Office Woes #2: Frivolousness and Fire

Yesterday, we had a fire drill in the office. It is an important hazard prevention and safety procedure, probably compulsory for every company. In fact, I have a vague idea that it is a mandatory practice that is supposed to take place every 6 months, but I may be mixing that law up with another country.

We were informed about the drill over a day in advance. An email with the time was sent out, and the initial instructions, “Please proceed to the terrace at 12”, was contained in that email. Clear enough, I would say.

Noon came and went yesterday. No one budged. 10 minutes later, another email went out, patiently reiterating the far from complicated instructions. Again, no budged. One of the hapless members of the operations team in the office went around tapping everyone on the shoulder. Then finally everyone moved.

We trooped onto the terrace; all of us, except the founders, and whoever happened to be in a meeting with them at the time. Apparently that area of the office is fire retardant. Who knew.

The drill consisted of a thorough explanation of the causes of fire, how to distinguish them, which extinguisher to use, the necessary actions during an emergency or injury, etc. It was an excellent lecture, with decent delivery, and information that would certainly come in handy during a fire.

The guy was good, no doubt about it, and he tried very hard to engage a very childish audience. By asking questions. Another hapless unfortunate was unlucky enough to not only know these answers, by the virtue of having attended (and paid attention to) previous fire drills, but to also have the staggering bad foresight to actually answer. Of course, he was heckled as a teacher’s pet.

Then, the instructor suggested we all attempt to put out a fire with the extinguisher. He explained the build and construction of the extinguisher, and how to use it. He then set a small fire, and invited a volunteer to come forward. Did anyone go? Of course not. So someone was heckled into the limelight. Then another, and a third. A few more people were teased, me included, but I didn’t go forward. I’ve been to countless fire drills and paid attention at each one. Fires scare me, and frankly after witnessing the sheer asshattery of my childish colleagues, I can’t rely on any one of them knowing what to do in a crunch.

We were shown how to walk when experiencing a fire, and practising that, we filed back into our office. And went back to work without a second thought.

This morning, one of the colleagues who was in the afore-mentioned meeting, said he had skipped the drill. I gave him a few highlights, after he suggested he knew now to jump out of the nearest window. (Our office is on the 5th floor. That is a terrible idea with slim to no chances of success.)

I also told him about the mock fires, and the extinguishing trials. He had one question in response:

“Did they show us how to light a cigarette if we are in the midst of a fire?”

I gaped for a few seconds, before recovering my wits long enough to assure him they left out that particular lifehack.

I really hope this building never goes up in flames, because we will become tandoori, judging by these reactions.

Phone Contact Mishap

So, my mum did go for that reading session, but much later than originally planned. She called me up to tell me she had reached her destination. Also, if I could please call dad up as well, to inform him. Hm.

She continues to say that she tried his mobile, but it was switched off. She looked for the house’s landline number, but it wasn’t saved in her contacts.

Please note that we now stay in her parents’ house. The landline number hasn’t changed for 50-odd years.

I did suggest she could have just dialled it. To which she says: “Oh. Yeah. Didn’t think of that.”

Full points for presence of mind, Mum.

Supervision

Mom was planning to be out the whole day today. We’re working on an anthology of stories for someone, and a reading session was scheduled. I am at work, so Dad would be on his own. Which is not so much a problem, but we wondered if he would be all right on his own.

Mom: “Will you be all right on your own tomorrow? Food, etc.?”
Dad *puffs out his chest, and preens a little*: “No! I will need security!”
Mom *with a completely straight face*: “Oh. I was thinking more along the lines of a babysitter.”

I have such awesomely silly parents.

Trawling Matunga Market

I love vegetables. More than fruit, more than dessert, maybe a little less than bread. So when I turned vegetarian, it was no great hardship. Maybe if eggplant and mushrooms were considered non-vegetarian, there would be a serious problem.

I went trawling with my folks through Matunga market yesterday. I’ve been there many times, and the riot of colours always strikes me as stunning. The produce looks gorgeous and inviting, and I want to buy it all. (I don’t usually, but I have been known to return with 3 shopping bags full of vegetables. My mum usually throws up her hands in despair, and demands a bigger fridge.)

Here are photos of temptation:

What an afternoon!

Independence is Important

I always wanted to do things on my own, without help. That is a supremely foolish state of mind, but it was largely because I was a very coddled child, and my parents were fiercely overprotective. As a result, when I finally encountered the world on my own – I was woefully unprepared.

