night, each time the security guard announced a bed number I sat up in bed, did I hear 257?? I would go and confirm each time a number was called to the extent that the guard felt that I was deaf. I would request the security to just check and tell what 257 bed number patient was doing and he would come and tell me “ So raha hai patient baba ...aap bhi sojaao” .
But sleep was an unknown entity to me. And I kept tossing in the bed. It was around 5. 00 am the next morning and I thought I was dreaming and the sound bed number 257 was ringing in my ears when someone came and asked me if I was bed number 257. I sprang up and I ran towards the ICU, my heartbeat faster than I could comprehend. I walked fast with tiny quick steps towards his bed and asked the nurse in charge in apprehension if everything was fine. The nurse said the patient had called me . I walked towards his bed, he was lying down quietly and that haunting beep sound of the monitor was again filling the silence. I called at him; he looked towards me and said “Happy Birthday”. Yes, it was my birthday that day and this was the best birthday gift I ever had. He was still the first one to wish me and the immense joy that I felt in that moment ...just left me SPEECHLESS