I'm holding my breath. And counting.
I should breathe, but I'm staring at my son, willing him to start breathing again too. We'll exhale together.
Kavi is on the 911 call, the paramedics are coming. They can't be far away.
He exhales, I don't know how long. I've lost count when I coughed. His lips are a little blue or am I just imagining it. The next 3 minutes feels like an eternity. The next three days are a blur.
I never want to feel like that again. That was back in 2016, but that fear runs through my veins every time I put on a mask, get that whiff of sanitizer. And if that is how I feel when this story has a happy ending, I can't imagine what a tragedy would feel like on my conscience.
I'm jetlagged, sick and shell shocked. A week ago, I was in Australia. I had taken a mid-week trip to Australia, the first time I had said bye to the kid for a work trip. The plane goes SF, Sydney, Melbourne, then meet hundreds of people at a conference and then back again. On the way back, I've come home with a cough. Nothing serious. I just need to get enough sleep, drink a megadose of vitamin C and keep going like I always do.
But I missed the little guy. And I'm also feeling guilty that I haven't done my equal parent duties for that week. I played with him, rocked him to sleep on my shoulder and everything else I always do. I even joked about my cold that it's alien, but that "this is how he's going to build immunity". It's not like that would've actually mattered, he slept in the same room anyway, but I definitely didn't care. I was sick, but not enough to stay away.
When he held his breath the first time, I was in entire denial. No, this bad thing is not happening, because if he's really sick then I would be the one who brought something bad home. Sleep deprivation just amps up my paranoia about risks hidden to all but me. I overcorrect it by pure and blanket denial from deep within - it is not happening, if it is happening it's not too bad; you're the one making it a big deal, not me, if you leave it alone, it will go away.
And sometimes things get real. Way too real.
Waiting for that ambulance, that other part of me was starting to crush me from the inside. But by the time the ambulance was loading up, there was just a determination to get through this, for him, before I give way to that guilt. There was a long list of things that are more important than how you feel.
The ambulance takes off to the hospital without the sirens. I'm sitting up front, because I don't have a car to follow in. One stop sign later, he starts seizing again and the driver drives at 50 through, onto the ER. We run in, through those doors that swing both ways. The ER staff tries to get an IV into the foot, he kicks & perforates a vein, blood spurts onto the bed. I would have thrown up if I had some breakfast in me. I know I need to call people immediately and ask for help before I fall apart.
On the other hand, I'm relieved nothing is in my hands anymore, but there's still no time to wallow in regret. The doctors tell me that they need to get a CT to check for blood clots, need a spinal tap for viral encephalitis, send swab samples to PCR for some virus (MERS?) and need to shave bits of his head to wire up an EEG. There are consent forms and then some more. If not for the paperwork in the way, standing by in the ER is a religious experience, forcing you to confront the fragility of everything.
For the next few days, there was a mix of relief and disappointment as each test came back negative, until they called it an hMPV infection. We went home with an apparently healthy child, but without any information on why it happened, a diazepam shot and with instructions on avoiding infections which might cause fevers (because of febrile seizures). Bottles of sanitizer in every room, masks on for visitors, limited outings and no more good night kisses for him.
Except for getting triggered once in a while, the ending redeems everything. The next time it happened, we were ready. Went straight to the ER, got a diagnois, the treatment worked and Kavi took him swimming, to celebrate. And nothing like that has ever happened since. Phew.
The guilt of passing on something dangerous to someone more vulnerable than you is an unbearable burden on your conscience. It is a stain that will not wash off.
To everyone reading this, you all know why a mask saves others, but don't feel it in person - you just don't know who you're going to save and they won't care that it was you. Except, knowing who you doomed and how will break you. Because it will be your friends, your family and you might wish that it was you instead, not them.--
It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.
-- Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
This is perhaps the darkest week of the year - every year since 2006.
A decade later, once again, I feel like nothing about me will be the same again.
This new sense of purpose I feel is a few months old, sleeping a few feet away.
The baton is passed, not quite yet and I haven't let go.--
"Life is effort, and I’ll stop when I die."
-- Rick & Morty
Not for me, of course.
Today's the day when the burdens of all the what-ifs of my life becomes unbearable. The day I work up a year full of courage to face. A day which I devote to despair, for I leave no room in my life for it otherwise. To lay myself bare to all the demons of my mind. And survive.
Four years ago today, I lost a father. And today, I will remember the greatest lesson he ever taught me.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
-- William Shakespare, "Julius Caesar"
We are all so much together and yet we are all dying of loneliness.
-- A. Schweitzer
It's been a year.
A year, a really long year.--
It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years.
