Monday, February 28, 2011

The Gift of Excellence.....

There are qualities one looks up to in life.

Personally strives for. Admires in other people.

But one has to be incredibly lucky , to experience them in death......

Now 83, she had just flown in, without any escort, from the US, to her daughter in Mumbai, full of graduation stories of an eldest grandson . Divali was imminent and she would stay with her daughter, and leave after the festival, for her own house in Pune.

She never did.

On the last day of Divali, the grandchildren insisted she come to the Mall. She returned back, late afternoon, and went to take a nap. Her daughter, putting away the purchases, heard her move and came to find her, trying to sit on her knees in vajrasana, typically seeking her own solutions, trying to breath deeply, with great effort. She was in great distress, and so they rushed her to their doctor at the local primary care hospital.

A patient of angina, she always anticipated something like this, but didn't believe it would happen. She collapsed while the ECG was happening, and the doctor, who had chatted amiably with her on arrival, immediately organized an ambulance with oxygen, and a nurse with a kidney tray carrying some key injections, along with an attendant to help with stretchers and stuff. Her daughter jumped in, to assist with the cardiac massage and they sped off, to one of Mumbai's biggest municipal hospitals, where the ICCU was considered good; and luckily, the patient's niece was a senior doctor there.

A good thirty minutes away, and suddenly she started frothing at the mouth. Her daughter, stunned, called out to her, and still , in desperation, mechanically continued the cardiac massage, as the nurse managed to accurately intravenously inject some medicine, despite the potholed roads on which the ambulance rushed.

A massive hospital, lots of folks hanging about, and there was no oxygen as she was rushed , on the run, down a corridor, up an elevator, and into an ICCU. In the meanwhile, the referring hospital's doctor had called and briefed them, the patient's niece had alerted the reception, and she was soon lying down, oblivious to the world, all possible body apertures connected to tubes, with metres hissing and beeping, when her doctor niece reached .

Doctors on duty there, were those doing post graduation speciality in cardiac stuff, and the young fellow on duty, had done some amazingly clever treatment and stabilized , a lady, who many thought was no more, when she had arrived.

Her doctor niece saw the charts, spoke with the young doctors on duty, and called out to her aunt, on seeing the blood pressure improving. There was a chance she would hear. She did. She opened her eyes, and followed the voice.

Positive signs.

For 48 hours, they monitored her, adjusting respirators and other medications, up and down, slowly reducing the dependence. They allowed one family member to sit at her bedside. Duty doctors were always available at a moments notice, in a room inside the ICCU, where they intermittently rested, studied papers, reports and had discussions, amidst, what were always, emergency calls from cubicles.

Shored up with the best that technology and smart minds could offer, she slowly mentally recovered back to normal after 36 hours. Surprsingly, with all systems tired but normal. The tubes in her nose and mouth were out, she was breathing on her own, but was very very weak in body, having emerged from a mother of all fights with fate. When the head doctor came on his rounds, she asked for a decent cup of tea ......

The young worried doctors, smiled whenever they saw her daughter now. She was the sole caretaker till her siblings arrived from across the seas. And she worried a lot, and remained awake for 36 hours. Asked them a lot of questions, was well informed herself. They explained the situation to her. Her mother's recovery was amazing, but one had to be vigilant. They showed her where she could go and grab a bite to eat late at night, at the resident doctors mess, and when she wondered if it might be for doctors only, they smiled and told her, not to worry, she would pass for one .....

This was not a posh hospital, with n-star infrastructure. The resident doctors lived in atrocious housing, earning an even more atrocious stipend. The papers were full of it. And worked endless hours. Relatives of patients had almost no waiting facilities, and her daughter slept on the floor in the corridor, when someone came to relieve her. So, other than medical treatment matters, patients often asked many other questions to the doctors, and the young doctors , would patiently explain.

Destiny often misleads, and pulls wool over our eyes.

While everyone thought she was improving, it was actually to be her last day on this earth. Towards evening, she stopped recognizing her daughter. Just like that. Giving blank looks. The young doctor promptly did blood tests, administered glucose, and the patient was soon back to normal, tired, yet berating the daughter for ignoring her children who were home alone. The smile was back on the young doctor's face. With a slight tinge of worry.

It was late night, and the daughter was joined by a brother straight there from the US. They were allowed to sit in a corner of the room where she lay. No words were exchanged , but looks were understood between the doctors and the relatives.

