I feel sick in my stomach, weak in my knees, and the choking in my throat as I write this. But someone told me that I have a gift for expression, so I want to pen down a part of my journey to make you and your loved ones aware of what terrible sufferings exist in this world. Not that you don’t know about cancer already. Not that I didn’t know about it already, but you don’t feel it unless you go through it or see someone close to you going through it.
My dad, as I knew him before the dawn of 2017, was a very different person. Handsome; to say the least. Strong, bold, daring, ambitious, would be a few of his other personality traits. Just a few. He used to tell us that when he was in his late 20s, he was the most dashing man you’d see around (a little self-obsessed, I know), but after seeing his pictures, I didn’t doubt it for a moment! He is someone who stood up for himself, and built his own empire. His daring stories and life lessons never ceased to amaze me. But he had a major flaw. Something you would accept because ‘Everyone does it’. But that something has ruined his life today. That something is: Alcohol.
He started drinking when he was 25. A true Punjabi, who would sit with friends and other male members of the family, and wouldn’t stop until it they’d finish the bottle of whiskey, or until they were drunk ‘enough’. And let me tell you what, Punjabis don’t drink wine or beer. They want whiskey. Only Whiskey. The bottle that marks more than 40% volume of alcohol. He loved drinking, almost every day when he was still young. And quite regularly even after he crossed 40. He didn’t like to be told that he shouldn’t drink, and that it’s harmful for him. Nobody, not even his wife or his mother had the right to tell him that. He took his own decisions and knew what he was doing.
When he was around 52 years old, he was diagnosed with Cirrhosis of the liver. The doctors said that if he drinks now, its poison for him. He was asked to take some medicines, and stop drinking. But he quit for a bit, and then started again. I moved away for work and studies abroad, and wasn’t always aware as to how much he’s drinking and whether he’s taking his medicines regularly or not. We could obviously see that he’s not the way he used to be. He had lost weight, and wasn’t very active anymore. When I came home last summer for two months, I was surprised to see that he still wanted to drink. I knew I couldn’t ask him to stop, because he would shoo me away. I had to see him do that to himself, completely helpless. Nobody said anything to him. People only advised him to stop, but he wouldn’t listen to anybody. I remember seeing some weird rashes on his legs before I left for Paris again last August. Red rashes, growing like fungus all over his legs. I asked him to see a doctor, but he never took me seriously.
By November, he started having regular fever. After a blood test, the doctors were shocked to see the results. After an MRI and some other tests, he was finally diagnosed with final stage liver Cancer. Two large tumors in the liver, and many smaller ones spreading to other parts of the body. I was in Paris back then, miles away from him and my family, absolutely clueless as to how to take this news in. I had submissions coming up. For a few weak moments, I wanted to leave everything and go home. The tickets were really expensive, and my visa renewal was in the process. There wasn’t just one problem. I kept my calm through it, and booked tickets for February, hoping he would be alright. But every day he was growing weaker. Some days he would talk to me over a video call. I asked him how he spent his days. He told me he could walk for a bit in the balcony, watched TV for a bit, talk to the relatives who came to visit him, and otherwise slept for most part of the day. I felt terrible that I couldn’t be there to take him to the hospital for the tests, or help my mom through the day. Each day was difficult to pass. So I decided not to think about it, carrying on with my days. But some news or the other about his weakness would come from back home, and I would feel weak. Soon, it turned out that he had jaundice too.
The doctors suggested chemotherapy. But it was a big risk. The liver wasn’t prepared enough to take it, and it could have caused liver failure, they said. There was no other option, so they went ahead with it. The chemotherapy left him extremely weak. But the worst was yet to come.
I was happy that he was at least able to talk and walk normally, and I would get to spend some time with him in February. I was supposed to be there on the 10th of February. Meanwhile, back home, I was told that he was given some chemotherapy medicines. He had taken it for a few days, but before I reached, he stopped taking even that, because the jaundice had increased, and they couldn’t give him any medicines for that or for the cancer. He had strict instructions for food too. Less salt, no red chili, no oil/ghee or fried food. Only juices and boiled food. As the date to take the flight back home was nearing, I was just hoping that he was fit enough to talk and laugh with me the way he used to. We always used to have long discussions and arguments about life, and almost everything. He had a lot to say about everything. And I was just hoping that we could spend time doing that.
But the day I reached home and saw him, I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was so weak. Just 55 years old, he looked no less than 75. The man, who would proudly show us his muscles and chest, had now bones poking out. He looked really old. But he was still able to talk. Not the way he used to though. He didn’t have the energy to argue or debate, but he was listening to what I was saying. I told him about the research I was doing, and what I wanted to do in the future. He was listening to it, but he didn’t say much. Lying in bed, I could see from his face that he wanted to say a lot, but didn’t want to either. He just told me that I should come back home now, after finishing with masters. That I should just come home now, it had been long enough now.
