Friday, November 06, 2009

The Times Impact

It’s a surreal world, hospitals!

Surreal till life’s realities hit you in the form of a critical diagnosis, the rather elaborate bill at the end of the stay or at times, God forbid, the unavoidable of human destinies – death.

But sitting beside my mother in her hospital room this morning, weary after the twelve hour overnight journey, I was slowly getting dragged into the unreal almost dreamy atmosphere inside a hospital room.

Haven’t you felt it?

Perhaps for that you will have to stay at Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi. One of the taller buildings in my home town, it offers you glimpses of the port, the shipyard – and a sneak snapshot of the Arabian sea, from its starboard, the west side I mean.

I hope the picture is clear now: The evening sky, the last of the cargo ships setting sail and below, the after-work traffic, eager to reach their destinations while you are in a glass box, with conditioned air keeping you and your surroundings sterile.

You have room service too, in the form of beautiful and caring nurses and the most serious of doctors. It is certainly a far cry from the unceremonious reality in Chennai – the stuffy room, the late-night excesses and of course the self-imposed starvation, from love as well as food.

Surreal Indeed!

However my mom’s room is on the eastern side. Now I wish Kochi was an island so that I could see the bay from this side too. That is not the case but that doesn’t mean the view is less interesting.

In the morning, you can bask in the golden sunlight which filters through the corridor between two adjacent high-rises – the Pamba Tourist Home and a mango tree.

Don’t get me wrong guys. I know the tourist home, at five storeys, is far from a high-rise compared to the hospital building and how tall can a mango tree grow? But, being on the third floor, the tourist home and the ripe-old tree sure looked imposing.

Anyway, my mom is feeling better now. She had given us all a scare the day before yesterday when her temperature climbed to “104 in the Fahrenheit scale”. She was admitted and iced down and then the usual tests followed. I was not informed for my dad wanted “me to not to worry about it”.

“I have everything under control, not to worry,” he had said yesterday when he eventually called. My dad, of course, is a very capable man. But then I was unsettled and besides what is stopping me in Chennai from being beside my mom when she is sick? Nothing, especially of late, post-recession!

She had fever in the morning, though in the manageable realms of 100 degrees. Along with that she had some kind of boils on her face, possibly allergy. My mother is allergic to almost all known antibiotics. Her blood culture results had some abnormal count; otherwise it was sterile and free from any exotic viruses making the rounds in Kochi. Good news!

Doctor said she could probably go home day after tomorrow so I thought I will also leave town the same day. I was busy booking the ticket for my return trip when two young nurses knocked.

They wanted to change the sheets so I stepped out and what do you know –mom is already friends with them. Mama will never change I guess.

Standing outside, I could hear her say: “That’s my eldest son. He came this morning to be by my side you see. He is a journalist in...” the story went on as I slowly shut myself out of their small talk, smiling.

With such a mother, I needn’t worry about getting introduced to girls. She will manage it for me. I just need to date them and probably love them and build from there.

Minutes later they left the room and I can see my mom beaming. “Son they sure remember you from last time,” she said.

“Last time,” I asked. Now when was last time? Of course, the time I rushed from Chennai to be with my brother Leo when he had a respiratory problem. That was in May, pre-historic by modern human standards. Besides I was here only for two days. These nurses sure seem to have a good memory.

Or is it because of my good looks? I began to feel the hormone levels rising with thoughts that the nurses remembered me for my ‘masculinity’. “Great,” I said to myself.

Then reality hit me, snapping me out of the virtual Greek-God world. Of course, they remember me from the many occasions I have been here at the hospital in the last one-and-a-half years.

Yeah, you heard me right – one-and-a-half years, from the time I joined my new company. Finally I have my personal ‘Times Impact’ story to write.

The First Coming

It is 2008 AD!

The whole nation is immersed in the euphoria created by the biggest circus so far in the game of cricket – the Indian Premier League. The event marketed so big that seemingly everyone was asking: “Didn’t you see the match, where were you last night?

Now, where was I?

Well Leslie Xavier, me I mean, was just two months into the new company and was busy adapting - trying to prove he’s a capable reporter and establish beyond doubt that he’s a more-than-capable desk guy.

I may or may not have proved myself; the coming days will give me an idea. But at that point, in May 2008, I was keen on getting into the new groove – copy editor cum reporter (sports).

Then I received a call from home, that time without delay. “MOM IS ADMITTED TO THE HOSPITAL AND HER BLOOD COUNT IS DANGEROUSLY LOW,” it was the concerned voice of my brother Leo.

Indecision on my part! Should I go? I asked myself even though Sid, my good boss, had said I should leave immediately, adding: “So you will be back in a couple of days, right?”

Indecision again! This time it is because I got a phone call again that blood transfusions were done and mom is better. But the next day she required more transfusions and her blood group is B-negative. So my brother and dad were finding it difficult to find donors.

