By Suma Varughese
An encounter with serious illness shows up some truths
It started about three months ago. An innocuous fever that ballooned into cerebral malaria and dengue fever. Within four days my hitherto healthy 90-year-old mother was at the hospital, and my sisters and I were listening in shocked silence as the attending physician told us that she only had a 50 per cent chance to survive. Miraculously, she pulled through and we rejoiced as we left the hospital.
In six days she was back in hospital because of oedema in her feet and breathlessness. Thereafter, things went downhill pretty fast. Two episodes of delirium persuaded the doctors that she may also be suffering from Alzheimer’s, and we were advised an MRI test. Even the doctors were surprised when the test revealed that quite silently and without fanfare my mother had suffered an infarct (stroke). Just as grim was the confirmation that she also had Alzheimer’s. Within a month, my hale and hearty mother had collapsed both physically and mentally. We returned home with a cloud hanging over our heads. After a fortnight of relative stability, I woke up at one-thirty am to find my mother’s left hand waving forlornly in the air, and the rest of her body immobile. She had had a stroke, and back we went to the hospital.
A week passed and there she lay, eyes closed, inarticulate, more than half her body paralysed. The doctor shook his head gently. “She may survive this incident but she is unlikely to regain her speech or walk again.” Renouncing hope, my sisters and I brought her back home to serve her lovingly until death took her.
That was three weeks ago. What changed my perspective radically was a visit by a doctor friend to whom I mentioned that we were praying that God would release her from her suffering. “Stop thinking so negatively,” he told me crisply. “Pray only that the best should happen to her.” He also told me that there was every chance that she could recover from the stroke, as so many did. I was stunned. For the first time someone had mentioned the possibility of her healing. I realised that in my own head there was absolutely no space for her recovery. Then and there I made up my mind that I was going to face life and not death. Whether my mother recovered or not was not in my hands but working towards her recovery surely was.
The shift has been a significant one. For a long time I have been thinking that one should give in gracefully to death when and where it visited. Today, I am recognising that till the last breath, one must pull for life. One must not fight against death but one must face life.
I am also recognising that doing this increases your own life force, while facing death only pulls down your energies. My sisters and I began several initiatives after that shift in perspective. My mother is slowly, very slowly, improving. And I am sure the fact that there is space for improvement in our minds is not insignificant.
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