My Journal on the day of my father’s passing
December 4, 2004 – Appa passes away
I type these words on my laptop as I maintain vigil in the hospital room beside my father, who struggles with what may be his last breaths. These are moments of sheer agony, of not knowing when his end will come and how. His kidneys stopped functioning the night before last. The doctors confirmed our worst fears yesterday, when they pointed out that he had no output at all i.e. no urine had collected in the bag attached to his catheter. I left the laptop now for a few moments to be beside him when he woke up with a shudder. I reassured him that I was right beside him, that I loved him and was there for him. He has heard me utter those words so often these past few days that he acknowledges them each time with a barely perceptible nod. His right eye is closed as he lies there, the oxygen mask fitted to his face, his right cheek resting on the pillow. It is 4 p.m. and time for his soup, which Amma will lovingly prepare and the special duty nurse feed through the Riles Tube that is attached to his right nostril. He receives a feed every 2 hours between 6 a.m. and 12 midnight. The doctor has asked us to continue with the feeds, even though his kidneys have stopped eliminating waste and the toxins are building up in his body. We still hope his kidneys will miraculously start functioning with the diuretics and saline solutions that are intravenously entering his body. Even from 5 feet away I can see that his half opened left eye is one of a pair of the kindest eyes known to man. I choke up when I think that in a few hours those beautiful eyes and that fragrant body would have left our side and been reduced to ashes. While we have been steeling ourselves for this moment and have shed all the tears we could possibly shed, Appa struggles valiantly with the ominous rattle in his throat, his breathing getting heavier by the minute.
Appa breathed his last that night at exactly 8:50 p.m. His end did not happen as we had anticipated. As a last ditch effort, we gave Appa his nebulizer and a couple of broncho dilators with his 6:00 p.m. feed of rice congee and yoghurt. His lung capacity measured at just 70%. His pressure dropped from 130/90 to 100/50 and his pulse rate was over 130 per minute. Family and friends gathered around, as though preparing for the worst. At 7:30 p.m. Amma and I saw the last of our relatives off. We settled down nervously to what we thought would be a very long night. We sat beside him and held his hand to soothe him, murmuring words of comfort and love as we had done over the past 45 days in that very same hospital room. Appa had endured a lifetime of suffering over that time. While the radiation had reduced the tumours, they had weakened his lungs. In addition, his inability to swallow had resulted in aspiration into his lungs which had then become clogged with secretions. After 4 bouts of chronic bronchitis treated each time with antibiotics and broncho dilators and alarming fluctuations in his sugar levels, as a result of a diabetic condition that had remained nascent till the cancer reared its head, his toiling kidneys had finally given up.
Suddenly, Appa’s special duty nurse pointed out that the oxygen supply that came through the pipeline had diminished and that we should alert the hospital to replenish the cylinder at source. I ran out into the corridor. The night duty nurse at the hospital got on the phone with the ward boys and yelled to them to replace the cylinder at the central oxygen repository. Barely, 2 minutes had passed, but for one who was hysterical with worry, it seemed like an aeon. Amma came running into the corridor. Wanting to check on Appa, I ran back into the room, and after one look at the special duty nurse, I knew all was not well. His pressure was coming down, his pulse erratic, his breathing ragged, laboured and then slowly giving way. The pauses between breaths were interminable and I suddenly saw Appa’s body heave, his eyes open wide, as he raised his head and his arms before collapsing onto the bed. I held his hand and knew his end had come. I ran out found Amma and in a calm voice said to her “its all over”. However, when we rushed back into the room, there was still some mild cardiac activity. By now the oxygen supply had resumed and the mask was once again fitted back on his nose. The duty doctor who arrived on the scene some 30 seconds later asked if we wished to revive Appa. Even in that dazed state, I realized that the question was an academic one. Appa was gone and the mild beating of his heart, while it may have spelt life to some, was just a mechanical movement in a body and brain that were already inert. I am still upset with the hospital for its negligence in delaying replacing the oxygen tank. But in some ways that event resulted in a merciful end to untold suffering.
I mourn my father. The day he died, Amma had a vision of a huge lion with a wide mane, curling its tail and bolting out of our home to never return. I share her vision.