-- Tom Lehrer
Yeah, I had a father.
And then last saturday, I didn't.
May his soul rest in peace.--
The future is interesting because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.
Last thursday night, the last Karanavar of my family joined his ancestors. He was a teacher by profession and a painter by persuasion - a professor of zoology and a painter of landscapes. Even after retiring, he was one of the founders of the ICS entrance coaching centre in Cochin and continued teaching. I've never sat in one of his classes, but he was a teacher to me and much more.
As a young boy, I used to gravitate towards his house. The first and primary reason was that there was a fridge (where fridges and grandparents meet, there is a likelihood of icecream). But what kept me hanging around was his VCR (also the first one in the neighbourhood). Eventually having run out of Mickey Mouse cartoons to watch, I would end up watching his collections of nature documentaries. I used to while away entire afternoons, watching some of the best documentaries BBC has ever produced. If I've acquired some sense of admiration for nature, it starts from those happy days in the eighties.
And then there was his workshop. He used to play around with electronics (when he was 60+) and one of the first things I saw built was a water level detector for the water tank. Eventually, every house around wanted one of these - encased in old transistor case, hooked up to its speakers to wail out when the water got too full in the tank (while pumping it). For the first time in my life, technology was cool.
He was a stickler to healthy living, a strict schedule and regular exercise. Sunrise would find him in the temple, even though he wasn't a blind believer in God. He was an epitome of health, having never suffered from diabetes or blood pressure disorders, which were common in his contemporaries. But then cancer struck its blow. He survived the first onslaught, went under the knife and managed to fight it without chemotherapy. It was not be, here was a secondary, that too in his vertebra.
But he still had his legendary nerves of steel. When I visited him a week back, pressure on his spinal cord had cost him use of both his legs. But as I was talking to him, he launched himself into a lecture about the human anatomy and how the hip bears the load of the whole body. What took me by surprise was the obvious conclusion - he will never be able to sit upright, not even in a wheel chair. I haven't met too many who could talk so lightly of their own fate.
No matter how many times it happens, it never gets any easier to lose someone. But eventually, you've got to reconcile yourself to carrying a little bit of them inside yourself.
And then, as I helped my uncles lift him to his funeral pyre, the thought came unbidden - Goodbye ... for now.--
The Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.
-- Miyamoto Musashi
For the last few days, I've been extremely busy. I've been running around to do so many things. The unemotional machine that I have become, had to organize the memorial service, take my dad to the doctor, pick up relatives from wherever they land up in Trivandrum and essentially be there for everyone. But all that's done.
Now that I can actually sit down, the reality of the situation is starting to seep in.--
It's not reality that's important, but how you perceive things.
I do not write this entry for myself. I write it on behalf of the soul departed. But when I climbed onto that bus to Cochin on saturday I was headed for a quiet sunday at home. But before I set foot in Cochin, I received the news. My uncle - V.M Venugopala Menon is no more. After nearly a decade of struggling with diabetes and its complications, he finally succumbed to the silent embrace of death sometime during the early hours of sunday.
For nearly eight years, he had a daily dose of human insulin to keep his blood sugar under check. During my final year in college, he lost a toe and would have nearly lost the foot as well. Ever since mid-2003, his kidneys had started to fail. But he was a man of iron will and still went ahead to enroll as an advocate, travelling nearly the length of Kerala to attend the ceremony in Kasargode, lugging a peritonial dialysis kit. To have that tube jammed into his lower stomach and have the liquid pumped into him was something he hated. But the moment the peritonium lost the osmotic qualities, the horrors began.
When I saw him month after month, he seemed to grow shorter and weaker. The haemodialysis which started off on a weekly basis, slowly became a necessity every other day. A complete kidney dysfunction, combined with the diabetic's slow healing, totally ran riot in his system. To see him on that wheelchair with his swollen feet, bitter about the world in general, yet prepared to fight till the end, if only for his children. His resolve only grew stronger as his health deteriorated.
We've always had our differences. But the blame is often quite evenly distributed in that. Of course, in our last conversation he probably forsaw this day. He was talking about the things he had left to see - my cousin's marriage, her brother's job. And then he said "Marikkenda samayam varumbayuthakum, ethokke nadakanam". And yet, didn't.
Maybe it was all for the good, to not let a man suffer so on this God's earth.--
What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us;
What we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.
This day, back in 1981, my parents tied the knot. And then set about working hard and raising a family. Through the hardships of their initial years, through all the uncertainities of my health, studies and through all the recent turmoils and health scares - they've held fort and been terrific role models for me.
We have not inherited the earth from our parents,
We've borrowed it from our children.