To be or not to be…?

November 9, 2018

When I got up this morning and looked at the little critter, I thought she was dead. She had shrunk visibly the past couple of days. When Diwali firecrackers were exploding all around us, she didn’t even flinch. But when I sat down next to her this morning and stroked her tiny body, one of her back legs twitched. She wasn’t dead yet.

But she would be, soon. And I couldn’t have her lying at my doorstep. I’ve picked up one dead kitten in the recent past. I know how not nice it is. So I got a scrap of olive green cloth, remnants of a tablecloth that had had way too much food over the years. I laid her gently on the green cloth. When the time came, it would be easier to pick her up.

As I worked my way through making and serving breakfast, I told myself I would toss her on the pile of leaves outside. She would die and decompose there, without stinking too badly. It’s not as if she was the only little kitten around, after all. We currently had three queens. Bread, with a litter of four, one of whom had been killed by dogs, so down to three, but those three now quite viable. (And cute – that goes without saying.) The Lil Girl, who had three, of which this one knocking on heaven’s door was one. The other two looked strong and healthy. They were now exactly two months old, and smaller than Bread’s kittens, but catching up fast. And then there was the Sleepy Eyes. She had delivered her second litter recently. There were three, but now there are two. I don’t know what happened to the third, but considering it was still blind and couldn’t move, she must have taken it and deposited it somewhere, presumably dead or dying.

So yes, births and deaths aplenty. And Piglet, the sole survivor of the Sleepy Eyes’s first litter, was still around, playing big bossy brother to all the other kittens and alternating between adopted son and suitor to the Lil Girl.

Black Head and Blue Eyes, Squint’s siblings. And Piglet curled up with the Lil Girl and all three kittens.

 

By the end of breakfast, I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get involved. Let’s face it: Squint had always been the runt of the litter and she had something wrong with her eyes – at least one, maybe both. I’d thought it would fix itself, but maybe not. If nature didn’t think she was a survivor, and if her own mother wasn’t unduly concerned, and if we already had more foster kittens than one could shake a tree at…

But of course, I didn’t really have it in me to just sit back and watch a soul die. What if she had just a glimmer of a hope of survival?

How does one feed a dying kitten? She couldn’t even hold her head upright, much less actually eat something. Cotton wool dipped in milk is all very well when you read about it, but it’s damn tedious. I wasn’t sure we had cotton wool in the house. And it was a working day after all. I took one of my eye drop bottles and prised the dropper off it. I rinsed it and dribbled some warm milk into it. The bottle only held 10 ml, but it turns out that’s a lot for a kitten, under the circumstances. And so it started.

At first, Squint was too weak to swallow. I held her head up with two fingers and squirted the milk into her mouth. Some went down, some went out. When I went back a couple of hours later, she could swallow. She opened her mouth, rooting for her mother’s teat. The eye dropper wouldn’t do as a substitute, but the cow’s milk was acceptable. By lunch time, she could move her head, but by then she didn’t like the milk anymore. I don’t really approve of force feeding anyone, but honestly, there wasn’t much force involved.

By mid afternoon, she was ready to stumble around a few steps at a time. And by evening, she had stumbled in stages from the front porch to the back garden. She was also able to make it clear by then that she didn’t like milk being squirted down her throat, thank you very much. Not that that got her very far. The milk was clearly helping.

Her litter mates were quite outraged with all the attention that she was getting. If there was any milk going, they could dispose of it quite well, didn’t I think? And without so much mess. They went and licked every molecule of milk off Squint’s fur. It would have been sweet, if it weren’t so despicable. Luckily, Squint’s mother was a little more concerned. She wandered over to give Squint a good licking, and not just for stray molecules of milk, I believe. But cats are prosaic creatures (or do I mean stoic?). The Lil Girl wasn’t too worried that one of her babies was fading fast. She just got on with scavenging for food, getting her me time, and tolerating her other two kittens. Apart from checking in with me if there were any unexpected goodies coming her way, it was business as usual for her.

Only Piglet, surprisingly enough, stuck close to Squint. He’d curled up next to her as she declined over the past two days, and when she finally stumbled into the back lawn late in the day, it was Piglet that she curled up next to. He didn’t care for milk molecules on her fur either – Piglet had his good food sources all sorted.