The daughter had just sat back in her place after pressing her mother's feet and very lightly dusting her neck with some talcum powder to freshen her, when she heard a disturbed loud intake of breath . With no exhalation....

She shouted for the doctor who appeared instantly. The daughter and son were asked to wait outside, and there began the last fight , of the patient and the two doctors and nurses versus fate. The final test. They tried everything they could. Injections, cardiac massages, electric plates to shock the heart into beating, the works.

For more than an hour. With no success.

They stood by as the daughter and son were called in. No words were necessary. The daughter's voice broke, as she thanked them for their herculean efforts.

The two doctors , shook their heads, eyes full. They told her , that her mother was as good as dead on arrival at the hospital. Her entire response to the treatment and subsequent protocols, was a complete miracle of some sort. Something they don't see often, but when they do, and then lose the patient , it is very difficult to take.

They quietly covered the face, and the daughter and son waited outside , now a deathly quiet at 2 am.

Age and emotion cannot blind you to duty, and they came over sometime later to ask if eye donation would be considered. The daughter and son, in the throes of a massive loss, had completely forgotten their mother's wish. And they nodded, and did the necessary paperwork. When they were bequeathed her body a few hours later, she seemed to be calmly sleeping, a sense of peace on her tired face.

The patient was my mother.

Someone who was a stickler for excellence in whatever work you were allotted, whether it was sweeping a room, cooking, driving a car, or solving a differential equation. She inspired such work ethic in so many she knew, and due to her own example.

And so she was gifted something in death, that not many folks are lucky to get.

Mumbai's often criticized municipal hospitals, (their very proletarian facilities for patients kin, their permanent need for more funding , their very ordinary utility style furnishings, and their always insufficient and depleting inventory), had not just matched, but surpassed the best , where medical care, doctors, timely interventions, patient care and communication matters were concerned.

Such outstanding dedication to work, subject expertise, and respect for experience and learning, from folks young enough to be her grandchildren .

I can imagine her smiling, nodding her head in agreement and appreciation, perhaps , with a virtual pat on their tired backs.

For someone who demanded and got excellence in life, getting it in death , was totally and completely special.

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  1. There are no words to express the feelings I had reading this. Thank you, for the beauty and the love you have shared. You do indeed belong in The Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul! Much love to you, my friend.


  2. I will use Sylvia's words - I cannot think of words to express my feelings as I read your words. Straight to my heart and eyes filled with tears. Thank you for sharing this love and your experience. I send you love from many miles over the ocean.

  3. Being of age at least 10 years more than the writer, I am to be excused for having not any idea how I arrived at this blog. is a Higher Power which must have sent me to read such a beautiful story of love(s) in both life and death, family and strangers. This night 10 PM in Naples, Florida US--I needed, and wanted to be spiritually supported by such words as you have written.

    I've just completed a short course in Buddha, and the guru said my next step should be to go study in India. Alas, five years younger than your mother, it is improbable that I make the trip--for many reasons.

    PEACE and love to all those compassionate doctors, your family, you...and your mother in her new life, whatever that may be.

  4. This post made me cry. It was beautiful, filled with love and respect.

  5. It really touched my heart and I felt connected to your story somehow.This post has so much emotional things in it.Truly wonderful!

  6. Such a heartfelt story of love and caring. Your mother was loved dearly and was fortunate to have such devoted children.

  7. I felt so much like being in the hospital with my dad....that 15 days where he was fine, was not meant to be - a miraculous affair on Earth for him - the Docs couldnt understand how it happened !!!

  8. I am glad your mother had you by her side and was in your loving care when she left. Hugs Suranga.

  9. Sylvia Thank you.

    Ernestine Thank you .

    Steve Thank you, and welcome to this blog ....

    Aleta Thank you....

    Darlene Thank you..

    Pratibha Thank you, and interested in this commented from a doctor...

    UmaS Thank you. There is always something that happens which has no explanation, other than divine intervention. Difficult for those that do not believe in the concept of God or a Supreme Being....

    IHM Thank you. It was hugely saddening, humbling and learning experience ...

  10. Saddening, and yet heartwarming, in the devotion to excellence and duty that the doctors showed.
    I don't know if it was your mother's will power, or the mercy of the Divine, but she departed only after her son arrived, so that her children had each other to turn to in their grief.

  11. And she was fortunate to have children like this who loved her so much and were there for her through it all. Hugs, Suranga.

  12. Its so well written and touching....