It had not been a very pleasant night. Dad had not slept well. He complained several times about a sore stomach and mild chest pains, both alarming indicators due to his condition.
I called the nurse on both occasions and also woke him up every few hours to take his blood pressure and pulse. It was an endless night of interruptions.
He also got up and went to the bathroom twice in the night which was not an easy ordeal given the fact that he couldn’t manage by himself very well. There is something about seeing your old man naked, vulnerable, and frail that makes you think about how we are all inherently human.
In those early hours of Day 2, I realised that this moment I was living in was about to become defining, difficult, and incredibly empowering.
I can never foresee the future but I was aware enough to understand that there was a greater power at work here. There was a reason that the universe brought me to Australia from my overseas odyssey.
When it was finally time to start a new day, we waited as we did every morning for the doctors to do their rounds.
An army of doctors with different levels of experience would turn up. There would be one chief honcho who would speak in that stern tone and relay the necessary information. These sessions were challenging for me. I’m a visual guy and I like seeing information on paper instead of getting verbal instructions.
My dad was the same. Between his dwindling memory and our lack of sleep, the session with the doctors was quite a blur.
A while after they walked away I decided to prepare a mental list of questions I wanted to ask during the next round. While waiting for the doctors again, every glance towards my father made me more worried. His health was going downhill and I wanted to know what was being done so we can all see him well again.
I knew by then that most doctors will tell us that more tests need to be done. The human body is an incredibly complex machine. Doctors openly admit that there is so much learning to do and there is no fixed answer for all our ailments. Each patient is a live case study for them to figure out and treat.
I just didn’t want Dad to be another scientific case study.
It was around 10.30 am when another ‘army’ of doctors arrived to assess Dad. Dr. Avanda was the lead consultant and he was a kidney specialist. He had assessed all the tests Dad went through. The result? Dad’s kidneys were starting a downward trajectory.
The worried look on Dr. Avanda’s face when he said that made it clear to me. This visit to the hospital was going to be a long and uphill battle for Dad. I appreciated how Dr. Avanda didn’t sugarcoat this news from us. He ranked a high 9 on my assessment of the hospital’s staff and their abilities. He was a well-spoken Indian man with a very calm aura. His calm demeanour and incredible knowledge earned both my and Dad’s trust and respect.
It was the first time I had heard any doctor tell Dad some very bad news without making it sound like ‘game over’. Instead, he explained what procedures they were going to try and mapped out a pathway with one goal: to get Dad home, healthy and happy again.
As I listened to the details of Dad’s prognosis, I couldn’t help but feel deflated. For about twenty minutes, the doctor explained how Dad’s heart medications, now with the onslaught of kidney-related issues, was a difficult dance to manoeuvre.
Medical technical terms aside, Dad’s prognosis was simple. He had a battered heart, and now his kidneys were having trouble keeping up with this game called life. Both these organs and muscles are fairly important when it comes to having a good quality of life and the functionality we have as human beings.
I watched Dad closely as the doctor continued to explain what they were going to do. There was also a conversation about what to do if it got too bad - there was talk about dialysis.
With all that information now communicated to us, the army of doctors, led by Dr. Avanda, finally left us alone.
There was a moment of silence. It was clear that Dad and I needed to digest what just happened.
But I couldn’t just stand there silently. I started a conversation with Dad that I didn’t want to start.
“So, what did you make of all of that?” I said, as positively as I could.
“Not too bad. It seems they have things under control,” came Dad’s reply.
I didn’t know what to say next. Denial, mixed with fear, topped off with naivety. All of it came to play. There was nothing, absolutely nothing I could think of saying to him at that moment that would comfort him.
I sat in silence and watched the nurses rush around the ward.
There were times when I would leave Dad’s bedside and go for a walk down the corridor. As I did that, I would say hello to other patients, and over time, I came to learn their names and a little bit about their lives.
I even met some of their family members during visiting hours. All of this gave me some strength but also offered me a break from the intensity that I felt in Ward B9 - where Dad was.
Amongst all the people I met, I remember one man the most. He was in a room a few doors down from Dad’s bed. His name was David. David had a very worried look on his face. I couldn’t help but pop my head into his room and ask if he fancied a chat.
“Sure, come in, mate,” David responded in his thick Aussie twang.
“How are things today?” I asked.
“Bloody shit house, mate.”
“Anything you want to share?” I offered.
“Well, I’m bloody lucky to be alive. I had a heart attack in my office last Friday night. Here I am now, triple heart bypass done and with a bloody need to change my life, mate, but I didn’t know how to do it,” he confessed.
Through our conversations, I found out that David was the CEO of a mega business. He spent his days constantly burning the midnight oil, making tons of money, flying around the world - the entire corporate affair. And then, wham, his walls came crashing down in a split second.
I sat with David for about thirty minutes and listened as he shared a very private and authentic journey of a broken man.
He had committed his life to making money and living the good life. He believed that something like this would never happen to him, at least not at the age of fifty-four.
As tears formed in David’s eyes while telling me his story, I too felt immersed in his very emotional experience. It impacted me more than he knew.
For years, I too chased the corporate dream and neglected my own family back home. I listened to this grown man admit how much of an idiot he had been, and how all of those hours, days, weeks, and months he lost could never return.
