Not all memories are good : A fragile family snapshot

All of us want to believe that with time, every painful memory fades away or can be reminisced about with ease one day. Yet all of us know that in some cases, the memory is so firmly cemented in a foundation of pain that a different perspective can alter nothing. It’s like viewing a snapshot from two ends of a telescope. One from the point of view of the past and the other through the present. Whether you look at it from one end or another, the memory is as vivid and as agonizing today as it was back then.

Reliving such memories or even writing about them, can regurgitate discomfiting emotions or release suppressed ones like a form of catharsis. I don’t know what it’s going to be like for me while I remember this particular family memory.

It was in the winter of 2006, a day after my 9th grade half-yearlies that this specific gut-wrenching event occurred.

My family was sound asleep in the bedroom. My parents slept in the master bedroom while I slept in an adjacent room. Our 2 year old German Shepherd quietly snored at the foot of my bed. It was still and peaceful. At around 5 am approximately my father woke up, sleepily looking for his glasses while his feet slithered around for the slippers. He turned to my mother and nudged her informing her that he was getting up. My mother aroused herself, groggily asking her husband why exactly he wanted to get up on a Sunday at 5 am. She expected some crackpot, overenthusiastic answer about his plans to go for a run (He’s always been a health freak). In the absolute darkness she saw my father’s half risen form slump on the bed as if he was lowering his head to think for a second. Instead his body started shaking first in small unnoticeable movements and then suddenly thrashing around like a   —seizure.

My mother’s shout woke me up and I rushed to their bedroom. With staggering steps I reached the switch across on the wall and the light came on. My eyes snapped open in alarm, taking in the inexplicable scene on the front bed.

My fathers eyes were rolling in his head and his arms and legs were jerking about uncontrollably while my mother leaned over him trying to turn him to his side (I would later learn that people can choke on their own saliva if lying on their back during a seizure.).

It was like a joke. A macabre kind of chuckle-inducing stunt but with all the wrong signs. My father was grunting and moving erratically on the bed, his head on my mother’s lap, the dog lazily licking his face as if expecting him to get up any moment and pat him on the head. My head imploded under the onslaught of alien emotions : Pain, fear, panic, horror, incredulity, prayers, questions and cartloads of adrenalin. My mother directed me to call a neighbor and I ran like hell.

When the seizure subsided my mother went to the hallway to call up a family doctor. The neighbor couple gloomily waited outside in the drawing room, while I sat on a chair watching my father breathing heavily. Absent mindedly, I stroked his hair and kept vigil for a return fit. My body shook with small involuntary shudders while my breath came out in muted gasps. The shock had just hit me.

Was he going to die? What had just happened to him? Where was my mother? What would we do now? What does one do in such unpredictable situations? Was it an attack of some kind? Was he going to be Ok?

Daddy’s girl didn’t have Dad around to get all the answers.

My father came around eventually and sat up slowly as if woken up by an alarm clock. He gazed at me and smiled. He asked if everything was OK and where my mother was. My jaw almost dropped.

The doctor rushed in and told him some basic things. He’d had a seizure. No they weren’t sure if it was epilepsy. It could come back. Did he have any recollection of it? No?. That was expected.

My father looked at me first and then my mother. He just shook his head and said he couldn’t recall anything at all. He said he was absolutely fine and we should all go back to sleep. From his position on the bed he cheerfully bid the neighbors goodbye. He scoffed at the doctor’s concern, shook his hand and said he would be OK. His wife and daughter were overreacting.

I didn’t know what was worse. His having a seizure or not knowing about it.

But the doctor’s orders prevailed and we talked to a neurosurgeon at the local hospital. When I could take my eyes off my father who was happily petting the dog, I watched my mother carefully. She was composed and controlled. I knew she had nerves of steel.

The second seizure was much worse. We asked him to get up so we could take him to the car. He looked up at me and smiled. Then he kept smiling. He didn’t move.

Again we explained to him that the car was waiting and that he had to get up. He nodded, so very agreeably. But he was motionless. A light went out in his eyes. They were dead. Glassy.

Then they rolled back in his head and the second fit took over. It was worse because he was wailing. It was worse because he was at the edge of the bed and I and my mother had to pull him so he wouldn’t fall. And it was worse because even during that seizure I saw him constantly turning back towards my mother. Like he was ascertaining it was she who was talking to him. Like he was questioning her. “Am I ok? Is something happening to me? Are you here with me?”

I didn’t think I could take anymore. But humans are courageous. We carried him with the help of some other neighbors to the backseat of the car. As a big 5 feet 3, 14 year old I sat on my mother’s lap in the front seat. Our neighbor drove the car.  I was constantly half-turned. I watched my father’s eyes open and close. Open and close. I was reminded of a circus doll with beady eyes.

After admitting him into a ward, after MRI’s and scans and serious conversations with a doctor we found out what was wrong. My father was suffering from a food borne disease called Neurocysticercosis. Tapeworm cysts in the brain. In his case- unfortunately innumerable cysts scattered across his brain. Treatable but with heavy medication for years to come.

The entire ordeal was one very long uninterrupted stream of memories. Today, I remember a man who was back-stabbed by life. A man who spent weeks in the hospital ward and months at home coming to terms with the fact that his brain was no longer agile. Dealing with frequent memory losses. Insufferable headaches. Problems in stringing a sentence together. Months in recovery. Years in healing. I remember a woman who watched her husband suffer and did all she could in a moment of crisis. A woman who showed a great deal of fortitude and presence of mind.  Who monitored all his medicines. Who treated him with respect and love.

And I remember a pale 14 year old teenager who watched her father die and then live. Who didn’t know whom to feel pity for- her Dad or herself. Who gripped the cold railings on the hospital bed while chatting with her father, hating the cold insipid walls and smell of disinfectant. Who lived with the constant fear of one day finding out that the seizure had succeeded in taking away her Daddy. A girl who learnt how even illnesses can be won over with optimism and patience. Who believed that her father was the bravest man she had ever met. And who still thinks that no matter what, Dad can always swing it.



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6 thoughts on “Not all memories are good : A fragile family snapshot

  1. Sooooo moving! Abha, I could almost visualize every bit of it. The element of ‘real’ is so real , it moves.
    Just wish it weren’t real though. ‘Even this will pass’ as it is said.
    Stellar piece of writing though. Keep it up.

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