But this isn’t a post about my independence: I have that. It is about the independence of my parents.

My parents aren’t old as such; they’re in their 60s. But they are certainly getting there fast. Illnesses, stress, and the many hardships of an unpredictable life have taken their toll on them. They rely on me to take care of many things, right from banking to legal, and beyond. In the last two years especially, a lot of things are now my problem. This includes their health.

My father gets a headache; mom calls me to find out which pill he should take. She gets a rash; I tell her which cream. I apply balms, lotions, oils, ointments. I recently fell sick myself, and my parents were scrambling around to look after me.

As a result of their ill health, it was easy to fall into the trap of restricting them: don’t do this; don’t touch that; don’t go there. I’ve seen the pattern before. Today’s “don’t go on your own to the store” becomes tomorrow’s “I can’t go to the store on my own”.

I refused to do that. My father panicked when he was out of station, and my mom wanted to go out when I was at work. I calmed him down. She needs to do this, otherwise she will start losing her abilities. I wasn’t free of worry—she might stumble or trip—but I needed to imbue her with confidence too. Mom, you can do this. Call before you are leaving, and call once you are back. Tell us where you are going, and how long it will take.

She went out, and it was fine. But because she did that, she ended up being able to do lots of other things too. She travelled out of state on her own. She shopped on her own. She may not be back to her dynamo younger self, but at least she has retained most of her fire.

And when I think how easy it was to douse it, it makes me shudder.

Another story comes to mind, where I heard of an adult daughter dutifully looking after her almost-bedridden father. He soiled the bed frequently due to incontinence, and because of the lack of proper facilities. When cleaning him, she took off the covers, and left him exposed. While that may not matter in the grand scheme of things, these losses of dignity affect the mental equilibrium of a person. The helplessness and lack of agency is very distressing, and could contribute to a faster decline.

Therefore, I made a decision a long time ago: I would never subject my parents, or allow them to be subject to, a loss of their dignity. They would not be tied up by medical staff; they would not feel violated and helpless; they would never physically experience anything they didn’t choose. That included surgeries and other invasive procedures. My mother can’t have her blood drawn any more, because she can’t take the pain. That’s OK. It is her choice, and I respect that even though it is sometimes difficult.

The lady in the previous story is not callous or uncaring; quite the contrary, she loved her father dearly. The problem arose because there is an implicit assumption that one knows better. I may know better about what is good for my mother, but that doesn’t take away her right to choose.

So my plea is simple: please give older people their agency, and let them retain their dignity. People are starting to recognise that children need these to grow into well adjusted adults, but so too do older people. Perhaps even more so.

Allergic to Doctors

Over the course of the last 31 years, I have had many, many bad experiences with doctors. Some were just poor, but more recently, they’ve taken the shape of being diabolical. So much so that I’ve decided to eschew all conventional, allopathic medicine in favour of pure Ayurveda.

(Disclaimer: I am not looking for an argument, so please don’t try convincing me otherwise. Secondly, I know that there are good, honest, and decent doctors also out there. I’ve met 2, but they are sadly not available for me any more. This isn’t a post vilifying the medical fraternity, but one to explain my somewhat drastic life choice.)

Earlier this year, my father had a gastric infection. He was weak and nauseated. He couldn’t lift his head from the pillow, except to go throw up in the sink. We tried to wait it out, because he suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anaemia, and high uric acid. Any other medicines would not have improved the quality of his life. (We were subsequently proven right, by the way.)

This went on for a week, when we finally decided to take him to a doctor. We have been visiting that clinic from the time my mother was a kid. The old doctor passed away (1 of the 2 I mentioned before) and his son has taken over his practice. He knows us. He knows dad. He has prescribed for dad a countless times.

Which is why he should have known that one of his medicines causes an allergic reaction in my dad’s system. My father’s face swelled tight, with skin stretching like a balloon over his features. He should’ve known because this wasn’t the first time it had happened. Last time it was gastric infection medicine again.

Worse still, the medicines didn’t ease his discomfort. so we took him to another doctor. She tested his blood, and realised his creatinine level was high – not dangerously so, but over the acceptable limit. She referred us to a nephrologist, telling us not to worry because this was reversible.

