Why middle-class India can't afford to fall sick
Hello darkness, my old friend...
We suffer in silence. Or rather we suffer because of silence. The human experience is singular in its suffering. There hasn't been a human who has walked on this planet, not even one who has escaped great pain and deep sorrow. Yet we don't want to admit it to each other. Our suffering, we assume is a shameful secret to be locked away, never even to be whispered to each other, lest it diminishes us. We Indians are specially good at this kind of insularity. Keeping our personal pain hidden away is worn as some badge of honour. We die saddled with our grief, lonely and tormented by what we suffer.
But my story is a story that is being played out in many homes in India. And that's why I am sharing this with all of you in such great detail without airbrushing anything. Honesty liberates you like little else does, though we keep it at an arm's length.
It became clear to my two sisters and me that my father's episode was something that needed special attention and taking that view, it was decided that my middle sister Nanu would fly down from Dubai and help me with the entire process.
Yogi, with the efficiency that you can expect from someone with a Wharton business degree, had managed to get an appointment with a neurologist recommended by her doctor. On the appointed day, Nanu, daddy and I set off to keep our date with the doctor.
The conversation in the car was flowing with some ease. Daddy with his dry wit, my sister and I used to his sense of humour, were matching him. The drive was long from our west Delhi home to the doctor's clinic in south Delhi. I was driving with my father next to me in the front and as we were nearing the doctor's clinic (I can never forget this, so many years later), suddenly there was no sound from my father.
Well my father did have this habit of falling asleep in a moving vehicle. But as Nanu and I became aware of his silence, the unnaturalness of it actually, that we realised that my father wasn't sleeping, rather it was something much more serious, a medical emergency. Between keeping my eyes on the road to both of us trying to shake him awake (between the two of us that's the best we could think of doing in a moving car), we took a quick decision to drive into a nursing home which we were crossing at that precise moment.
As I waited in the car outside as the nursing home didn't even have a driveway, Nanu rushed in to get some medical help. A stretcher was wheeled out and my father who had revived by now, on his own, was wheeled. My father, who is perpetually worried about being a burden, kept up a steady stream of assurance of his good health.
The prognosis, however wasn't as good. The doctor on duty informed us to our horror that daddy had not just passed out but had passed urine and stool, a clear indication of how serious it had been. My sister and I kept up our stoic demeanour, taking in the doctor's words knowing that we were in for the long haul. How long though at that point neither of us knew.
As it happened Yogi's father that very same morning had his own medical emergency and as I was battling this episode, she had just finished admitting her sick parent into a nursing home close to where we were at that moment. Sweet, helpful beyond the call of duty in the face of her own crisis, she still swung into action and got a room fixed for daddy in the same nursing home.
Those days when daddy was admitted in Ashlok were challenging in every way. Between Nanu and me, we had to be there with each parent, ensuring that neither one was ever left alone. We divided the day-and-night duties between us. There was the worry of what wanting to know what ailed my father. Then Ashlok being only a nursing home and not a full-fledged hospital (and therefore there was no canteen for those taking care of their ailing family member) meant that mundane things like our meals were left to the tender mercies of our kind friends.
Money was another critical issue. Ashlok being a for-profit venture meant that with each passing day the mounting bills were a point of great concern. My father who had worked all his life in the public sector didn't have medical coverage like government employees do. With each passing day, we fretted not just with the entire strain of the hospitalisation, his illness that the doctors weren't any closer to identifying but also how badly hit we would be by the bill.
It's terrible isn't it but that's the reality of falling ill for a middle-class person in India. Ill-health, I can say without any cynicism or bitterness is a curse in India. If you are poor it's a fate worse than death. And if you are middle-class, it doesn't allow you to live with dignity or hope. It sucks the entire family into a vortex of doctors, diagnostic tests and mounting bills. Employers are rarely understanding of long leave of absence. And there is no support system even from the medical fraternity, leaving the caregivers at sixes and sevens with their situation improvising as they go along. Maybe India needs to shine a little bit more for its ill and infirm.
More about Archana Jahagirdar
Archana Jahagirdar has been a journalist for almost 20 years having worked for some of the most prestigious names in the media business like The Times of India, Outlook and India Today. Her last full-time assignment was with the Business Standard where she also wrote a column on luxury and fashion. She has done her Masters and Bachelors in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.
‘My Parents’ Daughter’ will be a weekly update, narrating Jahagirdar’s experience in taking care of her chronically-ill parents over the last eight years. From dealing with doctors and hospitals to taking decisions regarding medical treatment to changing dynamics in other family relationships – this blog notes the journey of a caregiver.
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