Vicks Vaporub. It’s one of my earliest childhood memories. The smell to date can comfort me and fool me into feeling safe, warm, loved. Like my father’s beautiful hands were when he tenderly applied it on my nose, forehead, chest, and back. I caught colds very often as a child. I grew up with a terribly blocked nose most of the time. So Papa always stocked Vicks Vaporub at home.

Years later, sick to my heart in Melbourne one cold night, lying in bed alone, and fretting, I reached out for the Vicks bottle I always carry with me. The comfort was instantaneous.

Last night, I evoked the warmth and tenderness of my father’s fingers as I tried to keep him warm and comfortable.

He healed well from his hip replacement surgery. But I didn’t find it in me to put him back at the care centre. I found excuses. He needs an elevated toilet seat, he shouldn’t climb stairs yet, what if he has a fall again?

We used a respite care centre instead and dropped him off for a week or ten days so mom and I could get a breather from caregiving.

At home, he was easy. He immersed himself in colouring books, watched old Hindi song videos or travel documentaries on TV. Occasionally we took him out to Indiranagar for a drive and an outing. It was the perfect distance to not tire him and yet feel far enough like we had gone out. Mom and I prayed this would continue.

Others with ailing parents found alternative caregiving solutions. Money, even among the comfortable, was a huge consideration. Hearing them talk that way was sobering. I have zero savings; I live a comfortable but hand-to-mouth existence depending on income from classes, any stray corporate gigs to run our household. For emergencies, I have always had to depend on my kind brother or erstwhile friends to tide me over. How on earth was I thinking of spending 20-25 thousand a month just so mom and I had this burdensome sense of free time and extra guilt?

So mom and I changed our behaviour to accommodate Papa’s changing health. And he was easy. He really was this time.

Then for over three weeks now, he drastically altered how much he ate till last week it was more than a few handfuls. We were all down with a flu so we put it down to it.

Four days ago, in his sleep, he lost control of his bowels. It must have scared and shocked him because in his fashion he cleaned up after himself. But we still found stains and soiled sheets. We assured him it was OK but he got more subdued. The next night too the same thing happened and after that he refused to eat more than two tablespoons of food in any meal.

“I will leave, if you can’t look after me. I don’t have to put up with you two. I can earn my living,” he raged when I asked him to shave and shower. Hygiene was becoming an issue again. Some days he would groom himself on his own without prompting. But increasingly that had become more rare.

It was a jolt. My mom and I were physically incapable of this sort of care-taking. I began to pack his bags for the centre. He looked miserable. I knew he didn’t want to go for all his anger and bravado.

The fever began that night.

We sponge bathed and diapered him up and he let us do it without protest. No matter how much we coaxed him, he wouldn’t eat.

He refused to or couldn’t tell us if he was in any sort of pain.

In the morning, he was shivering and feverish so I took him to our family GP who gave him an injection and medicines to stop the fever. He could tell and we knew he had a congestion because I had just recovered from the flu myself. My mom had just begun showing flu symptoms. We got her the medicines as well.

Papa refused all food. He got weaker and frailer by 7 pm. He shivered uncontrollably. I wrapped him up in two blankets a sweater but he continued to shiver. Suddenly it struck me.

I got these sort of shivers. Being perimenopausal now, UTIs were just something I had to deal with.

I called the GP who immediately decided to start him on antibiotics.

But by 10 pm, after only drinking juice and tea, Papa looked ghoulish. It didn’t feel right. The GP said he was worried too but that we must not rush to a strange hospital at that time. He told me to sit tight and help Papa through the night.

I looked at mom. She could barely stand. In spite of wearing the diaper, my dad insisted on using the restroom. We could barely hold him up between the two of us. I had begun to feel feverish by then. As always, the stress and worry gave me a kickass inflammation. My RA flare-up, the ever faithful, kicked in.

I called our male help to spend the night. He did all the heavy-lifting. Papa couldn’t or wouldn’t sleep. I kept feeding him sugar and salt solution because there were no electrolytes in the house. How asinine was that! Papa kept insisting on peeing in the bathroom. He ended up dirtying the entire house. Our help and I cleaned him, the house, only to have it happen again within an hour. We got no sleep.