At last, when the Lil Girl reappeared after her afternoon snooze, Squint mewed quietly and stumbled up to mommy and asked for milk. The Lil Girl seemed inclined to wander off, but that was too much for me. I told her to lie down and do her duty for once, for heaven’s sake. And she did, for a while.

Squint still refused any milk or water or scraps of boiled chicken that I offered (of course, there were plenty of other takers for those, apart from the water), but the fact that she had sought out her mother was encouraging. And yet, she didn’t look well on the way to recovery yet. She didn’t look as if she would die any moment, as she had in the morning, and clearly she could move about a bit, which was a big improvement over not being able to raise her head, but still… Her eyes keep getting encrusted and I’m not sure she can see at all. If she can’t see, or even if she can see with only one eye, she’s not long for this world, that’s for sure.

There are some battles you can’t win. But there are some battles which, even if you know you can’t win, you can’t help fighting.

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Cat and Mouse Games

September 13, 2018

SleepyEyesSleepy Eyes climbed over the fence carrying a huge rat by the scruff of its neck. The rat wasn’t dead yet, but it would be soon, thought Sleepy Eyes happily. Such a big one – it would be food enough for her and her kittens. There they were: Piglet and Duffer. Stupid names, given by the humans; couldn’t they see he was a kitten, not a piglet? So he had a bit of a snub nose. That didn’t make him a piglet! After all, if he was a piglet, what did that make her? Stupid humans! Sleepy Eyes snorted as indignantly as she could without letting go of the rat. It wasn’t easy. Duffer was a slightly more accurate moniker, she had to admit. The small brown fellow was as cute as anything, but nobody could accuse him of being smart. Just the other day he’d been sitting outside the gate, a mere three feet away from a big brown dog. Of course the humans had seen that. One of them hurriedly picked him up and threw him inside the gate. Then they had also seen him the next day, scrambling for dear life as another big brown dog chased him across the street. He’d only just saved his hide by crawling under the gate. It was a close shave. Of course, all cats had such close shaves at some point – that was how you separated the wheat from the chaff, thought Sleepy Eyes with just a hint of smugness. Only, when Duffer got into those scrapes, you tended to pray for him; it was so apparent that he didn’t have a lot going on in his head. He was going to end up being chaff someday soon.
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They’d seen her now. Duffer just watched lazily, but Piglet was off at a run, bounding over the grass toward her. In a trice, he had wrestled the rat from her jaws. Sleepy Eyes gave in reluctantly. He was her son, after all, her first born in fact. Having got hold of the rat, Piglet ran off to the middle of the lawn. Idiot. A sensible cat took his prey to a secret hiding place. And he was holding it all wrong, from the butt instead of the neck. Holding it from the neck, there was some chance of puncturing a vein and letting it bleed to death. But Piglet didn’t know that yet. The rat was almost as big as he was, and much older and much, much smarter. Piglet laid it down on the grass and didn’t know what to do next.

Ah, there was Mister Black. A big, strong, handsome tom, with glossy black fur, a long, thick tail, and menacing green eyes. The humans didn’t like him, but Sleepy Eyes didn’t mind him. True, he had killed at least one of her half-sister-from-another-litter’s kittens and had made a good attempt to kill the other four as well. But that was just him doing his best to pass on his genes like a good tom should. Kill the other toms’ kittens and mate with the mother as soon as she’s ready. That made sense. Sleepy Eyes, very sensibly, had mated with him and with all the other toms in the neighborhood. She only had two kittens but nobody knew whose they were, so everybody left them alone. That was the way to do it. Mister Black didn’t trouble her kittens at all.

The humans always chased Mister Black away. And there was a human watching them now. This one, the woman, wasn’t so inimical towards Mister Black, but Mister Black knew better than to trust any member of this race. He threw Piglet a disdainful look and strolled off majestically, ignoring the woman.

Piglet let go of the rat’s butt and the rat promptly limped away, heading, for some reason, towards Duffer, who had trotted along to see what all the excitement was about. Noticing this belligerent beast almost as big as him heading in his direction, Duffer promptly jumped a few feet back and looked around for protection. Piglet, rather nonplussed at this turn of events, followed carefully behind the rat. Sleepy Eyes sighed. It was going to be a long, hard battle now.

