My mum is with me; Amma (ummmaa). And my dad too; Atchan (utchunn).
It is usually all fun and play, to have your parents visit you. Jitish and I had planned. Eagerly. To have our parents visit us in the US in 2016. To take them to places we have seen. Camp at the Nevada canyons, hike the Tennessee smokies, kayak in the Florida keys and find peace at Big Sur. So many plans. This was absolutely NOT how we wanted our parents to visit us.
Mother’s day in 2015. Mother’s day in 2016. Her 60th birthday in 2015. I could never make up for the time lost. But, I cannot be more grateful to have them in our life. They’ve taken care of us as kids, and it was time to return the favor. But we don’t have that privilege yet. Instead, they have had to put up with us at my worst moment.
My parents had rushed to the US the moment my sister informed them of the accident. From the moment they arrived, till today, they have had no rest nor peace. I have seen them age by years in just a few months.
Amma had stayed with me in my hospital room, sleeping on a rickety makeshift bed that the hospital provided while Atchan had taken over post from my sister, beside Jitish.
For better or worse, I remember those horrid moments like it were yesterday. Hoping and praying that Jitish would make it out of the 1% chance of survival. During the minutes that I was awake and lucid, I would see Amma and Atchan wrapped in thick and warm, dark green blankets that the nurses were gracious enough to have a steady supply of. Those green blankets were the only piece of comfort we had for the forty one days we stayed in the Neuro ICU wing of UW Madison.
I had no energy, nor the inclination to take care of myself. And so I ignored myself and others around. Jitish was (and continues to be) my sole focus and I got rightfully lost. I would see my parents maintain an inventory of fruits, granola and yogurt. Our close relatives bought us home cooked food from time to time which gave us a semblance of home cooked comfort. What a luxury that was. My parents would forage graham crackers, saltines, single serving packs of cream cheese, butter and other sundries from the break room at the hospital. Tea and those crackers bought them a few minutes to unwind, zone out and fantasize; before we took up post again. No one had the time to leave, or the motivation to. After the first few weeks, I got my act as together as I could and took up charge of a few things including food. Very dismally however. My only option at the time was to get food delivered from the Indian grocery store in Madison. Frozen meals, packs of refrigerated bread and precooked food. That was all that I could afford on a financial freeze. Ordering food in was clearly an expensive venture as was the UW Cafetaria food. There was clearly a hefty medical bill coming my way and unforseen other expenses that we had clearly never imagined to be planning for. Besides, there was also very little stepping out of level 4 of the hospital.
Every minute was accounted for. No one left my side and no one left his. Atchan would update everyone on his current status every 20 minutes. ICP, Blood Pressure, Heart Beat, Oxygenation, Temperature. Sleep became a necessary luxury, to recoup, refresh and stand guard again. Nothing less and nothing more.
Forty winks were all that were allowed. The Neuro wing at UW Madison has graciously provided for a Family and Friends Space right next to the ICU. A few private rooms outfitted with a couch and a couple of chairs each. A main living space with a few more couches, a table to sit and eat, coffee, tea, and a fridge to store food. Quite a few families resided in these spaces. A sense of dreary helplessness hung over everyone. The rooms were transformed into temporary shelter for many of us. Our parents took turns to sleep in Jitish’s room while the other slept on one of the couches equipped with a few warm blankets and a few pillows the nurses provided. My sister and I once caught Amma having a nightmare during one of these naps. We could see her whimpering in her dream, about to cry. Surely, what she was dreaming was not pleasant. Sleep was scant and it took us some heart to shake her awake.
We were all living our own personal nightmare. And I don’t think we wanted to accept this reality. There was no alone time to really let go and get emotional. They had to maintain a brave front for the sake of me. And so they locked up their emotions and anxieties away, for another time.
Amma was my go to. Feed me. Roll me to a side. Help me move. Help me drink. Help me get up. Help me go to the bathroom. Call the nurse. Medications. Push my wheelchair across the hospital. Itches. Rants. Emotional outbursts. Keep me warm. Ease my pain. Help me sleep. Help me cope. I would wake up every two hours. And every two hours I would cry in pain until Amma would rush to my side. Call the nurse. Get my medications in. Morphine, Oxycodone, and a few Tylenols later, I would go back to sleep. God knows if they ever did sleep. I would see her either running around the hallways or praying earnestly. I could never ever repay the debt.
We have been through a lot, but we took down our parents with us. My sister and her family as well. This has been devastating. I am glad I have my parents with me. Watching over us. Taking care of us. I coudln’t ask for more.
One day, hopefully soon, we can give them a reason to relax and enjoy their retirement.
I didn’t even remember Mother’s day came and went in 2015. Not until I overheard that my sister had missed Mother’s day with her son. For now, Happy Mother’s day, Amma.