When we were children, August 15th was a big deal. It meant it was a holiday for school and we would go to appa’s office for flag hoisting, pin a flag proudly on our chest, eat sweets and enjoy the rest of our day off. Which meant we could play with friends or go out with family to meet other family and friends.
After we moved to Ireland, it meant a rushed visit to the Indian ambassador’s house for flag hoisting and breakfast if it was a working day and if it was a holiday then we would stay much longer than the flag hoisting and chat with friends, sometimes we would meet some of these people only twice a year – on August 15th and January 26th. It would be interesting to watch all these “patriotic” people turn up for the flag hoisting year after year, against all odds sometimes even braving the weather.
Things changed for me six and a half years ago. One of those January 26th, when Abhinav was exactly six months old we took him to for flag hoisting. It was a holiday and it was fun to be there and meet other friends. It was a tiring day and when we came home Abhinav was cranky and refused to eat anything that I gave him. In all my ignorance I ended up trying to give him yogurt and that was when I realised he was allergic to dairy. Had to rush him to emergency on a Sunday at 7pm! Lesson learnt – no trying new food in the evening and surely not on holidays. January 26th would never be the same for me. Each year I remember my trip to emergency and how scared I was that I would lose my child.
Fast forward another three and a half years, it was August 15th, 2010. We were in Bangalore, India, where it is a holiday normally and to make things worse it was a Sunday as well. I knew not to give him anything new on a Sunday by now. So it wasn’t food or allergies. He was fine, we had a friend over with her two children. It was great fun. The kids had spent the weekend playing in the pool, running around on the streets and playing in the sand in the park. Nothing new about it. Just that Abhinav had just caught a cold somewhere during the weekend and on the night of August 14th he was really really struggling hard to breathe. I did all I could to ease his pain. When I woke up on 15th, I knew I had to rush him to see a doctor. Prakash thought it was the usual cold and didn’t take it seriously. But somewhere something told me not to let it go without visiting the doctor.
Prakash was supposed to drop the friend and her two little ones back home in Vijayanagar 35kms away. It would have been difficult for her to travel by bus alone. I thought for a moment and asked her if she could wait till I took Abhi to the hospital. Even a quick nebulisation would help, That is what I thought anyway. After convincing Prakash that it was really important to take my wee man to the hospital and researching on who would be open on a public holiday and Sunday we decided to take him to Apollo clinic near by.
Only after going there we realised the seriousness of the situation. They put him on the nebuliser and started monitoring him. His oxygen levels in blood were dropping and they asked us to rush him to Narayana Hridayalaya and get him admitted if they asked us to. That rang a bell somewhere. With no time to waste, we rushed him to the hospital. Being a holiday the hospital was nearly empty. The doctors checked him took bloods, did X-rays and put him on the monitor and nebuliser. They some how came to the conclusion that he had pneumonia and had to be admitted as his blood oxygen levels were not stabilising. I will never forget that day. I could hear my child scream from the ICU when I was outside, beyond the doors and far away in the corridor. I can still hear it in my ears. All I wanted to do was to just curl up on the floor and cry and ask them to leave my baby alone.
That night when I was home alone, I could not sleep all night. I called up the ICU ten times to see if he was getting better. I felt so helpless as a mother. I was not allowed to be beside him when he needed me the most. I still cannot forgive my self for what happened that day or the next two weeks when again I thought I had nearly lost him. My son is a fighter. He survived, inspite of the goof-ups.
The next afternoon was when it happened. While I was waiting outside the ICU, the poor child was given milk when I had clearly mentioned that he was allergic to dairy, He kept telling the nurse that he was allergic to milk and the nurse still fed him a few spoons. When I went in to see him a few minutes later the child could hardly breathe.
To cover up his mistake, the duty doctor put him on ventilator immediately and on 10 different anti-biotics, anti-fungicides and other medicines. It was no easy task to have my son in hospital and not be able to be beside him, hold his hand and tell him everything will be alright. What I went through the next two weeks I would never ever want any mother to go through ever!
When he was moved to the step down ICU, I would lift my child out of bed with all those tubes and needles and put him on my lap and nurse him. I was told that the pediatrician didn’t support breastfeeding beyond a year or two and my son was four years plus. I did not tell anyone anything. People around me thought that I was holding my son and that is all. Nobody noticed anything. I kept feeding him every now and then. His throat was sore because of being intubated. He could not eat solids or drink the soya milk I had for him. The only thing that he could actually do is feed off me and guess what that healed his throat quicker than anyone would have imagined. By the time he was moved to a normal room he could eat all the food that I cooked at home and brought for him.
He was asked to take medicine for 6 months and within one and a half months the doctor asked me to stop all medications because he was perfectly alright! All thanks to breastfeeding. If I was not comfortable nursing in public, then I couldn’t have done it in the hospital which wouldn’t have helped. And yes, I was feeding a four year old son and he is fine at seven years, hasn’t given him any kind of problems so far!
The last time I was like this was when we had an accident a decade or so ago around the same time and there were three people in hospital, but all three were grown ups and knew how to take care of themselves, and I did not have to worry about anything, other than plonk myself on the hospital bench, talk to the doctors every now and then and leave for home when they chased me out of the hospital each night. But this time I had to take care of my two year old still breastfeeding daughter as well.
Through the next two weeks I learnt a lot. I learnt who my friends were. I saw the other side of people. I struggled through it with help from friends and my mother who came to take care of Anoushka when I stayed in hospital with Abhinav. I had my neighbours dropping and picking me up from the hospital. They were all Godsend!
Today he doesn’t remember most of it, or at least he doesn’t talk about it. But it hasn’t gone off from my mind. While I don’t talk about it to anyone – it is not just about the hospital but what I went through with people around me during and after that incident. Though I try to let go of a lot of this, I still remember most of it on this day and it is reminder for me to trust my instincts and not to trust people completely.