I first saw her on April 9th. A beautiful baby. Fair skinned. Healthy looking. Ironic that she had several tubes coming out of her. A machine nearby beeped. The numbers read her heart rate and pulse.
It makes me want to cry.
As I spoke on my phone-in about the death of an almost three-month-old infant, Neha Afreen Banu, I could feel my eyes well up. I was following the baby’s story for three days and the end seemed to have come too soon.
From the very first day, I believed that Baby Afreen just like Falak should not survive. What kind of a life is this where you are pinning on hopes that a three-month-old would survive severe brain damage with tubes inserted into her? You would rather let her go to a better place.
What sort of a world is this where one would even remotely want to hurt a newborn? Afreen’s father reportedly fed her poison-laced biscuits, bit her on her back, and even smothered her with a pillow. It just makes no sense to me. What sort of a man is Umar Farooq for even having the audacity to harm a child? His own child? His own blood and genes? All because he wanted a son? All because of her gender? Didn’t you have to firstly marry a girl to even be able to have that child? And the gender of a child is determined by the chromosome of the male partner. I’m sure all this may mean very little to the man behind all this. The man who killed Afreen.
As I write this, the image of Reshma Banu, Afreen’s mother flashes through my mind. I can’t get the entire ‘hospital experience’ out of my head. The first day I met Reshma, she seemed a little confused. She made conflicting statements. I understand that there was a lot of pressure on her especially under the glare of the media. A 19-year-old (she looks much younger to me) would never have imagined all this trauma.
The next day when I met Reshma, she seemed more composed. Filled with hope. There seemed to be a new strength in her, and a will to fight for her battered baby. I even spoke to Reshma on Wednesday morning. She was calm and spoke clearly. The baby had blood in her stools, she said. I could feel how much she wanted this baby. Especially having had an abortion of her first pregnancy when she was carrying twins.
I had spoken to the doctor a while ago and she had stated that Afreen’s condition hadn’t changed. She had convulsions early that morning.
It was around half past 11 when we feared the worst. A little later I confirmed with the Medical Superintendent of the hospital that Afreen had suffered a cardiac arrest and was no more. Her frail body had given up. She had barely even lived.
I saw Reshma Banu a little later. She was inconsolable. Her hopes shattered. Her only baby dead. All reportedly because her husband wanted a male heir.
As I wrapped up my day and went home, I could only think of the tragedy that had befallen the family. They had gone through so much the past week. Even in their poor financial condition, they were doing everything they could for the little one. As opposed to Farooq’s family who were said to be better off financially, who did not even bother visiting the baby. They are absconding now.
Now that the cameras aren’t there and mics not shoved in their faces, my prayers are with Reshma Banu and her family. No words can console her grief. No hugs can calm her down. After all she has lost her baby.
My only hope now is that the perpetrators are punished severely. And innocent lives like Afreen are allowed to live a life of dignity, or not be brought into this world at all.
Falling ill is somewhat of a rarity for me. And when I do, it almost always seems to entail a blogpost. This time round too, as I was falling ill, I was envisioning my blogpost and how it would read, at least in parts.
It all started one late night when my precious sleep was morbidly disturbed. I was shivering even as I knew that my room doesn’t get too cold in the winters. The fan wasn’t switched on either. My tummy was aching. I knew I had fever and counted how many more hours I had left before I had to wake up early for a fixed appointment with that blessed B S Yeddyurappa. It was 2 AM. I fought sleep and managed to catch, what they call, a few winks.
I was up at 6 AM as I had to be at Mr BSY’s house by 7.30 AM. I knew I had fever, managed a piping hot cup of tea, a warm bath and set out for the day. No medicines yet because I am very much against self-medication. It’s a lesson I have learnt from the past.
I arrived at Race Course Road for my scheduled tete-a-tete with the former Chief Minister of the state. He is not at home madam, said the policeman guarding his residence. Not good news for me. I had already missed the man’s interview the previous day despite hounding him for over three hours and his personal secretary even longer. BSY himself had promised me this morning interview.
Other media colleagues said he was at Krishna, the home-office of Chief Minister D V Sadananda Gowda. We rushed there, knowing we had no chance of an interview there. We waited, nevertheless. I sat on the pavement on Kumara Krupa Road, dying with my illness, a little later managing to find space in the OB van of a local Kannada channel and slept for a bit.
As Yeddyurappa zoomed out of Krishna, I quickly rushed back to Race Course Road, assuming that’s where he was headed. Only to be told, that no one knows where ex-CM saahibru has gone. Sources told me he went to Jayanagar 4th Block with Minister Basavaraj Bommai. I could do nothing but wait at his residence.
With an apple for company, I struggled with my aching stomach and burning fever, shivering to bits. I slept in the office car for a good 1.5 hours. At about 11.30 saahibru arrived. He already had a lot of visitors in the form of party workers and supporters. I managed to squeeze in through this, tried to look a little healthy and shot off the 7-odd minute tic-tac. You can view that interview here.
