It is 1.30 am. As usual I get up to check up if my wife Prabha is ok and needs any help. When I realize that she is not there to share my bed any more, tears well up in my eyes. She has already joined the Lord’s family in heaven, as a Sumangali, leaving me to face the world alone for the rest of my life. For how many more years, only God knows. I thought she will be there to look after me in my old age, to attend to me when I fall sick, take care of my needs and help me leave this world with dignity. That is not to be. Instead, during the last seven months I became a house husband – looking after her 24 x 7 with support from other members of the family. Trying to help her cope with the dreaded Cancer with all the pains associated with it..
While I could look after her physical and emotional needs, I could not do anything about the bone rattling cough she suffered from. There was no way I could take over the pain so that she would feel relieved. This she had to suffer all by herself. During the day time, she had other distractions to keep her mind away from her body, nights were always nightmares. Though pain relievers helped her to some extent, they had a limited timespan. In the middle of the night, she would get up writhing in pain, turning and twisting until the next dose of painkiller started working.
Unfortunately, as it happens with many cancer patients, we discovered the disease very late when metastasis had already set in. Several tests conducted on her, many of them intrusive and painful showed that the primary was located in the ascending colon and the disease had already spread to the liver and lungs. Except for the occasional mild coughs she had during the previous few months there was absolutely no indication of the disease having affected the stomach. Infact she had withstood the rigours of a fantastic, dream come true, holiday we had in Kashmir just six weeks earlier. I realised that there was something seriously wrong, only when I found that she had lost four Kgs in one month, prior to the discovery of the disease, during a routine monthly check up of her weight.
Looking at the CT scan report our family doctor, another doctor from Apollo hospital and three doctors at the Adyar Cancer Institute where she was registered for treatment , said that there was no cure possible because Prabha`s was an inoperative case and the disease had already spread to the lungs. All that they could do was to give her palliative treatment to keep her as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Even the Tibetian and Ayurvedic doctors I consulted agreed that cure was impossible but they would try to reduce the side effects of the Chemotheraphy with their medication. However, all of them agreed that miracles can and do happen. The whole family lived on that hope.
Prabha went through six cycles of Chemotherapy , at the Cancer Institute, administered every three weeks As one of her lungs was filled with fluid, doctors had to aspirate some fluid from the lungs, before every therapy. This process was also painful. A week after the therapy she was admitted to the hospital for five days for pleural tapping of the fluid to drain as much fluid as possible from the lungs. Again a painful process which helped her almost get rid of the frequent bouts of cough but the pain in different parts of the body continued
Since it was only a palliative treatment Prabha did not have the usual side effects of chemotheraphy like nausea, diarrhea, fever and loss of hair, etc. The doctors at the hospital felt that she had held on well in terms of usual cancer markers during the therapy and wanted to consider the possibility of one more round of tests to check if they could explore further treatment.
Even while we were mentally preparing her for undergoing further tests, her condition suddenly started getting worse. The disease had invaded her bones and brain. She started becoming weaker day by day, finding it difficult to consume both food and medicines. Breathlessness and difficulty in speaking accompanied by excruciating pain in different parts of the body with occasional blurring of vision and hallucination followed.
Doctors at the hospital decided to hand over the case to a Pain Management Expert. We decided to treat Prabha at home, so that she could be showered with all the love and personal care that the family , consisting of my siblings, my three children and four grand children, could give her with the assistance of a full time nurse in attendance. While the combination of medicines helped in making the pain somewhat bearable, Prabha was going down steadily, needing physical help to move around. The whole family tried to keep her in good cheer helped further by other friends and well wishers.
Though the pain management doctor had said that she might live for another two months, the end came within a month. She was a known Ischemic heart patient with high cholesterol and BP, having regular medication for the last ten years. She died of cardiac arrest on the morning of Saturday, 5th January at 6.25 am. This was the second time I saw a patient dying after my father who passed away in 1994 at the ripe age of 80. But Prabha was only 61 and did not want to die.
She was a bold person who fought the disease stoically. There was no self pity, no crying and no `why me?` syndrome. Friends who called on her at home or others who talked to her on the phone were surprised by her positive attitude. Even four hours before she passed away she said she wanted to attend the golden Jubilee function (scheduled on 29th January) of the Innerwheeel club of Madras South of which she was a Past President.
Until the last minute she was conscious. The last twenty four hours of her life on the earth, seemed like a scene from a typical Indian movie. ( To be continued)