The rat found a nice leafy spot to hide in. Sleepy Eyes goaded him with a quick, careful paw. He jumped. They both waited a few minutes and then she tried again. He jumped again. He was big, he was evil, he wasn’t significantly wounded, and he sure as hell wasn’t going down without a fight. He had a tiny mouth full of sharp teeth and tiny beady black eyes that tracked her every move. He jumped, he growled, he did the rat version of snapping. Sleepy Eyes was not a big cat. Piglet was useless, Duffer was worse than useless and everyone, even the rat, knew that cats didn’t hunt in packs.

The action progressed sporadically from one bush to another. Once, for a few minutes, the rat maneuvered himself out of cover into a sandy patch and Sleepy Eyes thought she had him. But no. He jumped, snarled, and scurried around until he found a thick patch of Pentas to hide under. Try as she might, Sleepy Eyes could hardly get a paw through to whack him.

Then The Lil Girl turned up. She was Sleepy Eyes’ twin, but neither of them cared to remember that anymore. They tolerated each other, more or less (Sleepy Eyes more, The Lil Girl less), but The Lil Girl was a good hunter. She’d been known to catch squirrels, even pigeons on a lucky day. And plenty of rats, of course. The Lil Girl eyed the action in a desultory fashion. She didn’t seem to fancy the odds, so she sat down next to the Pentas and started to wash her face. The cheek of it, thought Sleepy Eyes. At least she could have shown some interest. After all, The Lil Girl had a brood to feed as well. Of course, they were still walnut sized, eyes still closed, nowhere near eating solids yet, but all the same. A lactating mother needs her protein.

Sleepy Eyes sighed as the rat, sensing her distraction, made a run for it. For a large, overweight rodent, he was surprisingly nimble and in a flash he had scrambled over the wall, up the fence, shimmied up a drain pipe and leapt into the first floor balcony of the next building. Sleepy Eyes gave chase, but her heart wasn’t in it. She couldn’t shimmy up the drain pipe, she knew that much for sure. And such a large and aggressive beast, was he even worth it? She’d already wasted a good 45 minutes playing cat and mouse games with him in the garden. She stared up at the balcony wistfully. There goes dinner, she thought sadly, as Piglet came bounding up to her and Duffer watched from below, trying to find a route that worked for him. Dinner would have to be cow’s milk from the stupid humans again. Cow’s milk! As if any self-respecting cat ever ate cow’s milk. And they had chicken tonight, she had smelled it. Humans were funny – the brought their catch home smelling nice and fresh, raw, bloody, just begging to be eaten. Then they made it cold. Then they mixed it with a lot of foul and toxic things like onions (sheer poison! Humans really didn’t know anything!) and garlic (seriously!? Garlic!?!) and then they made it really hot and then they ate it. Such a waste!

Oh, well, thought Sleepy Eyes sadly as she climbed down and ambled over to lie in the shade with Duffer and Piglet. There will be more rats to hunt. Tomorrow is another day.


Foodie Christmas

December 25, 2014

We usually end up going out for either lunch or dinner on Christmas. But this time, with Amit away, I just couldn’t work up the enthusiasm. After spending the morning wondering whether a trip to the mall would be worth it or not, I decided at 12 o’clock to go to Nature’s Basket instead and see what could be found. In the end, for the princely sum of 680 rupees, I came back with a feast. At 1 p.m., lunch was served. How? Well, it doesn’t take much time when all you have to do is to throw everything into a big non-stick pan and call it a mixed grill platter. We had bacon bits (which of course lent their fat and flavour to everything else in the pan), a roast chicken breast, chicken with onion and cheese sausages, and – in another pan – spicy chicken wings. I took out some of yesterday’s sauted veggies to lend a bit of greenery to the meal, but we didn’t waste much time with them. The kids got a slice of bread each to mop up the bacon fat.

I’d bought a plum cake from the local shop, which is an off-shoot of All Saints and the kids had been ploughing their way through it for the last several days. When they have eaten well, they are often too full for dessert – something that is quite absolutely amazing to me. I’m never too full for dessert, no matter how well I’ve eaten. Dessert gets a separate compartment all to itself in my stomach.

Anyhow, they managed tiny bits of plum cake.

