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Saturday, 25 May 2013

My Father’s Last Days – II

Related earlier post: My Father’s Last Days - I

I thought that was the end of the illness and that he had been cured completely. We would be able to enjoy his love and affection for several more years. I could not have been more wrong. A few years later the disease resurrected and he was once again admitted to the Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore.

I received a letter from mother which in effect asked me casually if it would be very difficult for me to take a few days’ leave. With father again in the hospital, if she had to make such an enquiry, he would have to be really serious. No order, no pleading, not even a request. Just a casual enquiry if I could take a few days’ leave! The same day I booked a ticket to Katpady in the nearest available train, which was a week later. I also applied for a fortnight’s leave.

After about ten days I reached the hospital. It was around four in the evening that I reached the hospital, directly from the railway station. I went to father’s room where mother too was present. The moment mother saw me, she told father,

‘Look, Jayanthan has come!’

He was lying on his left side. He had great difficulty in turning. Mother helped him and he slowly turned and lay on his back. He looked at me. It took only a couple of seconds for his eyes to become small, endless streams. I could not hold back my tears, either. I had never seen him so weak. He had to be helped for turning on his side! I had never in my twenty five years of life (then) had seen him crying. Not even once. He used to be happy, angry, sad, upset, and sometimes even frustrated. But crying? Never!

He used to be very strong mentally and physically. He used to do a lot of hard physical labour. I remember when we used to engage helpers for working on the little land we had, he used to work side by side with them from morning till evening. He had never been one to ‘supervise’ the work standing on the side shouting orders at the workers!

During sixties when we were studying in schools we used to stay in our ancestral home, which was, after partition, bequeathed to father’s younger brother. Aphan (uncle), for many years, had been undertaking priesthood in various temples earning his livelihood, and stayed away from home. Cheriyamma (aunty) and children stayed with him, too. Now he was coming back and we had to build a new house. Mr Kuttappan, the carpenter was contracted to build the house. The spot where the house was to be built was on a hilly area. We actually had to cut a hill into half and remove tones of soil to make the area flat. I remember the complete soil was removed by the three of us (father, brother, and I) with mother and sisters actively supporting indirectly. We did not undertake it as a ‘work’ but as a ‘game’ and enjoyed the game to the hilt. While it was a routine work for father, brother and I felt very proud to be contributing to such a task as building our own home! And later when we had to dig a well in the courtyard, that too was done by us, with inputs from experts. Father was never tired of nor did he turn away from any hard physical tasks. That was the real him.

And here, look at him lying on this hospital bed, unable to turn on his own, crying inconsolably like a child! However hard I tried, tears flew down my cheeks as well. I sat on the bed and slowly placed my hands over his chest which was nothing but bones tightly covered with skin! There was a small bandage on his chest. It took several minutes for either of us to start talking. Mother was not even looking at us. She went and stood by the window looking outside but seeing nothing, wiping her eyes constantly.

After several minutes father told me, “They took out something from the chest with a long syringe. The pain was excruciating, my Son.”

It was not like a father telling a son, but a small child complaining painfully to his father!

I tried to console him, telling, “Well, is it not to treat your illness, Father? Now they will know better how to treat you. The pain will go away soon.”

“Will it?” he asked. He was looking straight into my eyes as if to draw some more consolation, peace, and strength from them.

“Yes, it will”, I said. And I tried to believe what I said.

He kept quiet for several minutes. He was too weak to continue the conversation. I started gently massaging his chest with my right hand. And he slowly fell asleep while still clutching my left hand with both his hands.

Mother talked for about an hour on father’s health condition. She told me that he had to undergo a biopsy that morning. Mother seemed so much relieved after seeing me. After having a bath and leaving my baggage in the lodge room, I was back at father’s bedside in about an hour. We saw the head nurse, a Sri Lankan, coming to give medicines to father. Even before she arrived mother warned me, “Be careful, this lady is nasty.”

The moment she entered the room, she ordered me out.

She said, “No male is allowed to stay with the patient.”

I had never heard such an arrogant order in such an arrogant tone before this. And that too, from a nurse, to a critical patient’s attendant!

I told her sternly, “Look, my father needs help to get up from the bed, or going to the toilet, or even turning on his sides. Mother cannot help him in all these all alone. So I am going to stay here, whatever you say. You can go and complain to anybody you want.”

She was taken aback at the totally unexpected and emphatic response. She looked at me sharply for a moment. Then she went out without saying anything. I feared that soon I would be forced out by the security forces whom she would summon. But nothing happened.  And she did not say anything afterwards. I continued to stay with father in the hospital.

The next few days were terrible. For every activity, including turning on his side or back, father needed our help. Both mother and I stayed with him the whole day. Despite all the excellent treatment at the hospital, I could not see much improvement in his condition. The hospital also had made an initial goof-up. Even though he had been a cancer patient since several years, he was this time admitted in the general medicine department. It was only after receipt of the biopsy report that he was referred again to the cancer department.