He then went on to tell me something astonishing. The day before I walked in to chat with David, he had called his executive management team and told them he was done. He wasn’t returning to that life. It was time for a change.
I gave the man, a complete and utter stranger, a hug, and my best wishes before I left his room to return to Dad.
Just as I was exiting, David reminded me that the man I was about to go back to was my father. Every minute we were going to have would be more precious than I could imagine, David said. He told me to fully embrace it all, and to let go of any fear that I had inside.
I didn’t quite understand what this fear that David implied was yet, but I was mindful of watching out for it.
I returned to Dad’s room and noticed that he had visitors.
My mother and sister had arrived. Just as I saw them, the fear that David mentioned revealed itself. My relationship with both Mum and Sis had always been strained. Years apart and very few fond memories meant that I spent the majority of time around them walking on eggshells.
I grew up in a world that was foreign to them. After leaving New Zealand as a young boy, I never looked back. There was never a lot of outward encouragement, support, love, or intimacy shown. The times we did meet always felt more like a business meeting that would usually end in some form of conflict.
But there were here now; my family. I walked in said hello. As soon as they greeted me, I told them I was going down to the hospital cafeteria to take a break. My session with David was something I wanted to reflect upon, so finding a quiet corner seemed like a good idea to me.
As I walked to the lift, I couldn’t help but think about David’s words. It was as if they were still ringing in my ears.
“Let go of the fear.”
I took the lift to the ground floor and walked along the busy corridor that led to the cafeteria. I picked up some snacks and a drink. I headed to the back of the building where another lift ride led me outside into a well-manicured garden.
I chose a bench under a tree and felt the warmth of the Aussie summer sun on my back for the first time in days.
I revisited the conversation with David. It dawned upon me that here I was, well and healthy outside the hospital, while just a few metres away there were people whose lives were in turmoil. And this included my own father. Someone who might just be in the last chapter of his life.
I couldn’t come to terms with how fragile life is, and how fast we human beings can switch between life and death. How do we deal with such huge emotional changes? How do we cope with loss while still dealing with the life that is in front of us?
How many people in this very hospital this very day were confronted with this dilemma? I wondered. In an odd feeling of comfort, I knew that I wasn’t alone. There were many, many others across the world who were going through the same pain and agony that I was. It isn’t an ideal community to be a part of, but here I was.
I was on the verge of tears as I sat there. Part of the pain I felt was the disconnection I had in my own family. Sitting here, I was once again separated from the three members of our small nucleus, while they sat together talking about whatever it is they talked about. I had no idea what that could be. I had never been around for such conversations.
I didn’t want to return to Dad’s room. Something kept me there under the tree, in the sunshine. Something made me feel safe being there alone. Like I had been all of my life.
I sat and let the sun shine on my back. I felt its warmth. Something inside me was stirring, yet I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly that was.
I eventually decided that I couldn’t be far from them for too long. I returned to Dad’s room where the family gathering was in full swing. There was an awkward pause when I entered.
Since the time I had arrived at my parents’ place on this visit, the situation had been different and, to a large extent, uncomfortable. Gold Coast in Australia is where most people visit for a holiday at the beach, or to see many of the famed tourist attractions. My reason for being here was to look after two elderly people in poor health. That meant spending a majority of my time shuttling between clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and my parents’ home.
There was constant tension in the air. As a man in my fifties, I felt very out of place living back in my parents’ small retirement apartment with little space to escape.
I knew very few people here. It wasn’t my home. Whenever friends of my parents came to visit, I would lock myself in the safety of my bedroom. I became a hermit. I became increasingly depressed. I was not able to adapt or deal with this overbearing situation I found myself in.
My only way out was sports. I swam every day in the pool. I purchased a kayak that allowed me to paddle on the canals in front of my parents’ home. I would go paddling for hours to give myself a break, a silence from the intense pressure I felt within.
But I was aware of my responsibilities. There was a reason I returned to Australia and I was going to keep up to my part of the deal - to take care of my aging parents.
When it came time for my mother and sister to leave the hospital, we bid each other farewell amicably. I could sense that Dad felt a bit better in their company and was confident that we might be able to find our peace once we were alone again.
Still, there was a nagging panic inside of me. Dad’s condition wasn’t getting any better. A while after my mother and sister left, doctors were back around Dad’s bed to assess the situation. By now, Dad’s feet had swelled quite significantly and water retention had become quite an issue.
His failing heart was working overtime to try and rid his body of the excess fluid. Unfortunately, with his kidneys in poor shape, it appeared that his whole body was at war with itself. On this visit, one of the doctors suggested to set up a meeting the next day with Dad’s kidney specialist and cardiologist in attendance together.
This didn’t sound good to me. Were they teaming up against my Dad? Was it bad news? I glanced at dad and he seemed like he had switched off mentally.
We had no choice but to take up that suggestion. It was the only way we would find out how the situation can be handled. After agreeing, the doctors left us to our own devices again.
The day wore on. Dad and I didn’t say much to each other. Fortunately, after switching between TV channels, we found something of interest to the both of us. A new ritual commenced that would ultimately become a doorway through which Dad and I could finally walk together.
The common ground? Cricket.