Even though I had so much to talk to him about, and I was already imagining it before I reached home, things really didn’t work out that way. There was obviously a difference in the way we used to talk. And realizing that the magic was gone, I retreated to my shell and didn’t want to express much, knowing that he wouldn’t say much in return. Meanwhile, we were trying everything possible. I and mom went to a homeopathic doctor to show his reports. This was the first time I was going to listen directly to what a doctor had to say about his case. He saw the reports and said- Whoever takes this case now, will be put to shame later, because nothing can be done. He said he can’t give him his medicines, because he has had the chemotherapy medicine, and his homeopathic medicines won’t work before 3 months. It might already be too late by then. As a last resort, he gave us the address of a baba in Alwar, Rajasthan, who gives natural medicines for Cancer, and is known to be miraculous. I don’t know if he or my family really believed in it or not, but in a desperate situation like this, we wanted to do anything. So we decided to go the following weekend.
I had come home on Friday morning, and even before I could understand for myself how I should take this all in, and make my presence felt to him, without getting weak, he faced a terrible blow. On Wednesday night, he said he didn’t want to eat anything, and that he was feeling sick. After a while, he puked. Reddish-brown and black pieces. It looked like dry blood. Not knowing what exactly it was, we decided to take him to the hospital emergency. As soon as he reached the hospital, he started vomiting fresh blood. The cause was internal bleeding. Too much pressure on the nerves of the food pipe. The cancer was spreading everywhere. It had spread to the bile duct, which had caused the jaundice. The liver was becoming weaker and weaker, and so were the other organs. They put a pipe through his nose inside the body and a bag full of blood was taken out. The blood that was there due to the bursting of the nerves. So much blood lost. It left him without any energy. The condition in which he was lying there was even worse. The AIIMS emergency room. Suffocating, the smell of disease all around, chaos, tears, tensed faces, cockroaches and rats moving around. Even a normal healthy person would feel sick standing there. They said they would admit him, but he was discharged the next evening, because he was ‘stable’ now, the doctors said. The reports suggest that the internal bleeding can happen again. The doctors say that he is at a stage where they don’t know what to do with him.
Ever since he came back from the hospital on Thursday night, he has been at his weakest. The jaundice increased so much – his eyes and arms are pale. He cannot walk without support anymore. He doesn’t talk anymore. It seems like he has to gather so much energy to even say two words. He now looks like he is over 80 years old. A man of 55 years he is. He used to be so strong and healthy. I could never have imagined seeing him like this. So weak. So pale. The word father/Dad itself makes you imagine someone strong and bold. But my dad is so weak today. I have to leave for Paris again in 3 days, and I wanted to talk to him about so many things. I said to him, ‘Dad, I’m only here for a few more days. Please talk to me.’ He didn’t say anything.
I had brought my books to study, but I have no energy to concentrate on that. I was supposed to spend good time with him. But he’s lying down next to me. He’s not sleeping, I know. But he doesn’t want to talk to me. Or anyone. He gets angry, and irritated, about everything. We don’t know what he feels from inside, because he doesn’t say. But his face says it all. It seems like he’s in pain. He whines and moans in discomfort. And I’m listening to that as I write this.
The person, who used to down glasses of whiskey, has no strength to lift up a bottle of water to his mouth anymore. He needs to be taken to the toilet, and is only surviving on liquids and light food. We got him the medicines from Alwar – powders and syrups, but he doesn’t even like taking them. They must really be bitter. But all our hopes lie in those powders now. If miracles do exist in this world, then it’s time we witness one now.
If you’ve read through this whole story, I request you to please be more aware of the consequences of alcohol abuse. I know it has become a part of our social life, and nobody is an exception to it. But everything must be done in moderation. As long as you maintain a healthy lifestyle, a little amount and occasional drinking might still be acceptable. But please, please, please do not think that it is okay to drink alcohol regularly. I too never took it seriously until now. We laugh and joke at advertisements before movies etc. that say ‘Alcohol is injurious to health’, but if you see it so closely (which I hope you don’t), you’ll realize how important it is to spread awareness about this.
There is nothing worse than seeing a normal healthy person dry down to this state, just because he gave in to addictions like these. There is no point in suffering later. It is wise to stop at the right time. And even though it is really difficult to see him like this, I’m glad that I came home at the right time, because I wouldn’t have understood the deeper meaning behind those advertisements, if I hadn’t seen it for myself.
Added later : He passed away 20 days after I wrote this blogpost. After a few more internal bleedings, blood vomitings, and coma on his last day. No medicines helped, no miracles happened. I had only seen the worst after I wrote the blogpost, But knowing that it would only get worse, we are atleast glad that he isn’t suffering anymore. Nothing can fill the void he left, but memories and lessons are all we have now.
May he be resting in peace in paradise.
I love you, papa.