Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Different Form of Living

Posted by Pratiba Bhat at Sunday, July 04, 2010
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7th July 2010 started off very well for me indeed. Never did I imagine that by the time the evening of this day comes I will be meeting a couple of people just like you and me yet different in one aspect. Never did I imagine that I’ll be witnessing a sudden unexpected death of a person who is just in the next room. But it did happen. Personally it is a real big experience for me.

Readers, I visited a palliative care center on this day.

Some of you may wonder what a palliative center is. Let me just brief through the idea behind this concept. A palliative center is a place where people who have a disease or a health condition that has reached a peek point such that even the doctors have declared that there is no hope that they can live. The patients usually suffering from the last stages of cancer or an incurable tumor in some part of their body or any other serious health disorder, which is found to be incurable, would be found here. The main intension of such a kind of center is to ensure that the patient dies a peaceful death without being irritated with the gloomy environment of a hospital. A patient will never feel comfortable in a hospital environment if he knows he is going to live for only few more days. It is very hard to take care of these kinds of patients at home because there would be a need of assistance to take care of a seriously ill person since he/she is in the last stage of life.

The goal is to prevent and relieve suffering and to improve quality of life for people facing serious, complex illness. Everybody has a right to die in a dignified manner. Hence the relatives can admit the serious patients to a palliative center where there are good facilities for such patients. It is advisable that one loved one stays with the patient always. There are also good rooms where the relatives can stay there.

This concept has been taken from the Americans. They have built many of these kinds of palliative centers and in US and UK these centers exist in quite good numbers. In India this concept is yet to get evolved. It was introduced into India just around two decades ago.

The center which I visited today is the “Ave Maria Palliative Care” center situated in Vamanjoor area of Mangalore. It is the only palliative center in Mangalore and established by a lady named Dr. Lavina M. Noronha. She is experienced in her work and has held good credits fro herself. She has done her M.Phil. Through several references in the Internet I got to know she had a good experience of clinical practices in USA in a Hospice, Crisis Respite, and Employee Assistance. [Hospice is again similar to a palliative center but there are differences between the two.] She held a position in USA in Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. She decided to come back to Mangalore, India and establish a palliative center in the year 2008 since she felt that Mangalore city required one. She is a humble, soft spoken lady, she has seen many lives and it is very good to talk to her. I salute her initiative. She is now a source of inspiration for me. I had gone with my friends as a group with Mr. Nandagopal and his wife Mrs. Sachitha who run an organization of their own in Mangalore. We went in and had a talk with Mrs. Lavina. There were a group of kids with us, who were asking her questions, which cannot be asked directly with a patient.

We were sitting and having a chat with Mrs. Lavina, asking her about her experiences after establishing the palliative center. She said there were about 80 patients who got admitted into the center. The youngest patient who got admitted was a 39 year old lady who had brain tumor. She started losing control over most of the parts of the body. She couldn’t swallow food, she couldn’t move around her hands, eventually the brain couldn’t control her body and lastly even the heart stopped functioning and that ended her life. There was one lady who was suffering from the last stages of cancer and who was claimed to have a life of only 3 weeks by the doctor. She got admitted into the center but she eventually became normal. One year passed and then she got discharged. Miraculously she is still living now. Touch wood. Mrs. Lavina says that some questions do not really have answers such as, why the doctor was so wrong.

The most touching experience comes here. As we were talking a nurse calls Mrs. Lavina. Later after 10 minutes Mrs. Lavina comes and tells us that one of the patients just breathed his last breath. I was in a trance for that moment. He was right in the next room. “He just finished having Raagi a while back”, Mrs. Lavina said. After completing the talk we went to the room where he was lying. First thing that came to our minds was that, he died a peaceful death. He was 69 years old and was suffering from tongue cancer. It was due to smoking that caused it. No doubt we all have to die someday. But it is better that we are not tagged as people who lost life because of smoking, tobacco chewing or drinking.

His body was still warm. I touched his hand. I didn’t feel that he was no more. I felt as though he was just in deep sleep.

One lesson to be learnt here, we need to be prepared to witness anything to happen in our houses or in the room next door.

One thing that was pretty much nice about the center was that every room was named after flowers. There is a board in font of every room that had flower names. Mrs. Lavina said that she didn’t want to keep numbers to refer to the rooms; she named the patient’s rooms after flowers. Rose, daffodil… these are the names I can remember right now.

Next we met a patient who was suffering from colon cancer. Colon is a part of the body near the spine. There are many causes of a colon cancer. It could be because of the genetic reasons, or due to the environment, due to smoking etc.