Tis the season to be jolly, as the song says, and where’s there any hope of that for gluten intolerant folks like me? Well, a couple of weeks ago, Amit suggested that I make a fruit cake. I’ve done this once before, with memorable results. When we went out to shop for dry fruit, he almost gave up the idea after seeing the price tags. But I went ahead and bought everything anyway and made my gluten-free eggless rum-drunk fruit cake. Now, I know that properly speaking the fruit should soak for several months. In fact, my understanding was that the cake should be made several months ahead and should be fed on a steady diet of alcohol thereafter. All I had was a couple of weeks, but I made good use of them. My fruit soaked for a few days, and the cakes have been drinking up their rum for two weeks now. So, it being Christmas day and all, I cut myself a piece. I can honestly declare that it didn’t make me tipsy, but that was only because of all that meat that was already sitting in my stomach, lining it like lead.

You’d think after a lunch like that, I’d be kind of done for the day. But no. After Nature’s Basket, I’d gone to another shop where I’d picked up half a kilo of mutton mince. So it was to be to be either meatloaf of shepherd’s pie for dinner. All that potato didn’t seem to be required, though, so I made a meatloaf. It’s the first time I’ve made it eggless and gluten free. Apart from onion and garlic and salt and pepper, I usually add stale wet bread as a binder and one or two eggs, I’m not sure why. This time, I just added a bit of brown rice flour and that was it. Tasted just as good as ever, if I do say so myself.

Unlike me, the kids had spent an hour playing football in the nearby playground, so they were hungry already. I pulled out some frozen french fries from the freezer, and, since the oven was already in use, stuck them in there. That didn’t work out so well – fried fries are definitely nicer than baked fries. But fries are fries, so we ate them anyway. I added some greens, again, and again we largely ignored those.

Another small slice of drunk fruit cake and now I’m really done for the day.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you had as much fun as I did.018 022


Finally! The Perfect Gluten-free Eggless Chocolate Cake

October 11, 2014

I’ve been struggling with this one. It was one thing when I needed a gluten free cake with egg. That was pretty do-able. But when I discovered, a year or so ago, that I was intolerant to egg white as well, cake became even more difficult than it already was. I’ve been experimenting off and on since then. Almost every gluten-free cake I’ve tried has been chocolate – that’s because I love chocolate, but also because cocoa powder provides one of the “flour” elements to the cake that’s gluten free. I’ve used other flour substitutes ranging from white rice flour to brown rice flour to potato flour to god knows what. The potato flour didn’t work out so well (also besan, or chickpea flour – don’t ever try that in a cake), but in the other attempts, the flour has not been the problem. The problem is, without egg, there’s nothing to moisten the mix. I’ve been using curd or milk, but they tend to make the cake soggy and damp and though the taste doesn’t suffer, the texture has been not very good. I’ve also looked at recipes on the net, but many of them call for ingredients that I don’t have easy access to, like cocoa butter, or guar gum or whatnot. I want to make a cake with stuff that I generally have in my kitchen.

Now I’ve been yearning for cake for a week or so. Last weekend – a four day weekend – was much too hectic, what with going to the puja pandal on one day and trying to get the house back in running order the rest of the days; we were just back from a short vacation in Kerala, and the amount of work that getting back from a short vacation involves is just unbelievable.

So today I was determined – one might even say desperate – to make a cake that I could eat. And it turned out just right.

Now, the recipe might not be of interest to anyone out there. Unless you are gluten intolerant and vegan (or intolerant to egg) like I am, you really don’t need to be doing this. But on the off chance that you are… here goes.

200 gm butter (salted, unsalted, doesn’t matter)
3/4 cups sugar
3 large ripe bananas, mashed (by hand will do, if you don’t mind a few lumps)
3 dessert spoons of curd (yogurt) – this is an important one. If you put too much, it makes the cake soggy and heavy
1 1/2 cups of flour ingredients, mixed together, consisting of:
1/2 cup buckwheat flour (buckwheat isn’t wheat and it works for me)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

I generally don’t bother to be very precise about the butter or flour. Today, the butter had been eaten into by the kids and the flour ingredients added up to more than one-and-a-half cups. So my cake was a little less rich than this recipe. But that much variation is not really noticeable.

I just mixed everything together in the sequence listed here and put it into the preheated oven as usual and half an hour later I had a delicious, rich, dark chocolate cake. Yes, it tasted of banana, but that was a surprisingly good combination.

