New Beginnings

So, 2016 has been reviled enough for me not to add to it. However, I must note that it was a spectacularly shitty year health-wise.

I kicked it off with a particularly nasty bout of shingles, the remnants of which still haunt me every now and then with twinges and sporadic itching.My dad’s dementia grew worse, my mom was at the end of her tether, and then the Grim Reaper harvested his soul without so much as a by your leave. My sisters had horrible mysterious afflictions that saw them in and out of hospitals. One of them is still in so much pain that she, the strong one who can bear everything, actually breaks down and cries.

The final straw was my daughter, my darling D, who came down with severe abdominal pain. She is pretty strong, my D, and bore the numerous pricks for IV and blood samples and bodily intrusions and what not, with magnificent equanimity. But then, one terrible evening, she writhed in unbelievable agony, screaming for over an hour, and we stood by helpless even as she begged us to “do something”, while the doctors buzzed around. Those horrible moments are burnt into my memory. It’s most probably abdominal migraine (yeah, everyone reacts with “Never heard of it!”), and she’s back, albeit weakly, on her feet. But the holiday season and all her (and our) plans have been pretty much ruined.

So, if there’s one wish I could make for 2017, which is, as several people have opined, a rather arbitrary division of time, it would be for good health. 2017 has so far not showed any signs of respecting my wishes, but it’s early days. It’s just getting warmed up hopefully, and as the days go by, here’s hoping that good health shines down on us.

And you, of course. Good Health and Happiness to you too!

Addictions

Post the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, there’s been a lot of discussion on drug addiction and junkies.

Let me confess here that when I was growing up, I too had an addiction — to the betel nut! Since it was used for poojas, we always had a supply. I don’t know exactly how I got into the habit of popping one every time I went into the kitchen. So much so that my mom actually had to hide the bottle! The addiction soon disappeared through sheer self-control. That made me somewhat aware of how easy it is to get addicted to something, how much it takes to get over an addiction, and how easy it is to fall into the habit once again. Luckily for me, it was not a very harmful addiction, and it didn’t last very long.

One of the best articles I’ve read on addiction is this one by Russell Brand. One can’t even begin to imagine the rollercoaster ride junkies have, up one moment, down one moment, both loving and hating it. And those who’ve come out of it appear to be walking on a tightrope, for they could slip any moment and plunge back into the abyss of their habit.

In the movie Hasee Toh Phasee, there is talk of the character played by Parineeti being a (recovered) drug addict. She is also shown behaving strangely after popping what are supposedly anti-depressants, though she is aware of its effects and side-effects. The way this entire aspect of her character has been glossed over is, in hindsight, a bit disturbing. There are a couple of stray comments when the sister says that she can’t be trusted, and when she is denied money for her project on suspicion that she will use it for drugs. However, most of this is shown as being comical while the more serious aspects are not touched upon.

It is probably too much to expect a mainstream rom-com to treat this subject more seriously. But as a friend pointed out, when she was growing up, practically every serial appeared to have a drug addict and they were shown in such bad light that she and her friends were scared off drugs quite effectively. Contrast this with a pretty girl who pops pills AND gets the guy, and the ground gets a little slippery, doesn’t it?

There is still much to understand about the nature of addiction. But I guess this is one area where “learning through your own mistakes” is best avoided!

Update: In case I’m coming across as an old stick-in-the-mud where the movie is concerned, I actually liked the movie. 🙂 It was a refreshing change and I quite enjoyed it.

Fecund February

Life has never been easier, especially with the internet around. For example, I was trying to think of a catchy title for this post, and this site made it oh so easy! 🙂

The reason for the title is simple. I hope to post every day in February. Yes, it is cheating since this month is the shortest. However, I’ve never made it on time to any of the blogathons that keep running all over the blogosphere; I’m always late to the party. This is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, more out of curiosity to see if I can accomplish it, rather than anything else. Just like I tried my hand at NaNoWriMo several years ago, just to see if I could (and I did!).

I hope to make it part of my daily routine. I usually start my day on a set note. I visit my gmail and yahoo accounts, then I visit this site that makes me (a)smile, (b)horrified and, (c)thankful. Then I exercise my brains a bit at this site, where I do the Crossword, Word Search, and Codewords (I’ve run into a bit of a technical problem with this now, and have to switch laptops if I have to play this, so I’ve been giving it a miss). I polish this off with the daily jigsaw puzzle, and then I’m all set to dive into my work.

Of late, I’ve got into a nightly routine too. On the iPad I play Candy Crush Saga, Pearl’s Peril, Crime Scene, and wrap up with one of the Bubble bursting games. The last one really lulls me to sleep! 🙂

Now all I have to do is to make my physical exercise routine as regular as this, and I’ll be all healthy and wise. Now wealthy…that’s another story altogether, no? 🙂

The Right Care

This year has been rather tough on my circle of friends. We’ve all been in and out of hospitals all the time. No sooner has one family overcome a health crisis than the next family faces one. So there’s been a virtual procession of us into Manipal Hospital, battling one thing or another.