Papa’s face was shrunken and ashen. Finally the tremors ceased. I assured him as he used to that he would be fit and fine by morning. I told him I would never leave him at a dementia centre. Amma and I would always love him and take care of him. I imagined him feeling comforted.

But soon the tremors ceased. The antibiotics had worked. It was an UTI.

Amma slept through this ordeal, fevered and sick herself.

I could barely move by then. My fingers were thick German sausages. My ankle and feet swollen to twice its size. The house slippers tightened like a vise around it. My fever was also climbing. I read about on the last stages of dementia, which could still last weeks, months, even a year. My dad seemed to be exhibiting text book symptoms. It didn’t look good.

I began praying, chanting, The Wasteland.

“Burning burning burning… O lord thou pluckest me out.”

If he is to go, make it swift and merciful, universe. Don’t let him suffer. Don’t let him shiver. Don’t let him hurt. But I am an asshole because really it’s me who doesn’t what to suffer or deal with the conundrum of caring for him at home or at a centre.

I tried to feed him a biscuit. He chewed and chewed but couldn’t swallow. I fed him water from a spoon.

Then spoke the thunder.

“Da. Da. Da.

Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.”

I am unable to give my Papa anything. I am neither kind nor sympathetic and I am slowly losing all control and getting hysterical.

I called the respite centre and admitted him in the morning. I rushed home in shock, brimming with guilt and fever, messaged my situation to close friends and family, watched a BTS video, and took a class on writing.

I begged my masseuse friend to come by and give me a massage because by then I could not sit nor lie nor sleep. As she untangled the knots, and kneaded the stiffness, the tears started in.

Papa has a high grade fever and is not doing well at all. His not eating, and inability to swallow, are not good signs. Neither is the incontinence. He can’t dress or clean up after himself. He has become quiet and subdued. None of these are good signs. I am struck by how suddenly, in three days, the deterioration happened.

He could recover in a few days or not.

I want him to go soon and in peace and not suffer.

So this is what the end of a life feels like.

It’s full of regrets.

So smug we are when we are healthy, alive, away from death. Though, I have tried not to be that way. My illnesses have taught me not to take my body or life for granted.

There is nothing to the body.

The body is everything.

Frail, shivering, losing control of senses, voiding and soiling ourselves, for this we act so vain and important.

Yet, the body is beautiful in all that it lets happen like movement, like love.

Did Papa feel my love and comfort when I massaged him, cleaned him, fed him last night?

I wish I had shown him that lake near Bidadi, taken him to Malleshwaram again, Mangalore again, at least on one international holiday. I wish he could know how my mom and I feel, that we all got to talk our feelings in this house, that he could breathe his last in his own room surrounded by us, that I had recorded our voices, made videos, taken more pictures. I wish we had hugged and kissed more.

Suddenly, even if he recovers from this infection, it’s not good. We clearly can’t keep him at home. The thought of him anywhere else without us tears me up inside. Money is the last consideration. But I am, we are, physically incapable of caregiving.

So prayers then. So vigil then. So coming face-to-face with the capriciousness of life and death then, which is really the same thing.

Death, like life, doesn’t care for our comfort or desires or hopes, and most certainly not our prayers.

It simply is.

Yet keeping a vigil and lamenting is all we have. Maybe I will smear Vicks Vaporub all over myself.


About Bhumika's Boudoir

I love to laugh, and end up being a part of high drama and stormy emotion even when I don't pursue it. Being creative, and communicating with people get me going. I enjoy all the good things in life especially those that are slightly risque, and apologise little, if ever, for all that I do. Literature is a passion and so is music.
This entry was posted in Blue Funk, Idle Thoughts, In Sickness and In Health. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Vigil

  1. My heart weeps for you. I’ve been in a similar situation, but I was too young to understand then. A loved one, but I wasn’t the primary caregiver or responsible enough to take on the responsibility. Now, however, I’m afraid. Soon I will have to make such decisions. Will I be able to? I don’t know. However, in your case, all I will say is that you are not alone. We might not speak on a regular basis or even meet up. But if ever you need a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen to, I’m here for you. Hugs.


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