I quickly sent off the interview and decided to call it a day.
I reached home only to collapse in my bed. Kingfisher of course chose to cancel their flights the very same day. So after some coordination from my bed, I managed to get some rest. The real deal with my medical trauma was yet to begin.
No proper preparation
Dad and I decided to go to my family physician that evening. Dr Gerard Masceranhas is God. He practices at Viveka Clinic on Brigade Road at St Patrick’s complex. We have been going to him since the time my brother was a baby. Dr Mascarenhas always knows the reason behind a problem and I go to him when I am unusually ill because he always has a cure. I told him about my fever and weird catch in the stomach.
He couldn’t understand my tummy ache since I was also constipated and immediately asked me to get a blood test, urine test and a scan done. First bomb. Scan? Why do I need a scan? ‘I want to rule out appendix’. Second bomb. I wanted to hit my freaking head for mentioning in passing to my father earlier that morning about a possibility of appendicitis.
I wanted to run out of the clinic. My stomach ache already felt much better. I was actually feigning it all this while. Sheesh. The colour in my face must have drained.
In my head, now I had appendix. I was thinking of the anesthesia injection, drips, cutting open the stomach, lying in a hospital bed. Urrrgggh. I nauseate even at the thought of drawing blood for a blood test. I hate hospitals, blood and anything majorly medical. The thought of undergoing a surgery just set the ball rolling for me. I was in shock.
And my family doctor never says things at a whim. He always has a logical reason behind it. It was about 6.30 in the evening and he wanted me to rush to the scan centre immediately. His urgency scared me even more. This is the time you recollect stories of appendices bursting, so on and so forth.
Dad and I arrived at Hopkins Memorial Ultrasound Scan Centre located on Queen’s Road. This is incidentally the same centre where my mother underwent an ultra sound scan when she was pregnant with me. Nice memory but I dreaded the thought of what the scan could reveal. I know my insides are full of rubbish and now it was all going to be on the record.
After a bit of a wait, Dr Shankar and his wife showed me to the scan room. Dr Shankar had already spoken to Dr Mascarenhas and treated me as an ‘urgent’ case. After applying the cold gel, he started the scan procedure. For about 30 minutes, he scanned my stomach, lower abdomen to be specific. My eyes were shut and opened only to occasionally see the expression on Dr Shankar’s face. ‘Your preparation is not proper’, he said. Huh? ‘I can’t see anything, it’s too fuzzy’. I am like, what are you talking about, is my appendix okay or not. He scanned again. ‘Your preparation is not proper’, he repeated.
Okay, like I said, I know my insides are probably full of rubbish from all the crap I eat, but I didn’t think an ultra sound scan couldn’t get past it.
Dr Shankar wanted me back the next day at 12.30 PM on an empty stomach, no water, no food. ‘You can pass urine at 10 AM but after that don’t’, he added. Great. My next day was set.
Blood and urine test in the morning at Anand lab. And a timetable to pee.
Bowels can move
After my tests in the morning, I arrived at the Hopkins Memorial Ultrasound Scan Centre a little before noon. Dad hoped we could get ahead of the ‘queue’. When there, an attender told me that Dr Mascarenhas had called the centre and wanted me to call him back immediately.
I was already flustered because I had imagined the craziest of ailments for myself, much beyond the possible appendicitis. I telephoned Dr Mascarenhas who said he wanted me to take my scan and blood test reports to a surgeon for a surgical opinion.
Surgical opinion? I was already shitting loads, not literally though and that was the problem which I later was told.
Meet Dr Kennet d’Cruz at St Philomena’s Hospital, he said. That doctor was available only Tuesdays and that was four days away and Dr Mascarenhas did not want to wait that long. He asked me to anyways meet him later that evening with all my reports. My scan began at about 1.30 PM. To say I was nervous is an understatement. Dr Shankar began the procedure. For about a half hour he pressed and prodded, me imagining that all the rubbish is now coming to the fore on that tiny monitor.
He starts dictating to his assistant. Pancreas normal. Spleen normal. Liver normal. Kidneys normal. Gall bladder normal. My mind was trying to think of what more organs were left. I still hadn’t heard appendix. And I was waiting for it.
Dr Shankar asked me to drink two glasses of water and come back for the scan with fluids in the stomach. I went out to dad still not knowing what in the world was going on in my body. Drank two glasses of water and waited for my turn again.
All through dad was confident that it wouldn’t be appendix. He had been telling me from the previous evening that it was all because of an improper diet. I appreciated his confidence and optimism but knew it has to be that darned appendix of mine acting up.