Now, I’ve been to Manipal Hospital earlier and my impression was that it was a pretty good place. I liked that they followed processes but didn’t forego the human touch completely. They were always willing to listen to your point of view and adjust accordingly. I had been to other hospitals such as Fortis and Columbia Asia, and while they looked all swanky and cool, their staff was not exactly empowered to make decisions in the best interests of their patients/attendants. The blind insistence on following rules to the T and filling up mountains of paperwork served more as annoyances than anything else.

With Manipal Hospital, however, I always found that they were a little more patient-centric and I liked that about them.

But with the current high traffic to Manipal Hospital from our side, I was just blown away by the kind of patient-centric care they extended. I have been hearing consistent reports on how sensitive and thoughtful and helpful the staff has been.

I myself recall two episodes when my dad was admitted suddenly this July. The emergency response was fantastic, and the way the attender came in, cleaned up my dad and loaded him into the ambulance was swift and efficient. My mom stayed with my dad as his attendant. However, she suddenly got a severe case of the chills and high fever and had to come home. So before we left, I thought it would be better to consult a doctor right there.

As we came towards the Inquiry desk, the lady sitting at the desk noticed my mom swaying and immediately jumped up. She rushed to get a chair for her, made her comfortable, then called for a wheel-chair and gave me directions to see the doctor. The attender with the wheel-chair asked her – is this your relative? The lady promptly replied with a smile – no, should i be doing this only for my relatives?

I was completely impressed by this. I have seen front desk staff who are normally very reluctant to get out of their chairs or do anything pro-active. That this lady went out of her way to ensure that my mom was made comfortable and taken to the doctor immediately spoke volumes about the hospital. (I had visions of everyone being lectured to about the mission statement! :D)

The other episode happened when we were waiting outside my dad’s room for his discharge. We were waiting for one of the doctors to sign on his discharge summary, which he was in the process of reviewing. As we stood there, a nurse passing by stopped. Why are you looking so worried, she asked us. Is there anything I can do to help? DH and I looked at each other, quite stunned. Given the experiences we have had with hospital staff at other places, never in my life would I have imagined that a nurse would show such thoughtfulness and extend a helping hand. We thanked her and let her carry on.

Whatever or whoever has brought about this marvellous improvement in Manipal Hospital deserves kudos. During difficult times, they make our lives just a little bit easier with the all-important human touch. Three cheers to that!

A Pinch of Salt

The Insider’s View by Javid Chowdhury is a fascinating book that gives concrete shape to the vague ideas we have about how the bureaucracy functions in our country.

Amongst other interesting nuggets, there was one episode that involved a kind of face-off with Vajpayee. It was regarding the sale of non-iodized salt. A ban had been introduced on the sale of non-iodized salt since iodized salt was deemed to be a safer and easier way to prevent diseases such as goitre, etc., on a wide scale. Vajpayee wanted this ban to be lifted and had his way.

This made me curious about what the current state of affairs was. Is the sale of non-iodized salt banned or not? I had no clue.

A little googling appears to indicate that the ban is still under debate. And contrary to what I imagined, people are actually not very happy with this state of affairs. In fact, there appears to be a petition to lift this ban. The Supreme Court, reading the fine print rightly, has even deemed this ban unconstitutional.

I’m still pretty confused about the state of affairs, and whether the decision is right or not. Perhaps I should take all this with a pinch of salt! 😀

Sinus Whinus

I have a history of sinus attacks. Last year was particularly bad. Practically every other month I was down with really bad and stubborn sinus attacks, which didn’t yield to anything except a course of strong antibiotics. I tried to avoid the antibiotics till the last minute, but by that time, I would be so sick that I would practically run to the doctor and beg her to give me some relief.

This year hasn’t been as bad. However a couple of weeks ago, I was treated to a curtain-raiser of the dreaded sinus. My body temperature rose, my throat ached, my nose began to clog up, and I knew with certainty that the grand performance was about to begin. This time however, I was determined to kick its butt, without the help of any antibiotics!

Here’s what I did:
1. Steaming – I woke up in the morning and headed straight for a mug full of boiling water, shrouded my head in a towel, and deeply inhaled. No Vicks, no eucalyptus oil, nothing. Just good old steam. I did this religiously once in the morning and once at night, and any time during the day when my nose began to feel stuffy.

2. Nasal drops – Almost as soon as the symptoms began to surface, I used nasal drops. Apparently they’re just saline water sold in fancy plastic squeezy bottles, but I don’t care. Just one drop in each nostril, in the morning, afternoon, and evening, later tapering to twice a day. This worked wonders for me.

3. Paracetamol – For my fever. I needed this for just a couple of days.

4. Ginger tea – I drank ginger tea instead of my regular tea. I grated a piece of fresh raw ginger into the boiling decoction, then added milk, and then kept the tea closed for a couple of minutes to ensure complete infusion. It was great!

