Worrying Ourselves Sick

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Denis finally shifted his workshop to one end of the large verandah. The glassless (but screened) windows of the living room looked out on to the verandah which was about ten feet wide and pretty long, wrapping around two sides of the house. He built a half wall all around one end and put in glass windows to protect his tools from rain. The cabinets and worktables he painted a cheery yellow. He would be in there making something – a wooden screen for my home,

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all manner of covers for all manner of things, say, his entire computer table, fashioned from plastic tubes and plastic sheets – and Mummy would sit inside the comfort of the living room in her wheelchair and watch him. They would chat to each other or he would keep up his technical soliloquys about some aspect of the work he was dealing with, on and off with the screaming of the power tools, or he would whistle and she would be silently contemplating….now that she was not alone.

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Why there was a lot of tension, in her especially, was that someone started a mango orchard in the neighbouring plot and sank a well. Somehow their water supply tapped into our water source and thus sometimes water levels in the overhead tank would go so low that garden maintenance had to get low priority, specially in summer. It was not good to see the plants and shrubs wither away, the lawn just consisting of the roots of what had been rampant grass, in stumps, the green all stripped away to protect them till the rainy season came round. Only the potted plants were watered. Even the neighbouring fields, with the paddy harvested, added to the picture of stricken land.

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This had unnerved my mother who would ask continuously and have to be reassured continuously by the Swamis, who had to pay heavily for some careless remark in her hearing, that there was a water crisis. They would be summoned every ten minutes to repeat this….everyone would hurry to say that the supply in the tank was good for two or three days. But sooner or later the garden had to be let go, a tragedy for us Puneites as our lovely parental home looked so stripped of life outside…and we kept an anxious eye on the hardy ones, the bougainvillea and the trees.

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And yet, though there were constant power cuts, often for twelve or fifteen hours at a time, this surprisingly, never bothered her. A hardy old generator supplied power  for the worst part of the day, the afternoons, and made the close heat of summer tolerable. However, the generator was not used after ten in the night as a strict rule. They had got so used to this that even when temperatures really climbed she never complained – just lay still and both of them slept deeply – my father’s loud snoring as reassuring to me in the still of the night as it had been in my childhood. I found it such a difficulty to sleep without the fan and powerless nights had me opening up everything to get a cross breeze. I could only admire her reconciliation and calmness in such miserable weather.

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On another note, it’s a moot point whether the amount of medication she was on for so many different ailments – her skin condition, osteoporosis, and for a minor stroke she had suffered many years earlier – really helped her or left her a stressed out person. Maybe they interacted wrongly with each other? It got me wondering whether ‘iatrogenesis’, the term coined by Ivan Illich, was relevant to her case.

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Then one evening Aunty Joan, our neighbour and widow of the Santa in the Tractor, Uncle Krishna, got stung by an insect. Though she had had the presence of mind to quickly swallow an antihistamine tablet, her tongue started to swell up and she was unable to drink water, unable to swallow. She had someone who slept in the house at night and she, Miraj, called our house and Denis went over quickly to take her to the pharmacist in the little town of Toopran,

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about a kilometre from the house, where the pharmacist was waiting to give her an injection that her nephew, a doctor in the city had phoned him about. These were important relationships between people which helped in emergencies.

While they were gone I sat there instructing Mummy, like a fool, ‘breathe deeply, breathe deeply’ because I had no idea what else to do to quell her anxiety. She was terrified for Aunty and worried out of her mind about Denis being out of the house at this strange time of night. In their early days they had been robbed and attacked, once at gunpoint, so her nervousness was not something stupid. They were back in an hour, me having run out of energy to repeat my mantra. There was Aunty looking all cheerful and at the same time Denis telling her what a brave thing she was and Mummy smiling in commiseration. All became calm in the house where my ‘cool’ parents slept while I slapped at mosquitoes.

Frankly we were all a bit anxious most of the time. Denis started getting inexplicable fevers and backaches. There was always something to worry ourselves silly about.

He looked after as much as he could though. He’d had made an organized box for Mummy’s ton of medicines – names, times of day to be taken, quantity, everything kept in their relevant compartments made from a cardboard grid inside a large chocolate box with full and complete instructions taped on top, as much for him to remember as anyone else. When Mummy came to live with us in Pune, we asked our doctor to review her medicines. In consultation with others he reduced it drastically. She has been well on this new lighter regime. And she is not anxious anymore. She does not need someone around all the time, peacefully resting, not fretting, sometimes eyes open, sometimes closed. She’s fine. She’s OK.

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