by Kousalya Sarangarajan
The sign ‘Happy hours’ at the pizza outlet stared at me and brought back many-a-happy-hour spent there over the last few years. ‘A lifetime in an hour’ is what my neurons were communicating to each other like a mantra for the past hour. The neurosurgeon would be speaking to us in an hour regarding the outcome of the seven-hour-long tumour removal surgery. “Okay, he is alive,” was enough only for a moment. The next moment, I wanted to know whether he will live a life without depending on anyone for anything. The very next moment, I wanted to know whether he will recognize me. Blinking away tears and thoughts I chose to ‘just be’. Without thinking. Without feeling.
Food found its way in, as it has been doing for eons, to billions of people. If you leave the body alone, it takes care of its needs surprisingly well. When other variables like the inconstancy of our mind, disturbed intellect or half-baked intelligence are brought into the brew of life, the body takes a big blow. Just being without thinking or feeling was proving to be very difficult and we came back to the waiting room to the company of the dull droning of the air conditioner, the beeping and whirring of various life-monitoring, life-supporting, life-enhancing, life-giving machines in the hospital. Hushed whispers from the corridors, the occasional sound of the elevator doors opening and closing with minimal noise – as if respecting the needs of those inside suffering from physical pain and empathizing with those in the waiting room for the mental agony they were undergoing – gave us company. Counting seconds did not give me solace, watching the clock unnerved me and all the verses from our religious scriptures were just words playing peek-a-boo, with none of their essence touching me. The only word in a long verse that kept coming back to me was “Maashuchaha” which meant “Don’t worry”. The reassuring hand that held mine sought reassurance from me and I hoped it was reassuring.
The voice of an ICU nurse calling out to us “Vishaal patient’s parents?” mobilized us. That moment and all the moments preceding and succeeding that moment were the celebration of a marriage of sixteen years. The strength and support that each of us drew from the other was a humbling experience. We were on the edge and we were in it together and that is all that mattered then. We changed into sterile shoes and sterilized our hands and inadvertently sterilized our minds off any negativity that threatened to creep in. The doctor’s smile shone of confidence and his welcoming smile hastened our footsteps. Our son was out of anaesthesia and was waiting for us. Surrounded by machines and tubes, his head wrapped in a sterile cap, his soulful eyes looked at us with recognition. The doctor spoke about the success of the procedure. A truly compassionate doctor, he was as happy as we were, looking at Vishaal who was trying painfully to smile. After allowing us to speak a few comforting words to him and letting him know that we were right outside the room, the nurses ushered us back to the waiting room.
We were allowed inside the ICU one at a time only during the visiting hours for a little while. Our baby did not speak. He just held our hands and sometimes tears rolled down his cheeks and it took every ounce of my determination not to cry in front of him. Two days later, he was wheeled into a private room. He could not tolerate any kind of sound or light. He demanded silence with his soulful pleading eyes and he slept and slept. He still had tubes running all over him and he could not sit. We had to wait to see whether he could walk and whether his sense of balance was intact. His visual, aural and linguistic functions were intact. The doctors reassured us that they didn’t’ foresee any issues in memory but it still nagged me. I wanted to know whether he remembered a pain-free life, a life full of laughter and fun, his brother, their pranks together, his grandparents, his friends, his school, all that he loved and much more that makes life.
After 60 hours of painful silence, I asked him in hushed tones, whether I can continue reading the book we were reading before the surgery. He nodded his head, albeit indifferently and gestured to indicate ‘softly’. I said ‘sure’.
Fighting my mental agitation, I was fumbling with the pages to find where we had stopped reading. It was just three days earlier but I had dropped the bookmark and I was getting irritated with myself. Out of the blue I heard a clear voice telling me “Amma, Tara meets Lakshmana at the palace gates. That is where you stopped. Then?”
The sweetest emotion that I had ever felt overwhelmed me and I could not suppress my tears any longer. That was the first sentence he had spoken to me apart from the monosyllable “Pain”. I looked up at him celebrating life in its simplest form. That life can exist beyond pain. That life can glow amidst pain. That pain will not last. Absence of pain cannot allow us to enjoy life’s moments. Living life through painful moments and rising up from within spontaneously to grab a handful of life teaches us to seize life and rein in gratitude for all the bounties received.
A moment of celebration spiked me enough with determination to encourage him to gather strength and courage to rise and celebrate life. It’s been a year. A year of speedy recovery, a very normal life of a teenage kid, but a life that he knows is worth living, enjoying and celebrating if you put your heart into it.