Now, I just hope that when I try this next time, it turns out equally good. Maybe I shouldn’t wait too long. This one’s almost over, already.
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Mother’s Day?

May 11, 2014

What’s the big deal about Mother’s Day? I don’t need a “day” to remind me about all it means to be a mother. My kids do that every day.

 

Sometimes I think I should give up my job and stay at home and look after my family and maybe, if my Muse comes to me, write books.

 

But then, I have these conversations at office that make me realize how vital it is to keep meeting and interacting with different people. (Of course, there’s more to office than that, but that’s another matter altogether.)

 

So some of the young people in office, just out of college, early twenties, have been quite vocal about what a pain it is to have kids and how they never want to have kids and how much fun they have in life without these unnecessary encumbrances.

 

When I hear them, I don’t say anything, and I hope I don’t smile, but inwardly I’m smiling – because it’s like hearing myself talk, 15-odd years ago.

 

Thinking back, I don’t think I was ever very vocal about it – having kids or not having kids. But inside, I felt that way. Screaming, squalling, runny-nosed brats, who needs them?

 

And, to be sure, of all the young people who voice these thoughts and those who think them without saying them, it’s not true that all of them will come around to the other way of thinking. It’s not inevitable that all women (to leave the other half out for the moment) will necessarily feel maternal urges later on in life. Some of them might choose to never have kids and they might be quite happy with that choice. I have no problem with that. Let each woman make her own choice, let everyone live their own lives and make their own decisions. I am not crusading in favour of parenthood.

 

But it amuses me to think that I used to think like that, and then I changed, and now I live with those screaming, squalling, runny-nosed brats, two of them, and I wouldn’t want to trade it for anything.

 

It counts for something, that I had many years of freedom and adventure before the kids came into my life. I traveled, I worked, I partied, I was gay and free and irresponsible. I made the most of it, those happy childless years. But then I chose to be a parent and I worked towards it with single-minded determination. I made it happen (against quite formidable odds). I made the choice and I gave up all that I needed to give up – the travel, the work, the partying, the gay, free, irresponsible lifestyle. It’s not that I don’t miss it. It’s just that what I have now, with my kids… it’s different. It’s tiring, it’s frustrating, it’s maddening at times, but it’s satisfying at a different level. When the kids are screaming and hollering and running around and fighting and driving me crazy (which, let’s face it, is every single day), it’s easy to lose sight of it. But when I step back a moment, it’s still there. I won’t say parenting makes me happy on a moment-to-moment basis, but there’s a much deeper satisfaction to it that mere joy or happiness can’t compete with.

 

So I was chatting with a much older colleague at work. I don’t even really know this person, we’ve interacted a couple of times, and remotely at that. I mentioned my kids and he said his daughters were grown up now, 19 and 25. I said I was waiting for my girls to get there. He said, “you won’t need to wait. It will happen so fast, and then you will miss tripping over their toys and sneakers.”

 

So says a father whose two little girls have grown up and left home.

 

I know he’s right. I have heard it, occasionally, from other parents too. The days crawl by but the years fly. And while we are immersed in the crawling days, we don’t notice the years till they’ve gone.

 

Once in a way, you need someone to remind you of what the view will be like 15-odd years from now. You need to hear the things that you know you are going to say 15-odd years in the future. Hear them and heed them. You need to remember to hold on to what you have right now. Don’t just fret about the days that crawl, take a step back to cherish the years… before they fly away.

 

Happy Mother’s Day!


Old Dog, New Tricks

May 6, 2014

There are certainly some privileges to being female. One is that nobody ever really expects you to be able to change a flat tyre. If you’re lucky, you have your father, brother, husband, son, or male friend with you when you discover the flat, and they grumblingly take responsibility for getting the flat tyre off and replacing it with a healthier spare. If you’re unlucky and you happen to be alone… well, with a bit of distressed hand-wringing, help can usually be found. If merely the allure of helping a damsel in distress is not enough, help can sometimes be obtained with the promise of a cash reward. Sometimes, even just a smile will do.

 

I must confess, I haven’t often been in the unlucky situation. In ages gone by, when flats were common enough, when cars were ancient enough and tyres were often completely bald before anyone even thought of getting a new set, it was my father who changed the tyre. In those days, we always had an extra 15 minutes in hand when driving to the railway station (and it was always the railway station, never the airport, for who could afford flights back then?). And 15 minutes was all it took. If we were lucky enough to be in a taxi, then seven minutes were sufficient.

