Medicine can't guarantee my mom a quality life
The drive from the Hyderabad airport to Gulburga was covered in almost silence. My middle sister who had flown in from Dubai and I had co-ordinated our arrival such that we could travel together. When you are faced with a parent's mortality there isn't much to say even between siblings. Both of us instead focussed on the task of reaching Gulburga as soon as possible.
Seeing my mother in hospital soon after arriving in Gulburga was disturbing. The last time I had met my mother was in October 2009 when she was in Dubai. She still looked lovely. My mother mysteriously had managed to keep age at bay when it came to her looks. She had suffered chronic illnesses most of her adult life and didn't have much of a beauty regimen. Last year when I had taken her to a gynaecologist for a check-up, she had been showered with compliments when the doctor discovered her age. The gynaecologist had exclaimed, "You don't look a day over 50." My mother had coyly accepted the compliment.
Now she looked so ill, so frail and so thin. And then there were bed sores on her scalp and back. Tears welled up in my eyes looking at her but I had to fight them not wanting her to see me crying. She looked at me, smiled and said, "You've come." And then added, "You look so cute and pretty." It was getting more and more difficult to hold back those tears.
Apart from her physical condition she seemed to have developed several disturbing tics. Her eyes were blank and she spoke only when it was absolutely essential. But even amidst all this failing health she had managed to charm the doctors, the nurses and wards staff. She hadn't forgotten her manners either and on day one of our arrival she made it a point to introduce us to the doctors and nurses attending on her.
The arrival of my middle sister and I however did not change one fact: her absolute refusal to eat. My mother while she had still been in Dubai had started refusing to eat and that had become worse. By the time she reached the hospital in Gulburga, her fourth hospitalisation in three different cities in six months, she had come down to eating just two small spoonfuls at meals. And nothing would make her eat more.
Doctors aided by every possible test hadn't been able to come up with any answers to what was leading to her refusal to eat. As a family we had no solutions either. Didi, my eldest sister in whose care my parents currently are in, had tried every culinary trick in the book to get her to eat. Only once my mother had responded by eating one full samosa, her all-time favourite snack but since then had rarely shown any interest in food.
The question that many who have been privy to my mother's condition have asked: is she giving up? My own sense is that yes, she is. After a lifetime of suffering such debilitating illnesses, she has had enough. But modern medicine thinks otherwise. When medicine made great strides in increasing longevity it did so partly by intervening aggressively in what were life-threatening situations. Like a heart attack or cardio-vascular disease.
Now with all kinds of treatments a person can live long but what medicine cannot always guarantee is quality of life. Like in my mother's case. As she started losing control over her bodily functions (another mystery because no underlying cause has been identified for it) my mother's frustration with her lot has only increased. She breathes yes, but lives, no.
Society has no answers for people like my mother. In the West atleast they are beginning to debate this terrible conundrum of modernity. In India, like with many other things, we have covered it with a shroud hoping that this dilemma will just disappear if we don't acknowledge its existence. There are innumerable issues that a situation like this throws up and many of them are deeply uncomfortable but they need to be spoken about, debated and some consensus needs to be reached for everyone will be old one day. Almost everyone will face this either directly or through a loved one's experience. Death is the only constant from the day we take the first lungful of breath, so why do we need to deny its existence?
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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