Kadam got off his bicycle and waited for a break in traffic to cross the road. He had time to grab a cup of tea before the hour-long journey.
He was quite proud of his bicycle. It took him wherever he wanted to go. It also helped to keep his wife, Sheela, in comfort. After he lost his job at the mill in distant Nagpur, he had moved to Pune to be near his sons. His sons had put up Kadam and his wife in a separate flat. Sheela occasionally hoped that the help from her sons would go beyond a fixed amount of money every month. She was worried about Kadam, doing all the cycling around for every little thing. But Kadam was quite content to be his own man. He did not want to burden anybody else with Sheela’s care.
Sheela was confined to bed with advanced cancer of the cervix. Her condition was beyond treatment. Their family doctor had referred them to a palliative care centre so that she could be free from pain in the last stages.
As he sweated and bounced over the bad roads, Kadam recalled the first time he had taken her to Cipla Centre, eight months ago.
She was in a coma and he was worried the doctors at the centre would turn them away. Surprisingly, they admitted her and, even more surprisingly, they wanted him to stay with her. In the other hospitals, they were usually made to wait endlessly or totally ignored. Here, the doctors and nurses were willing to listen to him, talk to him.
They did not say that Sheela would be all right. He would have been happy to hear that. But, he understood that they were being honest. “We are here to relieve the patient’s pain and discomfort. We do not offer a cure; we cannot say when the end will come. We only promise to do our best so that it is easy for her and for you.” That’s what they had said.
When the third morning dawned with no change in Sheela’s condition, Kadam prepared himself for the worst. He called for an ambulance. He did not expect her to survive the day. There were many arrangements to be made. He had to make himself strong to face the future, a future without—
“Please come, your wife has opened her eyes. She wants to see you.” It took a moment for Kadam to register what the nurse was saying.
No miracle, just palliative care
Later, Kadam would thank the doctor profusely for performing the “miracle” of bringing his wife back from the dead. The doctor refused to take any credit. “What we are providing here is palliative care. It is a part of medicine and not a miracle. Her cancer remains in an advanced state, but we will continue to do our best to keep her in comfort. The final outcome is not in our hands.”
Kadam had tears in his eyes when he fed his wife her first morsel of solid food in weeks. She had conquered her relentless nausea. She was walking to the toilet on her own. They did not, after all, need the ambulance.
Fifteen days later, they went home with enough medicines to continue her care at home. And all the training he had received had given Kadam enough confidence to take good care of his wife at home. He did not feel helpless any longer.
Continuing care at home
He was grateful that Cipla Centre continued to support him and his wife for the next six months as the home care team made regular visits. It was important to receive the medicines. What mattered more to Kadam was the chance to reinforce his training. As his wife put it, “it feels nice to know that somebody cares … somebody who really knows how to care.”
First time the van carrying the home care team stopped near his house, his neighbours came to find out what was wrong. They acted as if Sheela had some contagious disease. They were so scared. So, the next time, Kadam requested the team to park the vehicle some distance away, so that his neighbours were not offended. He felt bad that the nurse had to walk in the sun carrying the medicine bag.
During one visit, the nurse spoke to some of the neighbours. She made them understand why they were visiting Kadam. After that, at least some of them started enquiring about Sheela’s condition and some started sending food home for the Kadams.
Wiping sweat from his forehead, Kadam walked into the centre. It always felt nice to be back. Whoever he met, greeted him heartily. He had come to brief the doctor about Sheela’s condition and to take a fresh stock of medicines. Like he did every time, he asked if he should pay for the medicine. The doctor reassured him the medicines were free (so was Sheela’s treatment).
For the umpteenth time, Kadam thanked God for bringing him to Cipla Centre. He shuddered to think how far he would have been able to care for his wife otherwise, given his precarious financial condition.
As always, Kadam made it a point to visit the wards and talk to the patients, nurses, maushis and ward boys. Now, they were all part of his family.
As Kadam walked out of the gate, a big car swung in. Probably a new doctor, Kadam thought.
Next: Rich Venkat abandons his father and is happy he did it – In celebration of life – Part 2
This fictionalised two-part account is based on the realities at Cipla Palliative Care and Training Centre, and the fears, worries and joys of the people for whom the centre is a second home. Cipla Centre has completed 15 years of service and, so far, has cared for more than 8000 patients and their families, free of cost.