 

I never did much to help my father change the tyre. Usually, we women stood around and passed unhelpful and perhaps infuriating comments. Well, nothing helpful can be expected from the mouths of those who’ve no practical experience in a task.

 

Once we got married, it was, of course, Amit’s job to handle such eventualities. I don’t think we had flats quite as often by then. For one thing, once we were done with the family heirloom Fiat, we got a new car with new tyres. And in those days, I didn’t drive the car that much, especially not alone – if I was going somewhere on my own, I took my two-wheeler. And then tubeless tyres came along. So now you could actually drive with a punctured tyre; as long as you didn’t stop, it would be ok. My first experience with tubeless tyres was on my last bike (by which I mean, my motorcycle) and it was a relief, because motorcycles don’t even come with a spare. Which was especially great, because it also meant that you didn’t have to bother about keeping the spare tyre inflated.

 

So I haven’t had too many opportunities with flat tyres in recent years. And those I have had, I’ve happily passed up. I mean, like I said, nobody really expects you to be able to do it, anyway. It’s quite ok to wave one’s hands, look hapless, and summon up help.

 

But then again – why shouldn’t I be able to do it?

 

All along, I’ve had this sneaking suspicion that it would be really tough to change a flat. I didn’t think I could. But Amit has been telling me for a while that I jolly well should be able to change a flat on my own.

 

So here’s how things went on Friday. I was at the tennis court when I noticed that one tyre was really low on air. I started to drive back home, wondering about it. It was 7 a.m. so the chances of getting it fixed right away were nonexistent. I did manage to get it pumped up, on the way home. But I was pretty sure it was a flat. I had had my tyres checked just recently, so there was no reason for the air to be low unless it was a flat.

 

I resolved to change the tyre when I got home. Myself, I thought. This time, I’ll do it myself.

 

In fact, it was the perfect opportunity. Amit was home to help me (I mean, advise me). I was not getting late for anything more critical than work. I was already sweaty and ready for a shower. And I even had a serviceable spare.

 

Or did I? Actually, come to think of it, when was the last time I got that tyre inflated? And why didn’t I think of doing it when I stopped to pump up the punctured tyre just now? Well, it would just have to do.

I got home, got Amit, got a cup of coffee, and set to work. Managed to take the jack and spare tyre out of the boot. Managed, after fiddling around for a bit, to find the proper place to fix the jack. Managed to figure out, after quite a bit of head scratching, how to operate the jack. Was advised by Amit to loosen the nuts before jacking up the car, which little trick I would have never figured out on my own. And then I even actually managed to loosen the nuts on my own. Of course I used the time-honored technique of standing on the spanner. There are some advantages to being overweight, who’d have thought? Next, I struggled to place the spare on the rim, manouevred it into position, and put the nuts in. Jacked the car back down.

 

And found that the spare was much, much lower on air than the punctured tyre had been.

 

Damn!

 

It’s not that the process thus far had been as physically strenuous as I’d feared. But I certainly didn’t fancy doing it all over again, to remove this spare. And once I did that, what then? Either walk or drive one or both of the tyres to the petrol bunk to get it (or them) inflated. Or replace the punctured tyre and drive on it.

 

Maybe we can pump it up with the cycle pump, I suggested.

 

Amit dismissed the idea out of hand, but both the alternatives were so unappealing that we tried it anyway and guess what? It worked! When I finally drove to the petrol bunk and got the tyre inflated, it was at 27 psi, compared to the ideal of 33 psi. Not bad at all, eh?

 

So, lessons learned: Loosen the screws before you jack up the car. Check the picture on the jack to figure out where exactly it should be placed. Make sure your spare tyre is inflated (and if not, keep a cycle pump handy). And at any rate, it’s not as tough as it looks.

 

Oh, and one more thing. It’s never too late to learn. Or, in other words, yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks.


The Incident of the Stuck Fishbone

April 15, 2014

Sunday lunch. My father in law is in town and lunch was at his house. He has unearthed this fabulous cook who has cooked up a fabulous fish curry. While we are all doing homage to this dish (by wolfing it down, I mean), Amit chokes on a fishbone. Well, there are five of us, and thus far maybe 20 pieces of fish have been consumed, so one person choking is par for the course. He did the usual things – first coughed, then, because there was no rice, gulped chunks of bread and potato hoping it would engulf the errant fishbone and carry it down the gullet.