I called work and said I wouldn’t be coming in, and I took my father to the hospital. There, we met the nephrologist. He asked my father a few questions, poked him stomach a few times, and sent him out to the weighing scale. That’s the moment he chose to drop a bombshell on me: my father would eventually need dialysis.

I froze. My father already suffers enough ailments. Now dialysis too? I barely had a moment to react, when dad walked back in. The doctor prescribed a laundry list of medicines, advised us to consult with a nutritionist, and get a blood test done immediately.

In a daze, I clutched the prescriptions and exited the room. I bought the medicines from the hospital pharmacy, and headed back home. My mother was in tears. I was in tears. My father was exhausted, and needed to lie down.

The next morning, I bought the remaining medicine from the doctor. He had advised against buying them from the pharmacy, because it would work out to be 3 times more expensive, and he could procure them for us at a much better rate. Sure, we said, you know best. He was in a different hospital, closer to home this time. We met up with him, and he took us to his car, where he pulled out a package from under his seat. It was very cloak and dagger, and my father and I visibly squirmed.

We came home, and for the first time in my life, I administered an injection. I am hopelessly squeamish, and I nearly passed out just after. I was trembling like a leaf, because I was feeling physically sick at the thought of poking my own father with a needle.

A week later, I had the blood tests done. The creatinine level had increased, in spite of the fact my father was on medication. He had barely eaten anything. I called the doctor to ask whether this was expected. He said yes. I went to work in silence.

My mother sat in front of the pooja place at home, and wept. She prayed for God to take my father away, but not to make him suffer so much. We had reached the end of our tethers. I resigned myself to never seeing my father back to himself ever again – happy, bouncy and full of life and laughter. Over.

Two weeks, we religiously took the medicine. Two weeks, and my father was still not better. Two weeks, and a ray of hope unexpectedly burst into our lives. We met Bua.

Bua is the most unlikely doctor you will ever see. He is a villager – a Maharashtrian villager, with a Gandhi topi, white wide-legged trousers, wizened brown skin, terrible teeth, and not a word of English.

He came home to check my father. He took my father’s hand in his, closed his eyes, and let it go. We hadn’t told him anything, except that my father was sick. He wrote down my father’s age, and a few other illegible details. Turned around to my mother and said, “Don’t worry. I will bring down his creatinine level. It is only 7. 9 is the danger level.”

My jaw dropped. This man hadn’t seen the blood reports. 7 was the exact reading. We hadn’t shared that information with anyone except the doctor.

He turned to me next, and said, “I need 4 days to make the medicine. I will call you when it is ready. Come and collect it from the nearest railway station.”

I nodded, and he left. 4 days later, I collected the medicines. Packets of powders, bottles of oils, and clearly homemade pills. I looked at them in confusion. This was supposed to cure my father? These powders, mixed in with milk, water or lemon juice? Seriously?

I took the packets home, and the next day my father started taking them – and stopped all other medicine. I was very wary, but we made a decision to go the whole hog. The pills and injections weren’t making him better anyway.

In one day, the nausea stopped. The second day, his weakness went away. The third day, he started feeling hungry again. I checked his blood sugar. It was normal. Not diabetes normal, normal-normal. I was convinced.

Some well-meaning friends did question our decision. But I knew the condition my father was in, and this was my father – I didn’t acquiesce to this decision lightly.

Fast forward several months, my father no longer takes diabetes medicine. Not a single pill. I check his blood sugar every week, and it is still normal. I had a blood test done again, and his creatinine level had halved.

Bua came a week after I got the test results, to check dad himself. He closed his eyes, and told me the number on the blood report exactly. To the decimal point.

This is why I moved my family to Ayurveda.

Parental Bias

Today I had a morning meeting with our lawyer, before heading to work. I was getting ready, and so were my parents. Not that they were coming along; oh no, they were headed out for breakfast.

Thanks to repeating the conversation I had with my boss to them, my mum cheekily asked whether the lawyer was dishy. I ignored this, when my dad chirped in to stick up for the French Student. (Those two. Thick as thieves.) So I said that someone could be exceptionally handsome, loaded with intelligence and wealth, and be a wonderful person and I still wouldn’t consider giving up my French student.

Of course, my mum being my mum says, no guy is good enough for you. So I respond, “I know, right? I am such a dream to live with!”

To which my parents snort derisively and chuckle like I’ve cracked the joke of the century. And suddenly the French Student became “the poor French Student”.

Sheesh.