Medicine is perhaps the only sphere where we forget our social conditioning about shame. This is where secrets vanish. Morality dies. Theists find new gods, atheists turn agnostic and agnostics turn theists.
Some of these are possibilities, if not certainties.
Beneath all such life-changing events lies pain, something nobody can define convincingly. If you look up dictionaries for the meaning of ‘pain’, you will know what I mean.
We go to doctors with this indefinable pain, looking for a definite solution, succour and what not. But a lot of anomalies can happen in between because very few doctors admit their fallibility and thus, refuse to grow beyond generalisations to offer anything called diagnosis.
My medical ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts, so to speak, began almost 15 years ago when I brought my mother to Bangalore to check why hypertension had set in when she was just around 50. Then came osteoporosis and then sleeplessness and then diabetes and then a number of other ailments, disorders and discomforts she never quite knew to how to verbalise so that it fell within the precincts of medical knowledge.
We were made to sprint from one specialist to another, and yet another. We kept up, hoping that some day some expert would put all his/her learning on the table and give a name to her ailments. But instead of connecting the dots, these specialists only added more confusion to the conundrum. They began to fix the symptoms, never even acknowledging that a root cause might lay just behind this twisted knot of debilitating, if not life-threatening, symptoms. They blamed it all on her age, saying, “it’s all common for her age”. I have heard this phrase for 15 years. In other words, my mother was written off at 50.
Meanwhile, painkillers and a host of other medicines ravaged her body each time she consumed ‘remedies’. Her bones turned brittle. She had pain wherever there was a bone. She hardly slept. She hardly ate. Gastro-related side-effects made sure that her diet was cut down to very few vegetables and pulses. She got tired of subjecting herself to a rash of tests each time she visited the doctors. She was introduced to steroids and even anti-depressants. All done without our knowledge, forget consent.
This is what I would call dying every day by a thousand little cuts. That is how, despite having an unbeatable zest for life, resilience coupled with impeccable dietary discipline, some doctors can make you feel that everything you ever did in life was nowhere close to being right.
Apart from their pathetic inefficiency, there was a common thread that ran through this gaggle of doctors we were condemned to seek solace in: they treated her body as if it had nothing to do with her mind. All of them failed to do one crucial thing: listen.
If not for a stroke of luck that took us to another doctor, we would have continued to believe in the “age-related symptoms”. One thing this super-specialist did that others failed (or refused?) to do was to sit down and list out her health issues and see a pattern. In other words, he listened to her.
That led to diagnosis: parathyroid adenoma, a swollen gland hanging so close to her vocal cord, yet so far away from the grasp of her vocalised anguish. We had to have this gland removed to let her parathyroid hormone levels normalise so that the calcium from the blood stream flows back into her bones and brings down the pain and also eases other side-effects. It was as if all the pieces in the puzzle fell in place magically.
Post-operation, apart from other advices, a surgeon told her to sunbathe herself every morning to get her Vitamin D levels up, which would in turn bring her parathyroid hormone levels down.
When my mother voluntarily walked out into the sunlit balcony and sat on a chair to let life seep into her bones, it was a moment of self-awakening. We all think it takes full-fledged, definitive Hope to live on. But I know this much is true: Sometimes it takes just a fiction of hope to do the trick!