 

To be sure, choking on a fishbone is not a matter to be taken lightly. It can be fatal. Amit, however, did not seem to have the fishbone in his windpipe. He could talk through all this and he was still breathing and not turning blue. He even ate another piece of fish, though the bone was still lodged.

 

Over the next three hours, he tried gulping various other items to no avail – rice flakes, boiled eggs, banana, and, when all those failed, he even made rice and waited for it to cool and then gulped that. In the end, he went to the doctor across the road, who is a neighbor, friend, and pediatrician. That too was to no avail. He couldn’t see the bone by peering down Amit’s throat with a flashlight and sent him off with a recommendation to go to a hospital.

 

So we sighed and girded up our loins and dropped the kids off with Amit’s dad and went to Manipal Hospital. It was Sunday evening, of course, so all the departments were closed and we were sent to Emergency, where they took one look at us and did nothing for a very long time. It was close to 90 minutes before we got the X-ray they thought we required and then the on-duty doctor declared himself unable to see the fishbone in the throat (though he could see it on the X-ray) and called for the ENT on-duty doctor. A pretty young female came and took us up to the ENT department and proceeded to peer down Amit’s throat, again to no avail. Then she called for her Consultant (senior doctor) and that was also when she called the anaesthesiologist and started talking about OT and GA and suchlike things.

 

Wait, what?

 

She explained to us why we needed an OT and what was to be done and then we asked the million dollar question: What would it cost? She hemmed and hawed and came with up a number: 30k.

 

Luckily we had a good 45 minute wait on our hands till the consultant extricated herself from her Sunday evening activities and came to the hospital. In that interval, we decided we really didn’t need to be pressurized into a 30k surgery for a measly little fishbone that wasn’t stopping Amit from breathing, eating, or talking.

 

Well, it was 8 p.m. when the consultant arrived and I have to say, she did a good job – at least, the bedside table manner part of her job. She was patient and deft and appeared to be very in-charge and expert. All cool and zen. All good.

 

For one full hour, she poked and peered and tried to see the fishbone, but kept saying she wasn’t sure she could see it. In the middle, Amit had an extremely violent coughing fit and we all hoped that had done the job. Except the doc kept telling him not to cough so violently and I wondered what harm it could do.

 

In the end, Amit said the bone was still there and the doc said there was nothing she could do outside an OT and without GA. But why, we asked. She gave us a vague reply that it would be too dangerous. The anaesthesiologist had already been called, she said. The OT would be busy in the morning, she said. You shouldn’t wait, she said. She seemed all very earnest and concerned, all “doing my best as a doctor”-ish. Don’t leave here without your surgery, she said. If you do, I’ll have to make you sign a big long statement saying that you left against my advice.

 

Woooo, scary! Go under GA unnecessarily versus sign a big long statement. Which would you rather do?

 

Since we’d had our discussion beforehand and decided that to us ignorant laymen Amit’s situation did not appear to be life threatening, we were not easily swayed. I don’t say that we weren’t swayed, mind you. Amit told me later he was 50:50 about it. But to his credit, he wasn’t entirely swayed.

 

For me, there were two things that were suspicious. First, why did this doctor want to do this procedure in such a hurry? Why was she not able to clearly explain to us why she could not do a simple outpatient procedure? Why did her assistant hand us a form for admission before the consultant had even arrived and assessed the situation? It looked as if they had already decided what was to be done and the rest was a charade for our benefit.

 

The second: As soon as we started to give the “hmm, maybe not” signals to the doc, she promptly asked whether it was the cost that was putting us off and then asked if we had insurance. We’d prepared for that one. Nope, no insurance, we said, making a sad face. (He’s an entrepreneur, I’m a home maker – that was our back story, but we didn’t need it.) And then do you know what she did? “Oh, no worries, we’ll reduce the price, we’ll just bill it as something else. Let’s see, how about this? Then it will come to 12-15 k.”

 

Amit gave me a look. Was 15 k justifiable? I shook my head. We asked for a few minutes, discussed briefly again, and decided it was just pressure tactics.