Enough! I took the overnight train.

Reaching Kochi, I went to the hospital straight from the railway station and spent the next two days with my mom, using my phone extensively to get hold of my old contacts in this small town to arrange for donors. My mom recovered and on her birthday, May 21, she got discharged.

Everything was fine, I was relieved, mom was happy to see me, but little did I know it was the start of a trend, the ‘Times Impact’ in my life.

Strike Two!

The month of August, but things became far from August for me!

By this time Leslie was not an unknown in the big family of ‘sports writers’ my company is known for. My boss had taken a break after “working without taking a single day off for six months” and was in Delhi. Being alone for the first time without our leader, we were a little jittery ourselves but we soon got the hang of it.

Well if we have got the hang of working alone, why am I so nervous, I was thinking, for I was sweating like a pig sitting inside the AC newsroom and the only logical explanation was tension. Especially since I had a light fever an hour or so back.

Sweating stopped after a little while but I was not feeling great. Next day I took a break and by evening I was having high fever and the doctor suggested blood and urine tests. Result: Urinary infection.

Now one advantage about being trained in martial arts is that you can listen to your body and understand when things are not right. I knew something was wrong. Fever kept coming, so did the sweating sessions. I decided to come home.

Sarath, my colleague booked a flight ticket for me, Krishnakanta, my former roommate, brought home the ticket and I boarded the morning flight to Kochi, one not-so-fine Wednesday.

From Kochi Airport, just like the previous occasion when I was in God’s own country, I took a taxi and reached Medical Trust Hospital where my mom was waiting for me. ‘Times Impact’ struck again and I was too much of a pragmatist to notice it.

Dr Babu looked at me and without much persuasion said: “We will keep you here a couple of days and check out what the problem is, especially with this high fever and sweating routines.”

My mom was sitting next to me while I stretched at the hospital lobby sofa, the long wait for a room to be vacated. By 3 in the afternoon the martial artist in me shouted.

“Leslie, get up, time to do something,” said the erstwhile Karate master. Well, this hidden Leslie had a reason to shout. I was losing it, I felt.

Dad was away for a meeting; Leo was in college and didn’t have his mobile with him. So I dialled for Bonny and Roy, my good friends. Besides, both of them were my students in Karate. Surely they will come running to save the fallen master.

They did, and while I was lying in the casualty after a couple of shots of anti-pyretic vials on my hips, I clutched on to Roy’s hand, perhaps for reassurance that things are alright. After a week or so Roy was joking saying he had thought I’ll die that day. Personally I was sure I wouldn’t have died but things were not rosy either.

Anyway, Emergency Room is not a great place to be, the room has too much of pain in it. My fever was not letting up but soon Leo and dad reached and I was shifted to my room, my condition worsening till they pushed in a needle into my left hand and started pumping in an icy fluid, late in the night.

It was the fifth day of my fever and as the doctor said later, his suspicion was proven right when my “condition worsened on that day”.

“It is Malaria,” he said next morning during the rounds. “Classic symptoms were all there you see. Sweating, high fever in between and on the third or fifth day the fever worsens. I had started giving you Quinine even before the blood tests confirmed Malaria,” he said smiling.

Ah ha, Quinine: The saviour of the lives of many soldiers during the Second World War. The best medicine to fight Malaria. “So the golden liquid they pumped into my veins yesterday was that eh,” I asked the doc as Leo, my care-taker for the next six days, smiled.

I reached the hospital never too soon it seemed and it took me two weeks and loads of beef and fish to recover enough to travel back to Chennai.

Lightning strikes thrice!

Life, if you can call it so, picked up as usual there after, the late-night sessions with Sid and the gang on his beach-house terrace usually the highlight of a normal day at work.

The smell of Christmas was in the air when I asked Sid whether I could go home for the Season-of-Love celebrations.

However, I asked perhaps at the wrong time. We were travelling in an auto to the cricket stadium for the final day of the Test match between India and England. A day when Sachin Tendulkar and a “defending” Yuvraj Singh made sure the hosts won the match, a historic win.

So loads of work and besides with Chennai Open tennis round the corner Sid was reluctant.

“Not now man,” he said. “Besides I am going to Delhi in the last week of the month,” he added, meaning I’ll miss the 2008 Kochi Christmas and the Britto Class of ’95 reunion, both special occasions.

I said OK, was not happy though. Perhaps my boss had unknowingly delayed the third ‘Times Impact’ strike by stopping me.

But my mom had a surgery to remove her Uterus on the first of January at Medical Trust and I couldn’t be there. I was busy making pages when she called me a day after the procedure.

“Son, they removed the bag in which you and Leo slept once,” she said. Now that was something which hit me... She didn’t say anything else but I knew she had wanted me by her side and here I was making “tomorrows waste paper” punning with words, giving headlines such as ‘Som-body’s Rocking’ intended for Somdev Devvarman’s heroics at Chennai Open tennis tournament. Devvarman had reached the final where he lost to Croat Marin Cilic.

