Monday, May 25, 2015

The Corrugated Sheet

Anna moved into a new flat on 9th May 2015.

Since the move, Anna has been unhappy and very disoriented.  He has asked that he be moved to a hotel. He has stated many times that he feels abandoned.  His walking has reduced and sleep increased.

My visits with him have become longer, hoping that I will be able to cheer him up.  We discuss politics and the weather.  I plan meals with more variety. Add more sweet things to his diet, specially cold melon and chocolates. But all this hasn't helped much.

One of the evenings after his move, I persuaded him to walk in a small brown patch behind his flat (I am still to find a gardener that can covert it to a green area).  After a short walk, we both sat on a bench and chatted about the weather.

Suddenly he says "Pass your palm over my hand"

I am not sure what he is thinking, but like any obedient daughter, I do as he asks.

I  move my palm over his overturned hand, from the tip of his fingers to his forearm, not once but twice.

Anna gives me a sideways glance and asks, "What does it feel like?"

I am confused. It feels like a hand of an old person - thin skin, a little rough with wrinkles and dry skin, smaller than my hand.

So I say, "Like your hand".

Duh!  My intelligence is really shining bright!

He looks at me and says, "No.  It feels like a corrugated sheet"

I look at his hand, veins and bones standing out, and realize that it is the perfect term to use.

Friday, May 8, 2015

From a Real Life Piku: Looking After an Elderly ‘Child’

Deepika Padukone drives while Amitabh Bachchan naps
in a scene from Shoojit Sarkar’s Piku
I am not a Bollywood fan, but when I watched the Piku trailer I immediately wanted to take my in-laws (who are 91 and 80 years old), and my dad (an 86-year-old child) to watch the film. Amitabh Bachchan’s “A human being’s emotion is linked to his motion” is spot on! His antics, quirks and refrains of being a “burden”, though lovable, frustrate Deepika Padukone, much like what my father does to me.

My father lives in a flat near where I stay. Anna, as we affectionately call him, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and mild dementia. He cannot run his own home, manage his finances, or take care of medical and personal needs.

When I moved him to stay near to us, I had a full time job. So I addressed managing three elderly people and two homes like a project and used all my stakeholder, project and resource management skills, not to mention patience and sense of humour. Just as I imagine working parents of young children do, I set up a schedule for my father – when to wake up, when and what to eat, when to go for a walk/exercise, take a nap, shower, take medicines etc.

This schedule register is updated almost on an hourly basis by one of his two attendants. It also has details of water intake, urine output, bowel movements, whether there are episodes of disorientation and how long they lasted and the like. So it is something like the logbook of KVS Murthi “star date” today!

Every morning and evening when I visit my father, I spend precious minutes reviewing what has happened over the past 12 hours.

The three big, big things I monitor are: 
Travelling Potty Chair
A scene from Shoojit Sarkar’s Piku
  1. Bowel Movement (some years ago, I would have thought this was too “gross” a topic to talk about!). With age it seems that bowel movement determines happiness. Anna has severe constipation. For a man who pooped first thing in the morning with no help from hot coffee or water, to a man whose bowels do not evacuate naturally for as long as five days, is very, very hard.
  2. Nightmares: Each morning, ask Anna two questions. First, ‘Did you sleep well, Anna?’ Followed by ‘Did you have any nightmares?’ His neurologist has told us that nightmares can lead to hallucinations. So most evenings, I try to leave him in a good mood, wish him good night and tell him to dream of pleasant things – Hema Malini (he was a huge fan), swimming, eating davangere dosai, laughing with his brothers, travelling with his family (Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Athens), etc.
  3. Exercise: The more Anna exercises, the better it is; for it keeps his joints flexible. His schedule has walking/exercising two times a day. Often he misses one of the two sessions, sometimes both. When I learn of the misses, I wag my finger under his nose and mock admonish him. Or hold the top of his ear and playfully pull it (play-acting twisting his ear), and ask why he did not walk/exercise today. He takes me seriously though and responds with “OK. I’ll walk tomorrow, ‘ma”.

I also have to think up of meals that are nutritious and appealing. Outings that are interesting and stimulating. Conversations that recall past joys and present foibles.

But, above all else is structure and schedule. Both bring me and him a sense of being in control, though there is really no control over Parkinson’s. It will ply the course it wants to. We will manage the best we can – with as much playfulness, fun and laughter as we fit into each day.

Watch the Piku trailer here:

First published: 8th May 2015 by The Quint

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Move Over Saroja Devi, Sarala Murthi is here!

In our childhood, we never thought of Anna as a romantic. In the 70s and 80s, one tended to assume that romance was reserved for the young and not people of my parents’ age.
This thought changed after watching the weekly telecast of a movie one Sunday night. On our black and white TV, of course. I don’t recall what movie we had just finished watching, but, it must have been some soppy Bollywood movie, for one of the four-of-us-children commented on how romantic the film was.

In response, this is the story our mother, Amma, told us.

When Amma and Anna got married in Bangalore in 1958, Anna was posted in Kashmir. After the wedding, and the mandatory visits to in-laws home town etc., Amma and Anna, went to Srinagar.

Saroja Devi
On reaching their new home, Anna caught Amma’s hand and led her to the bedroom.  He then opened his cupboard.  On the inside of the cupboard door, was a newspaper-clipped photograph of B Saroja Devi, the heartthrob of many a young South Indian man. 

Anna, looked at Amma, and told her, “I don’t need the photograph of any actress.  Not even that of Saroja Devi!  Sarala Murthi is by far the most beautiful. And she is here with me.” He then removed the photograph from the cupboard, tore it to small pieces and threw it into the dustbin.

I remember we all let out a long wolf “oooooooooohhhhhhh”, accompanied with raised eyebrows, and slightly closed eyes.

From this story onward, we never thought of Anna as unromantic, but just as someone who did not show his romantic side in public.