Monday, March 30, 2015

The Crocodile in the Cauvery

One hot summer day, the three heroes of this story, decided to swim at the confluence of the Bhavani and Cauvery rivers.

Cheenu was 12, and Padu and Krishna, 10 and 8 respectively.  As all boys did in those days, they had stripped down to their shorts and were horsing around in the river, without a care in the world. Splashing water, pulling each other under, leap frogging over bare bony shoulders, & competing to see who could hold their breath the longest underwater. Basically having fun.

But this summer day, the fun did not last long. All of a sudden a crocodile attacked them. This beast was a fright to see. Over 50 feet in length, with a long powerful tail that could break a tree in half. The scariest of all was its massive head and long jaw full of large razor sharp teeth.

The crocodile did not realize that he had met his match, for our young boys were brave and strong and intelligent- completely in-tune with each other.  As one being, Padu jumped on the massive crocodile's shoulders, encircling and squeezing it's neck with his arms, while Krishna the youngest, punched at his eyes, and Cheenu, the eldest, stuck his hand into the crocodile's massive mouth and grabbed his tongue, wrapping it around his forearm to immobilize the crocodile's jaws open.

The crocodile battled with the boys for over an hour, churning the water white, trying to dislodge the boys.  But they would not let go.  The crocodile could not win. They were battling for their lives.

Finally exhausted, the crocodile, gave in and calmed down, lying as docile as a sleepy cow on the bank of a river. In consideration of the crocodile's spirited fight, the boys released the crocodile to continue his swim in the Bhavani / Cauvery rivers.

The Daily Mail - UK
Even now, when the boys, now men, go to the river, the crocodile comes to see them. The crocodile performs corkscrew rolls of joy in the water before standing on his hind legs balanced on his tail, shedding tears of gratitude. He then bows his head to thank Cheenu, Padu, and Krishna for his life. Descendants of the crocodile, still perform this ritual, when any of the brothers visits the confluence of the Bhavani and Cauvery rivers.

This is a story that Anna says he and his brothers made up when Anna was about 12.  He says that their 3 younger sisters believed the story and that their 4 elder sisters were undecided about its truthfulness :-) 

Anna has a scar on his forehead, that he has always attributed to the fight with the crocodile. None of us have ever been able to determine the real story behind that scar.

With each telling of this tale, over the last ~75 years, there have been changes. From the color of the crocodile, to it's length, which brother did what, how long they fought, etc.  What stays consistent is that they fought a crocodile and that even now it pays the-tribute-of-the-defeated to the three boys.

Every child in the extended Kalamangalam family has heard this story from one if not all the brothers. Not once, but many times. At family gatherings there is at least one recitation of this story. And every child has believed it, if only for a period of time.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Dealing with Dependance

Anna lives a few houses away from mine in a flat that I rent for him. I run the house, including all the support staff. Tho' most Indian homes have some support staff, unlike other countries, it is not easy to get or manage support staff. Hence, I visit Anna at least 2 times a day if not 4 times.  Anna has got used to me running in and out of the house at odd times.  The one constant visit is in the morning, when I wake him and chat over his first cup of coffee.

Basavanagudi Market
So when I told him last week that I needed to go to Bangalore for 3 days, he was not happy.  He was just not happy about me not being around.When I asked him why when both my husband and father-in-law would continue to meet him during the day, and that I was just a phone call away, he just said "Its not the same". I brushed off the statement and ignored the pout.

So off to Bangalore I went.  He wished me all the best and said, as he customarily does, "Be careful."

Over the week we dealt with 5 distinct phases:

Phase 1: Familiarity and Security. This was the phase Anna and I were in.  He was used to having me around, chatting, going out, joking, providing emotional support, etc. This is the normal state other than when he is having delusions or hallucinations.

Phase 2: Depression / Sadness. This started the morning after I left. He talked less, walked less, asking when I would be back.  He would not respond to simple questions like what he would like to eat.  He got maudlin with Sanjiv, my husband, seeking reassurance that he was not a burden.

Phase 3: Disorientation.  The progress from sadness to disorientation was fast.  Anna started to think he was in Bangalore. Perhaps because I was in Bangalore. He wanted to eat mysorepak and jaangiri (south Indian desserts). He could not understand why it was difficult to get these in Delhi.