What did I lose that day? Time will tell.

But now I wanted to be home. So, a week later, after writing ‘feature-ish’ reports and ‘report-ish’ features on squash at the Asian Junior Championships, I boarded the train for home where Medical Trust was waiting for me, this time in the form of post-surgery check-ups with mother. But at least I was being a good son.

It was the third strike in a row, rather a soft strike but man this trend was getting into my nerves. ‘Times Impact’, but why me!

A week later, the day came for me to leave home and I shed a drop of tear when I hugged my mom. It was a season of tears I guess – as even Mr. Roger Federer had cried two days back after losing the Australian Open final to the ‘un-gentlemanly’ Rafael Nadal and here I was hugging my mom and apologising for not being with her during the surgery. I promised her it will never happen again, no matter what.

Easter, election and dentistry

Back to work and then came the recession survival game. Everyone was nervous about their jobs at office. But Easter was coming up and all I wanted was to be home.

“I could do two things if I go for four days during Easter time,” I told my boss while asking for leave. “I can have Easter lunch at home and then two days later I could exercise my franchise at the Lok Sabha elections.”

“Sure,” said Sid and on Easter Sunday, I was zooming down the picturesque Palakkad highway in a taxi, my aim simply to be at home by lunch time, and I made it too. And on my mom’s insistence, I was chewing a rather hard piece of red meat when it hit me again, the ‘Times Impact’.

This time in the form of a tooth cavity, which meant one thing: It’s dentist time!

The next two days I was doing the ‘ooh-aah’ routine lying on the dentist’s chair and a day after the elections; I left home, feeling full, literally – with the cavity filling exercise.

This ‘Times Impact’ trend is turning out to be a real pain in the back side as well as the mouth!

Oh Brother!

Back to work! It was May 2009, Indian Premier League again and I was in the train too, this time rushing to, can you guess?

Yes, Kochi and Medical Trust, where my brother was admitted because of some unknown breathing problem. He was getting choked due to some fungal growth in his throat and my presence relieved my parents and Leo’s tension for sure. Their smiles told the whole story and as he recovered, I found myself wishing, the ‘Times Impact’ could stop haunting me.

Of course, I had noticed the trend. I would be blind if I don’t. Each time I come home I end up at the hospital, one way or the other. Great!

A break?

After doing the good-brother routine, I was deputed to Delhi office for a month and then I was back in Chennai and things were back to “normal”. But too much of routine can also be annoying.

It was meant to be a much-needed break from the rut at office and lucky me, for the first time, I was not anywhere near a hospital during my two weeks stay in Kochi in September this year.

But I was in a bit of turmoil too. Upset at office, unhappy with the way I was working, unhappy with the rewards, I was upset with almost everything in this world.

Almost everything! Well, I can never be upset with my family and my new bike, a bullet!

But I reckon the ‘Times Impact’ was still with me, in the form of a frustrated mind which made me extend my leave till Sid called me back. So, after two weeks, which included binges, bike rides, Karate training, a couple of motor-sport reports and two nights as a bouncer at a night joint, I went back to my world in Chennai, a little refreshed.

The Present Tense

Soon I got back to my usual self in Chennai - not looking forward to the next day, waking up from the wrong side of the bed, late-night bike rides, writing poems, poems and more poems. The last two of my habits are the most enjoyable I would say.

And my world stayed the same till it was shaken out of orbit a day back when my dad called to tell me my mom was feeling better after a day’s stay at the hospital with fever.

Come on dad dear, this ain’t done. She is my mother, how can you do that? Now get out of the room, let me stay alone with your wife for a while, I told my dad as I relieved him from his duties at the hospital this morning.

The ‘Times Impact’ continues in my life, some things never change and this is kind of like a curse, I have started to believe now: Something which I am powerless to change even as the world around me changes by the second.

The night of my first ‘Times Impact’ visit, in May 2008, I had stayed awake while my mom slept peacefully in the adjacent bed. I was watching the UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea in Moscow you see. Man U became the champions of Europe that day. Some things never change.

But wait, Man U just struggled to a 3-3 draw against CSKA Moscow at home in a Champions League group match this day. They scraped into the second round with this draw, but the Red Devils look hardly menacing. Champions, one-and-a-half years back they sure were, but now they are struggling.

How things turn around in this world, how things change. Even my designation at office changed yesterday, from copy editor to senior copy editor, I was told by a colleague. “An honorary promotion”, Dwai Da told me over phone, the gentle giant was pointing at the fact that our salaries remain the same despite the promotion.

Changes! But the ‘Times Impact’ remains a constant in my life till now... Yes, you heard me right: “Since the last one and a half years.”

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