Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blasts from the past

While reading The Emperor Of All Maladies: A Biography Of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, I came across a few passages that reminded me of the time when I was regaining consciousness after the stroke.
In an essay titled A View from the Front Line, Jencks described her experience with cancer as like being woken up midflight on a jumbo jet and then thrown out with a parachute into a foreign landscape without a map:

“There you are, the future patient, quietly progressing with other passengers toward a distant destination when, astonishingly (Why me?) a large hole opens in the floor next to you. People in white coats appear, help you into a parachute and – no time to think – out you go.

“You descend. You hit the ground...But where is the enemy? What is the enemy? What is it up to?... No road. No compass. No map. No training. Is there something you should know and don’t?

“The white coats are far, far away, strapping others into their parachutes. Occasionally they wave but, even if you ask them, they don’t know the answers. They are up there in the Jumbo, involved with parachutes, not map-making.”
Later he writes:
The novelist Thomas Wolfe, recalling a lifelong struggle with illness, wrote in his last letter, "I've made a long voyage and been to a strange country, and I've seen the dark man very close."
I regained consciousness fully over many days - like darkness turning into bright sunlight gradually over many days. I cannot convey the gestalt of the experience especially as it was such a long time ago. I will just mention some salient points that I remember.
  • People in white dresses used to come and go and it was some days before I could distinguish between nurses, doctors and physiotherapists.
  • I had felt a couple of times that I had been wheeled away somewhere accompanied by a lot of people. I learned that I had initially been in ICU1 from where I was shifted to ICU2 and thence to the ward. Only then did I come to know that that there were two ICUs - the first one for the more critical patients and the second one for more stable patients. I had been a Lazarus risen (well, not exactly 'risen') from the dead.
  • Jaya told me about a nurse who had promised her that she would take care of me in ICU2 and keep her updated on all developments. The nurse had come to visit me when I was in the ward. I could not recognize her at all. She must have been one of the voices I heard regularly.
  • Initially, I was not sure what time of the night or day it was. Various cues - changes in nurses' shifts, sponging, time when Jaya came to the hospital etc. - helped me to guess the time.
  • I had felt many pin-pricks at intervals in different parts of my body. I realised that these were actually injections.
  • I had felt my head periodically becoming very cold. These must have been the times when I was being given a head bath.
  • I remember hearing the sound of rainfall many times. When I regained consciousness, I wondered what these sounds had been because it doesn't rain often in Coimbatore in May. I eventually surmised that they must have been the sound of water from the taps in the bathroom.
  • I could dimly hear in the background what sounded like commentary of the Cricket World Cup. But wasn't it some days away? I gathered from some conversations I heard around me that I had been in the hospital for about 3 weeks so it was indeed the the Cricket World Cup.
  • I remembered voices frequently asking me to breathe deeply while something cold was pressing on my chest. These would have been times when doctors were examining me with stethoscopes.
  • I frequently heard about something called tracheostomy. People used to look at my throat sometimes. Whenever I coughed, the nurse brought a tube that was attached to a noisy machine, near my throat. There was something in my throat but I didn't know what it was. I gradually learnt that this tracheostomy was a hole in my throat through which secretions that I coughed came out and were sucked away by the tube.
All these realisations were on a continuum - at one end of the scale, all was confusion; at the other end, it was all clear. It took some days for me to traverse that continuum.


  1. This post should come with a warning such as "not for the faint-hearted". Scary. Disconcerting. I am really amazed at how the 3 of you made it through all this.