Phase 4: Delusion.  Then started his money delusion - that there was money in a bag that had been lost.  The morning after I returned, when we were drinking coffee, he kept flipping the pages of the newspaper, like flipping thru' a wad of notes, looking for something.  He was looking for his wallet.
This phase lasted for over a day.  He went from thinking he had lost money, to thinking that he was a pauper and that there was no money to look after him. I continued to use logic to break the delusion.

Phase 5: Reassurance. The second day after my return, Anna actually walked to my flat mid-morning, something he has done only once before, to chat with me.

Anna: "I understand that there is no cash in the house.  That there is no cash missing. As you have explained."

Me: "Good, Anna."

Anna: "But I distinctly remember cash in a green bag"

For the life of me, I don't! So we spent 45 mins, going thru the logic on how there is no cash at his place (for safety reasons), how I withdraw money when he or the household needs it (he can't do this himself), etc.

Then I whipped out the trump card, his Pension Passbook, that I had just had updated in Bangalore.  We spent another 30 mins reading (and re-reading) his pension credit amounts, interest credit amounts, withdrawals, etc.

It has taken over a day for Anna to come back to nearly how he was when I left.  It tells me that I have to:

Stop building dependence.
Yes, it is critical to create and maintain structure and schedule in a patient's life. But there can be too much of it.  So I need to find a way to wean Anna from seeing me daily. Perhaps replace the meeting with a call. Perhaps tell Anna that I will not see him on a day at random.

Stop feeling guilty.
Even when I am dog tired, I will still stop by Anna's to say "Hi" and chat for 5 mins.  I do this because I feel guilty.  Guilty that I have not seen him, or that he will be waiting for me.  I have to realize that this is self created guilt and that it serves no purpose.  It does not help me or him.  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

But, Everybody Only Asked My Name......

An NIIT center in the 80s, was a beehive of frantic activity. Young people manning the reception, would be counselling potential students who were just a few months or a few years younger. Potential students would be scattered on sofas and chairs, completing forms or taking aptitude tests. Employees would be in and out of the reception / front office area, coming and going from customer visits, or classes. So there was never really a quiet moment in the building from 6:30 am (first class start) to 9:30 pm (last class end)

On one June afternoon, in the blistering heat of summer, Anna arrived at our Safdarjung Enclave center and asked to meet me i.e. "Sangeeta Murthi".  The four members of the front office team were so busy that they called out for help from Piyush. 

Anna was perplexed with this turn of events. He had worked for the government from the start of his career.  In offices where guests walked into a reception, and asked to meet someone.  They then filled a register with personal details, and were given a pass.  Then they were escorted by a peon to the relevant room.  But here, he was confronted with what looked like chaos. 

Piyush, asked Anna his name and whom he wanted to meet. Anna said, "I am Mr. Murthi. I want to meet Sangeeta Murthi".

Piyush then sent an office-boy up the stairs to the third floor, to look for me.  In those days there were no intercoms.  

I was facilitating a class at that time, so the office boy stuck his head into the room and told me, "Mr Murthi is here to see you." 

I said, "Ask him to wait” and went back to the exciting world of COBOL (actually, I hope it 
was the session on "Using Tables / Arrays in COBOL", my favorite!)

Anna waited patiently for sometime, and then re-started the cycle by asking again to meet me. The counsellors called out to Piyush, and Piyush to Mahesh. Up the stairs went Mahesh, only to return with the "Ask him to wait" message.  I must have been teaching "Using Tables / Arrays in COBOL"!!!

It seems that this sequence was carried out a couple of more times, till Piyush, who withered under the piercing eyes of the counselors and a slowly-getting-impatient Anna, ran up three flights of stairs and insisted that I come down to the reception.

As we decended the stairs I asked Piyush, "Who Mr, Murthi?"; "What does he want"; "What is his full name?" 

"How should I know" retorted Piyush, who obviously had no idea who this man was and why he was here.  Piyush was just doing a good deed for our over-worked counselors!

As soon we reached ground floor, I peeped into the reception to see Anna.  "Oh My GOD”, I said to Piyush, "He is my father!!!!"

