July 9, 2010

Just The Kind Of Face You Make

Fritz Gonsalves, New Delhi

“Your dad suffered a heart attack, but he is fine now”. That was my friend calling me at 10 a.m in the morning sometime in April and that was the first time I made this awful fart kind of face.

I allowed the news to sink in and then called up my bother and broke the news to him. There was a 30-second silence and in all probability he was busy making the same face. The next I broke the news to my boss and teammates and in no time they all had the same look on their faces. At once everyone logged on to Cleartrip, Make My Trip and Travelguru to check for cheap airline tickets to Bhopal, my hometown.

By 5-o-clock I was 72, 000 feet in the air and practicing the calm-face look. But I failed miserably. The fart look has taken over my face. By the time I landed it was already 8.00. Dad was in hospital, so I drove straight there. Greeting me at the hospital were our family friends. I was meeting them after a couple of years and because I am terrible at making polite conversation, I had absolutely nothing to say. They took me to the ICU. I saw my old man. He was wearing an oxygen mask and was busy flirting with a Mallu nurse. He looked cheerful, as if he has just found a reason to live. I exchanged some pleasantries, enquired about mom and then got moving. Our family friends took me to the junior doctor and introduced me. Suddenly the same look came over his face. He explained to me the medical condition: “Your dad suffers from myocardial infarction”. I was shocked. So now, apart from a heart attack he also suffers from myocardial infrastructure or whatever. No dumbo, both are the same thing. He didn’t say it. I just figured it by the fart face look.

Now the serious stuff, the plan of action day, the ‘take control and get it right’ stuff. Tomorrow was that day.

The doctors were going to perform angiography and then if need be angioplasty and then if nothing worked, bypass. Now if one is really lucky, and trust me, a lot of heart patients are, angiography is good enough. The doctor injects a dye into the blood vessel and they’ll get to know the exact location of the block. The dye just washes the block away. But if you are not so lucky, which means the block is this mean kid who refuses to go to school, then they inflate the vein and blast it with an air bubble. The block disappears. That’s angioplasty. But if the block belongs to this hard-arse Jat family, notorious for illegally occupying your ancestral property, then it’s time to roll the drums. Bypass, Bypass, Bypass. I somehow had the intuition it was going to be Bypass. My intuition was right.

The next day I met the senior surgeon. And the first word that hit me was ‘saint’. The guy was as white as white cement. I mean apart from his jet-black thinning hair, everything else was white. It’s kind of reassuring when the Surgeon General looks like a saint. But his looks surely got my imagination working. We were given a bypass date, which was still fifteen days away. So I decided to come back to Mumbai for a week and wait, but my dad suffered another myocardial infarction and I ran back home again.

The surgeon decided to advance the surgery. But we still had one week. Now dad still had to kill time and as I’m still single and the private ward was full of caring, homely, unmarried Mullu nurses, he went right into business. No time to waste. “Before the surgeon opens my heart, I’ll make sure my son gives his heart to one of these nurses. Perfect union.” So whenever I was around he would deliberately call the nurse on duty and indulge in polite Mallu conversation. Soon enough, I was acquainted with Jincy, Lincy and Vincy. None excited me. But there was one nurse who had my hormones running and one night when Dad was fast asleep…well forget it, we had work to do … a bypass surgery.

So after another three days in hospital Dad was wheeled inside for the Father of All Surgeries – BYPASS.

Now, bypass is one thing but deciding on a bypass is no kindergarden stuff. So while Dad is busy getting his chest opened, I’ll talk about the things that go into it before the operation. First you have to decide the doctor and the hospital. Everyone I knew had a suggestion regarding the doctor and a hospital. Everyone suggested a doctor who was better than the one mentioned by someone else. Then you have to decide whether to choose beating-heart surgery or silent-heart surgery (I think they are self-explanatory). And finally the legal papers that you are supposed to sign. This basically states that you can’t hold the hospital or doctor responsible for the patient’s death. I signed it.

One of the funniest conversations I have ever heard in my life happened in the waiting room between two middle-aged ladies. One, whose husband was being operated along with my Dad and another whose husband got operated a week back. The woman whose husband was being operated was sobbing silently. Taking pity Mrs. Consolation comes and sits next to her and starts a polite conversation. This was tolerable, but in less than a minute she dropped in a bomb that turned Mrs. Sobbing into a graveyard. It sounded something like this: “Look sister, everything is going to be fine, but God forbid anything goes wrong, then you should think of it like this - that God liked him more that you did and so He decided to take him back. It’s such a blessing.” In flat 5 seconds the sobbing became wailing. Mrs. Consolation realized that she had committed something that closely resembled Honor Killing. So to cover it up she tried another line of consolation: “But you can always meet in the next life; you do believe in rebirth, don’t you? And sometimes the love is so strong that the spirit of the deceased doesn’t even leave. It stays with you”. Honor killing metamorphosed into gruesome first-degree murder and Mrs. Consolation was at it with a vengeance.

Finally after eight agonizing hours Dad was wheeled out. Apparently, the operation only takes two hours; the other six are for the relatives to enjoy first class agony. The bypass was successful. The saint was smiling. Even the husband whose wife bravely survived the honour killing was fine. And my face was back to being a face again.

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