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!