Blank VI

He flashed a light from a hand-held gadget on my forehead. The device beeped after a few seconds. He looked at the number on the screen of it, gave a satisfied giggle and showed me the number. 37.6°C it said. “Did you see? Did you see?” He seemed to ask. 101° F, he translated for us. Paracetamols and Antibiotics. 2 500mg doses per day of the later. Won’t that be too much? No, at your age you can. (?!!)

“If it is caused by an infection, these will take care of it. If not, it would be viral, then you just have to wait it out. If the temperature becomes too high, wash your whole body with a towel dipped in room temperature water. Then stand under a fan on low to dry your body and wear something light after that.” I translated it to: I might not know what ails you or how to cure you, but I know pneumonia, so might as well give you that and fix it. I asked my father when he returned. NaaDaan method, he said(Country wisdom). Used to cure colds also. “Some people say it works.” Thus began 2 days of enduring fever that shot up, and kept going down, before staying in the 98s.

It has been a hard week. Appa went out of town and fell sick there. Amma then fell sick here two days later. Both got hospitalised for 2-3 days. Appa, because the temperature was high, Amma because I couldn’t manage on my own. Only to realise that I actually  could’ve, given how shoddy the service in the hospital was. And just as she was getting discharged, I walked around in zombie state knowing that I was coming down with it next. 103°F, as I saw it on coming home with Amma. Support from an uncle and an aunt who all stepped in for a few days, and things are at a manageable state now.


And yet, there are questions. There have always been questions. But they were there hiding away, not quite elephants in the room, more like dust bunnies, that you know are there, but are going to get to in the next cleaning.

I am not sure what the future holds for the parents. There would need to be options to be thought of like retirement homes(RH) or employing a nurse/help. Am feeling a bit odd, as this was never something you sat and thought of as such. People grow old. They manage as long as they can manage, then they die. And that’s it. Later it got to a stage of hearing about people being bed-ridden for years, with a help or nurse to support.

Thanks to immense advertising, RHs are all the rage now. It seems to have become the easier option for people to get on with their lives without worrying about elderly parents, especially when the children are abroad. Move them there, see… everyone is happy, interacting with other elders.

I don’t know. I think if you’re the “happy kind”, you’ll be happy anywhere. Yes, they offer certain things which normal living cannot – a simulated environment where activities are designed for elders to keep them busy and occupied – mostly religious. Hospitals are nearby with medical care whenever you need them. Or the way I read it, facilities you can’t get in normal urban living. As such, RHs, like most things fulfil a gap created by us, a gap we cannot be cared to fill, in how we want to integrate elders into society. Simple things like roads that can be crossed safely, houses that can be lived in safely, accessible medical care for anyone, mobility for all around the city irrespective of age or disability. People cannot find time for you, so you find time with those similar to you.

It reminds me so much of Shenzhen. Everyone young, waiting for life to happen to them, some children for those oldies who got married. But the rest, young and restless. And then there was Beijing and Hong Kong, with public parks where elderly would be practising Tai Chi. This was 12 yrs back. I wouldn’t be surprised if Beijing looks like Shenzhen now.

Don’t get me wrong. I think at some stage it might/would become necessary due to various circumstances, including advanced age, to move to assisted living. After all, if the parent is nearing 85, the children are expected to be in their 50s dealing with their own issues. But my lament is that, in India, the point where you lose independence comes knocking really fast. It has become easier to point to an RH than invest on getting people back to independence for a few more years. In most cases it seems to be a peace of mind solution for children to go on living their lives without guilt.

In some ways though, things are much more easier to get to. Groceries can be ordered online. Cities have a stronger immigrant workforce – security, assistance can be had easier. Mobility can be achieved faster through taxi apps.

If anything we need all age groups and differently abled to coexist in a city. More than anything cities need them to be inclusive and friendly. They function as meters for the health of the city. Yes, you could say it is too polluted and fast for the elders or children. But when you have your own, or when you yourself reach that stage, where are you going to run?

As with most things, I look up to Tim Kreider.

Segregating the old and the sick enables a fantasy, as baseless as the fantasy of capitalism’s endless expansion, of youth and health as eternal, in which old age can seem to be an inexplicably bad lifestyle choice, like eating junk food or buying a minivan, that you can avoid if you’re well-educated or hip enough. So that when through absolutely no fault of your own your eyesight begins to blur and you can no longer eat whatever you want without consequence and the hangovers start lasting for days, you feel somehow ripped off, lied to. Aging feels grotesquely unfair. As if there ought to be someone to sue.

We don’t see old or infirm people much in movies or on TV. We love explosive gory death onscreen, but we’re not so enamored of the creeping, gray, incontinent kind. Aging and death are embarrassing medical conditions, like hemorrhoids or eczema, best kept out of sight. Survivors of serious illness or injuries have written that, once they were sick or disabled, they found themselves confined to a different world, a world of sick people, invisible to the rest of us. Denis Johnson writes in his novel “Jesus’ Son”: “You and I don’t know about these diseases until we get them, in which case we also will be put out of sight.”

(Source: You Are Going to Die)

(I will not quote Gawande here, he deals mostly with the very end of life, and more importantly, my book is loaned out.)


5 thoughts on “Blank VI

  1. I hope your parents and you are feeling better now. Wish you all a speedy recovery.
    It is a very important topic you bring up here. We have much to gain from having elders in our lives. Sadly, we live in our bubbles of arrogant confidence and deny ourselves of the love and wisdom of age.

  2. Makes me think. When my mum was ill and pretty much on the bed, we never once thought of putting her in a hospice or even in the hospital. There was always space for her. But I cannot be too sure about other relationships in my life… As for our cities being unfriendly, I understand. I used to be filled with fright thinking my mum was out on her walks. I do think investing in a housing society that has some amenities makes sense. I am also wondering about my own old age. Yes, I don’t want to decay, but I guess certain changes will be unavoidable…

    1. It depends on our age a lot I believe. If the children are 50+ and the parents 80+ its a huge difference. In the case of our grandparents, the grandchildren were in their 20s and willing to pitch in. But just 10 years down the line the same grandchildren now live a lot differently. There’s more moving about, changing of cities. Priorities don’t include aged parents anymore. But again, its a might/would. As much as you plan, denouements vary.

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