The person, who we met, was a cook in Iraq. He had 18 years of experience. He cooked for the Iraqi soldiers. He was also there in Iraq during the Iraq war and he was cooking for the soldiers at that time too. It was thrilling to meet such a person. He was in high spirits. He is so positive that he knows he will be healthy within some more time and get discharged from the center. And it did look like that. He never looked like as though he was ill. Although he has lost a lot of weight, but otherwise I noticed he was as normal as we are. He goes for a small walk everyday. In fact he is the one person who is quite active in the center. He knows 18 different languages. He said that one needs to know many languages. One has to try and learn new languages. And knowing and understanding English is a must. I remember he said a line “Eegina kaaladalli English baradidare ondhu glass neeru kooda sigudilla” [It’s in Kannada language: Meaning: “In today’s world if we do not understand English we won’t even get a glass of water”]

It is indeed truly said. I felt ashamed of myself for the reason being, that I sometimes tend to complain of a small cold that catches me and get annoyed with it. A person being very calm and cool at a serious stage like cancer is a live example of immense positive thinking and optimism. People, who complain about their head ache, feet ache, Leg pain, hand pain, tooth ache, stomach ach, etc. should to be quiet and not complain anymore. 

Later he himself started motivating each one of us to do well and make a bright future for ourselves. I am still amazed by the way he spoke to us. He also said that it was good we visited the center, so that we get an exposure of the things that happen around us but yet we aren’t aware of them. Students always keep visiting the place very often is what we got to know. I am happy that children are getting an exposure to such aspects. We took his blessings, touched his feet, and shook hands with him. He was delighted to see us. He requested us to pray for him. I will keep him in my prayers.

Later we met a lady who was ill with brain tumor. She had an operation, but one side of her body is paralyzed after the operation. She had bandages on her head. It was a pain to see her. She was getting an itching sensation on her head but she wasn’t supposed to touch it. But she would tend to scratch it unconsciously while sleeping. That’s why, one of her hands were tied with a towel to the bed so that she doesn’t accidentally hurt the operated part of the head. She is put on a water bed so that she doesn’t end up with a bed sore because of immobility. She spoke very less. She could smile though.

Then we visited another lady who had stomach cancer. My head started spinning when I was hearing her story. Her stomach always gets filled with a liquid every month and she is supposed to get the liquid removed in a hospital. It involves the use of a machine with a pipe and usually around 5 liters of water is removed from her stomach every month. She just had arrived from that treatment. It seems this time only 3½ liters of water. (Liquid) She was tired. Her stomach was bulged. She couldn’t look at us properly. She wasn’t in a mood to talk. A feeling of helplessness was hovering in my mind.

There was another patient who was a very old man. We didn’t go to see him. He was paralyzed and was undergoing a massage treatment at that time. He was fully dependant on the nurses. 

All this I saw and I think most of the time about these 5 people. I didn’t see death of a human being from so close. And I never have seen a person till yesterday who knows he has not many days to live, but yet is living today.

I know what I have in my hands right now, a beautiful life. This experience just comes to me with many messages. I know what the messages are. You, the reader, can also learn a lot from my experience, and take the messages that come to you through this post of mine. 

Love always

PS: Feel free to post in your learnings and realizations after reading my articles. I would love to hear from you.


Ayaan Arora said...

im in tears...

Anonymous said...

good pratiba.. happy that ur getting urself exposed to all such things. keep writing dear..

-Pooja A.

ಸಾಗರದಾಚೆಯ ಇಂಚರ said...

Nice one Pratibha

well written

Vinay S, Asst Prof, Dept of ISE, NMAMIT, Nitte said...

I never knew such a thing exists.. Thanks for writing about it and also writing it exceptionally well.

I am sure the way you have written, it clearly conveys that the experience you had was once in a life time.

First and foremost hats off to the lady who has started it.

The story of the person who was a cook in Iraq is truly inspiring to say the least. We always look at personalities who have achieved a lot in life as role models for inspiration. But i personally feel people like him who inspire confidence to live inspite of their terminal illness is amazing and a true role model...

I would definitely like to visit the centre pretty soon. And thanks a tonne for sharing your experience on it...

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Neetz said...

ohhgod!..i m in tears..
u have a wonderful experienced articles here :)..loved it and happy to follow u.... do drop by and share ur thoguhts on mine too..i would love to have ur suggestion :)

ವಿ.ಆರ್.ಭಟ್ said...


Anonymous said...

Really nice article Pratiba ...
We need to be proud of the lady who came up with this initiative...
Thanks for sharing your experience...
Keep writing:)

- Thangamma

Rheana John said...

Nothing gives me more pleasure seeing you grow and your perceptions change!:)..keep writing,it expands my knowledge as well!:)

Akash Kumar said...

Kudos to you...
nice that you visited the place and brought such a vivid blog that whoever reads, atlease myself, feel as if we are there ourselves. We need to learn one thing from this that each moment is precious and a blessing to live it to its fullest..
I would just like to quote from Paulo Coelho -"I know its not a topic anyone likes to think about, but I have a duty to my readers, to make them think about the important things in life. And death is possibly the most important thing. We are all walking towards death, but we never know when death will touch us and it is our duty, therefore, to look around us, to be grateful for each minute. But we should also be grateful to death, because it makes us think about the importance of each decision we take, or fail to take; it makes us stop doing anything that keeps us stuck in the category of the 'living dead' and, instead, urges us to risk everything, to bet everything on those things we always dreamed of doing, because whether we like it or not, the angel of death is waiting for us."

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