I was on my way home from a hard and tiring day at office. The new regiment and the workload was killing me. Moreover, the constant worry regarding the deteriorating health of my father was weighing me down. Utterly exhausted to the extent, where I was unable to move a finger, I took a seat in the local train.
Suddenly, my phone rang and as if I had dug into an unknown reserve of energy, I answered the call in a jiffy with only the worst going through my mind. “Nelton, Dada’s serious. They’re shifting him to the hospital again.” My fears had come true, when I received the news from my sister who was seven seas away. I asked her to stay calm and called up home.
As the number of rings increased, my anxiety and desperation increased. Telling another to keep calm is easy, compared to telling yourself. Since, no one answered my call, I sent a text message and waited patiently thinking about my father and how bad the last month had been.
My thoughts were broken with desperate hues and cries by a lady who saw her elderly father slip, while entering the train at a station. Luckily, the people on the platform sprang into action and pulled him out before he could come under the tracks. The scene, horrifying beyond compare sent shivers down my spine. I didn’t know what to do. I had seen a trailer of losing a father. My very own was critical and time was slipping away.
I reached home and received a call from my sister who told me the happenings. I asked her a plain, simple question with the strength I could muster, “Do you want me to come?” My sister had always prevented me from coming as I had a full-time job and she was managing just fine.
But this time was different, after all, the water level had begun to rise to our noses. After a brief pause she said, “Fine, come.” “I’ll be there by the first flight of the morning. See you soon. Don’t worry.” I hung up and called my manager who was very supportive. I booked my tickets, packed my bags and tried to catch some sleep; needless to say I couldn’t catch a wink. I never could imagine a day without my parents. Their mere presence in my life was like a roof to a house. I wasn’t prepared to see any of them go, not just yet.
I boarded my flight and slowly saw the transition between a concrete jungle and the one in the literal sense. The greenery appealed to me and helped me relax. Goa wasn’t Goa then. Home wasn’t home. I wasn’t there on a holiday; I was there on a mission. Out of the airport in a flash, I took a cab and headed straight home.
My sister served me lunch and told me in detail how bad the situation was. With no insurance or mediclaim and only a business to depend on, we knew we had to pull our socks and hope for a miracle. Once lunch was done, along with my sister I made my way to the government hospital, a good 20 km away. As I made my way to the general ward, my sister told me, “Nelton, get ready to see Dada in the worse state you could ever imagine.” I didn’t know how to take that line, but I knew I had to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Once in the ward, I looked around at the beds one by one, mentally cancelling each unfamiliar person. I gazed at a bed and I stopped. What I saw was beyond me. My father at 69, who on any other day could even give a 20-year-old a run for his money was lying there frail, pale and just not himself. He had grown so weak and thin that the vest he wore, which was of perfect fit in his heydays was hanging as if hung from a hanger. Taking it all in slowly, I made my way to my father and took his hand in mine. “Hello Dada, how are you doing?” “Hello Nelton, so you too have come.” “Yes, I’m the eldest son, remember?”
I met the doctor in-charge and understood the further course of action. What I understood even better was, how a government-run hospital is the place one should go only if he wishes to die. With absolutely no iota of empathy and urgency, patients are left to languish and deteriorate. And it’s not only the doctors who are bad, the support staff and even the fellow patients have this attitude. Uncleanliness, medical equipment not working for ages and a horrible ambience is the order of the day.
Add to it, the rats that run around the place make the nights a torture. Having enough of it, I carried my father’s reports and made a dash for my family doctor – someone whom I trust blindly. I consulted him and as per his advice moved my father, against his willingness, to a specialty hospital, 50 km away.
Through the whole month that my father spent in that hospital, going through medications and surgeries and check-up, I spent a lot of time with him, something I hadn’t done in all these years. We spoke a lot – right from my father’s bachelor days to his family, to he getting married, my sister’s, everyone. It was like he hadn’t spoken about all this in ages and the time we were in kind of just opened the floodgates. But it was not all that good. My father was sick but still he had that ego resulting in times where our discussions didn’t have the happy endings, especially the ones where we dug the reasons behind his landing up in the state he was in.
My father, intelligent and wise had somehow forgotten the lessons he taught his son. ‘Health is Wealth’ was something my father drilled into my head in my childhood. “Nelton, always take care of your health. You may have riches but if you don’t have a good health you will never be able to enjoy anything” was something he used to say often and what I remember to this very day, but my father didn’t. Not having his meals on time and not respecting his age by taking proper rest, he let it wither away. In spite of my insistence on hiring a worker to assist him in his tasks, he would never listen simply because he felt we didn’t have enough money. But now, we were spending all that we earned on hospital and medical bills. Wasn’t he being ‘Penny wise and Pound foolish’, another lesson he had taught me, I wondered.
Anyone, in the construction business would tell you that the rains are a time when business is slack. With hospital bills accumulating by the day I asked my father about the finances and if he had invested in any mediclaim, something we didn’t know of. The answer was encouraging as well as discouraging. “No mediclaim, but investments. But most of them are 10 year plans with more than 7 years left to go for maturity.” At the young age of 69, my father had dared to invest in plans, coughing thousands every year with no immediate returns. All because of one reason – he just couldn’t refuse anyone. Another lesson of learning to say “No” was out of the window.
What was worse was with my father being the only one to run the business; no one had a clue of the stock and the prices. There was no price list maintained, nor any compartmentalization to locate goods and know if they were out of stock. Also, in order to promote sales my father had sold on credit. That meant we now had a herculean task of learning the business in a jiffy and recovering the money from customers, we didn’t know. The ‘foresight’ my father spoke of always, somehow became short-sighted.
Finally, after a month and multiple surgeries, battling complications and repeated blood transfusions, my father successfully made it home, alive and kicking. I don’t think the amount I must have prayed to God in that one month, I must have done in all the years of my life put together. Seeing him at home fit and fine is heart-warming, his presence is comforting and he having learned his lessons well, is assuring. He now makes sure he eats his meals on time with adequate rest. The business is well maintained, prices well documented and a no-credit policy finally implemented. All the investments are noted in an excel sheet which is updated from time to time and policies involving a waiting period of more than 5 years have all been submitted an application to exit.
This whole exercise taught me many things, most importantly that my parents are getting old and need my help. As a result, I call home often and speak to them longer. I am more interested in the finances and things going on. To be prepared for the future, I have taken a mediclaim for both of them.
Very often, as they grow old, parents forget the same lessons they teach their children. I guess it’s then when, children should become teachers and teach their parents in their second childhood.
Nelton D’Souza is a Consultant at Capgemini. He is also the author of ‘State of the Heart’ – a collection of short stories on relationships, love and life. You can connect with him on www.neltondsouza.com