Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Ode To Ba

Two days ago my grandmother fell down. Doing her normal morning routine, Ba was out front in the patio area of her house, reaching up for something near the porch steps when she lost her balance. She tumbled down the stairs, banging her head and fracturing her wrist. The head injury opened up a gash over her eyebrow. Jay was home when it happened. He called me while I was at Sunday morning soccer practice. When I got over Ba was laying on her couch, hand wrapped and eyebrow covered with cotton. Her nightgown, which she was still wearing, had blood stains from her gash. Some of the neighborhood Bas were over, helping out and deliberating over what to do. They had told Jay to call the local doctor, Dr. Chetan, who had an office just down the road. He was the only local doctor open on Sunday. But he was notoriously hard to get for a visit. One Ba complained that it takes 4-5 calls to get him to come over, even in an emergency. Jay had already called him an hour ago, and still no sign. I called him myself and he said he would come but sounded unconvincing, saying he was dealing with some other patients. What's up with this quack, we have an emergency here! At the Bas suggestion, I went over to fetch him myself. What I saw wasn't what I expected.

Dr. Chetan's office was a zoo. There were patients spilling out from the waiting area to the street. Babies, old people, other sufferers. Behind the waiting room was his desk and a couple beds crammed into a small area. There were a couple sickly people laying out with IVs connected. Then there were all these people huddled around his desk, not waiting their turn. And here was this doctor in the middle of the chaos with a relatively cheerful demeanor dealing with patients in rapid fire format. Walking into this scene, my feeling for Dr. Chetan went from annoyance and frustration to sympathy. How could he see Ba with all these sick people crowding him for help? But somehow he got away with us to go see Ba. He took one look at her hand and said it was a fracture, and gave a name of a local orthopedist that was open. He said they would stitch up her eye there as well. And just like that he left back for his office.

We took Ba to the orthopedist where the fracture was confirmed and she was given a plaster (cast) and her eye was stitched. By that point Chiragbhai had come over to help situate Ba and navigate dealing with the doctor. Narendra also came to take Ba back home.

There are several things I would like to remember about this incident. First and foremost is the demeanor of Ba throughout the ordeal. My grandmother is one strong woman. Real strong. From the time I saw her laid out at home, no doctor in sight with a fractured hand and swollen eye, to the time she came back from the hospital dirty and exhausted, there was not one complaint from her mouth. Clearly she was in pain and discomfort, especially moving her around with sometimes limited regard for the state of her hand. But not a word from her. My Ba is a stubborn person, which sometimes makes it hard to deal with her. But in this case her stubborn nature showed its positive side. She was just determined and tough as nails. On the way home from the hospital, the painkillers got the best of her and Narendra had to pull over to let her vomit on the side of the road. She did so for about a minute, letting it out calmly. It was getting on her gown, so she carefully folded it away and continued to vomit. I just sat behind her rubbing her back, watching her. When she finished, she had a weary look on her face, but she said to drive on. No crying, no confusion, just matter-of-fact action. I was really proud of her at that moment. It made me think of all the ways a person of her age could have reacted to all that had happened: misery, self-pity, complaining. Taking her suffering out on those around her. But this woman kept it all and carried the water on her shoulders. And she did it all from a space of deep dignity, even grace. I could see it in her face all day. It was inspiring.

Later that day whenever visitors would come over, I would bring up how strong Ba was that day. But Ba kept dismissing it. "How else am I supposed to be?" She said this wasn't her first fall, there had been 4 others. In fact, she had broken or fractured each of her four limbs; this was the second time for her left hand. Other Bas that came to visit also talked about their war stories with falls. It made me think that if you live long enough, chances are you are going to suffer a painful fall. Why isn't senior falling given more attention? I think there is a Satyamev Jayate episode somewhere here.

Second thing I'll remember from this incident is how people from my office, Chirag and Narendra, stepped up above and beyond the call of duty to lend a hand. It made me feel good that we have such caring people around us at the office, and also made me think that we are on the right track with our office culture that such action manifested.

Third thing is an ode to Bro. Poor guy was woken up to hear Ba had fallen, and from that moment on the whole day he was under the gun to take responsibility of Ba's care pretty much on his own. And he did a great job with what limited experience he had. I'm so proud of Jay for how much he has adjusted and adapted to life in India, this incident is just another example of how he has taken whatever is thrown at him and stood tall. I said that day that as much as he's learned to live in India in 5 months, it took me 5 years. All the ways he's had to learn and adjust in work and living situation, he's taken it all as well as you can. This day he was getting conflicting advice from people, having to make decisions with limited understanding, all while Ba is sitting there in a fragile state and needing immediate care. To handle that situation and keep his cool, sense of humor, and genuine humility throughout, is remarkable. Watching him really made me proud.

And finally I am grateful that this accident wasn't worse than it was. Ba is going to be in pain and discomfort for a month, but it could have been a lot worse. If she had hurt her leg and been unable to walk, that could have been disastrous. Ba said as she was tumbling she had the wherewithal to keep her legs straight to avoid injury.

It was a real blessing to see the best in two of my family members come to the fore when the moment called for it. Those are some good genetics.

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