In the waiting room, I can see Dr Shankar drawing a diagram of something that looks like the fallopian tube and other related parts. I am confident that the diagram is for my explanation and am preparing for the worst. I am called back in for my scan. Dr Shankar asks me what I do. I tell him. He asks me if I eat out a lot. I reply in the affirmative. He continues to press and prod on my stomach even as he questions me on whether the media has a prerequisite on what to cover and what not to cover. ‘I’m asking out of curiosity’. We make small conversation even as my tummy hurts and I am yet to hear on the fate of my insides. Remember, I haven’t eaten a morsel since the previous night’s dinner.
Dr Shankar finally says he is unable to find anything. So it’s not the appendix. I want to get up and do a little jig. He finds some bowel loops with mucosal thickening and the collecting system in the right kidney appeared baggy.
Dr Shankar explains that it appears to be an infection and that he is not able to specify what. ‘There are a lot of non-specific infections these days’, he says.
I literally want to sprint out of Hopkins. My mother was here with me in her tummy and that’s the memory I want to have.
Dad and I head back home and I have my first meal for the day. Keerai Kozhambu (Spinach and dal curry) with seppa kazhangu (colacasia). I relish it and prepare to leave soon to collect my test reports and head to meet Dr Mascarenhas.
My blood and urine test reports don’t look too good. My White Blood Cell count appears high and there’s some other stuff that don’t appear normal. One more bomb. Dr Mascarenhas, I hope you work your magic.
As soon as I arrive at Dr Mascarenhas’s office, he looks through the report and asks me if I have pooped. I finally had and I said yes! ‘I am so glad you passed stool’, he replied, ‘I was very worried because you were constipated’. The first time I or anyone else has ever been so happy about pooping! Dad says the keerai kozhambu did the trick.
Dr Mascarenhas writes my medication. I still don’t know what’s wrong with me. All I know is that I am not going to have any kind of surgery.
That’s when Dr Mascarenhas decides to crash my dreams and says he still wants a surgical opinion. Are you kidding me? I just couldn’t get why he was after me and surgery.
He still worried about the lower abdominal pain and wants to identify the problem. This even after I have pooped and made everyone happy.
So my next day is set with Dr H R Ravi, General Surgeon, Manipal Hospital.
Appendix still in place
Even as my bowels are working better, I don’t know what awaits me at the general surgeon’s table. Why was Dr Mascarenhas hell bent on a surgical opinion? I felt like a guinea pig for these doctors who had got a new case for their topic of discussion at their next conference.
After completing the formalities at Manipal Hospital’s registration desk, we headed to Dr Ravi’s cabin. The hospital itself resembled a shopping mall. My father used the word ‘market’.
I explained the entire two-day saga to Dr Ravi. His verdict sealed the deal. ‘It’s just an infection’. Fever, lower abdominal pain and diarrhea are symptoms of an infection. So is the WBC count.
What did me in was the missing diarrhea. It came a day too late and that’s what worried Dr Mascarenhas. I went back and gave him an account of what Dr Ravi said. ‘I get diarrhea cases everyday but you were constipated when you came to me’, Dr Mascarenhas said. We were both relieved!
And my personal medical adventure came to a close with a prescribed antibiotic and an antacid. Not to add, liquids, curd rice, tender coconut water et al.
I went home and slept like a baby, appendix still in place.
Don’t blame the coconut tree
I woke up to find my cousin running back into the house saying a coconut fell on my dad’s head. I rushed out to see my father sitting on a chair with his head held back, and my neighbours around him. A coconut from the coconut tree in my garden hit his forehead and his nose had bled. He, thankfully, didn’t lose consciousness and wasn’t dizzy or giddy. He had a small bruise on the forehead.
We nevertheless rushed back to my general physician, Dr Mascarenhas. You can imagine the look on his face to see father and daughter for the fourth time in three days. ‘I don’t deal with trauma cases’, was the first thing he said. But quickly gave dad a tetanus shot and recommended a CT scan in case he feels giddy or loses consciousness.
Dr Mascarenhas also gave us some trivia that he recently read in a newspaper report where WHO figures say there are at least 500 deaths world-wide annually from coconut-falling.
We got back home, to tell everyone the coconut-hitting-the-head story. My sister of course was out of her wits. My brother needs to be kicked for telling her.
It is a good story to tell, especially after years of my family believing that coconuts never fall on anyone’s head. It has always missed people by an inch. But this time it happened. Dad says it’s his fault for not getting it cleaned. So no one’s blaming the coconut tree.
And that’s it for my medical adventure and the kicked-in coconut story. Dad and I are doing well now. We plan to make either barfi or chutney from the coconut.
The above blogpost contains full names of persons and organizations wherever possible in order to ensure attributions. No portion or part is intended to hurt anyone and is strictly a personal narration based on facts. If portions of it caused you any nausea, just remember: Why fart and waste when you can burp and taste – Anonymous.