When I asked Anna why he did not tell people that he was my father, he looked at the people milling around and said quietly “But everybody only asked my name..”

-- Story as told by Piyush Srivastava, with a pinch of artistic license by me

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Anna on Speed

Our merry-go-round continued with taking Anna back to hospital to review his stitches, on 4th Mar.  As we drove to the hospital in bumper-to-bumper traffic, the conversation in the car went something like this:

Anna: There is a sign on the road that says the speed limit is 30 miles / hour.

Me: 30 kilometers per hour, Anna.  You are in India.

Anna: 30 kilometers per hour

Long Pause

Anna: Useless sign. Traffic can't move more than 5 kms/hour!

We laugh. Anna's head injury has definitely not affected his powers of observation!

Long Pause

Anna: That reminds me of a story.  You can put it on your ........


Me: Blog, Anna

Pause.  Obviously the word "blog" does not register with him.

Anna: My first car was a secondhand Studebaker.  Within 10 days of buying the car, I was driving down the Cochin-Madras road.  Near Alwyae, in Kerala, I was stopped by a traffic cop.  He told me that I was driving 35 kms/hour in a 30 km/hour zone and that he would have to challan me. We argued for some time on the speed.  I kept insisting that the car's speed was not over 30 kms/hour.

Finally tired by the arguing, I held out my keys to the cop and told him, "Here, take the keys.  I have been trying to get this car to move faster than 30 kms/hour since the day I bought it.  If you can get it to move faster than 30 kms/hour, you can keep the car!"

It seems the cop laughed and let Anna go.

I didn't even know that there was a car called Studebaker much less that Anna's first car was a second-hand blue Studebaker.

But more interesting is how a traffic speed limit sign, in bumper-to-bumper traffic, can trigger a memory and a story, that is nearly 55 years old!   

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The 6-day Merry-Go-Round

Anna has had a very eventful 6 days. We've had to go to hospital on 5 of the last 6 days. He is, of course, tired and to some extent, wondering what the fuss is all about.

24 February :: Diapers can cause blisters, not just rash!

Tuesday was just another regular day. Till, I dropped in after my walk, to be told by Anna's attendant that Anna has blisters in the groin area. I ask Anna if there is pain (Anna has a low resistance to pain), and he says no.  But the attendant describes big blisters and off we go to the hospital. Blisters are incised, drained and dressed.

25 February :: Review & dressing of blisters

Just another trip to review how the blisters are healing.

Anna quips " The doctor is very efficient", as Anna is met and treated immediately.

When we tell the Doctor, he smiles back a response, "In this state it's easy to fool him", referring to Anna's dementia.

We also get some advise on Anna's chronic constipation - make him eat more papaya everyday. When I tell Anna, he retorts, "I am eating so much papaya that we should buy half an acre of land and grow papayas."

27 February :: More than blisters are being drained

My early morning coffee date with Anna is suspended.  Anna has serious loose motions. Anna can't understand why. "I am only eating at home", "Constipation is a bigger issue", "I am eating very healthy food", etc. So, off we go to the doctor.

When I tell Anna that he is eating a lot of roughage, he recalls something he used to say when in Bangalore - "Anyone who sees the amount of green vegetables we buy will think we have a pet goat in the house".

28 February :: Now I am getting drained

In the afternoon, I get a panicked call, telling me that Anna has fallen.  When I get to the house there is blood everywhere. Anna had decided to get out of bed to get the phone (till now he does not remember why he wanted the phone).  He felt dizzy and fell.  Off to the hospital we go again! Anna gets 6 stitches (for the first time in his life).

And he is still cracking one-liners. Like when I tell him that he is being taken into the OT for stitches, and that he will be given local anesthesia.  He responds with "Why? No imported anesthesia?"

From The Telegraph
1 March :: To the Hospital, we return...

5:30 am panic call tells me that Anna has serious double vision. I rush there to find Anna OK. After having a cup of coffee with him, he says he wants to sit on the sofa.  I settle him in, and ask, "Anna, if you are sleepy, I can take you back to your bedroom". Anna wants to sit on the sofa and nap.

His parting shot? "I will sleep here. I slept before coffee. I am partly sleeping now. All tenses are covered".

I didn't have the heart to chat on tenses.

I just know that his spirits are doing better than mine!