It was the third or fourth day after my arrival. One day the doctor, Dr Lilly George, said that they were contemplating to conduct another surgery on father. It might take a few days before they finally decide, after watching father’s condition. But it was a strong possibility. I was stunned. Another operation? And on this body? I looked at him. One could actually count his bones. He was suffering from pain almost constantly. It is only the pain-killer that provided him some comfort. I also noticed that at certain spots small swellings had begun to appear. (At that time I didn’t know that it was the sign of the disease spreading all over his body.) I doubted very much if he could withstand another surgery.

That night I wrote to brother. An Indian Air Force officer, he was posted at Kanpur those days. I wrote to him that the doctor had suggested another surgery on father and that I doubted very much if he would survive such an ordeal. I further wrote that the moment doctors confirmed the surgery, I would send him a telegram (the fastest method of communication those days) and he should keep himself ready to start any moment. I would not let them operate on him till brother arrived. I feared the worst.

The next few days were like hell. I thought any moment they would come and ask me to sign the consent form for the operation, which I would refuse, till brother arrived. Doctors used to come both in the mornings and evenings, check him and return with grim faces. I tried to read their faces. And what little I could, was not very pleasant.

On the fourth day morning Dr Lilly George called me to her cabin. She said we could take father home. I initially didn’t grasp what she said. I was confused. I blankly looked at her. I requested her to repeat what she just said, because I knew father hadn’t cured and that he condition was very bad. His condition had not at all improved since I arrived about ten days ago. Then how could she ...? And why should she ...?

Dr George continued, slowly, cautiously, calculated,

“I know how difficult it is for you not to show any emotions. And I am sad, too. Your father is my first patient in this hospital. But I have to perform this painful duty of informing you about the situation.”

I didn’t ask her regarding the proposed surgery since I was myself not in favour of that.

But she volunteered, “We had thought of operating upon him as a last attempt to save his life. But even that stage is over now. The disease has spread to several spots on the body.”

I recalled the small swellings which have been spreading all over his body.

And she became silent. For a long time. It took several moments for what she said to sink into me. She was telling me that we could take him home so that he dies at home. And when it did at last sink into me, I did not shout, I did not even cry. I looked straight into her eyes hoping to find some hope. There was none.

I asked her calmly, “How much time do you give him?”

She looked at me. Was she terrified at my calmness? Was I reacting exactly opposite to what she had expected? I don’t know. She looked confused, too.

She said hesitantly, “A month.”

She continued, “We will give pain killers. That is all we can do now. Try to make his remaining days as comfortable as you can.”

I slowly got up. I could not go into the room. I could not face mother. I could not tell her what the doctor told me. I went out of the hospital. There were huge lawns around the hospital. I went and sat under a tree. It was then that the emotions poured out like a broken dam. I must have sat there for an hour. I still hadn’t gathered the courage to break the news to mother. But I had to, somehow. I was in the corridor leading to father’s room when I suddenly noticed brother. He was searching for father’s room. I suddenly went to him.

Brother had not waited for my telegram. As soon as he received my letter, he had applied for leave, and started the same day. He knew we needed his presence. His presence was such a comfort and strength to us.

He suddenly asked, “Jayanthan, how is father?”

I looked at him. My face was reddened and swollen. I had been crying for nearly an hour. One look at my face, and he understood things were not all that right. I told him what the doctor told me about an hour ago. He did not betray any emotions, either. He was stronger than me.

Then he slowly asked me, “Have you told mother?”

I said, “No, Brother, I haven’t. I do not have the courage to tell her. Can you do it?”

Mother had begun to worry because I was gone for long. She knew that I had gone to the doctor. With each passing minute her anxiety increased. It is then that both of us entered the room. She was slightly surprised and greatly relieved to see brother. (I had not told her that I had written to him.)

Brother went and sat on the bed. With all the emotions within him, he still managed to smile at father. He also told him that he would be all right.

And then, after some time, brother slowly broke the news to mother. As expected, she could not bear it. Suddenly her eyes became two tiny streams. She began to entreat all Gods. In about an hour she was back in the room, somewhat composed. Brother then went to settle the hospital bill. Then he went to the railway station to book tickets for us. By the time he returned with tickets for the evening trains, I had settled the bill of the lodge and we were ready to go home by evening.

We then broke the news to father that we were going home. It looked like he knew it coming. He even managed to smile.

The Gods we believe were always with us. I had only a few hundred rupees with me that day. I hadn’t thought it necessary to keep some money for an emergency (so foolish and careless of me!). The instruction that we could take father home came so suddenly and totally unexpected. And within an hour brother arrived and he had enough money with him to settle the hospital and lodge bills and to book tickets for all of us!

That evening we left for the railway station.

[To be concluded]


  1. Sir it is very very sad to know father suffered but si u r father is fortunate to have his 2 sons with him at the hour he needed. Good work
    Perugu Balasubramanyam
    post script I was 3 thousands mile away when our father breathed his last and telecom strike no telegrams only post card reached me after 15 days. PBS

    1. Thank you, Balu.

      I can understand your predicament when you got the post card after 15 days! Very sad indeed!

  2. Gone through. Tragic of course. What else to write ? regards