5. Warm liquids – I had plenty of warm water and loads of soup instead of regular meals. My soups were extremely rudimentary — I would just pressure cook whichever veggies I felt like throwing in, then blend and strain the liquid, bring to a boil, and add salt and plenty of pepper. It was perfect, just what I needed.

6. Garlic – Now I am not sure how this really acts or whether it is indeed beneficial. I have been slicing up a clove of garlic and swallowing it with water the first thing in the morning for a couple of months now. I don’t know if this indeed boosts the immunity, but it certainly felt like that to me! I was totally convinced that I could kick sinus’ ass!

7. Positive thinking – Now this is really venturing into hazardous territory, but I do feel that my determination not to succumb to yet another dose of antibiotics and to conquer these attacks on my own did help. Every time I felt a bit low, I just took some rest, and told myself that I was going to fight back this time.

Agreed, this is not something serious like cancer and stuff, but I feel extremely happy that I was able to bully my sinuses into normalcy within a week. It used to be a real nightmare for me, but this has definitely brought me hope.

I do hope this can be repeated, so that I can say good-bye to those horrid antibiotics, at least as far as my sinus attacks are concerned.

The Cunning Crab

I have personally seen two people die of cancer. I have watched another courageous lady pick up the pieces of her life after breast cancer, and move on. I have seen and experienced the rage and helplessness when confronted by this killer disease. One person told me angrily (he had lost a dear one to cancer himself) that there was no point in any medical treatment, that it unnecessarily prolonged life which had no quality. In my heart I agreed, but after all, we are human, we live on hope, don’t we?

The Emperor of All Maladies is a powerful book. It deftly strings together several stories and braids them into a thriller novel, even when you know that at the end, everything does not always turn out fine. Written with a fine eye for detail, a perfect balance of technical and layman material, a gentle sense of humour, and a respectful understanding of both the disease in all its myriad forms and the sufferers, Siddhartha Mukherjee has come out with a classic on cancer.

At the end of the book, I emerged with a sense of relief that this is a gentler age for the treatment of cancer. Doubtless, generations a century later will look back and shudder at the suffering we had to undergo in the name of treatment, just as I shuddered at the radical surgeries and the toxic cocktails that were used to treat cancer patients earlier. It is inspiring to read about scientists, researchers, and doctors all hunting feverishly, devoting their entire lives and energies to cracking just that one puzzle, that one riddle. It is amazing to read about how far we have come down this road, and it is even more amazing to realize how intimately entwined cancer is with life itself.

A fantastic book, which I am sure to dip into every now and then for many years to come.

A Sense of Balance

I’ve been reading Swapna’s engrossing blog on Dementia and caregiving. She is doing such a fantastic job of spreading awareness about this issue and the challenges that caregivers face.

I can relate to some of it because we too faced something that is not uncommon in elderly patients, but there is such little awareness about it that it can cause great alarm for the family and other caregivers. I’m talking about Sodium Imbalance.

Recently, a mother of a friend fractured her ribs in a seizure caused by sodium imbalance. My friend was extremely alarmed and worried about the seizures because she had no clue about the cause.

When we first encountered it in my father, it manifested in the form of delirium. I still remember how terrified I was to sit and watch over my dad alone at the hospital, when my mother and sister had gone home to freshen themselves up. My dad was as strong as an ox, and the previous night he had wrought quite a bit of havoc. I watched him like I would watch a wild beast, ready to turn and run if he threatened anything. Luckily, he was in a benign mood and only kept talking about my mother buying flowers and catching a bus back to a house we had moved from nearly forty years ago!

However, he was back to his antics soon. Since he kept pulling out the IV tube from his arm, they actually had to tie him down to the bed. Even so, he managed to wriggle out of the restraints and pulled out the tube yet again. My mom was shocked out of a brief respite to find my dad happily smearing his blood all over the bed! We were scared out of our wits when he sprang out of bed one afternoon and ripped open his gown; apparently, he had to go to the airport to receive my sister from Mumbai. At least four or five persons were needed to push him back on to the bed. When the doctor visited him, and asked him where he was, he politely answered that he was at the airport, waiting for my sister’s plane to arrive 🙂

The worst part was when he came home. One night, he got very angry. He insisted that the bathroom was a temple and he had to go and pray to God there. My mom and I were at our wits’ end, because he was so strong and we could not get him back to the bed. Finally, my mother scolded him sharply as if he was a small boy, and that seemed to work. He retreated like a little child to his bed and curled up. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was truly the theatre of the absurd.

Incidents like these made us very worried and tense indeed. Though the doctor assured us that things would settle down in a bit, it was a very anxious period for us. All sorts of horrifying thoughts crossed our minds. We heaved a huge sigh of relief when dad went back to normal.

The stress was short-lived for us, but for caregivers of dementia patients, this is probably being played out several times every day. I cannot even imagine the stress and the anxiety they go through. Caring for the elderly is challenging enough in itself, but I think caregivers of dementia patients are faced with even greater challenges that they need to surmount. Hats off to them!