 

Finally, when we told the doc that we would not be opting for the OT tonight, her reaction was strange. There was a certain something. Suddenly, it was not so much as if she was genuinely concerned for the patient but more as though a candy that had been promised her had suddenly and inexplicably been taken away.

 

What was worse was, when we went back to the Emergency Room to finish the paperwork, the medical staff there gave me an earful – and they didn’t even know what the issue was for chrissakes. There had been a change of shift at 8 p.m. And these on-duty doctors are not specialists – that’s why they sent us off to the department and called in the consultant. If we’d had our discussion with the consultant and been given the “scary, dangerous” talk and walked away from it anyway, why was it even any of their business? For the patient’s good, you say? I would like to say so too. But really? No, it was just too pushy. It was like, “Hey, don’t leave here without your surgery, my salary depends on it.”

 

It wasn’t easy, though. We did leave, our pockets lighter by only Rs 1130, but it wasn’t easy. It’s a tough call to put a price on your health and call out 30k as too high, call out 15 k as a bluff. Amit said it was the first time we’d gone against medical advice. He even went so far as to tell me that if things turned out badly, I should remember that it was a joint decision. Melodramatic, huh? I wasn’t that worried. He was walking, talking, breathing. He wasn’t in that much pain, it was just an irritation. If he did manage to dislodge the bone overnight, it would hopefully just go down and out the usual way. Otherwise we’d come back in a day. Or two. This wasn’t deep vein thrombosis, after all. That time I was worried. This just didn’t look that serious.

 

We got home around 10 p.m. The kids had slept with Amit’s dad, so we consoled ourselves with some ice cream (which didn’t dislodge the bone) and some dinner. There wasn’t much, so I fished out the leftover fish curry, which we’d brought home from dad in law’s house. Tempting fate, eh? Considering I’m not as skilled in the art of eating fish as he is.

 

The next day, I went to work as usual, while Amit asked around among friends for a good ENT specialist who would not be overly trigger happy. He found one and rushed off to Richmond Road by 11 a.m. By 1.30, it was all done. The doc peered down his throat the with stroboscope – the same thing they’d used at the hospital – and saw the bone. He could have fished it out right away, but apparently just because of Amit’s extraordinary height, even his neck is too long for ordinary-sized implements, so he wasn’t able to reach it. He took him to the OT, after all, but got the little bugger out in about 30 seconds with just a local anaesthetic spray. Damages: 4500, only because of Amit’s extraordinary height. Ordinarily it would have been 2500. Total time spent: less than three hours. Outcome: success. At Manipal Hospital we spent almost 4 hours, and to no avail.

 

It’s extremely sad. I’ve always been very happy with Manipal Hospital. I’ve heard that they’re trigger happy, but our experiences have always been good. Or, well, at least not bad. Or, actually, there have been some bad experiences, but not this bad. This time, the way it ultimately got done so easily, I just feel cheated. There’s now no doubt in my mind that the doc and her assistant put on an elaborate charade when they had no intention of solving the problem outside of the OT. In a way, I’d rather they just took one look and said, “I can take this out in 30 seconds but it will cost you 15 k,” rather than trying to put this spin on it – it’s dangerous, it’s risky, you have to go under GA.

 

Paying you a king’s ransom is one thing; but if you lie to me, make me panic, play on my fears, and then subject me to unnecessary medical/surgical procedures… that is completely unethical.

 

When Tara cut her finger, we had to have it operated on. We checked with other doctors, we checked on the net. Surgery was required. It was expensive. That time, we played the system. We made sure that we stayed in the hospital long enough to be covered by insurance. But it’s a lousy thing to do. It’s unethical. The hospitals pump up the bill, knowing that insurance will cover it. Insurance covers it and they raise the premiums so that we all get to pay more for medical insurance. Everybody wins. Nobody wins. Only fools object. Perhaps, if the procedure itself is genuinely required, there is very little harm done. It’s only notional. Everybody else is doing it, right? It’s not even against the law. The doctors are only too happy to sign on the dotted line saying the hospitalization was required.

 

But forcing patients, scaring and blackmailing them, into procedures that aren’t even remotely required… how can that possibly be part of a doctor’s job description? What’s wrong with the world, when all that matters is how much money you can make? And these are not poor people. These are people with big houses and bigger cars! And these are people who are supposed to make us fitter and healthier.


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